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Raw Food Diet Controversy

Take a stroll down the pet food aisle of your favorite store and your eyes will take in every imaginable color, a few cartoon characters and a lot of claims stating the food is “improved”, “natural” or even “organic”.  It’s truly a marketing bonanza!  More than 3,000 brands of pet food fill the aisles and pet owners will spend about $18 billion to feed their pets each and every year.

But, high profile recalls, sick pets and corporate mistrust has moved a small number of pet owners to consider making their pets’ food at home, instead of buying it in a bag.  An Internet search for “raw diets” brings up almost 3 million different results, many of which claim that this sort of food is nutritionally superior to the commercially prepared diets.

The raw food diet trend began in 1993 with the publication of “Give Your Dog A Bone” written by Australian veterinarian, Dr. Ian Billinghurst.  Building on the close evolutionary relationship between our dogs and their wolf cousins, Dr. Billinghurst claims that in domesticating the dog we “changed the wolf’s appearance and mind…but not the basic internal workings or physiology”.  Many pet owners agree with this theory and have flocked to a raw meat type of diet for their animals.

Proponents of raw diets claim the foods give their pets more energy, provide more nutrition and overall, their dogs and cats are healthier than animals fed a typical dry or commercial diet.  During the massive pet food recall of 2007, the number of people opting for homemade diets increased dramatically and many have continued to prepare their pet’s food at home.

Adding more fuel to the fire, advocates of homemade foods persist in claims that commercial diets, especially those with a high percentage of grain, are actually shortening the life span of our animals.

How many of these arguments are valid and which ones lack evidence?

First, it is important to understand that all of the reports of increased energy and healthier pets are simply observations by the owners.  Actual scientific and verifiable evidence supporting these claims is non-existent.  To be fair, there is no evidence to refute these statements either.

Many of Dr. Billinghurst’s basic arguments are answered by veterinarians, both in the clinic with clients and in the media.  For example, the claim that dogs must eat meat because they are related to wolves is discussed and usually dismissed.  As a well respected blog, Skeptvet.com, states dogs are omnivores and will often eat a wide variety, including some fruits and vegetables.  Not to mention that there has been more than 100,000 years of divergence between dogs and wolves as well as intense selective breeding, especially in the last 3,000 years.

Another claim that is used by raw food advocates is that dogs and cats can’t digest grains, especially the corn and wheat ingredients found in many commercial diets.  This contention is also refuted by scientific studies showing dogs use these cooked grains as effectively as other carbohydrate sources.

But, perhaps the biggest reason many pet owners opt for preparing their pets’ meals is a mistrust of the corporations formulating the dry foods.  Recalls due to contamination, excessive or deficient nutrients and bacterial contamination seem all too commonplace.  Although these recalls have happened occasionally and pets have become sick, the reality of the situation is that the vast majority of commercial diets are not only safe for our pets, they also provide an optimum level of nutrition, helping out pets live full and healthy lives.

So, is one type of diet actually better than another?

The answer to that question is complex and should always involve a discussion with your veterinarian.  Raw diets, for all their purported benefits, do come with significant risks.  Bacterial contamination is more prevalent with these diets and the potential for an imbalance of nutrients is very high.  If you do choose to use a homemade or raw diet, talk with your veterinarian and use an approved veterinary nutritional site, like BalanceIt.com to insure that your pet does benefit from your extra work.

Also, remember that many pet food companies have decades of experience, research and testing proving the effectiveness and safety of their diets.  It’s true that occasional recalls have happened, but these unfortunate events have also helped determine how to effectively handle this sort of crisis.  Lessons learned from past situations will help to prevent future issues.

Looking forward, science may give us an answer to this on-going and very passionate debate.  But, for now, your best source of advice is not an online forum or manufacturer’s website with products to sell, but rather you should put your trust in your veterinarian.

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Pet Dental Health

Dental care in pets is necessary to provide optimal health and quality of life. Poor dental hygiene leads to diseases of the oral cavity,  and if left untreated, are often painful and can contribute to other local or systemic diseases.

Dental care of dogs and cats is one of the most commonly overlooked areas of pet health care. Approximately 80% of all dogs and cats have periodontal disease by the time they are only two years old. Dental disease affects much more than fresh breath. It frequently leads to more serious health problems such as liver, kidney and heart disease. That’s why we’re  not just treating dental disease, but taking new steps to prevent it. A major step in this process is encouraging our owners to participate in their pet’s oral health at home.

Periodontal disease in pets is the same as it is in people. It’s a sneaky and insidious process that begins when bacteria in the mouth attach to the teeth and produce a film called “plaque”. When the bacteria die, they are calcified into “calculus” commonly known as tartar which makes a rough surface for even more bacteria to stick to. In the beginning, plaque is soft and can easily be removed by brushing or chewing on appropriate toys or treats. But if left to spread, plaque leads to gum inflammation (called “gingivitis”) and infection. Eventually, the infection spreads to the tooth root and even the jaw bone itself – causing pain and tooth loss.

Examining a dog or cat’s mouth can be compared to opening a Christmas present. Inspecting the outside of the box may give you a hunch about the contents, but until you completely unwrap it, you’ll never really know what’s inside.  In the same way peeling away the wrapping paper and packing material brings a present into the light of day, our new dental radiology equipment allows us the opportunity to look beyond the obvious and better examine teeth and their supporting structures below the gum line – exposing hidden, and often undiagnosed, problems.

The American Animal Hospital Association has devised guidelines for veterinarians in order to highlight the need for more professional oral hygiene care for pets. The organization stressed the necessity of going beyond the traditional “scraping the surface” of routine dental cleanings, known as “prophies”. We are encouraged to teach owners the importance of good oral hygiene when puppies and kittens are only a few months old in order to begin a lifetime of healthy benefits.

Research proves that unchecked dental disease can be the root of other problems.  In a 2009 study at Purdue’s School of Veterinary Medicine, researchers have discovered significant associations between the severity of periodontal disease and the risk of cardiovascular-related conditions, such as endocarditis and cardiomyopathy.

A recent roundtable discussion between veterinary dental experts shed even more light on the impact that good preventative dentistry plays in a pet’s life. They strongly recommend daily dental care for pets and twice yearly mouth exams beginning when puppies and kittens are two months old. And while that schedule may seem too complicated for some pet owners, dental specialists, veterinary supply companies have developed products that will help pet busy owners put some bite into home dental care for their pets.

A recent development that goes beyond good veterinary and at-home care, is the actual prevention of plaque using a barrier sealant gel. This is applied by the veterinarian and continued at home by the pet owner. Called OraVet®, this system is the first method used by veterinarians to create a physical barrier that reduces bacterial plaque adhesion above and under the gum lines. It is applied at home only once a week after the initial hospital application.

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TOP PRODUCTS TO HELP PETS AND HELP PETS HAVE FUN!

The ever growing pet product market ranges from fashion to fun, exercise to IQ puzzles, gourmet pet foods and treats….and everything in between.
These products are available on-line pet specialty sites, at pet boutiques and superstores… even the neighborhood groomer is likely to have a pet product line tempting you.

In considering which new products to purchase, it’s important to evaluate what your pet will enjoy, if the product provides healthy fun activity and the value to your pocketbook.  Here’s a look at some innovative products by major categories.  And remember this is a very abbreviated list!

EXERCISE AND  PLAY  products are dually beneficial.  Look for pet-engaging toys with healthful options such as the following products:

1)    The Hydro Freeze® family of toys.  This toy product group provides hours of dog-chewing, fetching fun while simultaneously hydrating the dog.  The award winning HydroBone® is now being joined by their new HydroBall® and HydroSaucer®.

2)    If your pet needs more exercise than you have time, check out the DogTread® treadmill.  It provides great fitness at home, and there will be no more traipsing out in the rain, snow, or mud with Fido!

3)     Let your pet go wild with the Bubble Buddy®!  This bubble blower, specially designed for dogs, uses SCENTED bubbles…like chicken or bacon!  Just sit back…blow the bubbler…and let the dog exercise while chasing those tasty bubbles!

4)    For those tough pups, try Kong’s Wubba…specially designed for durability and keeping your pup entertained!

BOREDOM or BEHAVIOR ISSUES can be positively handled if you have the right product.

5)    The ThunderShirt® has a calming effect on the pet’s nervous system and has proven successful for that anxious canine, especially during summer storms.

6)    Felines are not forgotten either when it comes to good therapeutic products!  Cats that suffer from cabin fever, can safely enjoy the outdoors in their Kritter Kondo®.     This easy-to- set up enclosure gives the cat a fun way to enjoy the outdoors in a safe environment.

7)    A great indoor cat product is the eco-friendly cathouse system®.  These cardboard kitty play houses are foldable, stackable and changeable and they provide hours of play fun for indoor cats.

NUTRITION AND FEEDING PRODUCTS. You can even find innovation on the pet food aisle!

8)    Award winning and very popular KONG®  continues  to introduce new toys for dogs and cats. Their new KONG Wobbler® dispenses food while providing entertainment too.  And now KONG® has come out with KONG Stuffin’®- a pepperoni-paste filler for the KONG toys!

9)    New pet food diets are released almost every week.  We strongly advise everyone to consult with your veterinarian to find the right food for your pet!

10)    Veterinarians know the importance of fresh water…so much so that a veterinarian invented the fresh-flowing Drinkwell Water Fountain® system for cats and dogs.

11)    And grooming has never been easier with products like FURminator®, the ultimate pet shedder too.

TRAVEL & SAFETY PRODUCTS. Today more folks are traveling with their pets, and there are many great travel and safety products available.  There’s everything from GPS collars for tracking that wayward pet to cute pet themed totes, safety belts, and of course—haute couture for the pet traveler. Fun travel products are sure to add charm to Fido’s adventures.

With so many new and great pet products in the marketplace, it’s easy to be overwhelmed.  Key things to look for include: Award winning designations, American- made, Eco-friendly, and of course veterinarian endorsed products.  Other important factors to consider when selecting the right products are your pet’s age, agility, and interests.

With a little research on-line or through your veterinarian, you’re sure to become an educated pet product consumer…and a real hero to your pet too!

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New Research Alters Debate on Heartworm Preventative Resistance

The latest study on heartworm preventative resistance spotlights the most important factors in preventing this condition in the Ozarks.  Clarke Atkins DVM, DVM, DACVIM, professor of veterinary medicine and cardiology at North Carolina State University just completed his study in the Mississippi River Delta.  This area is a hotbed for heartworm disease and has been the recent focus area for studies on the resistant MP3 heartworm.

His study suggests that dog owner’s failure to purchase and administer preventatives every 30 days plays a larger role in canine heartworm disease than resistance to heartworm preventatives.  He also adds that current research does not point to any particular product being more effective than another.

His study does not disprove the resistant MP3 strain, only that administering medications in a timely manner (every 30 days) is the most important factor in preventing this parasite in the dog.

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