All posts tagged 'og health issues'

Help Pets Stay Chill This Summer

smart-puppy-on-beach

As summer approaches, we’re going through our closets pulling out our t-shirts and shorts in preparation for fun in the sun. But what about our four-legged friends stuck in a permanent fur coat? Are they as affected by the midday heat as we are? (Spoiler alert: yes.) And is there anything we can do about it? (Also, yes.) Here’s the good news: beating the heat is as easy as ABC!

A. Always Plan Ahead

Remember, our companion animals are at our mercy when it comes to being out in the sun. While we can choose whether or not to take a midday hike or sit out in the backyard for hours, they have to go along with the decisions we make, even if it is uncomfortable or potentially dangerous for them. Heat stroke illnesses and deaths spike in the summer, stemming from three main categories:

Prolonged exercise in full heat is dangerous. People who take their pet out to walk or run during the hottest time of the day and don’t realize their pet is overheating. Limit your exercise times to morning and evening during hot months.

Leaving pets in cars. It’s a myth that cracking the windows makes the car cooler ... it doesn’t! Another common misconception is that the outside temperature needs to be high for pets to suffer. On a sunny 70 degree day, the interior can reach 90 degrees in 30 minutes. In 85 degree weather, the temperature can reach 120 in the same period of time! If you can’t bring your dog or cat inside with you on your errands, let them stay home. It simply isn’t worth the risk.

Too much activity and not enough water. I’ve seen pets get heat stroke just from playing in the yard on a warm afternoon. If you’re planning on staying outside with your dog, make sure he or she has plenty of water to drink, a shady place to retreat to, and maybe even a sprinkler or wading pool to cool down in.

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B. Beware the Signs of Heat Stroke

Heat stroke symptoms can begin once the body temperature exceeds 103 degrees F. While most of us don’t carry a pet thermometer around, watch for these specific warning signs:

  • heavy panting
  • excessive drooling leading to very dry mouth
  • extra-red tongue or gums
  • weakness or collapse

Brachycephalic breeds like bulldogs and pugs are especially prone to overheating, as are dark-haired breeds. Dogs and cats can and do die every summer from heat exposure, so if you suspect your companion animal is suffering heat exhaustion or heat stroke, go to the veterinary ER as soon as possible! 

C. Clipping: What About a Summer ‘Do?

Many people like to give their dog or cat a summer clip to help stay cool. If this is something you are considering, talk to your groomer to ensure it’s appropriate for your pet’s breed. Dogs whose fur grows continuously - such as poodles and Lhasas - do well with clips, while double-coated breeds such as Akitas and Chows do not. In some cases, a pet’s coat may actually help keep him or her cool, rendering a clip counterproductive. If you do opt for a trim, make sure there is at least one inch of fur remaining so your beloved pup or kitty doesn’t get a sunburn.

Although heat-related illnesses are scary and serious, the great news is that they are also entirely preventable. With just a little foresight and planning, our furry friends can enjoy the summer just as much as we do! Now get out there and soak up the rays!

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

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.

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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

Vitamin E for Stressed Pets

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As a holistic veterinarian, I feel it is incredibly important to take the whole animal into consideration when it comes to nutrition. And, whenever practical, my preference is to provide nutrients, minerals and vitamins in their natural forms. In this post, I’d like to talk to you specifically about vitamin E, to review both the strengths and weaknesses of natural and synthetic forms.

Vitamin E is an incredibly complex and important nutrient that, among other things, functions as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are naturally occurring nutrients that promote health by slowing the destructive aging process of cells (a breakdown called “peroxidation”). In peroxidation, damaged molecules known as free radicals steal pieces from other cells, like fat, protein or DNA. The damage can spread, damaging and killing entire groups of cells. While peroxidation can be useful to destroy old cells or germs and parasites, when left unchecked, free radicals produced by peroxidation also damages healthy cells. Antioxidants can help to stem the tide of peroxidation, thus stabilizing free radicals.

Antioxidants like vitamin E are crucial to the health of companion animals of any age. They can improve the quality of the immune response and the effectiveness of vaccines in young pets, and help maintain a vital immune system in seniors.

Vitamin E occurs in one of two forms, either natural or synthetic. Natural vitamin E is a collection of eight chemically unique compounds that are derived from plants, including four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. More commonly used and less expensive, synthetic vitamin E is one compound – alpha-tocopherol.

For me, the choice of using natural or synthetic vitamin E in my formulas couldn’t be clearer, and neither could the evidence. The synthetic form of vitamin E is not as active or easily absorbed as the natural form of vitamin E. The molecular structure of vitamin E determines how well the body can utilize it. In human trials, researchers found that proteins in the liver specifically select the natural form of vitamin E and largely ignore the synthetic form.

In a Japanese study, scientists found that it took three times the amount of synthetic vitamin E to equal the blood levels of natural vitamin E. In the U.S., researchers found that body tissues and blood retained far higher levels of natural vitamin E versus synthetic. In addition, synthetic alpha-tocopherol vitamin E has only half the vitamin activity of the natural alpha-tocopherol vitamin E.

Why is there such a difference between synthetic and natural forms of vitamin E? The key to understanding how the body absorbs these two types differently lies on the molecular level.

best-buds-napping

The cellular structure of mammals more easily recognizes natural forms of vitamins. And cellular proteins and blood plasma bind to natural forms more readily than their synthetic counterparts. Unfortunately, synthetic vitamins are cheaper and, therefore, are more prevalent in many products on the market today.

So, how can you determine if the products you are using contain the synthetic or natural form of vitamin E? Simply check out the ingredient labels! Natural vitamin E is listed as a-tocopherol acetate, d-alpha tocopherol, d-alpha tocopheryl acetate or d-alpha tocopheryl succinate. Alternately, synthetic forms of vitamin E are labeled with a “dl-“ prefix.

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

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

REFERENCES:

Kiyose C, et al. Biodiscrimination of alpha-tocopherol stereoisomers in humans after oral administration. Am J Clin Nutr 1997 (Mar); 65 (3): 785-9

Burton GW, et al. Human plasma and tissue alpha-tocopherol concentrations in response to supplementation with deuterated natural and synthetic vitamin E Am J Clin Nutr 1998; 67: 669-84

Traber MG, et al. Synthetic as compared with natural vitamin E is preferentially excreted as a-CEHC in human urine: studies using deuterated a-tocopheryl acetate FEBS Letters 1998 (Oct 16); 437: 145-8

Yu W, Jia L, Wang P, et al. In vitro and in vivo evaluation of anticancer actions of natural and synthetic vitamin E forms. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008;52:447-456.

Blatt DH, Pryor WA, Mata JE, et al. Re-evaluation of the relative potency of synthetic and natural a-tocopherol: experimental and clinical observations. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2004;15:380-395.

Weiss WP, Hogan JS, and Wyatt DJ. Relative bioavailability of all-rac and RRR vitamin E based on neutrophil function and total a-tocopherol and isomer concentrations in periparturient dairy cows and their calves. J Dairy Sci. 2009;92:720-731.

Lauridsen C, Engel H, Jensen SK, et al. Lactating sows and suckling piglets preferentially incorporate RRR- over All-rac-a-tocopherol into milk, plasma and tissues. J Nutr. 2002;132:1258-1264.

Sen CK, Khanna S, and Roy S. Tocotrienols in health and disease: The other half of the natural vitamin E family. Molecular Aspects of Medicine. 2007;28-692-728.

Hayek MG, et al. Dietary vitamin E improves immune function in cats. In: Reinhart GA, Carey DP eds. Recent Advances in Canine and Feline Nutrition, Vol III: 2000 Iams Nutrition Symposium Proceedings. Wilmington, OH: Orange Frazer Press, 2000; 555-564.

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

Dental Care 101

Does your fur kid have dental disease? If your dog or cat is over the age of two, then the answer is “highly likely”.

It’s February, which means it’s also National Pet Dental Health Month! If you’re wondering why the awareness campaign lasts for a whole month, it’s because periodontal disease is the most commonly diagnosed disease in dogs and cats. Veterinary dentists will tell you, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of two have some form of periodontal disease.

That number may seem awfully high, but unfortunately it’s also accurate. Plaque and tartar accumulate on our pet’s teeth just like it does on our own, but the vast majority of pet parents don’t brush their companion animal’s teeth twice a day. Or even once a day. (It’s OK to admit it, you’re in good company). By their second birthday, your fur kid is basically fully grown. And far too many of these adults have never had their teeth brushed.

“But his teeth look fine!” you might protest. That very well may be true. However, plaque (the gummy film that forms on a pet’s teeth within hours of eating) isn’t obvious to the naked eye. Over the course of several days it combines with minerals to harden into tartar. Over weeks and months, this tartar builds into a thick brown stain. Often referred to as “yuck mouth”, there are less familiar technical terms for it (such as Stage IV periodontal disease, the worst level). With routine care and attention, you should be able to prevent them from ever experiencing that stage.

Evaluating a pet kid’s teeth and gums begins with a visual inspection. I call it “flip the lip” because you really need to lift that lip up to view the back molars, which is where the really bad buildup occurs. During the visual exam, we check for tartar, any anomalies (like extra or missing teeth), and for gum inflammation. We also check for any unusual masses. Two of my dogs have had oral melanomas, both discovered during routine exams.

Even if you regularly brush their teeth, they will eventually need a full cleaning at the veterinarian. This dental cleaning will often include x-rays of the mouth, a vital component of an oral exam. Bone loss, where the root is diseased below the gum line is more common than many realize.

Cats suffer a unique condition that makes x-rays even more crucial. Three quarters of cats over the age of five suffer from tooth resorption, a painful condition where the body reabsorbs the protective dentin covering on a tooth, leaving the root exposed. The cause is unknown, and it can affect just one or many teeth. The worst part is, the entire lesion may be below the gum line, resulting a normal-looking crown but with a terribly painful root. The only treatment at that point is extraction of the affected tooth. As stoic as felines are, even the most observant pet parents won’t see any evidence of this problem. Scary, right?

The concept of “anesthesia-free dentistry” has become very popular over the years, but I would caution you to know its limitations. We anesthetize our fur kids because that is the only way we can be thorough in our examination, clean underneath the gum line where much of the bacteria and plaque reside, and extract teeth if necessary. I have seen many dogs and cats at my clinic just weeks after an anesthesia-free cleaning who are still suffering from significant dental disease. If you do use this option, just know that while it may remove tartar and plaque from the visible surface of the tooth, it does not provide the health benefits that a full cleaning under anesthesia would.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, treat your companion animal to the gift of health! Many veterinary clinics offer special deals or packages during the month of February, so if you’ve been putting off that dental cleaning, there’s no time like the present to schedule an appointment. And be sure to check out the Life’s Abundance dental-health products discounted for the month of February in celebration of National Pet Dental Health Month. We’re offering these great products at their reduced Autoship prices (up to 18% off retail!): Gourmet Dental Treats, Porky Puffs and Buffalo Bully Sticks!

By making just a couple of improvements to your care regimen, you could help to add years to your pet kid’s lifetime.

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

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