All Posts tagged Dr. Craig Bendickson

Pet Foods Part 1 – Myth Busting!

Asking someone about their preferences in pet foods can be as polarizing as if you asked about their political affiliation.  Many pet owners have very strong opinions and beliefs when it comes to the type of food they choose for their four-legged companions and that is certainly their right.  However, there are a few myths about pet foods or pet food ingredients that need some clarification.

First, a very common assertion in online discussions, and even in veterinary waiting rooms, is that corn is a bad ingredient and our pets cannot digest it.  In fact, some people will outright refuse any pet food that contains any corn in the formulation.  This myth comes about because of the human preference for eating whole kernel corn.

But, looking more closely at ingredient labels, pet owners will see that the “corn” present in many pet foods is actually corn meal or even corn gluten meal.  These processed ingredients provide a very high quality carbohydrate source and, in the case of corn gluten meal, a very digestible and good source of amino acids.  The amino acids found in corn protein complement many of the amino acids found in meat, thereby creating a food with all the essential amino acids a pet needs.  An important fact to remember is that nutrients are the most important part of a pet’s diet, not the specific ingredients!

Despite the numerous myths circulating, corn is no more allergenic that any other protein source and actually has been shown to be less allergenic than beef, soy, wheat and dairy proteins.

The next myth has to do with an unfortunate naming convention.  Almost everyone has seen pet food commercials showing paid actors pretending to be disgusted by the pet food ingredient called “meat by products”.  Again, the confusion and misunderstandings happen because of what humans have decided to name particular parts of the meat producing animals.  Skeletal muscle is the most common meat that ends up in our grocery stores and on our dinner plates.  But, there is a lot of muscle and other protein rich organs that are not consumed by people.  Since we don’t use these leftovers for human food, they are termed “by-products”.

In reality, by-products include highly digestible and nutritious organs, such as the liver and lungs and do NOT include things like hair, horns or hooves, as advertising gimmicks would have you believe.  More to the point, if pet food companies did NOT use these organs and other parts, a large portion of the animals we raise for food would go to waste, resulting in the need to raise MORE animals to feed our pets.  As the American Animal Hospital Association has said, “Feeding by-products = green living”.

Finally, many people believe that veterinarians are not instructed in any sort of nutrition basics during their intense schooling.  This is actually a big fallacy as almost all veterinarians will have at least a semester devoted to nutrition and many may have completed undergraduate nutrition courses before applying to veterinary school.  Continuing education opportunities that discuss nutrition are also popular lectures for veterinarians and veterinary technicians.

What you feed your pet will be a decision you make based on a variety of factors.  But, don’t fall victim to Internet fads promoted by individuals without scientific training or who will profit when you purchase their brand of food.  It’s also important to review a variety of information sources before you reach any conclusion about how good, or bad, a particular ingredient might be.

Whether you choose to use a “grain-free” diet, an “organic” pet food or the cheapest food you can find, it’s important to discuss your pet’s nutrition with your veterinarian.  He or she can help you understand what the pet food labels really mean and help you make a sound decision based on the needs of your pet.

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Summer Heat Hits The Ozarks – Pet Heat Stroke Tips

Summer temperatures might be great for tan lines and boating trips, but the excessive heat and increased outdoor activities could spell disaster for your pets.  As the mercury rises, take just a few moments to insure that your pets are safe and prevent an urgent trip to the animal ER with a summertime emergency!

The most common heat related problem for pets is heat stroke.  Also known as heat stress or hyperpyrexia, heat stroke is a real emergency for dogs.  Even on moderately warm days, an excited dog might show a body temperature increase of 2-5 degrees Fahrenheit.  Since dogs don’t sweat like we do, they are unable to dissipate the excess heat and heat stroke may soon follow.

Any outdoor pet can overheat on a warm summer day, but short faced breeds, such as Pugs and Bulldogs, are at a higher risk.  In addition, every year thousands of pets succumb to heat stroke because they were left in cars while their owners ran “just a few” errands.

Many cities and states have now made it a crime to leave your pet unattended in a vehicle.  These are important laws as even on a 70 degree day, temperatures inside a car can soar to over 110 degrees in less than one hour!

Some owners try to help their pets by shaving the dog’s long coat.  Although this seems like a good idea, a well groomed and clean hair coat can actually insulate the dog from the heat and help keep them cooler.

Veterinarians will recommend shaving specific areas in long haired breeds.  For example, shaving around the anus and groin can help keep the area clean and free from infections.

In some cases, shaving the hair coat could expose a lightly pigmented dog to potential sunburn.  For short haired lightly colored breeds, Canine solar dermatitis is another problem.  Boxers, Pit Bulls and Dalmatians are just a few examples of dogs that are at risk.  In these cases, chronic exposure to hot sunny days damages the skin and causes tender, red scaly lesions.  Eventually, the skin becomes thickened and scarred.

When the sun goes down and the temperatures start to cool, your pets still face many summer challenges.  The patriotic holidays during the summer months are often preceded by and celebrated with fireworks.  The bright flashes and loud bangs are terrifying to some pets and can cause anxiety, stress and even escape.

Likewise, some pets react in a similar way to thunderstorms.  Normally calm pets may become distressed, destructive and even bite in an attempt to get away from the noises.  While running, they are at risk for being hit by a car, becoming lost or encountering another animal who might be aggressive.

The warm summer season also brings out a many pests that will actively seek out your pets.  Fleas and ticks are two examples, but some species of biting flies are very fond of dogs’ ears.  Repeated bites can cause a condition that can be serious and difficult to control known as “fly strike”.

It is possible to enjoy the summer with your pets by taking just a few precautions.  First and foremost, always be aware of the weather forecast.  Knowing the high temperature can help guide your plans for the day.

Don’t leave your pet unattended outside or plan heavy exercise on hot, humid days.  If your pet is left outdoors, he must have access to adequate shade and fresh water.

When it’s time to run errands, leave your pet at home.  Even a few minutes in a hot car is enough to increase your pet’s body temperature dramatically.

If you find your pet disoriented, panting excessively or collapsed in the yard, move him immediately to a cooler environment.  Use cool wet towels over his back, armpits and groin to help bring his temperature down.  Fans are often helpful too.  DO NOT USE ICE!  Then, get him to your veterinarian immediately so that they can assess his status and begin life saving treatments.

Your veterinarian is also a good source of advice for products that will kill fleas and ticks.  Some veterinarians also carry an insecticide gel that repel biting flies

If you are planning to take your pets to any outdoor celebrations or cook-outs, find out first if pets are welcome or if fireworks are planned.  It might be easier to simply leave the dogs at home rather than risk a run-away or injury.

Most national parks allow pets, but rules vary by park and of course your pets must be on a leash at all times.  Check ahead on the parks you plan to visit.

Summertime should be a time for relaxation and fun…don’t let a pet emergency spoil your good time.

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Wildfires Rage in Colorado and New Mexico – Pet Safety

The massive plumes of smoke from wildfires can often reach hundreds of miles downwind, creating hazy skies and dangerous conditions for people or pets with respiratory issues.  For those living in the path of these fast-moving blazes though, danger can often come without warning.

According to National Geographic, more than 100,000 wildfires burn about 4-5 million acres of land each year.   These fires are often in remote wilderness areas, but still claim almost 1,000 human lives, kill untold numbers of animals and cause a half a billion dollars in property damage.  Reaching speeds of 14 miles per hour, the flames often out race the best containment efforts.

Faced with this sort of natural disaster, how are you going to keep your pets, your livestock and yourself safe?

As with any natural disaster, the best defense is having a plan and supplies at the ready.  Evacuation kits should include not only materials for the human members of your family, but also food, water, medications and vaccination records for your pets.  Livestock owners should have a means of transporting their animals and an emergency destination in the case of a mandatory evacuation.

But, fickle wind patterns and aggressive fires can often catch even the best-prepared person unaware.  Knowing how to handle a burned pet or an animal suffering from smoke inhalation could spell the difference between a life saved and one lost to the wildfire.  So, how can you help your pet in an emergency and then, of course, find good veterinary care as soon as you can.

Treating a pet with burns is not unlike treating a person with burns.  The goals are to stop the burning process, prevent infection or further injury and keep the pet from going into shock.  Even though you may know your animal very well, injured pets often react in unexpected ways.  Before attempting any sort of first aid, consider using a muzzle to prevent unintended bites.

Never use butter, creams or any other folk remedy on a burn.  For first and second degree burns, the best immediate remedy is to submerge the area in cool, not cold, water, pat the area dry and place a layer of sterile gauze lightly over the affected area.  For third degree burns (complete skin destruction, blackened skin, fur falling out), an important step is to prevent shock.

Pets with pale or white gums, a rapid heartbeat or even rapid breathing could be at risk for shock.  If your pet’s heart rate is in excess of 180 beats per minute, keep the head level with the rest of the body, loosely cover the burns and seek veterinary care immediately.

Outdoor pets in wildfire areas may be at risk for smoke inhalation as well.  Pets with rapid breathing, increased respiratory effort, reddened eyes or a hoarse cough could suffer from some degree of smoke inhalation.  If oxygen is available, delivering it via a mask could help speed recovery.  Thanks to veterinarians, many fire crews and first responders now carry pet specific oxygen masks as part of their equipment and may assist you until you can find veterinary help.

The destruction of wildfires could also mean the potential for injury to your pets from debris.  If you find a cut on your pet that is bleeding, try using a thick gauze pad and apply pressure to the wound for a minimum of three minutes.  For most mild to moderate cuts, this action will allow a stable clot to form and give you time to seek veterinary care.  In the case of severe bleeding on the legs, a tourniquet can be placed between the wound and the body along with a pressure bandage.  Since this sort of hemorrhage is life-threatening, you must find a veterinarian immediately.

Even if you think your pet is ok after your treatment, it’s important to have a veterinarian evaluate the burn or injury.  Since our pets can’t talk to us, we won’t know the true extent of his or her discomfort.

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Generic Pet Drugs…Good or Bad for Your Pets?

According to data from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, consumers in the US spent almost $4 billion on retail prescriptions in 2010 and a large portion of that business was in the form of generic medications.  Generics now make up more than 80% of all prescriptions filled at human pharmacies.  In addition, pet owners are now asking about generic alternatives for their animals.

So, what is a generic drug and are there concerns about using them for our four legged family members?

Drugs that contain the same active ingredient as a brand name medication are known as generics.  These products become available after a pharmaceutical company loses their patent protection on the specific drug molecule.  Since the necessary clinical testing that is so important for new drugs does not need to be repeated for generics, these medications are sold at a much lower cost.  In addition, many consumers are already familiar with the drug and advertising costs can be greatly reduced.

Medicines that are brought to market as generics must contain the same active ingredients, have the same route of administration, same dosage or strength and the same conditions of use.  But, many people still have serious worries about how well these medications perform or their overall safety.  News reports about poor manufacturing standards and contaminated ingredients have raised alarm in the minds of many individuals.

FDA Generic Drug Review processHowever, the FDA has an extensive overview process that not only creates a system for evaluating quality standards for manufacturing, but also significant testing to show that the drug performs just like the original product.  This assessment of the generic’s performance is known as proving bioequivalence.

Still, it is important to remember that all people, and pets, are individuals and there is always the possibility that a unique response can occur to either the original drug or the generic equivalent.  In addition, inert ingredients used in the manufacturing of the generic product may differ from the brand name.  This could also lead to abnormal or adverse reactions to the medication.

Knowing all of this, does it make sense for pet owners to spend extra time at a retail pharmacy picking up pet medications or parasite preventives?

First and foremost, it is important to understand that your veterinarian is crucial to answering that question.  A physical examination of the pet and a veterinarian/client/patient relationship are necessary in order for the veterinarian to write any prescription.  In other words, don’t expect to get a prescription if your pet hasn’t seen their doctor in more than a year.

Next, lab work is often needed to keep your veterinarian up-to-date on your pet’s health status and to monitor any disease process.  For medications like heartworm preventives, it is vital that your dog have a negative heartworm test before continuing the medicine.

Finally, with many brands and alternatives on the market, it’s easy to become confused about the exact product that your pet requires.  Your veterinarian and his or her team can help you find the one that matches the medical needs of your pet as well as one that is safe and effective.

Be wary of online websites that promise absurdly low prices on pet medications.  Far too often, these are simply scams designed to take your money.

Many veterinarians keep a well-stocked pharmacy right in their hospital or allow their clients to order drugs online.  Getting the medications directly from your veterinarian could save you time and hassle.  But, in either case, your veterinarian will want to help you get the right drugs at a price that fits in your budget.  That is their commitment to you as their trusted client.

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How Sweet Is Your Cat? Feline Diabetes

Almost everyone knows a friend or acquaintance who is diabetic.  What most people may not realize is that diabetes may be present in their own home, possibly in a feline friend.

Diabetes is a group of diseases that result from either inadequate insulin production or the inability of cells to respond to this hormone.  Insulin is necessary to help move glucose from the blood stream into tissue cells for use as energy.  The predominant characteristic of diabetes is the presence of high levels of glucose in the blood…this is known as hyperglycemia.

In humans, one type of this disease is known as Type I or insulin-dependent diabetes.  This illness results from the body’s immune system destroying the cells that make insulin.   This is the predominant form of diabetes in our canine companions and there is no known way to prevent it.

Type II, or non-insulin dependent diabetes, accounts for 90-95% of diabetes in people and 85-90% of cases in cats.  In this instance, the beta cells of the pancreas that produce insulin either become exhausted or they fail to respond to signals to produce the hormone.  The important aspect of this to remember is that it is possible for treatment to lead to a remission of the disease.

While the number of cases of diabetes in dogs has remained static for many years, some veterinarians feel that they are seeing an increasing number of diabetic cats.  Although the true incidence of feline diabetes is not precisely known, estimates for North America show that about 1 in every 200-400 cats develop this disease.  What is important to remember is that as our cats have developed a tendency towards obesity, diabetes cases have risen rapidly.

Being obese or overweight is a risk factor for Type II diabetes because of the chronic inflammatory state obesity produces.  This leads to a reduction in insulin sensitivity.  In addition, fat cells in overweight animals stop producing a certain hormone essential for proper insulin receptor function.

Cats with diabetes often go extended periods of time with no real sign that anything is wrong.   When signs do appear, the first indications are a cat who needs to use the litter box more frequently and who is drinking greater amounts of water.  Unfortunately, cat owners are not always aware of these signs, especially if their kitty often goes outdoors.  This means that many cats aren’t diagnosed for months after the onset of diabetes.


Without diagnosis and treatment, diabetes will eventually cause a metabolic condition known as ketoacidosis. This leads to dangerous changes in the blood chemistry, dehydration and eventually, death.

When cats are seen by a veterinarian, this disease is often diagnosed with a simple blood test.  Hyperglycemia or any glucose in the urine (glucosuria) is often indicative of diabetes.  Veterinarians can also use a blood test known as serum fructosamine to determine the average blood glucose values over the course of the last three weeks.

In some cases, cats don’t get into the veterinarian until the disease has progressed even further.  In these cases, the presence of ketones (a by-product of using fatty acids for energy) in the urine is a definitive indicator of complicated diabetes.

Unlike diabetic dogs who will be on insulin replacement for the rest of their lives, it is possible to treat cats and allow for remission.  The goal of treatment in cats is to restore the functionality of the beta cells and their ability to produce insulin.   In fact, new evidence is now showing that high protein, low carbohydrate diets are instrumental in helping cats defeat diabetes.  In short, although your feline friend may need insulin initially, you might be able to reduce or even eliminate this medication as you help the cat lose weight.

Owners of diabetic cats can also learn to monitor blood glucose levels at home, sparing the cat from frequent visits to the veterinarian.

As with any medical condition, the very best source of information will be your veterinarian.  He or she can steer you through the diagnosis and treatment process and then help you with monitoring your pet’s progress and potential recovery.

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