Finding the right food for your pet — some thoughts from a veterinarian
By Dr. Rebekah Frost – OBSERVER Columnist
In recent years, many more types of pet foods have become available on the market. Choices include organic, natural, holistic, homemade, grain-free and raw diets. Where do we begin as pet owners? When choosing a diet for your pet, it is important to consider the following factors that may help make your decision.
1. I recommend finding a diet that meets AAFCO (The American Association of Feed Control Officials) procedures through animal feed testing trials and is formulated for one life stage. A diet that is labeled for “all life stages” cannot adequately provide the proper nutrition when each stage of life requires such a different nutrient profile. Be aware that many diets are labeled to “meet” the standards set by AAFCO, but have not actually undergone pet feeding trials to be proven as an adequate diet. Read labels carefully!
2. I recommend feeding a diet from a company that has a proven record, that has consistently safe formulations without recalls, and that has a veterinary nutritionist on staff helping to formulate animal diets. These companies’ pet foods are what a veterinarian will typically recommend for your pet. Veterinarians are not paid to recommend these diets. I solely recommend based on experience and knowledge of how my own pets and clients’ pets have been feed on these diets.
3. It is important to understand labeling. “Natural” diets are diets free of synthetic preservatives, colors and additives. Be cautious using these diets as they have a much shorter shelf life than other diets and must be used in a relatively short period of time. “Organic” means the ingredients in the food have been processed through organic farming. Organic farming meets specific requirements, which include no use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. “Holistic” has been used for a variety of diets and is not a regulated term, but is essentially a marketing term used to sell a diet. “Grain-free” does not mean carbohydrate free. These diets still contain some form of carbohydrates in a starch form. Any dry dog food cannot be made without a starch to help bind it together. Understand as well that grains are not bad for your pet! Grains provide a source of fiber, nutrients and even pro-biotics for gut health.
One more side note. “Meat By-products” are not bad either. By-products actually are the organ meats of the animal, which provides a good source of nutrition for your pet about equal to, if not better than, meat from animal muscle.
4. Homemade diets can be used but I recommend following a strict recipe formulated by a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist that is properly balanced to meet your pet’s nutritional needs. Many pets can experience malnutrition if these diets are improperly fed. You cannot just feed your pet table scraps or what you are eating for dinner. It is important they get the proper ratios of protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals which need to be balanced in a homemade diet.
5. Avoid raw meat diets because raw meat often harbors harmful bacteria like e-coli, salmonella, and clostridium. These bacteria can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and systemic infection. Some pets may not show clinical signs associated with these bacteria, but they may still shed the bacteria in their stool exposing their owners to the harmful bacteria. The basis of a raw diet is to “feed your dog like their ancestors once ate.” First of all, wild canids are actually omnivores meaning they eat more than just meat. Also we have domesticated these pets to the point where their GI tracts cannot handle the high levels of protein that may be difficult to digest.
Above all I recommend taking your veterinarian’s advice regarding a diet for your pet. Be cautious with all the marketing ploys used to entice the buyer. These might be the ingredients listed, the name of the food, the colors and shape of the food, and the companies’ claims on the internet. Ingredients listed on the back of a bag of food may sound great for your pet, but the food may not have gone through any testing recommended by AAFCO. Many pets do not do well on these diets and you as a pet owner may not even be aware of it. These pets might just have a softer stool because the food is difficult to digest. Some pets have increased kidney values which can cause permanent damage. I have also seen some pets develop crystals in their urine or stones in their bladder possibly from eating one of these diets. Some diets have inadequate levels of minerals like calcium which can filter into the urine and cause bladder stones. In the past month I have had to remove life threatening bladder and urethral stones on two different dogs because the stones had become lodged and were causing a blockage. These pets are usually put on a diet that keeps the ph of the urine neutral and provides the proper balance of minerals.
Finally avoid feeding table scraps and free choice because these can both lead to obesity in your pet. Obesity can predispose your pet to heart disease, joint osteoarthritis, diabetes, urinary issues, and more. Do not always follow the recommendations on the back of the bag as the amounts recommended are always higher than what your pet actually needs. Talk to your vet about how much you should be feeding your pet.Veterinarians want what is best for your pet and have extensive experience with pets and diets! I feel it is important to choose a diet based on your pet’s life stage, its medical needs, and its lifestyle. I can help you choose the proper diet and amounts for your pet to provide the proper nutrition for your pet’s overall health!
Pets Need Dental Care Too
By Dr. Rebekah Frost – OBSERVER Columnist , Observer Today
Timmy, a sweet little 6 -year-old Papillon rescued from a breeding kennel, came to the clinic for an exam in 2011. He had a high grade heart murmur and severe dental disease. On blood tests, he was positive for heartworm disease and he was very anemic. He was also carrying the intestinal parasite, whipworms. He went through very expensive treatment for heartworm and whipworms and came back to us in four months for his dental cleaning. He had a mouth full of infected, abscessing teeth and recessed inflamed gums. He had over 20 rotting teeth extracted from his mouth. A week later he had already gained over a pound of weight back and his heart murmur had disappeared! He has had other dental cleanings since and is happy to have been rescued into a loving home and be given a much better quality of life!
As a veterinarian, one of the best things I can do for a pet is to help the owner maintain his or her pet’s dental health. Performing the necessary dental cleanings, dental extractions, and sending that pet home comfortable and free from painful and infected teeth brings much satisfaction; I have done what is best for the pet. I have seen pets with periodontal disease across the spectrum: from mild tartar buildup, to loose abscessed teeth. These abscessed teeth can be so severe that the infection has eaten into the pet’s jawbone or sinuses. Many times the owner does not know what is happening to the pet’s teeth, because some pets hide the pain well. You may see your pet chewing on one side of their mouth, swallowing food whole, pawing at their mouth, or crying when eating. In all cases of dental disease, the pet will have bad breath. This is usually the first clue to let you know your pet needs its teeth cleaned! Dental disease can also lead to a showering of bacteria into the body, affecting the internal organs. An area to which the bacteria may attach is the heart valves. This can cause a dangerous condition called bacterial endocarditis, and will eventually lead to permanent damage to the pet’s heart. Many times we can not hear a heart murmur with this condition and it may go unnoticed initially!
We recommend having your pet’s teeth checked on a regular basis. Your cat can develop severe gum disease or cavitations in their teeth called resorptive lesions. Resorptive lesions are similar to our cavities and can cause loss of the protective enamel of the tooth. When the sensitive dentin underneath is exposed, it can be very painful and these teeth should be removed. Dogs are more predisposed to periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is the buildup of tartar along the gum line of the teeth. This tartar can cause painful recession and inflammation of the gums, loosening of the teeth, and abscesses. Once the heavy tartar builds up, it should be scaled off while the animal is under a general anesthetic.
Just as it is important for us humans to have teeth cleaned every 6 months, it is important to have a pet’s teeth cleaned on a regular basis. A dental cleaning at our clinic includes first a thorough dental examination prior to the surgery. The pet is started on an antibiotic five days prior to the dental. The pet is admitted the morning of surgery and examined again to assure that it is safe to undergo an anesthetic procedure. Blood work is drawn to check the pet’s blood cells, kidney levels, liver values, and blood sugar. When the blood work is determined to be OK, the pet is sedated for the procedure. The sedation includes a pain injection like Morphine to keep it comfortable during the procedure and on wakeup. An intravenous catheter is placed for fluid administration and an intravenous induction drug, tailored specifically for your pet, is administered putting your pet completely asleep. A tube is then placed directly into your pet’s windpipe and anesthetic gases and oxygen are administered during the rest of the procedure. During the procedure, your pet’s heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide status, and temperature are all monitored. Each pet receives its own dental pack and a thorough dental scaling is performed using an ultrasonic scaler. Each surface of the tooth is scaled for 2 minutes and scaling is also performed under the gum line. Each tooth is probed thoroughly looking for any pockets or cavities. At this point we may choose to take dental radiographs of any questionable teeth and extractions of bad teeth are done by the doctor. Any open sockets are sutured closed, we may do an antibiotic infusion on any small pockets, and the remaining teeth are all polished thoroughly. Finally, the mouth is cleaned and a fluoride treatment is placed on all tooth surfaces. Your pet is sent home with pain medications and a home dental plan. We then recheck your pet in 7-10 days to check how the gums are healing. Many times I’ve rechecked pets after dental cleanings to have the owner tell me how he or she never really realized the pet was suffering until the procedure was done. I hear comments like “She’s acting like a puppy again!” or “He has so much more energy and I never knew his teeth were the problem!”
Do not be enticed by dental cleanings that are advertised by someone other than a veterinarian. The person is performing a medical procedure on your family pet without a license; it is illegal! Such people are not trained properly to do a procedure like this and may not have the proper equipment. It is important to have a dental procedure done under general anesthesia to thoroughly exam all the teeth in the pet’s mouth. General anesthesia is extremely safe as long as it is done properly and the animal is monitored correctly.
Be sure to ask your veterinarian about how they monitor the pet while it is under anesthesia. There can be wide variations in the care that is provided for your pet. Without full anesthesia and a full exam by a trained professional, many conditions can go unnoticed. Scaling, polishing, and probing your pet’s teeth can be painful for the pet if it is awake.
For the month of February the clinic is offering $25 off a dental cleaning and a free dental kit to help start dental home care for your pet. Home care is important as well and might include daily brushing with pet safe toothpaste, mouth rinses, dental chews and treats, and even a dental diet! Call to set up your appointment today and ask about what dental products we offer. Also stop down to try some free samples of some dental products.
New Year’s resolutions for you and your pet
By Dr. Rebekah Frost – OBSERVER Columnist , Observer Today
Happy New Year! January has arrived not only with new snow, but also with the hope of new beginnings and New Year’s resolutions. Every year I make the resolution to eat better and exercise more. Some of the best exercise this time of year includes my pets. My dogs and I enjoy snowshoeing or hiking in our back woods depending on how deep the snow is. You too can include your pets in your New Year’s resolutions! Some of the areas for improvement follow:
1. Diet: Everyone, including our pets, seems to put on a few pounds from the holidays and the long winter days. What better way to improve our health than by watching both our own calorie intake and that of our pets. A place to start with our pets is cutting out unhealthy snacks and table treats. January is Obesity Prevention Month at the Dunkirk Animal Clinic. We promote healthy weight loss by assessing your pet’s body condition score and recommending a diet to help maintain a healthy weight and to give your pet a better quality of life. We also offer a discount on our diet foods for the month of January. Call us for more details.
2. Exercise: Including your pets in your exercise routine is not only good for you and your pets’ physical health but also for your mental health, creating an even closer bond between you and your pets. There are all kinds of great exercises you can do with your pet from just a simple daily walk to crazy new exercises like skijoring or doggie yoga. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing are my favorite winter activities with my dogs Jake, Chili, and Maizy. My favorite summer activities with my dogs include hiking and kayaking.
3. Staying healthy: It is important for us to have yearly physicals, dental cleanings, and other tests as we age; it is important for our pets as well. Consider scheduling your elderly pet for senior testing. This might include routine blood tests, a thyroid test, a chest x-ray and EKG, and an abdominal ultrasound. Underlying conditions can be caught early and managed effectively with this routine testing. It is important for many pets to have yearly dental cleanings. I recommend scheduling pets for a thorough dental exam and estimate for a dental cleaning. I can also discuss ways to improve your pet’s dental health at home.
4. Time with family: Another one of my New Year’s resolutions includes spending more time with my family. Pets are family and it is important to include them in many of our daily activities and give them the time they deserve. This might just be taking them for a ride to run an errand, taking them on a trip with you, or just taking a few minutes each day to play together.
5. Saving money: A big New Year’s resolution many people make is to try to manage expenses and create a budget. I recommend cutting back on unnecessary expenses for your pet like expensive toys, treats, or clothing. Some of the extra money spent on these things could be put into a savings account or an emergency fund for your pet if you are faced with a costly emergency.
6. Giving of yourself: A great resolution for the New Year would be to give of your time and your pet’s time for those in need. Examples would be visiting a nursing home or an assisted living home with your pet. Another great way to give of your time to help pets in need would be to volunteer at one of the local humane shelters, animal rescues, or SPCA. Also consider helping these organizations by fostering a pet or adopting a pet.
Whatever your New Year’s resolution might be, consider how you can include your family pets! Have a safe and happy new year from the doctors and staff at the Dunkirk Animal Clinic.
It was a close race! When all the dust settled, it was Bailey who was chosen the winner of our contest! Congratulations Bailey! And cute, cute, cute! – that’s what we say about all of the participants, and thank you! You are all winners in our eyes!
…and we have some exciting things going on!
Stop by and enter our FREE RAFFLE to win a bag of Hills Metabolic Advanced Weight Solution food! While your here, schedule your pet for a FREE tech exam that includes a weigh-in with a Body Condition Score so your pet can get started on a weight loss plan! You can also call us to schedule a time at 716-366-7440.