All posts tagged 'canine wellness'

Effects of Aging on Canine Cognition

close-up-dogs-eyes

In observation of National Pet Month, Dr. Jessica Vogelsang takes an in-depth look at how canine cognition changes as dogs age, and provides tips to help keep them healthy for many future National Pet Month celebrations!

I can’t tell you how often I ask pet parents about their senior dog and the response is “okay, but … I guess he’s just getting old.” I love this conversation opener, because it tells me two things. One, the pet parent is paying enough attention to know something has changed, even if they don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about. Two, there’s probably something I can do to help!

All living things grow old. The aging process is complicated and messy, encompassing a variety of genetic and environmental factors. Some we can control, others we can slow down, and the remainder we just manage the best we can. The good news is, there’s almost always something we can do to make a companion animal feel better.

When we think about what it means to be old, most of us jump to the most obvious complaint of age … aches and pains. The body stiffens, the joints dry out, the discs in our spines shrivel up, and we end up shuffling around like Carl from the movie Up. Almost all senior dogs develop symptoms of osteoarthritis, which is one of the reasons I recommend joint supplements for seniors. If a pet parent says, “He won’t climb the stairs anymore,” or, “He doesn’t want to go for long walks,” then I know we’re likely dealing with pain.

But what about cognitive dysfunction, the age-related decline in neurologic function? Referred to as “canine cognitive dysfunction” in veterinary medicine, some laypeople call it “doggie Alzheimer’s”. While the symptoms can be similar to what humans experience, it’s not exactly the same thing.

wolfhound-close-up

Unfortunately, cognitive decline is quite common in senior dogs. More than half of all dogs over the age of 11 show at least one clinical sign. Since we don’t know for certain all the biological changes that occur in an aging brain, we describe canine cognitive dysfunction as a collection of symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Changes in activity level
  • Changes in sleep/wake cycle (e.g., wandering around in the middle of the night)
  • House-soiling
  • Anxiety
  • No longer adhering to an established routine

For many years, we simply accepted this condition as a price for living a long life. However, we’re learning that there are ways we can actually decelerate cognitive decline in dogs.

One way veterinarians manage cognitive dysfunction in dogs is through medications. Certain drugs that increase the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine may improve brain function. In fact, the same drug used by dogs can also be used to treat Parkinson’s!

curious-dog

The other way we manage cognitive decline is through the nutrition and personal attention we provide our dogs. New and exciting research is showing that certain types of antioxidants and dietary ingredients can positively impact the brain function of senior pets! I love this because these are safe, easy changes we can use to improve the aging process for all our senior friends:

1. Feed a diet rich in antioxidants. Free radicals in the body accelerate the aging process. Antioxidants, such as those found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, can be added to a dog’s diet to limit the free-radical damage. Several studies have shown that seniors who eat a diet rich in antioxidants exhibit clinical improvement in cognitive function within just a few weeks.

2. Exercise the brain. Keep your pet’s neurons working through lots of daily playtime, walks, and puzzles. We joke that the brain is a muscle; it’s not, of course, but like a muscle it does benefit from regular workouts!

3. Fatty acids. We all know essential fatty acids are good for the skin and coat, but there’s also increasing evidence that a subset of fatty acids called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) serve as a preferred energy source for the brain and can actually improve mental sharpness.

If your dog is getting a little grey around the muzzle, don’t accept “he’s just getting old” as a fact of life. Yes, we all age, but we can do it better by taking steps to preserve health and quality of life.

All my best to you and your lovable, aging dogs!

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

Infographic: Soothing Doggie Stress

Unless you’re truly tuned in with your canine companion, you might be missing the “tail-tell” signs that your puppy’s got stress issues.

By learning to recognize the symptoms and gaining a clearer picture of the potential causes, you’ll be well on your way to helping your canine chill out on a regular basis. If that weren’t enough to perk up your ears, Dr. V also drops some helpful tips for alleviating dog stress. Definitely worthy of further investigation!

Take a page out of our pet-care book and save this handy infographic for future reference … it might just help your dog find his way back to bliss!

How-to-Avoid-Dog-Stress

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

Is a Paleo Diet Right for Your Dog?

adorable-terrier

As pet parents ourselves, all of us here at Life’s Abundance know just how overwhelming it can be to choose the right food for your dog. There is so much conflicting information out there: you have to be grain free! Your canine needs to eat like a wolf! You should be putting antioxidants on everything! Home made food is better than commercial! How do you possibly make sense of all the conflicting information from so many different sources?

One of my goals when formulating a new food is to keep up with the most current thinking in nutrition while making sure our foods live up to the highest standards possible. Two of the most popular buzzwords right now are “paleo” and “limited ingredient.” But what do these mean? Are paleo or limited ingredient diets what your companion animal really needs?

Let’s take a look at the evidence.

Paleo diets have been all the rage in human nutrition for the past few years. While there isn’t any one strict definition, the general idea is that if a caveman didn’t eat it, neither should you (or in this case, your dog). In its most basic sense, the paleo diet avoids all processed foods such as cereals, pastas, and added sugars. The paleo diet also frowns on grains, keeping carbohydrate sources limited to those occurring naturally in vegetables and fruits.

Despite the fact there is no one true ‘paleo’ definition, we can certainly look at the overall concept and see something to like. A paleo diet is nutrient-dense, with every ingredient chosen for a purpose. The carbohydrates chosen are those that cause less peaks and valleys in blood glucose and energy levels throughout the course of the day. Given its reliance on unprocessed ingredients, a paleo food is going to avoid things like fillers and artificial colorings and flavorings. One of the major drawbacks to a classic paleo diet is the fact that it does not allow the use of legumes such as peas or lentils, which are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. 

border-collie-dashing

Limited ingredient diets came about due to a wave of pet parents being concerned their dogs had food allergies. The number of dogs who actually have food allergies is not as large as the number of dogs who have food allergy symptoms (there are complex reasons for this, which perhaps I’ll cover in a future post). Regardless, the idea for limited ingredient diets is to limit intake to novel proteins (meaning an unusual source that a pet has not eaten before), and novel carbohydrates, the diet is less likely to trigger a dog’s food allergy symptoms. This is how we ended up with diets like kangaroo and oats, or duck and peas. The most common food allergens in dogs are beef, chicken, lamb, wheat, corn, and egg. This correlates to the most commonly used ingredients in pet foods, which makes sense.

If your canine has a true food allergy, he or she is probably going to need to undergo an elimination trial and all sorts of testing to see what is going on, and then move onto a special diet for the rest of his or her life. But if he or she has some minor symptoms of food intolerance or if you are just trying to avoid the major allergens in dog foods, it can be cost prohibitive to put your pet on a novel protein diet; many are prescription-only or are not meant for all life stages. Some diets are based on hydrolyzed soy, which is as appetizing to dogs as it sounds! It just doesn’t make sense to seek out one of these diets if you don’t have to due to medical necessity.

dogue-de-bordeaux

For many pet parents, their dog may not have food allergies but they still want to avoid the common triggers by feeding high quality, novel proteins that taste delicious and support optimal health. And it’s with these needs in mind that we developed the newest addition to the Life’s Abundance family of foods: our Pork and Venison Grain Free Recipe Dog Food.

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This formulation holds to the paleo ideas of being grain-free. The carbohydrate sources are peas and lentils, which are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. The protein sources are pork and venison, which are very rich, nutrient-dense protein sources that taste amazing. Canned foods are great for triggering the appetite because they have more potent smell. Trust me, we’ve all taken a whiff of the new formula and agree … the aroma is pretty yummy! Best of all, it’s formulated to be appropriate for all life stages, from weaning puppies to geriatric seniors, even if they’re missing some teeth.

We are so proud of this new formula and we can’t wait for you all to try it. As soon as you do, post a comment here and let us know what you think. We hope your dogs love it as much as ours do!

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals! And, happy feeding!

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

New Year’s Goals for Pet Kids

Frenchie

Ah, January. A season for new beginnings, new resolutions, and some measure of regret for all the indulgences of the holiday season. If my gym is any indication, “get more exercise” is still on the top of most people’s list of New Year’s resolutions.

Fur kids don’t make resolutions, but if they did, half of them would be joining us in our pursuit of a healthier weight. Here’s a few facts about canine and feline weight you might not know:

1. More than half of dogs and cats in the US are considered overweight. It’s right up there with dental disease in terms of how frequently it is diagnosed. Because it creeps up slowly over time, many pet parents don’t even realize it’s happening until an annual vet check. Suddenly, your 12-pound cat is now 15 pounds. Yikes!

Tabby

2. Being overweight increases other health risks. Diabetes, joint disease, heart and lung disease, some forms of cancer and high blood pressure are all linked to excessive weight in dogs and cats. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same list we see in people. We all need to make an effort to go out and play, walk or run as a team!

3. Weight loss is a process. Some companion animals lose weight more easily than others, so it may take some experimentation to figure out the best course of action for your own dog or cat. One of the most common pitfalls is neglecting to measure food portions. When my dog Brody put weight on after my son took over feeding duties, I was shocked to realize that he was dumping food in the bowl without measuring. Brody was being overfed by almost 30%!

Whippet

4. Helping your fur kid be healthier can make you healthier, too! The Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that people who live with dogs are 34% more likely to walk at least 150 minutes a week. And if your fur kid is a puppy, guess what? You walk faster than people walking without a dog. Sometimes not in a straight line, am I right?

5. Pet kids at a healthy weight live longer. Dogs and cats at a normal weight have an average life expectancy up to 2.5 years longer than those who are overweight. So commit today and add more and better years to not just your own life, but your companion animal’s as well!

The great thing about weight, compared to other medical conditions, is that it is reversible. Talk to your veterinarian about the course of action that’s right for you. They can help you figure out your companion animal’s caloric requirements and ensure weight loss is done gradually and safely.

Here’s to a fruitful and healthy 2017, and successful squad goals!

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

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

Care & Feeding of Aging Dogs

Aging Dog

A lot of folks don’t realize it, but as companion animals grow older, their nutritional needs often change. As their caretakers, we owe it to them to provide the best we can, based on their current nutritional requirements. The truth is, when it comes to senior dogs, appropriate, targeted nourishment can make a real difference in terms of longevity and long-term happiness. More...

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).

MORE ON CAUSES

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

Puppy It’s Cold Outside

Winter is coming. For many pet households, that means dogs – and people – spending more time indoors, away from the bitter cold. Even though some will be braving the ice and snow for quick walks, most of us will be staying in the warm, climate-controlled confines of home. Since your canine probably doesn’t enjoy Netflix bingeing nearly as much as you, we’re exploring simple ways to help fight the doggie doldrums.

This month, Dr. Sarah reveals just how easy it is to keep your pup entertained. And we bet that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you can do inexpensively! Watch as Dr. Sarah demonstrates with her canine companion eight simple activities for inside playtime. Fend off the wintertime blues with fun for everyone!

Be sure to share this video with other pet parents. And if you have any ideas for keeping canine boredom at bay, feel free to share them with the Life’s Abundance community in the comments section below.

Biking with Your Dog

Have you ever seen someone biking with their dog and thought, “Wow, that looks like fun … but where did they learn how to do that?” If so, this month’s episode of Pet Talk was made just for you!

In this short video, Dr. Sarah will help you to gain a basic understanding of how to safely enjoy this outdoor activity with your dog. Our Staff Veterinarian explains exactly what gear you’ll need (a minimal investment), plus all the necessary steps to train a dog to become comfortable near a moving bicycle. Trust us when we say that wheeling around with your dog really is loads of fun!

Be sure to share this video with friends and family, especially if they love pursuing new and exciting leisure pastimes. And, please leave your comments if this Pet Talk episode is helpful to you.