Lifes Abundance content relating to 'dog health issues'

What Pet Parents Need to Know About Vaccines

Loving-couple-and-lab

“Vaccines are good!” “No, they’re bad!” “Do a half dose of the vaccine!” “Titer instead!”

There sure is a lot of noise surrounding vaccines for our pets, isn’t there? I don’t blame you if you think it’s confusing. Heck, I think it’s confusing and I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years. How, when, and what vaccines to use in pets is one of the most common questions I get both in person and online. When it comes to the truth about vaccines, here’s the real life, not-so-neat reality: there is no one size fits all answer. But the more we understand the principles behind the recommendations, the better equipped we are to make good decisions on behalf of our loved ones.

The immune system is complex, as is the science behind how we optimize it using various vaccinations. Here’s the basic information every pet person needs to understand.

How the Body Fights Disease

As we all know, a well-functioning body fights disease using white blood cells. However, not all white blood cells are the same! They come in three general categories:

1. Macrophages: These cells are the first line of defense. They engulf infected and dying cells, and save pieces of it to present to the other immune cells. Think of them as first responders. They save little pieces of the invader, known as antigens, as evidence from the crime scene!
2. B cells: These cells produce antibodies in response to the antigen. An antibody is a substance that helps the body fight disease in a variety of ways. For example, it can neutralize the invader, or act like a homing beacon for other types of cells to identify the invaders quickly. B cells are like Dr. Nefario from "Despicable Me" ... they don’t take part in the fight directly, but they produce all the gadgets that help the good guy win the battle.
3. T cells: These cells directly attack infected cells. They’re trained to identify a specific antigen, so it can react quickly to destroy the invader. T cells are the trained assassins of the body, honed in on their target.

After an infection is overcome, the body retains some T and B cells specific to that antigen, just in case it encounters it again. In order for those B cells and T cells to react quickly, they must have already been exposed to antigens from the infecting agent. That’s where vaccines come in.

How Vaccines Help

Vaccines imitate infection without causing the actual disease. This allows the body the benefit of those B and T cells carrying around a blueprint for how to respond to the disease, without actually having to survive the infection first. Here’s the important thing to note ... not all vaccines work the same way. Here are the most common types of vaccines we use in veterinary medicine:

1. Attenuated vaccines: These are live infective agents that have been weakened or altered in some way so they do not cause the actual disease. Distemper, parvo, and adenovirus-2 are this type.
2. Inactivated vaccines: These are whole bacteria or viruses that have been killed so they cannot replicate. The most common vaccines in this category are rabies, Leptospirosis, Lyme, influzena, FeLV, and injectable Bordetella. Because these organisms are dead, they are often combined with a substance to “draw” the immune system’s attention: like sending a flare into the sky. These substances are called adjuvants. Vaccines in this category are, according to some, the most likely to cause an adverse reaction.
3. Toxoid vaccines: These are a detoxified toxin - these are not actually in response to an infectious agent at all! Rattlesnake vaccine is the most common example.
4. Recombinant vaccines: These vaccines represent a new generation of vaccine technology. They take a piece of DNA or RNA from the infectious agent and insert it into a benign live virus that will not cause infection. Because the organism is live, it triggers a nice strong immune response without the need for adjuvant. If your cat has been vaccinated with adjuvant-free Purevax, then you’re familiar with this type of vaccine.

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How often do we need to re-vaccinate?

Well, here’s where it gets tricky. Some vaccines last longer than others because of the nature of the infection itself. Or, the exact same vaccine may last longer in one individual than in another. I have a colleague who needs a rabies vaccine every three years; mine lasted 20! There is no guaranteed answer.

So, what do we do? We make recommendations based on minimizing the number of vaccines while maximizing the level of protection for animals taking into account the wide variability in response. The American Animal Hospital Association assembled a gold star panel of the world experts in immunology who make, in my opinion, the most informed recommendations for dogs. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has done the same for cats. These are guidelines that are tailored to your pet with help from your veterinarian.

When you talk to your vet about what your pet needs, you balance risk versus benefit for the individual. You look at lifestyle, likelihood of exposure to diseases, severity of those diseases, current health, and vaccine history. The two most important factors are risk and health history.

Risk: Not all pets are at equal risk for disease. A pug who lives in a skyscraper in San Francisco is not at the same risk for certain diseases as a hunting dog in Louisiana.

Health History: A healthy one year old who is just finishing up their initial vaccine series has different needs than a sixteen-year-old diabetic who has been vaccinated on time her whole life. A sick pet, one with a history of reactions to vaccines, or one with a history of immune mediated disease will have different recommendations.

The exception is rabies, a disease that kills both pets and people. Most jurisdictions have mandated rabies vaccination guidelines written into law.

Can’t I just titer?

Titers are, for those willing to pay for them, a decent (but not foolproof) way of feeling out a pet’s immune status. Titers check for circulating antibodies to a specific disease. Remember when we were talking about B cells and T cells? Titers only tell you about long term B cell response. A pet with a high antibody titer may still be bottomed out on T cells, and vice versa. It’s only part of the picture. It’s not a guarantee that a pet is protected, but it gives you more information to make an informed decision particularly when it comes to how often to boost vaccines in an adult animal who already has several boosters.

What about half doses for smaller pets?

It’s tempting to think of vaccines the same way that we do drugs, whose efficacy is dependent on the concentration in the blood. Not so with vaccines. Vaccines work more on an all-or-nothing proposition: either they get the body’s attention, or they don’t. The degree of the response is determined by the body’s production of those T and B cells. This is the same as in human medicine: my kiddos get the same volume of flu vaccine as my husband. It’s not worth the risk to gamble with a vaccine not working, with no proven benefit.

It’s challenging to dilute a textbook’s worth of information into a single blog post, but hopefully this gives you a little background for your discussions with your vet. Vaccines, nutrition, weight control, exercise ... lots of moving parts come together to help ensure the best health outcomes for your pets. The best decisions are those you make with your trusted health care providers as a team!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

References:
“Understanding How Vaccines Work” from CDC.gov
AAHA canine vaccination guidelines
AAFP feline vaccination guidelines

5 Meds That Are Toxic to Pets

dog-at-vet

The past four months have been a blur of training, cleaning up and chasing around after our new puppy, Dakota. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I did forget how much trouble a curious puppy can get into! Last week I found Dakota chomping on a travel-sized bag of trail mix that included chocolate covered raisins. Chocolate covered raisins! How did that even get into the house? I still don’t know where it came from, but fortunately I was able to intervene before he opened the bag.

Most people know that chocolate and grapes can be toxic for pets, but potential threats can lurk elsewhere in your home. Prescription and over-the-counter medications are among the top reasons people call into poison control hotlines for both kids and pets, and with good reason. Here are the top five medications of concern when it comes to pets and toxicity:

1. Ibuprofen. As the active ingredient in common over-the-counter products such as Advil and Motrin, ibuprofen is unfortunately ingested by pets both accidentally and intentionally by owners unaware of its potential side effects. Cats are particularly sensitive to its effects. The most common clinical sign is vomiting or gastrointestinal ulcers, though it can also lead to kidney damage. Other NSAIDS such as Aleve can also be problematic.

2. Acetaminophen. Speaking of pain medications, acetaminophen-containing products such as Tylenol are also high on the list of pet poisons. Like ibuprofen, cats are particularly sensitive to the effects of this medication, and one pill is enough to kill a cat. Both cats and dogs can experience liver damage as a result of this medication, starting with decreased appetite and leading to yellow skin (a sign of jaundice), swollen paws or difficulty breathing. Acetaminophen is a common ingredient in combination products like cough and flu remedies, so be careful to read the label on your products!

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3. Stimulants. ADHD medications such as Adderall and Ritalin can be toxic to companion animals. Sadly, they are more likely to be ingested by pets as they are often prescribed for children who may be less vigilant about keeping the pills out of the reach of the household dogs and cats. Signs of ingestion may include dilated pupils, seizures, shaking or hyperactivity.

4. Antidepressants. Antidepressants fall into several categories depending on their mechanism of action. In the most commonly prescribed medications (such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Effexor) work by increasing the concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain. When overdosed, the brain can be flooded with these chemicals and pets can experience a variety of symptoms such as depression, hyperexcitability, seizures and vomiting.

5. Vitamin D. As doctors are starting to diagnose Vitamin D deficiency more often, this is a common supplement in people’s medicine cabinets. When there is too much in the body, blood calcium levels also rise, resulting in serious damage to the kidneys. It is so effective at causing damage that it's commonly used in rat poisons such as d-Con. Vitamin D might appear on rodenticide labels as “cholecalciferol,” and should be avoided.

There’s no time like the present to ensure any of these items in your house are safely secured away from prying pet paws. If you suspect your dog or cat has ingested any of these harmful substances, call your veterinarian or a pet poison control helpline ASAP!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

What You Need to Know About Lyme Disease

bright-eyed-pupper

If you’ve ever had the displeasure of finding a tick on your pet, you know how revolting they are. The first time I found one on my Golden Brody, I was petting him when I felt what I thought was a skin mass. When I looked closer I found to my horror that it was a huge, engorged tick. We had just moved to another part of the county a month prior; in our previous home we never had a tick issue, so I was using just a flea and heartworm preventive. That changed quickly!

Which brings up a couple of points. First, as gross as ticks are, the bigger concern here is that they carry a variety of diseases that can negatively impact your pet’s health. The most prevalent of these tick-borne diseases is Lyme disease. Second, even within relatively tiny geographical regions, the parasite risk can vary tremendously. If you read last month’s blog post on heartworm disease, you’ll remember this trend of microclimates combined with two years of hot, wet weather has created a huge increase in the prevalence of heartworm in areas where they were never a problem before. The same goes for fleas and ticks.

If you haven’t heard of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (capcvet.org), bookmark their site now. It has the most comprehensive parasite data available. Although it’s geared towards veterinarians to help them educate clients, you can absolutely use and share this wonderful resource with your pet parents friends. It's an invaluable tool for assessing the specific risks in a particular geographic location.

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Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. It affects both pets and people, but it is not transmitted to you directly from your companion animal. A bacterial disease, symptoms begin with headaches, fatigue and fever, but it can progress throughout the body and negatively impact multiple organ systems if left untreated. Because the signs are so vague, many cases are left undiagnosed for a very long time. For more detailed data about its symptoms, visit cdc.gov/lyme/signs_symptoms/index.html.

The CAPC just released their 2018 Parasite Forecast, and it’s got some bad news about Lyme disease. As the tick population has spread, so has the incidence of Lyme disease. While veterinarians in the northeast are well-versed in recognizing signs, it is becoming a much bigger problem in areas such as the Dakotas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. It may not even be on the radar for most people who live in these areas, but it should be.

The data is so specific that you can click on your state and find the statistics by county - how many pets were tested for Lyme and how many came back positive. As a well-informed pet parent this is invaluable if you find a tick on your pet. It can help you answer questions like "should I tell my vet?" and "should I really pay for the test?" We encourage all of our readers to search the database, available here: capcvet.org/maps/#2018/all/lyme-disease/dog/united-states.

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But it’s not all bad news! Once diagnosed, Lyme disease can be treated with a course of antibiotics. And there’s plenty that you can do right now! First, be aware of the risk in your specific area. Second, use a good tick medication. You have choices ranging from monthly spot-ons to collars and even oral medications available from the vet. They are all quite effective, so it’s a matter of personal preference and what works best for you. There is a vaccine as well. If you live in a Lyme endemic area, talk to your vet about whether the Lyme vaccine is a good option for you.

And mostly importantly, check your pet for ticks, especially in the areas where they like to hide: under ear flaps, between the toes and in the armpits. Removing ticks promptly decreases the risk of Lyme disease, as most cases of transmission occur when the tick has been attached longer than a day.

Fortunately for us, Brody’s tick issue was a one-time affair. From that day forward for the rest of his life, he was on year-round prevention. As soon as Dakota hit the weight limit for the preventive I wanted to use, I started him on tick prevention as well. I check him every day but so far all I find are little burrs from his rolling around in the grass. Hopefully it stays that way!

We love sharing our collective knowledge and experiences here at Life’s Abundance. Have you ever had a pet diagnosed with Lyme disease? How was it diagnosed? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Make Vet Visits Less Stressful

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Does your dog experience mild-to-severe apprehension when it comes time for a veterinary check-up? If so, you’re definitely not alone. My own dogs, Oliver and Zelda, are well-adjusted happy campers. But when it’s time to go to the vet’s office, they both start to freak out before we’re barely out of the door.

Until something dawned on me. I had been going about vet visits all the wrong way. Even though I had incorporated all the tricks I’ve learned over the years – travel to places other than the vet, trips to the vet where we just visited with the techs and no exam was given, taking a pocket full of Tasty Rewards or Turkey & Berry Chewies – and though there was marginal improvement, the fear factor continued to be all too real for my puppers.

My realization? Dogs are fundamentally pack animals. I know, I know, everybody knows this. But how might I apply that to vet visits? What if, I thought, instead of one person taking one dog to the vet, we made it a family outing? And so it was settled. Both my wife and I decided we’d BOTH make the time to take BOTH of our dogs, even though Zelda (the younger) was the one with the appointment.

And the most amazing thing happened. There was no jittering or shaking. There was no rapid panting, just the regular riding-in-the-car excitement. We were traveling as a pack. I truly think dogs feel like they can handle anything as a complete pack.

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Zelda accompanied by her big little brother/therapy dog Oliver

We arrived 15 minutes early at the vet’s office, and we walked all around the building, taking our time. I think not being in a rush helped too. We entered the office as a united front, and low-and-behold both dogs were fine!

When it was time to go into the patient room, we all went in and hung out on the floor. The vet tech came in and asked us about Zelda’s history as she fed both doggos some of the treats I had brought. We asked that any tests be done while we were together, which they were happy to do. Of course, it helps to have a great veterinary staff, which we’re fortunate enough to have found. When Zelda was getting her exam, we were all nearby and talking calmly and cheerily. And for the first time in nearly four years, she barely even noticed when she got her vaccines or had blood withdrawn. We were all honestly amazed at the difference!

We hope you’ll try this "power of the pack" strategy to make your next vet visits less stressful … maybe even enjoyable! And feel free to submit your own ideas in the comments section below.

For those interested in learning more about the effects of pet stress, be sure to check out Dr. Jane’s insightful post on pet anxiety.

Dave Mattox
Content Editor

Lessons for Heartworm Awareness Month

Pug

April is National Heartworm Awareness Month, so I wanted to give everyone both a refresher and an update on this disease. Heartworms are transmitted via mosquito bites, meaning it is not transmissible directly from pet to pet. The tiny larvae are injected into the bloodstream, where they mature into fully grown adults. They live in the heart and large blood vessels. The mature worms produce larvae, which go back into circulation and can be picked up by mosquitoes, ready to transmit to another host, thus repeating a vicious cycle.

While dogs make for ideal hosts, cats can also be infected. However, canines experience the most severe form of the disease. If you are unsure whether your cat should be on heartworm prevention, speak with your veterinarian.

As you can imagine, foreign bodies the size of spaghetti strands can do a lot of damage in the heart. As the parasites disrupt normal heart and lung function, pets display signs of heart disease such as cough, low energy and coffee-colored urine. Treatment involves either surgery to physically remove the worms or injections of a drug called immiticide. Once a heartworm dies it can cause an embolus (a blockage) as it travels through the bloodstream, so patients are under strict cage rest to minimize treatment risks.

Bottom line, heartworm disease is a terrible thing and no one wants their companion animal to experience it. 

Here’s the good news … it’s completely preventable. Once the mosquito injects the larva into the bloodstream, it takes six months for them to mature into adult heartworms. During that time the larvae are susceptible to a variety of medications. Heartworm prevention is available in a number of forms: pills, injections and topicals. They are all prescription medications, so your veterinarian can advise you as to which choice is best for your dog or cat.

Buddies

If you have a dog or a cat, here are five important things you need to know about heartworm disease.

1. While heartworm disease is indeed more prevalent in the Atlantic and Gulf states, it has been diagnosed in all 50 states! Even if you live in a state with low incidences of the disease, all states have microclimates where heartworm flourishes. The American Heartworm Society tracks diagnosis information and publishes an incident map every three years. To see how many cases have been reported in your area, visit https://www.heartwormsociety.org/veterinary-resources/incidence-maps.

2. Dogs travel more than ever before. 2005 was a turning point in prevalence of the disease. Why? After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf states, humane organizations rallied together to relocate homeless animals across the nation. Some of those dogs carried heartworm disease. Suddenly veterinarians who had never seen heartworm disease in their careers were diagnosing it for the first time.

3. All-natural remedies simply don’t work. I think by now you all know by know how much I value honesty and transparency. If you want to treat your pet for fleas with natural remedies, I will let you know that they simply don’t work as well as the medications I recommend, but I’m not going to fight you on it. Fleas don’t kill dogs and cats, though. Heartworm does. It is simply too devastating a disease to trust anything but the prescription medications that we know work. Anyone who claims otherwise is, in my opinion, displaying their ignorance and spreading poor advice.

4. Pets need monthly prevention to be adequately protected. A very common question is, "why do I need to give my pet monthly heartworm prevention pills if it takes six months for a larva to turn into an adult heartworm?" As the larva develops into an adult, it transitions through several phases. Not all of those phases are susceptible to our heartworm preventives. If we only dose heartworm prevention intermittently, there’s a chance we will miss our window for catching the larva at the susceptible stage.

5. Pets should be tested yearly. Yes, even pets on regular heartworm preventive. Why? Because sometimes things happen. You are late with a dose. The dog spits out the pill when you aren’t looking. Once your pet has adult heartworms, those preventives aren’t going to work. Will it harm your pet to give preventives with active heartworm disease? No, but it’s not going to cure it either.

Here’s the bottom line: we give you very conservative, comprehensive protocols for heartworm prevention because treating adult heartworm disease is so hard on pets. Some do not survive. Having a patient die during heartworm treatment is one of my more devastating memories. Trust me, better to be safe than sorry.

It’s impossible to give a comprehensive overview of heartworm disease in this short blog post, but that covers the basics. You might have questions about things you have heard about such as heartworm that is resistant to the normal medications, or about different protocols for treating heartworm disease. If you do, congratulations for being such an informed pet parent! Your veterinarian, as always, is the best source of information for you.

Enjoy your summer and maintain that prevention regimen!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Heart Health in Humans & Pets

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When we think of February, Valentine's Day sucks up all the holiday energy in the room. With so much attention paid to the affairs of the heart, it's no accident that February is also Heart Health Awareness Month! And while the human heart plays the star role in these holidays, many of us care just as much (and maybe even more) about the healthiness of our companion animals' heart.

Most people have a basic understanding of the risks of heart disease in humans, but when it comes to canine and feline heart health, these areas remain a tad more mysterious.

In the following FAQs, we’ll look at some of the similarities between humans, dogs and cats, hopefully resulting a better appreciation of these amazing feats of biological engineering.

1. How Widespread is Heart Disease?

Humans: In America, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Annually, about 610,000 people die of heart disease, accounting for a quarter of all deaths.

Dogs & Cats: Even though reliable statistics are not readily available for adult felines or canines, we do know that heart disease is not nearly as common as in humans. Only about 10% of dogs ever develop valvular heart disease. As with many maladies, risks for heart disease increase with age, especially for dogs over the age of nine (later for some breeds). Tracking heart disease in cats has proven challenging, as felines exhibit very few if any physical symptoms due to this condition.

2. What’s the Most Common Form of Heart Disease?

Humans: In adults, coronary artery disease is the most prevalent kind of heart disease. The main type involves accumulation of arterial plaque, which affects blood flow to the heart. As the layers of plaque thicken and harden, blood flow can be further restricted.

Dogs & Cats: The biggest difference here is that companion animals are not at-risk for coronary artery disease. While that’s good news, keep in mind they can face other medical conditions. For example, dogs can suffer from mitral valve disease or dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Mitral valve disease describes a condition where a valve on the left side of the heart fails to close properly. The problem with this is that blood pools into the left atrium, rather than exiting the left ventricle. Older, small breeds are more likely to develop mitral valve disease, a condition that can be aggravated by periodontal disease. DCM weakens the heart muscle so that it pumps less vigorously and regularly, a condition more common in large breeds. Cats, on the other hand, are more likely to experience hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Here, the walls of the heart thicken, resulting in reduced muscle flexibility which decreases the volume of blood pumped. HCM is a genetic disease that is found in both pure and mixed breed cats.

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3. What are the Symptoms of Heart Disease?

Humans: Symptoms vary depending on the disease, but patients with coronary artery disease often have chest pain, arm pain and shallow breathing. As the condition deteriorates, there’s a risk of heart attack.

Dogs & Cats: Dogs typically exhibit signs such as low energy, general discomfort, labored breathing and even a low-pitched, chronic cough. On occasion, they might actually pass out. Cats may also become lethargic, sleeping excessively or hiding for extended periods. It's also not uncommon for cats to lose their appetite. Some may even be at risk of blood clots, which in some cases may lead to pain and possible paralysis.

4. Is Exercise Equally Beneficial?

Humans: Yes, definitely! Exercise lowers the risk of heart attack and reduces stress, another risk factor for heart disease.

Dogs & Cats: The kinds of heart disease commonly found in cats and dogs can't be avoided through exercise. But, as with people, regular exercise will improve overall health and help prevent obesity in pets, which certainly factors on heart health.

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5. One Thing Everyone Can Agree On - Eat Healthy!

It’s hard to overstate the importance of quality food for humans and for companion animals. While significantly more research has been done on the benefits of essential fatty acid supplementation in humans, the science demonstrates similar results for dogs and cats, too.

But how can you be certain that you and your companion animals are getting plenty of omega-3’s and omega-6's? By taking an ultra-refined supplement daily! To ensure you are getting the quality you and your pets deserve, choose an omega supplement that has an IFOS 5-Star Rating. This independent, third-party testing validates that you are getting a safe and effective supplement that you can feel confident giving to any member of your family! If you're in the market for a superior supplement, look no further than Life's Abundance Fish Oil Supplement for people and Ultra-Pure Fish Oil Supplement for dogs and cats!

Take care of your heart and it'll help take care of you!

Dr Jane Bicks  

Dr. Jane Bicks

Antioxidants and Canine Wellness

happy-pittie

Many of us are familiar with the idea of antioxidants, and we know they are a good thing for both dogs and humans, but do you know why? There’s a reason we put so much thought and effort into our formulations at Life’s Abundance, and antioxidants are some of our favorite ingredients!

To understand why antioxidants are vital to health, you need to know about free radicals, a by-product of normal metabolism. When oxygen molecules are split into two oxygen atoms, they are missing one electron ... thus a free radical is born. These little guys are highly reactive, so they steal electrons from other molecules, which also become free radicals. Cellular components such as proteins, DNA and cell membranes can be negatively affected, further creating more free radicals. Why is this problematic for health? Well, the DNA damage causes cells to reproduce incorrectly, which can lead to abnormalities.

How do antioxidants work? They can donate an electron to a free radical without becoming unstable themselves. In fact, many scientists now refer to antioxidants as ROS, or Reactive Oxygen Species. In essence, they neutralize damaging free radicals and break the replicating cycle.

Why do dogs need antioxidants? As pets age, the free radical damage accumulates and accelerates. It contributes to the natural declines due to aging, and can trigger some illnesses due to damaged cellular DNA. So, how are free radicals counteracted? Perhaps the best, most natural way is through antioxidants!

Why are antioxidants so often linked with brain health? With aging, many canines experience some degree of cognitive decline. This can manifest as changes in behaviors, lapses in house training, altered sleep cycles, disorientation and repetitive behaviors such as pacing or licking. Learning and memory deficits may begin in pets as young as six years of age, though many pet parents don’t notice until pets are quite a bit older. There’s good news, however. Senior dogs fed a diet high in antioxidants actually perform better on tests that assess their ability to problem solve!

Who should be taking antioxidants? Everyone, including your dogs! While the benefits are most obvious for seniors, all of us are exposed to free radicals on a regular basis. Early nutritional support with antioxidants is a great way to maintain vibrant health. Even though the body produces some antioxidants on its own, the most significant way to get antioxidants into the body is through nutrition. Fruits, vegetables and even some herbs are high in antioxidants such as lycopene, carotenoids, lutein, and vitamins E and C.

antioxidant-health-bars
Antioxidant Health Bars help maintain a healthy immune system

What’s an easy way to make sure my dog is getting guaranteed amounts of antioxidants? This month, I encourage you to try one of our premium baked treats, Antioxidant Health Bars. Featuring the great taste of apples, peanut butter and honey, dogs just can’t resist these delicious bars, which also include oatmeal, brown rice, ground flaxseed, dates, rolled oats, flaxseed oil, eggs, cranberries and carrots. Since antioxidants are so important to maintaining a healthy immune system, we’ve added a hefty helping of vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene. And the amounts of these important nutrients are guaranteed, so you know exactly how much nutrition your dog is receiving on a daily basis.

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

Dr Jane Bicks  

Dr. Jane Bicks

Help Pets Stay Chill This Summer

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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

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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!

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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.

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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

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.