All posts in Pet Products

Gift Ideas for Your Pets!

More than 60% of pet owners have said that giving gifts to their cats or dogs is an important way of bonding.  But, with thousands of pet sites trying to sell toys or Internet rumors about the dangers of this treat or that bone, how can you find something that is just right for your pet?

For many, a gift for their pet should consist of something fun and entertaining, like a durable toy.  Veterinary experts also recommend the use of interactive toys that encourage exercise and activity.  This has the dual benefit of burning calories from overweight pets and also providing a needed outlet for highly active dogs, like the working breeds.  After all, a tired dog is a good dog!

To help meet this need for entertaining toys, companies like Kong (www.kongcompany.com) and Pet Qwerks (www.petqwerks.com) have developed innovative new ways to keep our pets active.  Many of the Kong toys, like the Bounzer or the Wobbler, will bounce in random directions when tossed and are made of very durable rubber.  There’s even a wide variety of sizes for your tiny or massive pooch!

The Babble Ball from Pet Qwerks is an interactive toy that actually “talks” to the pet when moved or even simply sniffed.  More than 20 voices or sounds are created, entertaining even the laziest of pets.  Cat lovers will appreciate the Kitty Babble Ball as well.

One of the best and least expensive toys to keep that flabby tabby moving is any one of the wide variety of Kitty Teaser products.  Found at most retail stores and many online outlets, these simple fiberglass rods with feathers, ribbons or swirls attached will attract the attention of any cat and provide lots of entertainment for the owner.

Keeping our pets from becoming bored or even challenging their intelligence is the mission for several other pet companies.  Aikiou (pronounced “I-Q”) (www.aikiou.com) has created a line of interactive feeding stations that simulate hunting and foraging activities.  Likewise, Premier Pet Products (www.premier.com) uses their Busy Buddy line of toys to reward dogs for playful, constructive behavior.

It’s also very easy to find an amazing array of designer clothing, leashes, collars and even special feeding bowls for your unique friend.  But, beyond all of these material things, what other gifts can help make sure that your pet is healthy and well protected?

One of the simplest and best ways to keep your pets safe is to make sure that they have permanent identification.  Far too many pets are lost or stolen every year and the vast majority of these animals never make it back home to their owners.  Have your veterinarian implant a microchip and be sure to keep the registration information current.

Another helpful gift idea is a pet health insurance policy.  Although Fluffy and Fido may not fully appreciate it, having a policy can really lessen the impact of a traumatic accident, serious injury or substantial illness.  Millions of pet owners have already found pet health insurance to be invaluable and it’s certainly a great gift idea for other pet owners in your family.

When it comes right down to it, all of the special toys, interactive puzzles or unique pet sweaters won’t take the place of the most important thing you can give your pet…your time!  Spend some time every day with your pet by engaging them in play or some quiet grooming.  It’s the very best thing you can give and your pet will love you all the more for it.

Your veterinarian is also a great source of advice for finding the right activities for your pet’s abilities.  He or she can suggest other safe toys that will help keep your pet physically and mentally healthy.

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Pet Food Marketing Is Confusing and Misleading

We all want to find the freshest ingredients and highest quality foods when preparing meals for our families.  It’s also likely that we want the best food for our pets too.

You’ve probably heard the terms “natural”, “organic” or even “human-grade” when referring to pet food.  But what do they actually mean?

The pet food market has become extremely competitive and very confusing.  More than 3,000 different brands of food sit on store shelves and highly paid, successful ad agencies are often recruited to find ways to convince pet owners that their particular brand is the very best.

Much of this marketing uses the term “natural” and other key words that are really designed just to motivate you.  Much of it has little to do with the quality of the food.  In fact, according to PetfoodIndustry.com, the “natural” pet products market in the US is expected to double to more than $9 billion by 2017.

So, do any of these marketing buzz-words have actual significance?

According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the term “natural” does have legal meaning. The FDA, who actually has authority over pet food manufacturing and label claims, does not give a definition to “natural” but has not objected to its use as long as the foods do not contain artificial flavors, added colors or synthetic substances.

Organic signLike “natural”, the word “organic” also has been legally defined.  Pet foods and treats that wish to be labeled as organic must meet standards set forth by the National Organic Program.  These requirements include both how the food is grown as well as how it is handled.  Additionally, organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and no antibiotics or growth hormones can be given.

But, please remember this, despite modern folklore and Internet rumors, organically grown foods have not been shown to be superior in either nutrition or health. It has become one of those huge marketing gimmicks used to motivate you to buy something that may or may not be good for your pet family members.

The use of the term “natural” also does not always mean healthy or even safe.  A prime case in point is a naturally occurring mycotoxin known as Aflatoxin that can cause serious liver disease in dogs and occasionally sparks pet food recalls, many of these brands are labeled “natural”.

Unfortunately, many pet owners are swayed by other labels and none of them has a legally defined meaning.  One of the worst offenders is the use of the term “human grade” or “human quality”.  A pet food company that markets this way is implying that their pet food is edible for people.  AAFCO has stated that using these terms without meeting all federal regulations is a misbranding of the product. This is government-speak for mis-leading, some would call it fraud.

When you see the term “human-grade” in marketing or on bags of foods, remember that this term has no significant meaning for pet diets.

So, what about all these marketing gimmicks?  Can you always trust foods sold as “premium”, “holistic” or even “gourmet”?  It’s important to remember that all of this promotion is designed for your benefit, not your pets.  How do we choose correctly, safely and also economically?

First, find a food that has undergone AAFCO feeding trials.   This statement can be found on the bag’s label and assures you that  the food is digestible, palatable and that your pets can successfully use the nutrients in the food.  Next, look at the price.  If you are paying less than a dollar per pound of food, that diet won’t work.  You will end up feeding more just to meet your pet’s energy and nutritional requirements.  Look for a food that costs around $1-2 per pound.

Grain free dog food labelFinally, ask your veterinary team about the reputations of pet food companies and for their recommendations.  After all, who knows your pet and their needs better?

As you can see, it’s easy to become confused when the Madison Avenue ad agencies start working their magic.  Your veterinarian and their staff will often have some sound advice concerning pet nutrition.  Better yet, it will often come without all the marketing hype!  The relationship between you and your pets is personal, and the relationship you have with your veterinarian is personal.  Rely on that, not on the impersonal decisions made in a board room.

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Jerky Treats for Pets Continue to Cause Problems

Using treats as a means of reward or distraction for our pets is not unusual.  “Roxie”, a Yorkie, was owned by a wonderful lady who had long suffered from severe hip arthritis and therefore could not get to the store very often.  She relied on friends to buy her groceries and even food and treats for her beloved canine companion.

Happily her veterinarian agreed to make house calls for her special situation. During a call for an exam and vaccinations, she returned from her kitchen with a bag of treats for reward.  Unfortunately, she held in her hand a newly opened bag of dog treats of a brand that has been associated with numerous complaints to the FDA.  Thankfully, the veterinarian stopped her from giving the treats and explained this serious situation.

Jerky treats have been an extremely popular treat for pets because of their high protein, low fat composition and dogs love them.  Also, the fact that the ingredient list is generally very short (chicken and some flavorings) allows people to feel good about giving their dogs something “natural”.

But somewhere along the way, something has gone terribly wrong.  Since 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued numerous warning about pet illnesses and even deaths associated with these jerky treats.  The most recent figures show more than 2,200 reports on file and these include more than 360 deaths thought to be linked to these treats!  In many cases, kidney failure was the primary reason for the sickness, death or euthanasia of the pet.  What is even more disturbing to most people is that almost without exception, the country of origin of the product is China.  The memory of the nationwide pet food recall caused by tainted ingredients from China is still fresh.   Thousands of pets became very sick and even died in 2007 from this serious problem.

Unfortunately, despite rigorous and continued testing and FDA inspections of manufacturers in China, the source of the problem is still unidentified.  Without knowing what the exact problem is, the FDA is powerless to compel any sort of recall.  Manufacturers of the treats are all reluctant to pull their products from shelves and this has led to a strong backlash from consumers and has social media buzzing.  Even now, several law suits are in progress.

According to Laura Alvey from the FDA, there are productive discussions happening with pet food firms at this time in the hopes of finding a cause for this on-going issue.  The latest testing of the treats is focused on problems stemming from irradiation of the ingredients.

So, what can you do to make sure your pet is not adversely affected?

First, and very simply, avoid buying any sort of jerky treat that is made in China.  Although that sounds easy, it is often difficult to determine exactly where a product is made.  Even products that are “Made in the USA” may source ingredients from China.  If you are not sure, call the manufacturer and ask them if the treats are wholly made in the US from US sourced ingredients.  If you don’t get a definitive answer, don’t buy the product!

Next, consider alternatives for the jerky treats.  Many dogs will happily accept baby carrots or green beans as a snack or reward.  Reputable companies, like Hill’s, Iams and others, also offer a variety of safe treats we can trust.  Other pet owners have found homemade recipes like the ones at DogTreatKitchen.com for making their own special home cooked goodies.

Remember, treats should only make up a small portion of the calories your pet receives each day.  While this sounds like common sense, in many of the complaints on file with the FDA, owners were feeding too many jerky snacks far too often.

Finally, it’s important to see a veterinarian if you’re pet shows any odd symptoms or has persistent vomiting and diarrhea.  In a review of the complaints to the FDA, a fair percentage of pet owners never saw a veterinarian or had any blood analysis done.  Without that information, it is almost impossible to say that the treats are the definitive cause of the illness or death.  Your pets rely on you to make sure their food and treats are safe and they need your help.

If you believe your pets have been affected by these products, please tell your veterinarian and file a report with the FDA online.

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Lost Pets, High Tech Returns

Jessie never went anywhere without her “wiener dog brigade”.  So, it was not surprising to see her loading up the four dachshunds and making a trip to St. Louis.   Her Mother’s Day visit, however, would not end as happily as previous excursions.  As Jessie and her husband stopped to give the dogs a much needed bathroom break, the weary travelers did not do a head count as they climbed back into the car.  It would be more than an hour until they noticed that one of their pups, six month old “Tequila”, was left behind.

As shocking as this story sounds, one out of every three pets will be lost and away from their family at least once in their lives.   More than five million dogs and cats leave home every year, either walking away or carried off by unscrupulous individuals.  So, if a pet owner finds out that his or her four legged companion is gone, what’s the best steps for reuniting?

Prevention, of course is the best option and veterinarians have long advocated the importance of some sort of identification on your pet.  Most people opt for simple ID tags or collars, but these are easily lost or even removed.  Tattoos have been used, but many pet owners, animal shelters or even veterinarians are unsure of where to call if they find a pet with a tattoo.  Microchips are a safe and effective means of permanent identification, but only about 5% of pets in North America have had this device implanted.

Jessie says, “I was so mad that I had told my veterinarian no when asked about the microchip…all because I wanted to save $30.”

Some pet owners have opted for GPS collars and devices, but results have been mixed.  Complaints about battery life, difficult collar attachments and slow notifications when the pet leaves the designated area have all been reported.

Dog on railroad tracksRegardless of whether any identification is available or not, fast action is needed when your pet comes up missing.  Veterinarians recommend that you contact local animal shelters, veterinary offices and even pet stores within a five to ten mile radius of your home to be on the lookout for your lost animal.  Websites like HelpMeFindMyPet.com or PetAmberAlert.com also offer services to registered members.  These might include faxing or calling all pet related businesses within a 50 mile radius or even creating flyers for you to print and post in your community.

“Of course, we immediately drove back to the rest stop to look for Tequila,” says Jessie, “but he was nowhere to be found.  I was able to connect with the local animal control office and police department right away, but there was no word about our little guy.”   Jessie then called various animal rescue groups and other shelters in the area once she returned home.

Having a current picture of your pet is also vital in your efforts to get the lost animal back home.  In Jessie’s case, she used her pictures of Tequila to create a new page on Facebook as well as flyers she sent in the mail.  The outreach in social media connected her with even more empathetic pet owners who, in turn, helped spread the word of Tequila’s situation.

If your pet is lost, involve your veterinarian in the quest to get the wayward animal back home.  Often, your veterinary team may have ideas and resources that can help quickly spread the word.

Black and Tan DachshundJessie’s story does have a happy ending.  Tequila was found by the local animal control office and a dachshund rescue group volunteered to drive him back.  Safely back home, Tequila is now properly microchipped and Jessie has a whole new set of online friends.

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Looking for the Right Pet Food – Part II

Our pets depend on us to keep them properly fed and in the best health.  But for most pet owners, the overabundance of different types of pet foods as well as the enormous number of brand names is often overwhelming.  Then, Internet chat rooms and forums are simply full of a wide variety of opinions on what is the “best” pet food.  How can the average pet owner make the best decision when it comes to feeding their pets?

Thankfully, there are experts in the area of pet nutrition.  Diplomates from the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (acvn.org) are specialists whose focus is the advancement of veterinary nutrition.  Put another way, these knowledgeable veterinarians know what makes a good pet food!

Dr. John Bauer, a veterinary nutritionist with the Texas A&M University, College of Veterinary Medicine says, “When it comes to choosing a diet for your pet, the first thing to think about is the life stage.  Is it a young, growing puppy or kitten or is it a mature adult trying to maintain body size?”

Puppies eatingIn other words, puppies and kittens have different nutritional requirements than adult dogs and cats or even senior pets.  So, a food that is adequate for all life stages may actually have too much of certain nutrients for some geriatric pets.  One way to determine if your pet’s food is meant for all life stages is to look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the bag.  If the nutritional adequacy statement reads “complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages”, then pet owners know that the food has enough nutrition for pregnancy, lactation, growth and maintenance.   If the label states “complete and balanced for adult maintenance”, this food is appropriate for adult pets only and not young, growing animals.

“Another important thing to look for is whether or not the food has undergone feeding trials,” adds Dr. Bauer.  Again, the AAFCO statement is helpful.  Foods that have been fed to animals prior to marketing to consumers will have a statement similar to “AAFCO animal feeding trials substantiate…” or “Feeding trials show…”.  This is a good sign that the company has invested in the due diligence to make sure pets willingly accept the diet and stay healthy on it.

Foods can also be created to meet specific guidelines.  If the bag of food simply states that “Brand X is formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles”, then the food was not fed in any regulated manner to animals prior to its delivery to store shelves.  Although this does not mean that the food is poor quality or even bad, most pet owners would prefer that their pets are eating a food that has proven to do well for other animals.

Kitten eatingFinally, the reputation of the company making the food is an important consideration for pet owners.  Does the manufacturer use a veterinary nutritionist to help develop and maintain the diets or is the food one that just has a celebrity endorsement?  Does the company engage in beneficial nutritional research or do they simply follow the most recent dietary fad?

Although the Internet is full of opinions and folklore about pet foods, the best source of nutrition information will come from your veterinarian.  He or she not only has the needed schooling to help you understand your pet’s dietary needs, but many veterinarians will also attend continuing education lectures to keep up to date with the latest advances in animal nutrition.  In addition, your veterinarian understands your pet’s unique needs and any specific concerns you might have about pet foods.  Anonymous strangers in online chat rooms or forums simply won’t have that knowledge or the same level of concern.

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