Lifes Abundance content relating to 'Dr. Jane Bicks'

Do Dogs Suffer from Depression?

Sad Pug

Pet parents have asked me if dogs can experience depression. In almost every case, the question is prompted by troubling behavior and not just simple curiosity. Well, dogs can most certainly exhibit obvious signs of depression, such as loss of appetite or declining interest in previously enjoyed activities. And then there are symptoms not readily recognized as depressive: anxiety, fearfulness, aggression, various destructive behaviors and even hiding from people. Are these last signs indicative of depression, a complicated emotional disturbance, or do they point to something else altogether? 

In humans, depression ranges from temporary episodes of sadness to severe, persistent clinical depression, which persists for significant periods of time. Both are marked by a depressed mood and a loss of interest and lack of pleasure.

Dogs are highly intelligent, emotional creatures. We know that they can read our facial expressions, learn complex commands, express fear and joy, and can get stressed, but can they be depressed? Behavioral scientists not only say ‘yes’, but are surprised by how prevalent depression is among canines. In fact, in a 2013 British study, scientists discovered something shocking … nearly one in four dogs in the UK was suffering from some form of depression.

Because we cannot simply ask our dogs if they’re depressed, how can we know for sure what’s going on? Well, the experts say, look to sudden changes in behavior which cannot be attributed to a medical problem. In such cases, depression offers the most logical rationale. But, on an emotional level, we also have our own sense of empathy as a guide. As pet parents, we often just intuitively know something’s up.

MORE ON SYMPTOMS

Canines often express signs of depression after loss of a family member, whether it’s a human or another animal. When someone close to a dog is no longer around, they can be listless, lose their appetite, be cranky, pace frantically, regress in house-training, sleep for even longer periods, and even develop destructive behaviors such as digging or chewing. Some dogs can develop anxiety-ridden behaviors, such as prolonged trembling, while others experience a significant change in personality (outgoing, becoming withdrawn and distrustful).

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Some dogs can exhibit depressive behaviors if they don’t get enough exercise or attention. Even changes in routine, ranging from serious (loss of a caretaker) to the seemingly harmless (changing a pet’s bed) can result in the symptoms listed above.

Unfortunately, changes in behavior can signal an underlying medical problem. Painful conditions such as arthritis, pinched nerves, bladder infections, or gastrointestinal inflammation can elicit behavioral changes, and hormonal conditions such as hypothyroidism can mimic the signs of depression in dogs. If you notice any sudden changes in your dog’s behavior, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. With a physical exam, and any necessary tests administered as warranted (such as blood work, urine testing and x-rays), your vet will be better equipped to determine potential causes and likely treatments.

Sad Shaggy Dog

HOW TO DEAL WITH YOUR DOG’S DEPRESSION

If your dog seems inordinately sad or becomes listless, you do have some options for home therapy.

Be intentional about the time you spend with your dog. Be prepared to dote on your pup, (yes, even more than usual!), and shower them with attention, like you would with a newly adopted dog.

Renew your commitment to exercise with daily walks … sunshine and fresh air can do wonders for both you and your dog. Plus, you’ll be adding a little adventure to your dog’s day. By taking long but unhurried walks, you allow your dog the time and space to roam a bit and smell all the scents. Remember, they can detect a whole host of odors, building timelines and creating mental maps of previous activity in any given spot … think of it like canine storytelling.

While at home, make sure your pup has plenty of good chew toys, and engage in some training sessions to stimulate positive mental activity.

In spite of all this, if your dog is still experiencing chronic depression, your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate medication to help manage, possibly even resolve, the illness. Your vet may recommend a consult with a board-certified veterinarian behaviorist. Certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, these experts are especially good at understanding such situations and knowing which pharmaceuticals will be most effective.

Have you ever known a canine who suffered from depression? How did you know? And what, if anything, were you able to do to help alleviate the condition? We’d really like to know about your experience, so please submit your comments below. You never know … something you share might mean the world to a pet parent searching for a solution, even if it’s simply the solace of knowing others have dealt with similar issues.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

REFERENCES:
In Defence of Dogs: Why Dogs Need Our Understanding, by John Bradshaw, 2011, ISBN: 9780141046495.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/10251465/One-in-four-dogs-suffering-depression.html

Happy Holidays from Dr. Jane

The holidays are very nearly upon us. As I sit here, writing this post, I can’t help but feel this year has flown past even faster than last year. Like many of you, I’m experiencing the flurry of activity that comes with the close of another year. Things certainly are hopping here at my farm, with all of my chickens, cats, my horse, even my new pygmy goat! As fleeting and precious as time is during the holidays, I consider your reading this holiday message right now an honor and a privilege. 

This year, we’ve enjoyed significant growth, largely thanks to your amazing customer loyalty. With exciting new products on the horizon, we feel confident that you will love us even more! In spite of our company’s relatively small size, more and more consumers consider us a leading purveyor of health and wellness products, both for companion animals and their pet parents. You can be assured that all of us here at Life’s Abundance are working very hard to ensure that our best days are ahead of us. We have every reason to believe that 2016 will be a stellar year for all of us.

Thanks to the hard work of our Field Representatives, the loyalty of everyone who regularly shops at Life’s Abundance, and all of those generous enough to make periodic contributions, our non-profit (The Dr. Jane Foundation) continues to thrive, helping animals in need by supporting small and medium-size rescue organizations across the nation. In 2015, we awarded more than a dozen rescues grants upwards of $20,000. We could not have done any of that if it weren’t for you. From the bottom of my heart, I thank all of you.

We have expanded our pet product line to include more health promoting products, like our premium grain-free foods for dogs and cats. Rest assured, we will continue to develop our line and hone existing formulas, all to give your pet kids the best possible life.

On behalf of all the employees of Life’s Abundance, we wish every Field Representative, customer and blog visitor the happiest, healthiest and most prosperous year yet.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals,

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Twelve Days of Kitty Kristmas

Even though we appreciate our furry friends year round, there is no time like the holidays to dote on your cat. In the spirit of yuletide tradition, here are 12 ways to holistically improve your cat’s quality of life. 

Day 1 – Food

Feeding your cat Life's Abundance cat food is the foundation of good health. Nutrition is critical to longevity, not only the quality of the food you feed your cat, but the quantity. Obesity is a common affliction of the American indoor cat population. If your cat eats too fast and is left looking for more, try putting food into a food puzzle instead of a bowl to increase mental stimulation and slow down eating. There are also programmable portion control feeders available that will dispense preset amounts of food.

Day 2 – Kitty Clothing

Short-haired dogs appreciate a warm coat during the winter, and cats do as well! A kitty coat is snuggly and cozy. In particular, clothing benefits older cats who have arthritis or experience trouble keeping warm.

Day 3 – Sanitation

Litter box problems are often cited as the leading cause for abandoning cats. Make sure you provide a nice area for your cat to relieve himself. The standard recommendation is one litter box more than the number of cats (for example, if you have 2 cats, have 3 boxes). Be sure the box is large enough to fully accommodate your cat and clean the box regularly. If your cat has any mobility issues (like arthritis), make sure the sides are low enough that she can get in and out of the box comfortably.

Day 4 – Rest

Cats spend a large amount of their lives curled up in sleep. During the winter, cats look for warm spaces, which can lead to tragedy if a cat seeks heat by nesting under the hood of a car. A heated bed makes a wonderful gift for the special feline in your life, but be on the look-out for products that have chew-resistant electrical cords.

Day 5 – Kitty Massage

For the truly pampered feline, there are self-grooming toys that coax cats in for ultimate relaxation. You can find body-stroke groomers, acupressure pads, ripple massagers, bunting combs, and gum stimulators that massage, stimulate pressure points, or clean teeth and gums. These products are self-grooming, and can be used by your cat whether you are at home or away! If you want to participate, try massaging your cat with our Stainless Steel Odor Removing Bar.

Day 6 – Fitness

Just like people, cats can pack on holiday pounds. The best way to combat unhealthy weight gain is with exercise. Cats love to climb and view their surroundings from an elevated perch, so a cat tree makes the perfect gift. Look for something that is tall with several levels, hiding spots, and scratching posts to simulate your cat’s surroundings in the wild. To encourage your cat to climb, hide food or treats at the top!

Day 7 – Skin Care

Soothing Mist helps control minor skin care issues like dry skin. This spray features zinc and a calming blend of aloe vera gel, marigold, lavender and chamomile to help soothe and protect healthy skin and coats. Safe and effective for both dogs and cats, it's even suitable for kittens over 12 weeks of age. If your cat has serious skin issues, however, do not replace a visit to your veterinarian with this product.

Day 8 – Kitty Garden

Bring the outdoors inside for your cat with a grass garden. More than a third of all cats eat plants, and many pet parents notice their cats chewing on house plants. To prevent your cat from chewing on something potentially harmful, grow a potted grass garden indoors, and let your cat graze away! With a few pots, some peat moss, and oat, rye, barley or wheat grass seeds, you can grow an elegant, nutritious and safe garden for your kitty to nibble.

Day 9 – Treats

Kitty treats make wonderful gifts! Our wholesome Cat Treats are made with high quality proteins, guaranteed vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids to promote a healthy hair coat. Best of all, they’re made right here in the USA.

Day 10 – Hydration

In the wild, cats are desert animals. They do not have a strong thirst reflex, and derive most of their hydration from the prey they ingest. Stimulate your cat’s hydration reflex with a water fountain. Cats love to drink from moving water! As a bonus, a drinking fountain also adds soothing ambiance to your home.

Day 11 – Fun

Cats love to chase and hunt. Simulate their favorite activity indoors with a feathered fishing pole or laser pointer. For tips on how to do this safely and have the most fun, watch Dr. Sarah’s video here.

Day 12 – Gifting

Can’t decide on what to get for the special feline or cat lover in your life? Combine several "treats" together in our Holiday Gift Basket, which features food, treats, supplements, toys and a “meow” mug for doting pet parents.

I hope that you will decide to celebrate the holiday season all 12 ways with your feline companion. And, may everyone in your family enjoy the last few weeks of 2015.

Thank you for all that you do to make the world a better place for companion animals,

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

The Inside Scoop On Homemade Pet Food

Girl thinking about what to cook

If you’re reading this, chances are it’s not the first time you’ve given some degree of thought to the concept of a homemade pet diet. Whether you regard this topic with interest or with repulsion, a series of pet food recalls combined with the ‘foodie’ movement have resulted in growing discussion among pet parents about the costs and benefits of becoming a personal chef for one’s pet kids. 

So, what are some of the reasons pet parents turn to making their own pet food? While motivations can be deeply personal, they commonly fall into these categories:

1. Your veterinarian prescribed food that your pet kid won’t eat
2. You have made specific dietary choices and want to extend them to your animal family members
3. You only trust food which comes out of your kitchen
4. You are hoping to alleviate the symptoms or severity of a medical diagnosis
5. You are ambivalent about commercial pet food and curious to see if you could get better results
6. A belief that you could save some money

While these questions provide some food for thought, motivation alone is not an assurance of health and wellbeing for pet kids. When deciding what to feed their companion animals, pet parent’s choices must be backed up by expertise and solid knowledge. So, what actually does go into the decision to take the plunge into homemade pet food?

Pet Parent Education: Intensive

In the era of Pinterest, there are loads of DIY pet food recipes and enthusiastic testimonials. Some of these recipes give the appearance of being well-balanced and reasonably easy, and may even have a cute name.

But chances are that the vast majority of these will not provide pets with the nutrition they need. In an independent 2013 study of 200 homemade adult dog food recipes gathered from the internet, cookbooks and veterinarians, only five (2.5%) of them were nutritionally balanced. All five balanced recipes had come from veterinarians with advanced training in nutrition.

The takeaway here is that it is critical to involve a holistic or integrative veterinarian and/or a veterinary nutritionist to ensure the nutritional needs of your furry kid are being met.

Cost Analysis: Moderate - Intensive

If the financial bottom line is a priority, time should be spent doing an analysis of the daily cost to feed pet kids a balanced diet. With a quality recipe in hand, pet parents can take to the internet and local grocery stores to estimate the cost of the homemade meal before ever investing in buying the ingredients. The cost of any special equipment, like a meat grinder or food processor, and food storage containers, should also be factored in.

Ingredient Sourcing: Intensive

A balanced recipe from a qualified Veterinary Nutritionist is sure to include proteins, carbohydrates and a list of added vitamins and other nutritional supplements. As with any consumable product, there is great variation in the quality of all of these ingredients as well as variation in what is appropriate for different species. What many fail to realize is that improperly balanced nutrients can actually lead to a host of disease states, essentially creating toxicity within the body. To ensure maximum benefit, be certain that your nutritionist is explicit about cuts of meat and which supplements to purchase, and ensure that all of these questions are addressed:

1. What form should each supplement be in; liquid or powder?
2. What source is okay for each supplement; synthetic, natural, purified, etc.?
3. Are there certain varieties of supplements that should be avoided; Cod Liver Oil or Krill Oil vs. Fish Oil?
4. Are your personal dietary requirements being met; grain-free or vegetarian?
5. Which cuts of meat are optimal, acceptable and should be avoided; white meat, dark meat, lean or fat?

Food Preparation & Storage: Moderate – Intensive

If you’ve ever done batch cooking for your human family, you’ll have an idea what it’s like to make your own pet food. This exercise takes advance planning, time management, practice and possibly endurance depending on how large a batch is being made.

This time commitment will vary by recipe, quality of equipment being used, size of the batch being prepared, and with fine tuning over time.

Food Serving: Minimal

Home prepared foods are refrigerated or frozen and may require warming to room temperature to serve. At issue here is the commitment to the frequency of this task more so than the amount of time required.

Given the level of difficulty in preparing home meals, and the expertise to get the formulas right every time, this probably isn’t a viable option for most pet parents. If you’re seeking holistic nutrition plus convenience and value, I urge you to consider the premium nutrition offered by any of our Life’s Abundance pet foods.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

The Special Bond Between Cats and Women

Girl playing with cat on rug

Have you ever wondered why women and cats have such strong relationships? Specifically, why some women (a very few, mind you) tend to collect large numbers of cats? While you’ve heard the term “crazy cat lady”, you never hear of “crazy gerbil ladies” or “crazy ferret ladies”!

In fact, some behavioral researchers wondered the same thing. A recently published study in the journal Behavioral Processes indicates the answer lies in a special bond that exists only between cats and women. Scientists from the Konrad Lorenz Research Station and the University of Vienna took a hard look at the behavioral interactions between 41 cats and their human companions, using individual personality assessments of both their human and feline subjects. Their findings might very well cause a paradigm shift in our understanding of these relationships. 

Rather than being standoffish and selfish (as cats are often portrayed), the study showed that there was real attachment between cats and their pet parents. Of course, any cat parent will tell you these findings are not surprising in the least. As expected, the cats demonstrated food-seeking behavior, but the researchers also noted that cats and their people signaled each other when they wanted to receive or even give affection. Cats also demonstrated that they were able to keep track of how their physical and emotional needs were being met. Further, felines were more likely to remember kind gestures and respond to their human companion’s emotional needs if the human had previously responded to their own.

While these interactions were noted with both women and men living with cats, cats clearly approached women and initiated contact (i.e. jump in laps) more often than with men. In fact, a cat’s relationship with a woman mirrored that of a human-human bond more than a human-animal bond, in that cats could tell their humans when to feed and interact with them and the humans would do it! Like a human infant, cats were seen to control when they were being fed. It is interesting to note that a cat’s mewl for food sounds eerily like that of a human infant.

The results of the study showed that cats and their pet parents, particularly women, influence each other strongly. In some ways, they can actually control one another’s behaviors. "A relationship between a cat and a human can involve mutual attraction, personality compatibility, ease of interaction, play, affection and social support," said co-author Dorothy Gracey of the University of Vienna. "A human and a cat mutually develop complex ritualized interactions that show substantial mutual understanding of each other's inclinations and preferences." While I wouldn’t go so far as to say cats can manipulate women, the results of this study certainly provide food for thought.

Knowing that cats have a much shorter evolutionary history of living with humans than dogs makes these findings even more astounding! Is it possible that women who provide homes for many cats simply cannot help themselves? There are so many new questions! Obviously, this study only scratches the surface of the complexity found in human-cat relationships. So, the next time you interact with your cat, I challenge you to ask yourself who is really running the show.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

References

Wedl M1, Bauer B, Gracey D, Grabmayer C, Spielauer E, Day J, Kotrschal K. Factors influencing the temporal patterns of dyadic behaviours and interactions between domestic cats and their owners. Behav Processes. 2011 Jan;86(1):58-67. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2010.09.001. Epub 2010 Sep 15.