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Pet Food, Part 2: Feeding Pets

Last blog I talked about pet food in general, our goals are to feed our pets a safe and balanced diet. But, I always get the question, “How much?” I wish the answer was as simple as follow the guidelines on the bag; unfortunately that is not the case. There are so many unique circumstances for each pet, which all contribute to equation: age, size, activity, gender. So how could there be a “one-size-fits-all” answer?

The first determination is the age of the pet. Pets that are less than six months old need twice the calories, a third more protein, twice the vitamins and minerals than adults. Fortunately, pet foods come in juvenile choices. Puppies and kittens have this tremendous metabolic need because of daily activities and growing phases. It is very common for puppies to eat 2-3 times a day and kittens all day. So how much do we feed puppies and kittens? All they want! Slowly increase the amounts with each meal if they are tearing through the meal in seconds. As they get older approaching 6-9 months of age, you might see a skipped meal occasionally. It is not due to boredom. Pets eat when they are hungry, and don’t eat when they are not. At this time there is less growing, therefore, less metabolic need, therefore, less appetite.

Adult pets usually require diets that fulfill the daily needs of living. So, we chose an adult food that is less intense than juvenile diets. Most adult pets will only eat if they are hungry. Therefore, an occasional missed meal may be common. However that theory goes out the window with special circumstances. Multiple pets create competitive eating and hoarding. Hunger is not the driving force for this behavior. The owner must feed separate, don’t leave bowls down for free access, and serve measured portions. Measured portions can be adjusted to maintain optimum weight. Another circumstance, some pets like to eat. They are always hungry and never satisfied. Use measured amounts to maintain optimum weight.

Senior pets, usually between seven and ten years of age, have their unique needs. Senior pets are usually less active, therefore, need fewer calories. Because of the inactivity, they need more fiber to help with bowel elimination. Healing and immune system are not working as well, so most senior diets increase vitamins and minerals. Kidney function can start to falter, so less salt and protein are usually incorporated in senior diets. Some diets may add joint supplements like glucosamine and chondrotin. The surprising point is how little senior pets need to eat to maintain optimum health and weight.

Another consideration is activity of the pet. Most pets adapt to the life style of the owner. Running, hunting, Iditarod dog sled racing, sleeping, and lounging all require different amounts of calories. As mentioned above, most dogs eat when hungry. An active pet will have a bigger need requiring more calories, therefore eat more food. FYI, the food source that has the most calories is fats. Long chain fatty acids have more carbon/hydrogen bonds than the six carbon sugar. The mushers use concentrated fats to fuel their sled dogs. Protein is a horrible energy source because the amino acid is broken down into sugar and ammonia. Ammonia is toxic to the body and is converted to urea and excreted out the kidney.

Gender usually does not play an important part, unless the female is pregnant. Then she has a huge metabolic demand called embryos and babies. There is a lot of growing that will take place over the 16 weeks from conception to weaning all at the expense of the mother. We usually recommend feeding the mother juvenile food starting mid-pregnancy and continue through lactation. Even then, she will lose weight and have a dull hair coat once all the puppies have gone.

The goal when feeding is optimum health and weight. Whatever amount of food it takes to accomplish that outcome is the right amount for your pet. And I promise you it will be different from: the bag instructions, your Aunt’s pet’s eating style, and the recommendations of the clerk at the pet store.

My next blog on food will be: Special Circumstances

Pet Food, Part 1: So Many Choices

There are so many choices of pet food and there are so many opinions about pet food. A pet owner is paralyzed trying to decide what to feed their pet. I have some basic points to help with the decision. So let’s first concentrate on the pet’s side of the equation.

The simplest choice is to feed food made specifically for your species of pet. Dogs eat dog food, cats eat cat food and people eat people food. If you own a rhinoceros feed what rhinoceri eat. These diets are formulated by nutritionists that have studied for years the nutritional requirements for animals.

The next simple choice is safety. This is why I do not like raw diets. However, we have seen just about every manufacturer deal with tainted food products and recalls. No company can cast a stone and say they have not had issues with their products. But safety includes the product at home. Keeping food too long will cause rancidity and spoilage. Temperature and humidity will affect the diet’s quality. An opened can of pet food in a refrigerator will grow mold.

Marketing, marketing, marketing makes us all make choices. People love variety in their lives. Consistency in our daily living would “bore” us to death. Leftovers gag us, reruns on TV bore us, mono-themed cloths would embarrass us. We tease people that live that way. So it is natural for us to want the same with our pets. We are inundated with pictures of pet food that look like our meals. Colors of orange and greens and shapes of beef steak and fish all to look like something we would eat. Words are on cans and bags reading like fine restaurant menus. So the question is, ”What’s wrong with this picture?” Your pet is color blind, so all the colors look gray. Your pet has no idea what any of the ingredients are like: beef, peas, carrots, sweet potato, rice, or chicken. Pets have no idea what vitamins and minerals are. Ask your pet, ”Chippy, what are the essential amino acids and fatty acids?” All Chippy does is cocks his head to one side and wags his tale because he heard the word, “Chippy.” Everything is marketed to the owner, not the pet.

I have to diverge a little now and talk about dogs first. What do they like to eat? I know they like any type of poop, and sometimes other dog’s poop. I know they like rotten stinking carcasses, garden mulch, garbage, tomatoes off and on the vine, most insects, anything I am eating, and most dog foods. So what about the finicky dog, who only wants to eat table food and different varieties of canned food? First I will admit that I have seen two dogs in my entire years in practice (I graduated in 1979!) that would have starved if the owner did not forcibly stuff food down the dog’s throat daily. Otherwise, all other dogs will be OK if they don’t eat occasionally. The wild canid only eats every third day. One day for hunting and gorging, the other two days devoted to what wild dogs do; chewing something up, playing with the other dogs, sleeping, barking at intruders, pooping, marking their territory, and/or making babies.

Dogs eat when they are hungry and don’t eat when they are not hungry or have a digestive problem that diminishes their appetite. Can you make a dog eat that is not hungry? Yes, if you entice it with something greasy and/or salty. The next time you are sitting at the Thanksgiving table, had your fill of turkey, potatoes, dressing, green bean casserole, and rolls and finally push your plate away because you can’t swallow another bite. Out comes the pumpkin pie with whip cream, yessiree you eat a piece.

Let’s talk cats now. They have different patterns of eating. Cats usually are more discriminate eaters than dogs. Dogs are scavengers: eat first, question later. Question later being vomiting or diarrhea if the scavenging resulted in something bad they have ingested. Cats will sniff and smell before eating. If the food does not pass the sniff test, they will walk away. Cats graze throughout the day taking small portions. Because of the grazing, a lot of pet owners think there cat is finicky because the entire dish was not devoured in one sitting. Out comes the smorgasbord of canned foods and dry foods only to be thrown away because the food was not eaten in a timely matter.

What do cats like? Instinctively, cats like smelly fish and fatty smelly meats. Not much on the vegetables, but they like new green grass. They like to catch rodents, snakes, and birds, but usually do not eat them. Cats are particular concerning the shapes and textures of their food. Those little dry food shapes are meant for nibbling corners. Canned food has a particular texture and shape to entice the cat to eat.

Marketing does not care about dogs and cats and their unique peculiarities, they want the product to appeal to you. Your inclinations of how you eat are manipulated into buying food for your pet. Vegetarians believe their pet would be healthier with a vegetarian diet. People afraid of gluten or any food allergies want their pet food devoid of gluten or any other allergy causing product. There are those that believe their pet is a carnivore and should eat an all meat diet. Those who believe big business pet food manufacturers dupe the pet owner and they want to feed either homemade diets or some small boutique diet.

Here is the good news. Most, if not all, the diets made are balanced, palatable, and safe. Most of the diets have met the nutritional needs for your pet. There is a watch dog group called AAFCO, Association of American Feed Control Officials. They are like UL. UL is a global independent safety science company. We all look for the UL label on electrical devices, assuring us that that device has been tested by an independent laboratory. So, look for the AAFCO initials on your pet’s food.

Part two will talk about feeding your pets.

What is All the Confusion with Vaccines? Part One

For the last several years, the veterinary and pet communities have been turned upside down with revelations about vaccinations and pets. I can assure you I have been studying, reading, and attending seminars on this very subject. So let’s look at the subject of vaccines and try to decipher what is best for our pets (yes, veterinarians have pets).

Cats showing up with vaccine related fibrosarcoma started the whole reevaluation of vaccines and vaccination schedules. Across the country cats were being diagnosed with cancerous growths where vaccines were given. These growths were very aggressive and life threatening. The incidence was 1 cat in 10,000 cats. Throw in the internet and panic ensued.

Up until then vaccines and vaccine schedules were dictated by the drug company’s research and development and labeling for the vaccine. All vaccines were labeled for 1 yr, so we gave boosters yearly. We worried if the patient was overdue, and if exposed to the viral diseases, that they would become sick. Years of vaccinated pets not getting sick and overdue pets getting sick dictated the rational. Reactions did happen with vaccines. Mainly veterinarians saw allergic type of reactions, hives, lethargy, swollen muzzles, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. These reactions were easily treated and easily prevented at the next vaccination. In my experience less than 1% of vaccinated dogs and less than .1% of the cats had a reaction.

So what have we learned?

1. The cats that got the fibrosarcoma were genetically prone. They were reacting to the adjuvant which is an additive in the vaccine.

2. Not all dogs and cats have the same risk. A strictly indoor pet using a litter box or papers has a less exposure rate than an indoor/outdoor pet. Pets under stressful circumstances (shelters, boarding/grooming facilities, show circuits) have a higher risk. Pets having close proximity to feral dogs or cats have a very high risk.

3. Geographical areas have their unique endemic viruses. Salmon Poisoning is endemic to Washington State, but not here in Missouri. Therefore, pets need to be protected for the diseases unique to their area.

4. Not all vaccines deliver what they promise. Ringworm vaccine was a failure. In the beginning bordetella vaccine was barely good for 3 months despite the year labeling. In the beginning Parvovirus vaccine was only good for 6 months. Now given time, a lot of the failures will be weeded out and the kinks in the other vaccines will be worked out.

5. Vaccines last longer than originally thought. Now we have 3yr canine distemper and feline distemper. We also have 3 yr rabies vaccines.

6. Vaccines can be triggers for autoimmune diseases. CAN Be, not will be. Autoimmune disease is a disease of one’s own immune system attacking normal tissue and causing damage.

In conclusion, know your pet’s risk and know your area’s potential diseases. Customize a vaccine plan to protect your pet and stick to it. It is the owner’s responsibility to maintain the conditions they and their veterinarian outline. You can’t say your cat is strictly indoors if the window and screen doors are open and feral cats are being fed outside. Or the dog is strictly indoors except for going to the groomers once a month.

Part 2 will cover titers and part 3 will cover puppies and kittens.

What is All the Confusion with Vaccines? Part Two

The pet’s immune system protects from diseases. The immune system is a very complicated system divided into two parts, cell mediated and humoral (blood) mediated. Each of these parts has many components working to protect our pets from getting diseases. There are parts of the immune system that react indiscriminately to a threat. Look at any abscess, the pus cells (white blood cells) are fighting the infection no matter what the bacteria causing it. And there are segments that are very specific to the threat. Vaccinate a pet against distemper and that segment of the immune system is primed for distemper only.

The pathogen (bacteria, parasite, or virus) can be fought at the exposure site, in the blood, and/or in a lymph node. Basically, the pathogen enters the host, certain cells release chemicals as a call to arms. The pathogen is tagged by either another cell and/or chemical (antibody) and presented for destruction or neutralization by another cell. Then certain times another cell is encoded with memory of this pathogen. Most memory is finite and some is lifetime.

A vaccine is an altered disease pathogen. A vaccine should not produce the illness if the pathogen has been altered correctly. So we get the benefit of protection without having to go through the disease.

Out of all this complicated immune system and all the cells interacting with each other, the only thing that can be measured are the antibodies in the blood. That measurement is called titer. A titer is a measurement for a specific antibody and specific disease. There is no other test that can measure all the cellular activity or the chemicals released to communicate between the cells, just the antibodies in the blood. There even is no test for antibodies that line mucous membranes like the nose, mouth, or gut. Therefore, most of the immune system that protects us is “invisible” to testing.

So what does titer testing tell us? That there are antibodies produced from some sort of exposure (natural or vaccine). As many immunologist and internist say “the numbers are meaningless.” There are no standards for what is protective and what is not. Vaccine companies do not use titers for testing their product, they use exposures. The vaccinated animal is exposed to the disease. Results are a simple “ got sick” or “did not get sick.”

So now what do we do?
​1. Testing for several diseases in more costly than vaccinations.
​2. As of right now, testing takes several days for the results.
​3. No standard for interpretation of the titers.
​4. Some diseases, the protection is local antibodies (IgA) which can’t be tested. Any intranasal vaccine stimulates the local immunity.

Pet owners want titers instead of vaccines. What is the best thing for the pet?
​1. A lot depends on the pet’s family medical history. Or, breed predilections if the family medical history is unknown.
2. Risk assessment and environment is important to consider.
3. Three year vaccines are safer.
4. I have witnessed overdue pets getting sick.
5. Puppies and kittens need a series of vaccinations (see Part Three).
6. If pet owners want titers, then they are falsely assuming their pet will be protected based solely on titers.

What is All the Confusion with Vaccines? Part Three

Puppies and kittens have unique set of circumstances that needs to be addressed so ultimately they will be protected. Puppies and kittens are born with a pure untainted immune system, no antibodies or memory cells. If they are exposed to disease, they get sick. So in order to protect newborns, an amazing phenomenon happens. The mother’s milk contains all of her antibodies. This first milk is called colostrum. The first 24hrs of nursing, the infant’s gut will absorb these large protein molecules directly into their blood stream. After 24hrs, the milk is digested. So, it is very important for newborn puppies and kittens to nurse the first 24hrs. It is also important the mother be current on her vaccines before breeding.

So what does this maternal immunity do? It protects the puppies and kitten from all the diseases the mother is protected against. But there are two catches, it is temporary and it cannot tell the difference between vaccine pathogen and the disease pathogen. These two “catches” dictates the puppy’s and kitten’s vaccine schedules.

Statistically, 95-99% of the 6 week old puppies and kittens that nursed are protected by the maternal antibodies. At 8 weeks of age about 80-90% of the puppies and kittens are still protected by the maternal antibodies. At 12 weeks of age 10% of the puppies and kittens are protected. And by 16 weeks of age the maternal antibodies are gone. Any attempt to vaccinate puppies less than 12 weeks of age has a chance the vaccine will be neutralized by the maternal antibodies and the puppy and kitten will get no benefit.

An immune system needs stimulation from at least two injections. The first vaccine starts the process and then 3-4 weeks later the second stimulates the memory response. Then each booster rekindles the memory cells.

So how do we vaccinate puppies and kittens? The vaccine schedule is made by using the statistics of the maternal antibodies. So any vaccine given 6 weeks or earlier did not hurt the puppy or kitten but did not help the puppy or kitten either. Most veterinarians start the vaccines at 8 weeks of age, give boosters at 12 weeks of age, and finish the series at 16 weeks of age. This is the least amount of shots that ultimately stimulates the puppy’s and kitten’s immune system for a full year. Whether the puppy gets a 100 vaccines or 3 leading up to 16 weeks of age, the outcome is still the same.

Boosters are given 1 year later. Evaluating the pet’s environment and exposure dictates what vaccines to give. This is also another good time to use 3 yrs vaccines.

Rabies vaccines are handled a little different. Each municipality dictates the vaccine schedule for puppies and kittens. Rabies vaccine can be given as young as 12 weeks of age. Dogs and cats are then revaccinated 1 year later. Again, the municipality will dictate whether 1 or 3 year vaccines will be recognized. Only licensed veterinarians can give rabies vaccine to be valid.

Ear Infections In Dogs

Ear infections are a very common malady for our canine companions. There are three types of infection all defined by the location in the ear. Otitis externa is an infection involving the ear canal to an intact ear drum. Otitis media is an ear infection involving the middle ear between the ear drum and the inner ear. And Otitis interna is an infection involving the inner ear. The most common is otitis externa.  If the ear drum ruptures then the pet has both otitis externa and otitis media.

Ear infections are very frustrating issue with our human clients. The reason they are both frustrating and common is (sit down before you read the rest) ear infections are not curable. Ear infections can be treated and managed, but they are not curable. The reason for their incurableness is the underlying causes for the ear infection.

There are many underlying reasons the ear canal will get infected. The infection is just the result of the underlying causes, not the cause itself.  For example, you have a swollen red infected finger. The finger swelling and infection could have been by the cat bite, the splinter, or a cut and the infection was the result.  Same goes for an ear infection. Identifying the underlying causes and managing them will make for happy pet and owner.

DogEarAnatomyThe first underlying reason is the anatomy of the ear canal. We all have a hole at the beginning of the ear canal. A human ear canal continues horizontally to the ear drum. A dog’s ear canal travels down (vertical ear canal) about ¾ inch then turns horizontal about ½ inch to the ear drum.  Any wax, water, dirt, or whatever will drop down the canal. The second anatomical problem is hairy ear canals. Certain breeds like Poodles and Schnauzers have exceptionally hairy ear canals trapping any wax, dirt, or moisture. Certain breeds like Spaniels and Bassets have floppy ears that cover the opening allowing body heat and  moisture to aid the bacteria and yeast to flourish. Certain breeds like Shar Peis have extremely small ear canals making it harder to thoroughly cleanse the ear.

The second underlying reason is moisture. Baths, swimming, ear licking, rain and humidity will cause moisture to build up in the ear canal. In people we commonly call this condition swimmer’s ear. And we know of the consequences if we do not remove the moisture. In our pets, the moisture and body heat create the perfect environment for an infection to fester.

The third most common underlying reason for ear infections is allergies. Pets that have allergies have common symptoms. Those symptoms are itchy skin and the most common areas are the feet and ears. The constant head rubbing, scratching and shaking abrades and inflames the skin causing swelling and redness.  That swelling and redness creates a perfect environment for infection. Why do you think people with nasal allergies get sinusitis? The environment of inflamed mucous membranes and surface bacteria create the infection.

The lesser common underlying reasons are parasites like ear ticks and ear mites. Another underlying reason can be foreign objects stuck in the ear like toys and grass awns.

How do veterinarians approach ear infections? First and foremost is the gathering of history.  Historical questions of reoccurrences, baths, and or swimming help narrow down some of the underlying reasons.  Next step is the examination. Most ear infections are painful, so a decision needs to be made on how to examine a painful ear. A lot of times, the pet will need to be sedated to thoroughly examine the ear. Under sedation and/or anesthesia we first take a sample of the exudates (the accumulated debris in the ear canal) to examine under the microscope. Then the ear can be cleansed by gentle flushing with warm betadine solution.  Once cleansed, we look at the entire ear canal down to the ear drum.

The material examined under the microscope will tell us if our infection is bacterial and/or yeast. This information helps us pick which medication we need to treat the secondary infection.

Treatment plan:

  1. Identify underlying causes for the ear infection.
    • Allergies need long term systemic medications of prednisone or antihistamines to control the allergy.
    • Moisture from baths, swimming, or humidity need to be controlled with ear cleansers that dry the ear canal.
    • The pet’s anatomical problems will need to be addressed. Hair ear canals need to be plucked. Floppy ears need to be cleansed with a cleanser that will dry the ear canal. Small ear canals may have to have a surgery.
    • Ear parasites need to be treated and prevented.
  2. Identify the infection. If the infection is yeast called Malassezia then an antifungal will be prescribed topically and/or systemically. If the infection is a bacterium then the appropriate antibiotic will be prescribed topically and/or systemically.
  3. Treat the pain. Most ear pain is caused by inflammation. It is very common to give the pet an anti-inflammatory drug, usually a steroid.
  4. Show the owner how to flush the ears at home and administer the medication.
  5. Recheck, recheck, and recheck.

The very serious ears will need surgery. Serious ear problems are extremely painful ears, dogs that are head shy from constant treatment, and/or small ear canals from chronic infection or breed related. This particular surgery is called a lateral ear resection. Very chronic ear infections may have the ear canal so swollen with scar tissue and inflammation that the only option is to remove the entire ear canal, called an ear ablation.

Question: I get a call from a client, “Hey Doc, I need a refill of Buster’s ear medicine you prescribed several months ago.” What is wrong with this scenario? Obviously I did not do a very good job of telling the owner about controlling the underlying conditions; the infection is just a result of those conditions and not the cause.

There are two important considerations with repeated ear infections:

  1. Scar tissue is laid down in the canal narrowing the canal like calcium in water lines. Making it harder to clean out the canal and treat. Eventually the ear drum will rupture and surgery becomes the only options. Ruptured ear drums cause the infection deeper into the ear. If the infection reaches the inner ear, hearing and balance are greatly affected.
  2. Constant antimicrobial treatment makes for resistance to the microbes you are treating. Soon, there are no medications effective against the super-bugs.

All ears can be treated and helped. Identify the underlying reasons and all ear infections will be held at bay. Or ignore the underlying reasons and the ear will be infected again. All that time and money spent treating the last infection will be lost as if you did not do anything at all.  Helping you control your pet’s ear problem makes for a happy pet.

Vaccinations for Dogs and Cats

Vaccines have been around for a long time. The term “vaccine” comes from the Latin word “vacca” which means cow. It was discovered that cowpox virus protected people from small pox infections. The first experimental vaccine was taking cowpox pustules and rubbing them onto people to prevent small pox.Boy have we come a long way in preventing diseases. When it comes to vaccinating our pets, there has to be several considerations taken into account.

  1. Is the disease endemic or epidemic in the pet’s area? Is the disease prevalent?
  2. How is the disease transmitted?
  3. Is the vaccine safe? Are there any side effects?
  4. What is the efficacy of the vaccine? Are most vaccinated pets protected after the vaccine?
  5. How dangerous is the disease?
  6. How is the vaccine administered?
  7. What is the frequency for boosters?

This is basically called a risk assessment. Each pet has their own unique environment and considerations. There is a big difference between a pet that lives completely indoors versus a pet that lives outdoors all the time. There is a difference between the multi-pet households and the single pet households. The pets that go to grooming, boarding, day care, or shows have a higher exposure to diseases. Pets in shelters probably have the highest risk of all. All the circumstances must be taken into consideration.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association, and American Association of Feline Practitioners have vaccine recommendations. The vaccines are broken down into core and noncore.

Dog core vaccinations are canine distemper, parvovirus, and rabies. The noncore canine vaccines are leptospirosis, giardia, cornavirus, bordetella, and Lyme’s.

Cat core vaccinations are panleukopenia (distemper), feline viral respiratory disease complex (rhinotracheitis and calicivirus), and rabies. The noncore vaccines for cats are feline leukemia, feline immunodificiency virus, chlamydia, and bordetella,

The core vaccinations are for all pets, no matter their living circomstances. The noncore vaccines require a risk assessment. For example, canine bordetella vaccine is highly recommend for grooming, boarding, show, and/or shelters situations. Feline leukemia vaccine is highly recommended for outside cats and catteries.

In summary, pet vaccines have been around for many years. I have vaccinated many pets since 1979. And I have had some reactions with vaccines. I have also seen a lot of disease during that time that could have been prevented. I’ll take the low probability of a vaccine problems versus the diseases they prevent anytime. Talk with your veterinarian about your pet’s risk.