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?”
In 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.
Finally, 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. More
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. More
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. More
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. More