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Compulsive Paw Chewing

Picture in your head a really itchy dog. Got it?

Now what did you see? Chances are, you envisioned a dog scratching away at his ears or belly, or maybe rubbing his rear end on the corner of your couch. And while all of this is indeed very common for itchy dogs, we often tend to overlook one of most frequent symptoms of allergic disease … paw chewing.

If you were to request a referral to a veterinary allergist, I would send you to a dermatologist. I know that’s odd compared to people, but we do that because in dogs, most allergic diseases manifest in the skin. Referred to as “pruritus” by veterinarians, the type of itchiness that we are talking about with allergic disease isn’t the minor irritation of a flea bite but the unrelenting, keep-you-up-all-night, horrifying discomfort that we humans associate with conditions like chicken pox or poison ivy. Yes, it’s bad for these little guys. Well-meaning pet parents try to dissuade their dogs from biting and licking by using e-collars or putting socks on their feet, but none of that addresses the underlying itchiness. As soon as the physical barrier is removed, they’re right back to the destructive reaction.

Oftentimes a dog begins by licking very gingerly at their paws. Being a good pet parent, you check their toes and pads for causes of the irritation, such as burrs, ticks or cuts, but – alas – find nothing. As the irritation worsens, the dog begins to chew instead of licking, plucking fur out and gnawing at their toes like they were little rawhide chews. After a while, the skin becomes weakened (or worse, broken) by the constant chewing, which almost invariably develops into secondary bacterial and/or yeast infections. Sometimes by the time the pet arrives at the vet, their poor little toes look like ground beef.

What are the types of allergic disease?

What causes this infernal itchiness? Chances are, it’s allergies. Dogs suffer from three main categories of allergic disease: fleas, environmental allergies (referred to as “atopy”) and food allergies. So, which one is your dog experiencing?

Flea allergies are the most common allergic disease in dogs. However, flea allergies result in itchiness primarily on the hindquarters and at the base of the tail. Atopy is the second most common form of allergic disease. Dogs react to the same environmental allergens that humans do … things like trees, grasses and pollens, molds, dander, perfume, dust mites, even cats and people! Depending on the cause, these allergies may be seasonal.

And, so, what remains are food allergies. Food allergies are the least commonly diagnosed form of allergic disease, although it may be underdiagnosed in canines. In our post "The Scoop on Grain-Free Pet Foods", we discussed the prevalence of food allergies:

Food allergies or adverse food reactions are abnormal reactions to ingredients found in everyday foods. Recent estimates indicate that less than 5% of skin diseases in dogs and cats are accurately diagnosed as being caused by a food allergy. Even though the incidence of adverse food reactions remains unclear, a lot of pet parents believe that grains are prime suspects. However, the most commonly identified food allergens among dogs and cats are proteins in beef, dairy, chicken, soy and corn. Food allergies can cause itchy skin alone or even gastrointestinal problems as well.

How are allergies diagnosed?

Truthfully, it takes a good bit of medical detective work. Flea allergies are the simplest … if you find fleas on an itchy dog, mystery solved! Atopy is diagnosed by ruling everything else out first since there is no one specific test for it. When it comes to food allergies, it takes a good bit more effort and time. Blood tests, even though they are available on the market, are somewhat unreliable. The only way to truly know if your dog is allergic to food is to perform a strict 8-12 week elimination trial with a hypoallergenic diet and see if the condition improves.

What does this mean for you? Many times, when a pet is experiencing unrelenting itching and paw chewing, we start treatment before arriving at a specific diagnosis to try and get the pet some immediate relief. Regardless of the actual cause of the allergies, eliminating potential allergens across the board can push them below the “allergen threshold” and help them feel better. When it comes to compulsive paw chewing, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Start with a trip to your vet. Your veterinarian will help you sort out the problem sooner rather than later; a detailed history will give her clues as to what type of allergy your dog may be experiencing. She can run tests, prescribe medications and determine whether your pup has secondary bacterial or yeast infections that require treatment.

  2. Check those toes! Contact dermatitis can occur when the skin comes in direct contact with an allergen such as grass. It’s always a good idea to give the paws a good rubdown with a damp cloth when your dog comes indoors after playing outside. Witch hazel is a gentle cleaner that can help with mild irritation. Whatever you do, avoid products that contain alcohol … ouch!

  3. Investigate your dog’s diet. Even for pet kids who don’t have food allergies, a high quality diet with a new protein source can reduce the immune burden. Omega-3 fish oils can help the skin remain an effective barrier against the environment.

  4. Consider other causes. If nothing else changes, don’t forget that itching is not the only reason pet kids chew on their feet. Pain from arthritis and anxiety are often culprits. Like allergies, arthritis pain and anxiety don’t simply go away on their own.

The take-home message here is, paw chewing is uncomfortable but treatable! While there are plenty of things you can do at home to help the symptoms, addressing the underlying cause is key to nipping those problems in the bud. With some attention and love, your dog can be back on his non-itchy feet in no time.

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

New Year, Fresh Start

It’s refreshing, right? The feeling of starting fresh in a new year, with an opportunity for self improvement and change.

Here’s a good tip for when you’re making New Year's goals and resolutions. It will help you stay focused on both short and long-term goals alike.

When defining what you want to achieve, keep it realistic, attainable and measurable.

However, no matter how doable your goal, it’s always nice to have that little extra bit of help and accountability when it comes to following through on your promises to yourself.

Everyone can agree that positive reinforcement is a great way to adopt new behaviors and leave bad habits in the dust. As we all know, there's no better feeling than feeling your best!

At Life's Abundance, we've assembled the most incredible positive-reinforcement pack. Think of it as your go-to bag for getting stuff done AND feeling great. This bundle pack includes everything you need to be your healthiest self in 2017 and you can get a 20% discount off the retail price until January 31, 2017! It includes the following six full-size supplements:

Chocolate or Vanilla Protein - A completely plant based, protein rich powder with amazing flavor that can be mixed with anything from water to your baked good recipes.

Cherry or Tropical Flavor Minerals & Antioxidants Mix - A healthy alternative to sugary sports drinks that provides you with nourishing minerals and antioxidants.

Greens Blend - Using this powder is an easy way to get all of your recommended greens in. It’s a non-GMO mix of raw, certified organic grasses and mushrooms with a subtle berry flavor, and a silky smooth texture.

Probiotic - This probiotic is a four-strain blend to help maintain an optimal microflora balance. Good gut health contributes greatly to your overall health.

Multivitamin - This is a natural capsule multivitamin with a focused approach to health. This means that it provides you with exactly the vitamins you need, while leaving out exactly what you don’t.

Fish Oil Capsules - These supplements are ultra concentrated with two to three times as much health promoting EPA and DHA as competing brands. Plus, they have a slightly citrusy flavor!

This pack is essential for making the positive changes you want to accomplish in the New Year. Positive reinforcements will not only help you achieve your goals, but also feel more energized and youthful at the same time!

Utilizing this pack is the perfect tool to start the momentum toward more confidence and focus on attaining your goals. As long as you remain committed, the strength of this positive feedback loop will only grow, enabling you to do more in 2017 than you maybe even thought possible.

So, let's all start the New Year with a big commitment to ourselves, and each other!

Keri Keri Glassman MS.RD.CDN

6 Winter Dangers for Dogs

The inherent dangers that frigid winter temperatures pose to animals are common knowledge. But you should also be mindful of the threats linked to other outdoor hazards, possibly lurking in your own front yard. Beware the six seasonal hazards outlined in this handy infographic … it might just save your dog’s life!

May Your Holiday Season be Golden

According to one recent study, upwards of 60% of pet parents buy their pet kids a Christmas stocking. My response is … ONLY 60%? Granted, I fall a little further on the extreme end of the pet-enthusiast spectrum. I don’t just do stockings … we wrap gifts, don holiday sweaters and even keep a goodly supply of festive cookies!

My beloved Golden, Brody, started joining in the holiday merriment as a pup. His first Christmas was 2009, as a bouncy little five-month-old filled with joy at this strange new festivity. The candy-cane shaped chew treats were icing on top of the holiday cake.

My dog gets super excited on Christmas morning. (The cat not so much, but that doesn’t deter me from trying.) He senses the excitement as the kids start tiptoeing around starting at 5 am, poking boxes and whispering their prognostications about what might be hidden inside each festive package. Brody plays along, sniffing at each gift in turn and standing patiently under his own stocking until it’s his turn to discover his holiday goodies.

He isn’t as excited about his ornament as I would like him to be, but hey, we can’t win them all. Maybe if they made scented decorations he’d be more appreciative.

Your dog’s enthusiasm may vary, of course. My dog Kekoa, who blessed our house until her passing in 2012, was not nearly as excited about donning holiday garb. She was quick to figure out that not tolerating costumes meant she got to skip straight to the treats. That’s what you call a “smart cookie”.

As we enter the 2016 holiday season, I’m reminded of how much he has changed since Brody’s first puppy Christmas back in 2009. He’s a little slower, short one ear we had to amputate, and grey around the muzzle. He’s like the Ghost of Christmas Present from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol … an amiable chap who lives in the moment, which seems to pass by in the blink of an eye.

Dogs are an ever-present reminder to stop and enjoy every moment, because you don’t get it again once it’s gone. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to enjoy many more Christmases together. Taking my cues from him, I’m trying not to worry too much about the future, but rather just taking in the precious moments and enjoying his lovable presence in the here and now.

So this year, instead of being sad about that little bit of grey already creeping into his coat, I’m remembering to be grateful for all the joy he has brought us over the years, thankful for him simply being who he is, and appreciative of the varied comforts our four-footed companions bring to the holiday season.

What are your favorite canine holiday memories? Share your story in the comments section below! Or, submit your very own holiday pet pics to our secure Dropbox account.

Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season! 

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

The Complexity of Canine Memory

Have you ever sat staring deeply into your dog’s eyes, wondering “I wonder what you’re thinking?” Sure, they give us clues here and there, but as whole, the workings of your dog’s mind remains a mystery.

But there’s mounting evidence that we may have underestimated their mental capacities. I know when I was going through school and we would use words describing the emotions the pets seemed to feeling - love, anxiety, fear - we were often shut down with a stern, “Don’t anthropomorphize!” It was assumed that only humans were capable of such human-like emotions.

As we’ve studied more the amazing bonds that exist between humans and dogs, we’ve gotten better insight into the inner workings of their doggie brains. And while it’s true that we can’t say with 100% certainty what a dog thinks and feels (because you’d actually need to be able to talk to a dog in order for him to tell you that), I can tell you that the more we learn about their inner workings, the gap between people and dogs is narrowing. Each new study offers amazing insight into how smart, individual, and yes – emotional – they really are.

One of the most common tropes we hear about dogs is, “They live in the moment,” which assumes they don’t spend too much time thinking about the past. But all of us who share our lives with dogs have seen them react to something in a way that indicates they sure do remember things, thank you very much! As a veterinarian, “white coat syndrome”, the fearful reaction of a dog to a veterinarian in a white lab coat, is so well-documented that many of us just stopped wearing the jackets entirely.

And now science is finally showing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that dogs remember much more than we previously thought possible.

A recent study of 17 dogs in Current Biology explored the idea of episodic memory in dogs. They began by training the dogs to “Do as I do”, i.e., to imitate their trainer’s behavior. In this case, the dogs were aware they were receiving a cue, a signal to say “pay attention to what I’m doing.”

Then the researchers repeated the experiment, but without giving the “Do as I do” cue beforehand. Regardless of what the person was doing, the dog was instructed to lie down. Afterwards, trainers gave the dogs the command to repeat what they had just observed. This forced the dogs to recall what they had observed using episodic memory. This form of memory centers around the ability to recall a specific event from the past, but you didn’t know you were supposed to remember it at the time it happened. Despite showing signs of surprise, the dogs were able to recall what they had seen and imitate the person’s actions.

By demonstrating this ability to mimic, the study designers showed that dogs are watching and storing what they see all around them. Like people, they appear to be dumping all of that input into a short term memory bank, and if the information isn’t needed, it gets tossed out. Much the same way I can tell you what I had for dinner last night but not last month, a dog’s brain is quite capable of assessing memories and storing those considered pertinent for survival. As a social species whose evolution is closely tied to ours, it makes sense that they actually think in many of the same ways.

So, the next time you do something embarrassing around your pup, don’t be so quick to think they won’t remember it. At least we know for certain they won’t be spilling our secrets via speech, right?

Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Ho-Ho-Holiday Cocoa Recipe

Nothing says “the holidays are here” quite like a comforting cup of hot cocoa. One whiff of this rich, chocolaty recipe will fully engage your nostalgia reflexes, conjuring up happy days of yore. Even better, the following simple mix-stir-and-heat recipe features a healthy measure of Chocolate Protein Powder, our non-GMO, nutrient-rich blend of proteins from pea, chia, pumpkin, hemp and quinoa! What better way to shore up your joyful reserves and fuel your holiday shopping, planning and festive jubilations!

As outlined, makes a single serving. Simply increase the fixings to serve two, six or even a dozen!

10 oz milk of choice

1 scoop Life's Abundance Chocolate Protein Powder

1 tsp Maple syrup or sweetener substitute

1 tsp Cocoa powder (increase for extra ho-ho-ho)

Pinch of salt

Optional: Add a few drops of Peppermint extract, or 1/8-1/4 tsp Vanilla extract for an added zing.

Directions: Add all ingredients into a shaker bottle or a blender and mix well. Pour contents into a saucepan or microwave-safe container and gradually heat at medium temperature or power level. Pour the warmed contents into a festive mug and enjoy at your leisure.

If you’re up for enjoying the holiday spirit in a more literal way, consider any of the following flourishes to upgrade your cocoa to a cup of good cheer!

Merry-making combos:

Peppermint Schnapps + Kahlua, Tequila or Cinnamon

Frangelico + Brandy or Bourbon

Rum + Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Goldschläger

Bailey’s Irish Cream + Vodka or Whiskey

Be sure to leave your comments in the section below. If you think you can improve upon our recipe, let us know how you did it! Remember, it’s the season of giving, so please share your cocoa-making secrets with your fellow blog readers.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Giving Rescues Reasons to be Thankful

A time of fellowship and enduring affections, this year’s holiday season has come. For many Americans, the chance to value and support friends, family and community offers a welcome change of pace, given a fractious election year. Many of us are already throwing ourselves headlong into preparations to spend quality time with family and friends. And while we may be fully invested in our immediate and upcoming holiday plans, this time of year finds us considering the plights of others … it is the season of giving and thanks, after all!

I’m so grateful to have helped establish a company that does so much to promote the welfare and health of companion animals. As I’m fond of saying, we’re a small company with a great big heart. Helping companion animals to lead healthier, longer and happier lives is not just an important company commitment … it’s our personal mission.

I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of our non-profit’s essential work. The Dr. Jane Foundation provides funding to an incredibly diverse array of small and medium-size animal rescue groups. Regardless of geography, all of these groups are united in common cause … doing whatever it takes to save neglected, abused and homeless animals. Over the last 10 years, it’s been my great honor to discover the hundreds of rescue organizations who invest so much time, energy and passion into forging a brighter future for these helpless creatures. Along with my fellow Board Directors, I have witnessed the amazing resilience of companion animals who have suffered any manner of trauma. Their journeys of healing and hope inspire us to do more for the legions of volunteers, foster parents and veterinarians who work so hard every single day.

Best of all, every time you purchase Life’s Abundance products, a small donation is made in honor of these groups. Simply by shopping with us, every one of our loyal customers helps to support the cause of animal rescue. So, while you're actively working towards wellness for yourself, your family and your companion animals, know that you're also giving a helping hand to the people who have dedicated their lives to making life better for homeless animals.

It seems only right this holiday season to share news of our most recent round of funding. And, seeing as how this IS Thanksgiving, I’d like to personally thank the following seven rescue groups, each of whom received financial backing from our non-profit. Please note that most, if not all, of the dogs depicted in the following photos are available for adoption.

New Kent Humane Society

Founded in 2009, this small-town animal rescue works to reduce the growing number of homeless animals. Run entirely by a dedicated team of volunteers, they strive to liberate dogs and cats from the county pound. Their greatest wish is "to reduce the number of animals being euthanized locally". Thanks to their tireless advocacy and a budding network of foster homes, more and more dogs and cats are finding forever homes. In addition to their adoption efforts, this group is also committed to helping lost pet kids be reunited with their families. We support the superheroes of this small community who strive to improve quality of life for so many, especially those who do not have a voice. To learn more, visit www.newkenthumane.org.

D.R.E.A.M. Dachshund Rescue

Serving Atlanta, North Georgia and the Savannah area, this breed-specific rescue is 100% volunteer operated. All of their dogs are temporarily homed in foster care, affording every volunteer ample opportunity to really get to know each foster pup. This hands-on approach can make a huge difference when it comes to matching their personalities with prospective adopters, as it helps to guarantee successful outcomes when their Dachshunds are ultimately placed in their forever homes. To learn more, visit www.dreamrescue.org.

Greyhound Pets of Greater Orlando

Originally founded in 1996 as a chapter of the National Greyhound Pets of America, this Orlando-based non-profit has two main goals: to locate loving homes for ex-racing Greyhounds and to educate the public on the merits of adopting this breed. Unlike most of our grant recipients this quarter, this group operates a physical facility, where right now nearly 50 of these elegant creatures are awaiting placement in their forever homes. Another fully volunteer enterprise, this group is proud that all donations go directly to the care of their rescued Greyhounds. The depth of their connection to the breed is evident in their commitment to never turn away a Greyhound due to injury, illness or old age. To learn more, visit www.greyhoundpetsorlando.org.

Southeast German Shepherd Rescue

Founded in 2010 to save German Shepherd Dogs from abuse, abandonment and high-kill shelters, this non-profit organization owes its existence to the compassion and dedication of its volunteers. Their efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome this noble breed take place primarily in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, but they provide assistance to rescue efforts throughout the Southeast. Everyone in the organization volunteers their service, doing their utmost to identify and place these social, intelligent and agile creatures in loving homes where they can thrive as loving and loyal family members. To learn more, visit www.southeastgermanshepherdrescue.com.

Lovebugs Rescue

This non-profit was founded by Heather Peterson in honor of Kaya, a special-needs Chihuahua who was rescued from a high-kill shelter. Located in Southern California, this foster-based rescue has made remarkable progress building relationships with overcrowded animal shelters in the area. Taking homeless pups into foster care not only saves their lives, it undercuts the reliance on euthanasia by other shelters as an acceptable response to overpopulation. Leading by example, their hope is to educate people about the gravity of the issue and how easy it is to make a difference that benefits everyone involved. To learn more, visit www.lovebugsrescue.org.

Southwest Metro Animal Rescue & Adoption Society

Based in Chaska, MN, this all-volunteer organization has more than 35 years of combined experience in the animal rescue field. One of a growing number of shelter-free charitable groups, this foster home-based organization commits serious time and energy into rescuing abandoned, abused and stray domestic animals. They are passionate about their work, and their mission of caring is clearly born out in the good works they accomplish every day. They have seen firsthand how the bond humans and companion animals share is strengthened through education, whether it's on humane treatment, the vital need for spay/neuter programs or the legal protections afforded animals. To learn more, visit www.swmetroanimalrescue.org.

Southern California German Shepherd Rescue

Founded in August 2006, this amazingly dedicated team of volunteers rescues, rehabilitates and rehomes pet kids all across Southern California. Additionally, they provide veterinary care and spay/neuter surgeries. In the last decade, they have successfully located forever homes for over 900 companion animals. Despite what you might think based on their name, this foster-based rescue saves not just German Shepherd Dogs, but also Great Danes, Poodles, mixed breeds ... even a few cats! To learn more, visit http://socalrescue.org.

Including these awards, The Dr. Jane Foundation has awarded grants totaling nearly $24,000 to 18 worthwhile rescues this year! Soon we will reveal more details about what these non-profits are able to accomplish with our funding. But for now, we extend our hearty, holiday congratulations to all of these groups for their remarkable efforts to make the world a better place for companion animals!

Are you involved in an animal rescue, or know someone who is? We are currently accepting applications for 2017 funding. Our Board will be considering applications for the next round of funding in January, so try to have completed grant requests submitted by the end of the year to ensure your group’s consideration.

This holiday season, any contribution you make will help to ensure that deserving groups like these continue to receive much-needed financial support. We will be thrilled to receive your donation, in any amount. For all of you who have already supported our non-profit, we can’t thank you enough. Thanks to your personal donations and continued patronage, we are taking real steps to help animal rescue groups across America. With your help, we’re making a positive difference in the world, one animal at a time.

Wishing you the very best this holiday season, and always!

Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Top Five Amazing Cat Facts

Russian Blue cat

I used to think I was a dog person, which lasted right up until I adopted a cat. While I’m still a huge dog fan, I no longer believe you have to prefer one over the other. There’s a reason cats are the most popular pet kids in North America!

Yes, cats are nothing like dogs: they are enigmatic, independent, sometimes aloof and always entertaining. Their completely unique natures are, in my opinion, their most endearing feature. It should come as no surprise that in addition to their one-of-a-kind personalities, they also have some pretty exceptional physical features and roles to play in our society. As a veterinarian, writer and cat enthusiast, it pleases me to no end to learn more about these fabulous furballs. Here are just five of my favorite unique cat facts!

1. Cats can use their mouth to smell

Have you ever seen your cat take a big sniff, then pull their mouth back in what looks like a sneer? That’s called the flehmen response, and it’s one of the wonderful, weird things that makes cats so unique. Cats have a special organ called the vomeronasal organ wedged up between the hard palate and the nasal septum. The vomeronasal organ is used to analyze pheromones, which is an important means of communication in the feline world. If you’ve ever gotten a good whiff of cat urine, you may make the same face … but unlike us, cats are actually gaining extra information from that stimulus.

2. Cats are well adapted to high-heat environments

Have you ever seen a cat pant? Hopefully not, because they aren’t supposed to. We all know that dogs use panting to dissipate heat, while humans sweat. Aside from a negligible number of sweat glands in the paws, cats do neither! Evolved from desert-dwelling creatures, cats have extremely efficient kidneys that can concentrate urine to a very high degree, meaning they can survive longer than other mammals with less water without becoming dehydrated. I watch my dark-coated cat Penelope seek out blocks of sunlight all the time … like many cats, she thinks “The hotter, the better!” Meanwhile my dog is laying on the coldest spot of floor he can find.

Striped Cat

3. You can’t top a cat’s night vision

Cats are unusual in that they have both predator and prey adaptations. One of their most unique features is their slit pupil, which allows the pupil to contract more quickly than the circular pupils of dogs and humans. This means they adjust more quickly to changes in ambient light. They also have the largest eyes of any mammal relative to their size! They have several other adaptations meant to ensure they can see well at night, including more rods in the back of their retina as well as a tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer of tissue that gives their eyes that eerie green glow.

4. Cats could have changed the course of history

In the Middle Ages, the Black Death swept through Europe, killing off an estimated 25% of the continent. The causative agent of bubonic plague, Yersinia pestis, was found to be carried by fleas who moved about the countryside on rodents. During the Spanish Inquisition, cats were condemned as evil and killed by the thousands. This cat depopulation allowed the rodent population to explode, extending the effects of the plague. Who knows how many lives could have been saved if only cats had been spared and out hunting the plague carriers.

5. Hissing is a unique feline vocalization

Have you ever heard a happy cat hiss? Probably not. Though not all cats hiss, those that do are invariably upset or frightened. Experts believe hissing may actually have evolved as a mimicry of a snake hiss, a way to warn someone that whatever they are doing, the cat is not at all happy about it. If you have a cat who hisses, consider yourself lucky! It’s a clear warning to stop whatever is upsetting them before they escalate to the next level, something usually involving claws or teeth.