Pet Health

A FRIEND for a FRIEND

posted July 15th, 2013 by
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by Stacy Pettit

Karl Villadsen has come to grips with the reality that he will struggle with being HIV positive for the rest of his life. However, Karl has always had one consistent friend while battling this lonely disease—his dog Sigmund Freud.

“(Pets) give that unconditional love, no matter what,” Karl says. “You could have the worst day in the world and be running a 110 [degree] fever, and that dog still loves you and will stay by your side when you can’t get out of the chair.”

Now, after being Karl’s loyal friend for 15 years, the aging dog needs a little extra care these days—care that is difficult for Karl to provide after the cost of his own treatments and medicines. It is during times like these that one local organization jumps in to help.

“We take care of it all,” says Jason Eddingfield, co-director of A Friend for a Friend.

For Jason, that means personally delivering more than 1,500 pounds of dog and cat food throughout the month to pet owners with HIV and AIDS, and the organization does not stop there. A Friend for a Friend pays for vet bills and necessary grooming services. Volunteers walk dogs if the owner is in the hospital for an extended period of time, and they change cat litter for people who are too ill to do it themselves.

Today, the organization has grown to help about 100 clients throughout the year, but for Founder and co-director Alice Bates, the life of the organization began through the life of just one person. At the time, Alice was searching for a way to honor her son David Wilder who died in 1991 after his own painful battle with AIDS.

“I wanted to do something to make his life and death more than just life and death,” she says.

So when a friend told Alice a man dying from AIDS was distraught and fearful that his ill dog would die first, Alice jumped in to pay the vet bill. Word of her kindness spread to a news station, and they picked up the story. Soon, Alice started receiving phone calls from people asking to volunteer or requesting Alice’s help with their pets. Then two 12-year-old boys stopped by to tell Alice they could help by walking dogs as the pets’ owners stayed in the hospital.

Purely by accident, Alice had found her way to honor David.

Even now, 88-year-old Alice is surprised the organization was successful during a time when AIDS was only discussed behind closed doors.

“Things were not easy back then, but they were done with such love that it worked,” Alice says. “I had no idea that this would still be going 22 years later.”

Today, the organization generates most of its donations through a fundraising event held in September at Panera Bread. A Friend for a Friend also works with the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, as well as local veterinarians, grocery stores and groomers to get discounted rates and donated food and supplies.

Having these connections is essential to the physical health of the pets, and important for the mental health of clients who often consider their dogs and cats to be part of the family, says Brad Mulholland, client and volunteer for A Friend for a Friend.

While the client list has grown over the past two decades, Alice says she has gained numerous friends through the organization. But she has also had the difficult task of saying goodbye to many of these friends, and she gets emotional when she talks about the dogs that have sat by her feet at their owners’ funerals. During these times, much like the months after her own son’s death, Alice has pushed through the grief to carry on the life of another. After a client passes away, Alice ensures that the organization will find a new home for the loyal and loving pet.

“It has sad, sad times, but it’s so rewarding,” Alice says. “I have friends I would have never had; I know people I would never have known, and I’ve learned a lot.”

For more information about A Friend for a Friend, call (918) 747-6827.

Danger in Dog Days of Summer

posted July 15th, 2013 by
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Summer in Oklahoma means fun in the sun, but for man’s best friend, that fun can easily take a nasty turn for the worst. Dogs love to be with their owners, but owners beware — taking your dog out and about in hot summer temperatures can be a deadly choice.

According to Dr. Lauren Johnson of Hammond Animal Hospital, heat stroke in pets requires immediate emergency treatment. Because dogs are only able to sweat to a very minor degree through the pads of their feet, they do not tolerate high temperatures as well as humans do. Dogs resort to panting to exchange warm air for cool air, but when outside air temperatures are close to or exceed a dog’s normal body temperature, cooling by panting is not an efficient process.

So what are some of the common situations that can set the stage for heat stroke in dogs? Dr. Johnson lists the following:

• Being left in a car in hot weather. Even if outside temperatures are in the 70s, the temperatures inside the car can soar to dangerous levels within minutes, even with windows open.

• Exercising strenuously in hot, humid weather. Remember, your dog does not sweat anywhere except from the pads of his feet.

• Being a brachycephalic breed (short or “smashed” nose) especially Bulldogs, Pugs, or Pekingese, because they can’t dissipate heat effectively.

• Suffering from a heart or lung disease that interferes with efficient breathing.• Being confined on concrete or asphalt surfaces.

• Being confined without access to cool shelter, shade and/or fresh water in hot weather.

Symptoms of heat stroke begin with a dog panting heavily and having difficulty breathing. The dog’s tongue and mucous membranes will appear bright red. You may see very thick saliva and vomiting. With heat stroke, a dog’s body temperature will quickly rise to levels ranging from 104° to 110°F and the dog may be unsteady and disoriented. As shock sets in, the lips and mucous membrane turn gray and the dog may collapse, have seizures, or fall into a comatose state. Death can quickly follow.

Dr. Johnson says that emergency treatment is crucial. Immediate measures must be taken to cool the dog. “Move the dog out of the heat, preferably into an air-conditioned building,” said Dr. Johnson. “Cool the dog by spraying him with a garden hose or immersing him in a tub of cool water for a couple of minutes, but not ice water.” She also suggests that cool packs applied to the dog’s groin area may also be helpful, as well as wiping his paws off with cool water.

If possible, you should immediately monitor the dog’s rectal temperature, continuing the cooling process until the dog’s temperature falls below 103°F. After initial cooling, transport the dog to a veterinarian for further emergency treatment and support. According to Dr. Johnson the dog is not out of the woods once the initial heat episode sub-sides. Consequences of hyperthermia can manifest hours or even days later and include kidney failure, spontaneous bleeding, irregular heartbeat, and seizures.

Dr. Johnson is quick to advise that prevention is obvious-ly the best medicine. During hot temperatures, it is best to let your pet stay at home. Exercise your pet in the early morning or later in the evening when temperatures drop, and always make sure your pet has easy access to fresh water. If your pet starts panting heavily or falling behind in a walk, it’s time to head indoors.

The Pet Prescription and Returning the Healing Favor

posted May 27th, 2013 by
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by Anna Holton-Dean

The Pet Prescription

Your formula for good health might only require a little “lab” work or “cat” scan.

Pet lovers know the obvious physical benefits of owning a pet. As you walk Fido, you will reap the reward of burned calories. But wait, there’s more. The scientific research of pet ownership’s effects on health continues to grow, showing lowered blood pressure, less risk of heart disease and reduced anxiety. These benefits aren’t from your daily walks, but rather the bond between you and your four-legged friend.

“Owning a pet gives you a sense of purpose and belonging that can increase feelings of positivity and lower stress levels, all of which translates to health benefits,” Dr. Allen McConnell, a psychology professor at Miami University, says.

Current research backs up this notion. Women asked to solve a math equation with their dogs nearby experienced less stress than women who worked with a human friend in a study conducted by the State University of New York at Buffalo. Dr. Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology and neuropsychological researcher at the University of British Columbia, has published nine books on the people- animal bond, and he explains that when people interact with a friendly animal, their blood pressure lowers and their muscles relax.

However, this isn’t shockingly new information. Pets have been used for over 150 years in medical settings, according to NPR.org. “One could even look at Florence Nightingale recognizing that animals provided a level of social support in the institutional care of the mentally ill,” Dr. Aubrey Fine, a clinical psychologist and professor at California State Polytechnic University, says.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that scientific research began to explain the human- animal bond and benefit.

NPR.org states one of the earliest studies in this area, conducted in the 1980s, found heart attack patients who owned dogs lived longer than those who did not.

Pets have an effect on a chemical level. Owning a pet decreases cortisol, the damaging stress hormone, and increases dopamine, the feel-good brain chemical. Prevention.com says you can maximize the benefits of your pet’s presence by reaching out and petting him or her. Do not simply vent your cares aloud to your pet. Petting results in an increase of immunoglobulin A, an immune-boosting antibody.

While one might assume it’s the soft fur that activates this response, it isn’t this alone, but rather the simple power of touch. Stroking a pet snake could bring down its owner’s blood pressure and heart rate, according to a study in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. Dr. Coren says it is the power of touch that establishes love and comfort, resulting in the desired physical benefits.

More good news shows that people who interact with animals experience a boost in oxytocin, the hormone that promotes love and trust—also linked to reduced blood pressure and heart rate—intertwining the physical and emotional benefits.

While oxytocin’s immediate results are good, its long-term effects are even better, Rebecca Johnson, head of the Research Center for Human/ Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine, says.

“Oxytocin has some powerful effects for us in the body’s ability to be in a state of readiness to heal, and also to grow new cells, so it predisposes us to an environment in our own bodies where we can be healthier,” she says.

If being in a state of readiness to heal sounds like a state you want to be in, try anthropomorphizing your pet. “People get more physical and psychological benefits the more they [do this],” McConnell says. Creating an emotional bond with your pet just as you would a human friend pays hefty health dividends.

If you’ve ever wanted to dress up your furry friend or bake a doggie birthday cake, now you have medical reasons to do so. Go ahead and throw the pet party of your dreams… for your health’s sake, of course. Sources: Prevention.com, “How Your Pet Can Heal You” NPR.org, “Pet Therapy: How Animals and Humans Heal Each Other” TulsaPets May/June 2013

Returning the Healing Favor

Dr. Jana Layton of Riverbrook Animal Hospital shares insights from her own experience

of how animals receive healing from their human counterparts

 

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about my years in practice is the difference cats’ people make in their recovery. Most people think of cats as extremely independent, as if they could care less about humans, but I’ve witnessed the opposite to be true. I’ve seen many cats over the years that needed to be hospitalized for a few days, and they get depressed! They typically won’t eat, hide in their litter boxes and sink deeper into depression.

Having their owners visit even just once a day, many times, resulted in my witnessing them eating from their owners’ hands. Their eyes went from glazed over indifference to bright eyed and willing to go on for another day of treatment. Reversely, it is encouraging to the pet owner and to all of us in the hospital. I believe there is healing that happens for all involved.

I have one diabetic feline patient whose owners went out of state to visit family. While they were gone, he developed life-threatening pancreatitis and went into kidney failure. Unable to return home immediately, his owners asked if I would visit him in the emergency care clinic—I have treated him for five years—so he could see someone he knew who cared about him.

When I arrived, he was curled up in the litter box, facing the corner of his cage with tubes coming out of several places. He seemed so depressed; no one thought he would recover. As he looked at me and my technician, I saw recognition in his eyes. I turned him around to face us, and we loved on him a while.

When we were ready to leave, I turned him back toward the wall, and he got up and turned himself around to look at us! There was a noticeable change in him from dull and lifeless to what appeared to be a sense of hope. As we were leaving the hospital, I spoke with the vet in charge, and he was not very hopeful about the cat’s recovery, as he had never seen one this bad recover.

Other people the cat knew came to visit over the next few days. His owners returned home, and he recovered. He is as happy and healthy as he was before he got sick!

Another case that stands out in my memory is of a 12-year-old Labrador diagnosed with a rare type of cancer in her cartilage that invaded her spinal cord and hips. She did well for a year after diagnosis, but eventually became non-weight bearing on the affected hind leg and had difficulty getting around. She was otherwise happy and not in pain, so quality of life was still present.

In this case, also, her owner had to leave the country for two weeks for work, and Emma, the Lab, stayed with a friend. A week after her owner left, Emma fell down outside and could not get up. The friend brought her in to see me, and we determined the tumor had affected the entire spinal cord, leading to nerve damage in both hind legs, leaving her unable to stand or walk.

I Skyped with her owner who was in Scotland, and she knew the time to euthanize Emma was near, but couldn’t bear the thought of not being there for Emma when Emma had always been there for her. We talked about how she was still eating, and I couldn’t find her to be in pain (the lone benefit of the cancer invading the spinal cord).

Because she wasn’t in pain, we decided to take things one day at a time. As long as she was eating and pain free, we would wait until her owner returned home. While Emma’s appetite declined over the coming days, she held on. By the time her owner returned, she had stopped eating, had discharge coming from both eyes and looked like she wanted to die.

As soon as Emma saw her, she perked up, started wagging her tail and made every effort to get up and leave with her. She was leaving this hospital even if she had to drag her hind end behind her to do it! Emma did return home with her owner although she couldn’t walk, and the two of them enjoyed two more weeks together without Emma suffering. I saw healing for both of them in this.

Emma was not healed of cancer or able to walk, but she was able to be happy again even if just for a few more days. Again, the owner had a vital, irreplaceable role to play in Emma’s life to the very end of it, which, in turn, healed her owner’s heart.

We all need to feel we are vital, important, needed and necessary in this life, and our pets are a gift to teach us that role. They are such an example of resiliency, free spiritedness, unconditional love and forgiveness in this sometimes harsh reality that we so often live in.

How could we not heal from them?

Ask the Vet

posted May 27th, 2013 by
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Dear Dr. Best :

I have an opossum in my yard, and I’m not sure exactly if it’s just one. I have fountains around with water, and they probably drink out of them. I also have two dogs. Is it safe to have opossums in the same yard as dogs? I called the City and they said they could trap and relocate them. Any advice is appreciated. And, of course, my dogs are vaccinated for rabies.

Thanks,     A worried dog mom

To the worried dog mom:

It generally is not harmful to have opossums sharing the same yard, but there is a slight risk of opossums and raccoons transmitting Leptospirosis, which is a bacterial infection of the kidneys. However, I wouldn’t be worried about it, just aware of the possibility. Opossums do not commonly carry rabies, so that generally isn’t a concern. If you don’t want them in the yard, you will need to make the yard less attractive to them—taking away food and water sources and places they could hide or sleep.

Dear Dr. Best :

I have incredibly dry skin and lotion up every morning. However, my dogs love the lotion smell and can smell it several rooms away when I am applying it. They want to lick, lick, lick on me all day. And I discourage this. I use all types of lotions, but do you know if licking it will hurt them?

Thanks in advance,     The dry dog mom

To the dry dog mom:

Most lotions will not be harmful if the dogs lick some of it, although I certainly would recommend discouraging the behavior. If the lotions are medicated, like with steroids or tea tree oil or antibiotics, they could be harmful. If you can’t discourage them from licking it, you may have to keep away from them until it is absorbed.

This issue’s participating veterinarian is Dr. Carol Best of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital, Tulsa. Thank you Dr. Best for answering our readers’ questions. If you have a question of a non-urgent nature for a Tulsa vet, please email [email protected]

Snakebite!

posted May 27th, 2013 by
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by Lauren Cavagnolo

 

It was a typical day in September last year for Felicia Russell and her dog Deacon. Russell was getting ready for work and Deacon, a 9-yearold German Shorthaired Pointer, was outside.

When it was time for her to leave, he came right into the house and settled into his crate.

“He didn’t act unusual, and I had no reason to inspect him for anything,” Russell said. She left for work and returned about six hours later.

“When I opened the crate, he staggered out drooling, and his head was the size of a football,” Russell said. “His left eye was swollen shut, and I saw blood on his legs and face. I knew immediately what had happened because I have had a dog bitten by a copperhead previously. For some odd reason, I checked the crate for a snake!”

She quickly loaded Deacon into the car and took him to Oklahoma Veterinary Specialists, an all-hours emergency facility, and called from the road to let them know they were on the way.

“They were ready when we came in the door,” Russell said. “Since he had been in his crate for over six hours immediately after the bite, his blood was seriously affected, and they determined antivenin therapy was the best option.”

Inspection showed he had at least a half dozen bites and three envenomated bites, one of which was only a quarter of an inch from his eye. Left untreated, serious damage could have been done to his internal organs, Russell said.

Deacon stayed at OVS for four days until he was stable enough to go home. Overall, the cost of his treatment exceeded $4,500.

He was just one of 21 dogs with snake bites that required antivenin therapy treated by OVS veterinarians last year, according to Shad Wilkerson, DVM, at OVS.

Though Deacon was able to go home just several days after being treated, he also had some longterm effects from the attack.

For the most part, he made a swift recovery, Russell says, “with the exception of the necrotic tissue on his face. That took a few weeks to slough off. He still lacks hair in the directly affected areas.”

Deacon also suffered from clotting issues and red blood cell restriction.

“I can’t do rabies on him anymore because of the effect on his blood,” Russell said. “There have been a couple of cases of snake bitten dogs that had brain seizures and swelling following rabies vaccination. If I ever have a question about his immunity to rabies, I will have a titer done.”

Elena Shirley, DVM, of Hunters Glen Veterinary Hospital, explains that depending on the type of snake and the type of poison, it can interfere in different ways with the animal’s clotting factors.

“Some animals can experience bleeding disorders or coagulopathies, those are the kind of things, even once we get the immediate symptoms under control, that can linger, and we have to monitor that as you go forward,” Shirley said.

Shirley, a general practitioner who has treated her share of dogs with snake bites, says it can take up to two weeks for other symptoms to kick in.

Rarely, some animals will experience what is called “serum sickness” or an unusual reaction to any foreign substance in the body, she said. Symptoms include hives, joint pain, fever and general malaise.

Where we seem to get a lot of snakebites is late summer when it’s really hot outside, Wilkerson said. “The rattlesnakes and the copperheads, in particular, tend to become more crepuscular or active at dusk and dawn because it is really hot in the middle of the day.”

People also tend to keep their pets inside at the hottest part of the day.

“It’s too hot in the daytime for all the different creatures to be out so everybody congregates in the cooler hours of the day,” Wilkerson said.

Even though late summer is when a lot of snake bites occur, venomous snakes start to come out as early as April, he said.

Typical spring cleaning behaviors, such as taking pool covers off and clearing leaves and underbrush can unintentionally disturb venomous snakes, Shirley said.

“They are not lying in wait to kill people, but they are protecting themselves,” Shirley said. “They are conserving energy at certain times of the year, and they are also protecting nests, and if you see them out during the day, it’s pretty unusual.”

Wilkerson and Shirley both say that the most common venomous snakes in the area are the copperhead, rattlesnake and the occasional water moccasin.

“We really don’t see water moccasins in our area so much,” Wilkerson said. “People are always talking about it, and it really is mostly a misconception.”

There are some varieties of water snakes that look similar to the cottonmouth or water moccasin but are not poisonous, which is what most people are seeing, Wilkerson said.

“We see copperhead bites the most, and luckily they are the least dangerous of the ones we have here,” Wilkerson said.

Pet owners who don’t actually see their animal get bitten by a snake may not immediately put all of the symptoms together and think “snakebite,” Shirley said. Bites are not always the first sign pet owners will notice, especially if the animal has longer hair.

“Either the pet is lying around, has lowered energy, possibly some nausea, some throwing up. Possibly some trembling, and very possibly some problems in the area of the skin where the bite took place. The point is when you see any of that, it’s not that owners aren’t responsible, good people,” Shirley said. “But they may not put it together what is happening. They may think ‘Oh, he’s got an abscess on his foot, or he’s hurt his toe.’”

A pet owner who does see his or her animal attacked by a snake should immediately bring the animal to an emergency vet center, Wilkerson said.

“The best thing to do is just to keep them calm and get them somewhere where they can receive antivenin,” Wilkerson said. “A dog that gets bit by a venomous snake, you’ll see the fang marks, and the tissue starts to swell. It’s very painful, and the swelling is dramatic.”

Wilkerson also advises against using a tourniquet on the animal or administering Benadryl or any other antihistamine.

“I usually do not use Benadryl or any other type of antihistamine with them because the antivenin does a better job, and the two are not to be used together,” Wilkerson said.

Shirley agrees that a tourniquet should not be used on an animal with a snakebite, but says there are instances where the use of an antihistamine like Benadryl is appropriate, depending on the type of antivenin. It can also be used to prevent and treat allergic reactions to antivenin.

Pet owners should call their veterinarians to find out what the proper protocol is.

All 21 dogs treated with antivenin last year at OVS lived, according to their records.

“[Antivenin] is the gold standard, so that’s what’s recommended. It really does a good job,” Wilkerson said.

Crotalidae polyvalent antivenin is most commonly used in this part of the country and is what both OVS and the Animal Emergency Center keep on hand. A general practice veterinarian may or may not keep antivenin on the shelves.

Russell, Deacon’s owner, knows he is one lucky dog and has this message for pet owners who may be facing the same situation:

“If you have a dog bitten by a snake, and you are unsure if it is a venomous snake, don’t hesitate to seek veterinary care,” Russell said. “Don’t even waste time on first aid. Just stabilize and transport.”

They are What They Eat

posted May 27th, 2013 by
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by Nancy Gallimore Werhane

Whole chicken, corn gluten meal, whole grain wheat, turkey meal, brewer’s rice— just a few of the ingredients you may find on your dog’s bag of kibble.

When it comes to feeding our dogs, we want to make the best choices, but read any dog food label and let the confusion begin. Add creative marketing and appealing product names to the mix, and the choices become immediately overwhelming.

So how do you decide which food is right for your dog? Dr. Jennifer Miller, a veterinarian at 15th Street Veterinary Group in Tulsa, says that pet food ingredient labels have become a hot topic of discussion with her clients and with consumers in general. According to Miller, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding pet food ingredients, and that makes it increasingly difficult for consumers to make an educated choice.

One way to start to make sense of it all is to follow two basic rules that I came up with in the course of researching this topic:

1. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

2. If it sounds terrible to you, it might just be really good for your dog.

So first things first, a name is pretty much just a name, but the pet food bag is actually a legal document. “If you are looking at a particular pet food website or watching a commercial, and they make a big claim about their food that doesn’t show up on their food bag, then it may not be true and could just be part of an advertising gimmick,” Miller says. “Make sure you read the bag.”

There’s a lot of fancy terminology being thrown around in conjunction with pet foods these days, so it’s important to understand which terms actually have legitimate meaning and which words just sound good from a marketing perspective. “What we have to keep in mind is that some of the terms used in promoting dog foods have no legal definition and can be used by anyone that wants to make a claim,” Miller says.

The word “organic” is a term that has been assigned a legal definition and is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AA FCO )—a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies that regulates the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies.

According to USDA regulations, organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones during their lives.

Organic food is produced without using harmful, conventional pesticides; fertilizers containing synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. If you are looking for an organic food, Miller says you should look for the USDA organic seal on the bag. That seal means 95 percent or more of the diet content is organic.

“Natural” is another term with a legal definition. Miller explains that a food claiming to be natural must have ingredients that are found in nature, not artificial or manufactured, and without ingredients that are chemically altered.

On the other hand, she points out that the term “holistic”—a word widely used in pet food marketing—has no legal definition relative to pet foods. “Anyone can claim their food is holistic with no standard for the ingredients chosen,” Miller says.

Pet food manufacturers are also required to state maximum and minimum concentrations of nutrients that must be present for small and large animals in various life stages. Every bag or can of dog food also includes a statement provided by AA FCO detailing how a food’s nutrient content has been verified. Miller explains that pet food can either be formulated—meaning the nutrient content is verified in a laboratory—or it can be tested through a feeding trial.

In the feeding trial, the food has not only been laboratory tested, but has also been fed to animals in the appropriate life stage for a required length of time to show that the animals thrive on the food

“A pet food company that has taken the time and money to have feeding trials performed on their food has essentially proved that their diet works as they claim it does,” Miller says. “The feeding trial method is considered to be the gold standard.”

All product claims, testing, and marketing hype aside, it would seem you could just read the list of ingredients to decide which food is right for your dog. Simple—that is, until you walk to the dog food aisle of your local pet store and stare at row after row of brands and varieties with a dizzying plethora of formulas and ingredient options.

For example, here are the first several ingredients found in three popular dog foods:

1. Whole grain corn, poultry by-product meal, corn gluten meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), meat and bone meal, soybean meal, egg and chicken flavor…

2. Chicken meal, brown rice, barley, oatmeal, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), ground flaxseed…

3. Deboned lamb, oatmeal, whole ground barley, turkey meal, whole ground brown rice, peas…

So which food would you pick? If you’re anything like me, you’re still confused. Back to the classroom we go, and here’s where we touch on my “if it sounds terrible, it may actually be good for your dog” rule

“Probably the biggest myth is that meat by-products are horrible for your pet, and if it doesn’t have a whole meat product as the first ingredient, it isn’t good,” Miller says. “The big issue with this statement is in the legal definition of the ingredients.”

For example, Miller explains that when a pet food label lists chicken by-products as the protein, that means a chicken carcass that has had all of the meat used for human consumption removed (breast meat, wings, thighs, legs), but still contains the cleaned organ meat and bones with leftover meat on them.

While this definition of the term “by-products” sounds anything but appealing to the majority of the human race, it likely has our canine counterparts drooling and actually affords them an excellent source of protein.

Here’s where it gets even trickier, according to Miller—when the label lists whole chicken as an ingredient. It is actually the same thing as the chicken by-product meat, but without all of the cleaned organ meat. This means there is a higher bone (ash/mineral) content to protein ratio.

“Consumers think that they are getting an entire chicken because that is what it sounds like, but legally that is not what it means on an ingredient label,” Miller says.

That brings us to meal. Many dog food labels will list a meat meal as the protein source. Certainly a whole meat ingredient sounds more appealing than something that is a meal. Take chicken again, for example. You might be more likely to buy a food that lists whole chicken as the first ingredient over a food that lists chicken meal.

Guess again. Miller’s colleague, Dr. Erin Reed, explains that in commercial dog food, a high grade meat meal can actually be a better source of digestible protein than the whole meat from which it was made.

Meat meal is the dried end-product of a cooking process known as rendering in which the water is cooked away. The residue is then baked into a highly concentrated protein powder better known as meat meal.

Whole chicken contains about 70 percent water and 18 percent protein, while chicken meal contains just 10 percent water and 65 percent protein. That’s more than three times the protein per pound than whole chicken contains. So maybe now chicken meal doesn’t sound so bad, right?

Armed with a little knowledge, you can make a responsible decision when choosing the bestdiet for your pet. If you want to take it one step further, Miller suggests that you contact the pet food company directly.

There should always be a contact phone number for the pet food company on the packaging, and Miller suggests you ask if they have a veterinary nutritionist on staff. You can find out how and where the food is manufactured, and ask any other questions you may have to try to make a well-educated choice for your pet.

If none of the packaged meals sound appealing to you, you may consider preparing home-cooked meals for you dog, but Miller cautions that the do-it-yourself route isn’t easy either. “If there are consumers out there who truly want to make a home-cooked diet for their pets, there is nothing wrong with it,” she says

“However, it is extremely important to follow a recipe that offers a balanced diet. Feeding your dog chicken and rice with some veggies isn’t going to cut it in the long run because the mineral content will not be balanced.” She suggests visiting petdiets.com or balanceit.com to find a recipe to meet your dog’s dietary needs.

What it boils down to is there are a lot of great commercial pet foods readily available. These foods are designed to meet your pet’s specific nutritional needs at various life stages. On the other hand, there’s a lot of low quality dog food out there too.

As tedious as it may seem, it’s your job to read the labels, sort through the facts, know your dog and any specific needs he may have, and then make the most educated choice possible.

It’s always a great idea to discuss dietary concerns with your veterinarian. Many veterinarians, like Miller, are well-versed in pet food lingo and can help guide you through the pet food aisles. Just remember that appealing names and pretty photos on dog food packaging are designed to catch your eye but may not represent the true quality of the food inside. Do your homework… your dog is counting on you!

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