Saturday, February 27, 2010

Garlic.....friend or foe?

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A reader recently posted a question to me regarding the use of garlic for dogs. The ASPCA Poison Control list includes garlic as toxic to dogs. The recipe shared by Halo Pets for their Spot's Stew includes garlic in its ingredients. The reader pointed this out to me, so I advised that I didn't have the answer but would see what I could find out.

After doing a good deal of research on the subject, I will share with you what I found.

Obviously, there is a great deal of contradictory information on whether garlic is good or bad for dogs. Some people advise that garlic is toxic to dogs and can cause anemia, bleeding, and even death. Others swear by garlic as a healthy supplement and flea repellent for dogs.

Let's look at the facts.

Garlic is a member of the onion family and is high is sulpher. Onions and garlic contain a compound called thiosulphate. In extremely high levels, thiosulphate can be a dangerous toxin that can cause hemolyctic anemia in dogs. Onions are highly toxic to dogs due to the relatively high concentration of theiosulphate. Garlic also contains this compound, but but in very limited quantities compared to onions.

Ingestion of large quantities of thiosulphate can cause Heinz-body (hemolytic) anemia resulting from oxidative damage to red blood cells. When red blood cells are destroyed, the body becomes oxygen-deprived and life-threatening conditions can develop rapidly.

Symptoms of hemolytic anemia include:
  • Weakness/lethargy
  • Discolored Urine
  • Pale or white gums
  • Rapid breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
Veterinarians caution that, due to the possible effect on red blood cells, puppies under 8 weeks of age, dogs scheduled for surgery, and dogs with pre-existing anemia should not be given onions or garlic in any amount.

Veterinarians at the Wesley Chapel Veterinary Hospital in Florida claim that raw or cooked onions, onion powder, shallots, garlic or garlic powder all contain a substance that causes destruction of red blood cells resulting in potentially life-threatening anemia.

All that being said, are there benefits to using garlic, and how much is safe?

For healthy, adult dogs, the small amount of garlic in commercial foods and treats has not been shown to cause problems. The exact amount of a toxic dose is unknown, and depends on the size and health of the dog as well.

When used in moderation, garlic seems to be a healthy supplement. According to Charlie Fox, the co-author of The Garlic Cure (McCleery & Sons, 2002), garlic can be used to stimulate and support immune function, trigger gastric juices for better digestion, encourage the growth of friendly bacteria, and prevent infections. He claims to have seen garlic reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer as well as improve blood sugar regulation and promote detoxification.

Dr. Richard Pitcairn, probably the preeminent authority on natural pet care and providing home made food for dogs and cats lists garlic as an acceptable ingredient. He states "Garlic helps eliminate worms, strengthen digestion, and beneficially stimulate the intestinal tract. Use it to promote intestinal health. It is also indicated for animals that have been on a high meat or fish diet, and those that tend to be overweight or suffer from arthritis or dysplasia. Include fresh, grated garlic with each meal, using 1/2-3 cloves, depending on the animal's size. Cats can be given 1/2 clove a day".

Dr. Pitcairn has been providing home made recipes and natural remedies to address health issues in pets for over 27 years. This quote is from his most recent book in its third addition. claims that garlic boosts immunities, fights infection, enhances liver function, lowers blood fats, and repels ticks and fleas.

Aleda M. Cheng, DVM CVA of uses garlic in canine cancer patients as a secondary treatment to traditional or holistic/herbal chemotherapy treatments. She feels that small amounts as an anti-cancer supplement outweigh any possible adverse effects, but also confirms that large doses can cause anemia.

Wolves have been known to eat homeopathic remedies such as wild garlic to keep away parasites, and willow bark to help with aches and pains.

It seems that the key here is the amount of garlic consumed. As stated earlier, small amounts seem to provide numerous health benefits to dogs. Large amounts of garlic do have the potential to be toxic, even deadly, to pets. Onions contain much more of the toxic compound and should be avoided completely.

Pet owners who want to give their dog garlic (besides what may be in their commercial diet or treats) should discuss dosage amounts with their vet and whether the benefits are worth any possible risks. As pet owners, we need to be aware of any dangers and keep an eye on the health of our pets. Your pet may experience health benefits from garlic as stated in the comments above.

Personally, I don't add any garlic to the home made "stew" that I make for my guys, but I DO make them cheddar/garlic treats that have a small amount of garlic powder in them (approximately 1 or 2 teaspoons to a large batch of dough). I have yet to see any problems with anything I have fed them.

My recommendation is, as always, talk to your vet, do your own additional research, weigh your options carefully, then do what you think is best for your pet. I have provided facts from both sides of the fence here, and I hope it is helpful in making your decision.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Smile! Tips for better dental health for your pup.

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Did you know that a large percentage of dogs show signs of gum disease by the time they are 4 years old? Proper mouth care can go a long way toward keeping the teeth and gums healthy and preventing diseases later on.

It is a good idea to examine your dog's teeth and gums yourself once a week. Gums should be pink, not red and inflamed, or pale looking. There should be no signs of swelling or irritation. Teeth should be relatively clean and white without a heavy build-up of brown tarter.

What are some signs that your dog may have problems with his dental health?

Bad breath.
Build up of brown tarter on the teeth.
Excessive drooling.
Inflamed gums.
Tumors or swellings on the gums.
Cysts under the tongue.
Loose teeth.
Pale gums.

Tarter is generally the biggest problem. If left untreated it can lead to gum disease. Bacteria and plaque-forming foods can cause build-up on a dog's teeth. If left alone it can harden into tarter which is much harder to remove.

Peridontal disease is a painful infection between the tooth and gum that can result in tooth loss. If not treated with antibiotics, the infection can spread to the rest of the body. Signs include loose teeth, bad breath, tooth pain, sneezing and nasal discharge.

Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums caused mainly by the build-up of plaque, tarter, and disease producing bacteria above and below the gum line. Signs of gingivitis include red, swollen gums, bleeding, and bad breath. Regular cleanings can reverse this disease.

Halitosis, or bad breath, can be the first sign of a problem. It is caused by bacteria growth from food particles caught between the teeth, or by gum infection. Normal doggie breath doesn't smell minty fresh to begin with, but if their breath is strong or especially offensive it might be a good idea to take your dog to the vet to have their teeth and gums examined.

Swollen gums develop when tarter builds up and food gets stuck between the teeth. Regular brushing and annual cleanings at the vet can prevent this from developing into gingivitis.

Proliferating gum disease occurs when the gum grows over the teeth, and must be treated to avoid serious gum infection. It is common in boxers and bull terriers and is treated with antibiotics.

Mouth tumors appear as lumps in the gums. Have these checked right away. Some could be malignant and must be surgically removed.

Salivary cysts look like large, fluid-filled blisters under the tongue. They can also develop near the corners of the mouth. They must be drained, and the damaged salivary gland should be removed.

Dogs that have had distemper as a puppy can get what is called "distemper teeth". Their adult teeth may come in looking eroded and will often decay. The damage is permanent , and decayed teeth should be pulled by a vet.

So, what can we do to prevent most of these unpleasant mouth problems?

Regular brushing, a healthy diet, and plenty of chew toys will go a long way towards keeping your dog's mouth healthy.

Brushing your dog's teeth doesn't have to be an ordeal. In time your pup may even look forward to it.

It is a good idea to get a veterinary exam of the dog's mouth beforehand to ensure that their mouth is healthy or to correct any problems that may be present.

Get a toothbrush made especially for dogs, or you can use a clean piece of gauze wrapped around your finger. There are also soft toothbrushes that you wear over your finger that are available. Many people find these easier to use and more easily accepted by their dog than a regular, handle toothbrush. You can also lightly massage your dogs gums with these.

Never use people toothpaste on your dog. The fluoride can interfere with enamel formation in dogs under 6 months old, and people toothpaste can irritate a dog's stomach when swallowed. Special mouth rinses for dogs are also available.

First, get your dog used to the idea of having their teeth brushed. Massage their lips with your finger in a circular motion for 30-60 seconds once or twice a day for a week or two. Once they seem comfortable with that, move on to the teeth and gums.

If your dog seems comfortable with having their teeth and gums massaged, start introducing small amounts of dog-formulated toothpaste to get them used to the taste. You can use a paste of baking soda and water, but it doesn't taste that good and your dog may be less likely to accept it.

There is a proper technique to brushing your dogs teeth. Apply the toothpaste to the brush or gauze, then clean the teeth and gums in small, circular motion. Hold the brush or gauze at a 45-degree angle from the teeth. Work one area at a time, lifting the dog's lip as needed. The side of the tooth between that touches the cheek usually has the most tarter. Giving a final, downward stroke to those teeth can help remove the tarter or plaque build up.

Some dogs to not like having the inner surface of their teeth cleaned. Don't force it. Only a small amount of plaque accumulates there. If your dog is comfortable with the whole process, try to brush their teeth two or three times a week. Even once a week will do wonders for keeping their mouth healthy.

Providing your dog with chew toys will also help keep plaque from building up on the teeth, and works to massage the gums at the same time. Toxin-free rawhide, nylon or rubber chew toys work well. Ask your vet for recommendations. Proponents of the raw diet swear by raw, meaty bones for keeping their dog's teeth sparkling white. Cooked bones are not a good idea since they can splinter.

Gnawing on chew toys also reduces your dog's overall stress level, prevents boredom, and gives them an appropriate outlet for their natural need to chew.

So, with a little time and attention, your dog can have fresh breath and pearly white teeth....and a beautiful smile!

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

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Happy Valentine's Day!!!

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Where did all the nutrients go?

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The bag says "100% complete and balanced". What exactly does that mean? Does that mean that if my dog eats this food for his entire life he will get all the nutrients he needs in just the right amounts?

Not quite. The idea that one pet food will provide all the nutrition a pet will ever need for its entire life is a myth.

Notice the back of the bag (or can, or whatever packaging the food is in). There is a "Guaranteed Analysis" stating how much protein, fat, fiber, moisture, etc., is in the food. The guaranteed analysis is a regulatory requirement for pet foods that indicates the minimum or maximum values of key nutrients in the food.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Not so fast.

"Guaranteed Analysis" does not actually guarantee that the food contains the amounts listed. sounds contradictory, doesn't it? The label simply lists the absolute minimum or maximum levels, which often differ from the actual quantities in the finished product. This chemical analysis does not address the palatability, digestibility, or bio-availability of the nutrients in the food. Therefore, these numbers are unreliable for determining whether or not a food will provide your pet with adequate nutrition.

The digestibility and availability of nutrients is not listed on pet food labels.

To compensate for this factor, AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) added a "safety factor" to ensure that a food exceeds the absolute minimum amounts of nutrients listed to be complete and balanced. AAFCO defines the ingredients that can be used in pet food, defines nutrition profiles for dogs and cats, and determines the approved practices for conducting feeding trials. In feeding trials, animals are fed the food being tested for 6 months and are watched to see if they remain healthy. The guidelines here are: the animals stay alive, and the animals don't show any signs of nutrient deficiency. It does NOT mean that the animals receive optimum nutrition to prevent illness further down the road, or that they will thrive.....only that the food will sustain life.

These short feeding trials are not indicative of how a pet will do in the long-term while being fed a certain food. Serious conditions such as arthritis, allergies, digestive dysfunction, dental problems, and premature aging are often caused by a poor diet beginning in the early years of you pet's life. The effects, however, may not show up for years. Other signs that your pet is not thriving on their current diet may include itching, hot spots or eczema, impacted anal glands, fatty skin growths, bad breath, loose or light-colored stools, or even personality disorders. A 6 month feeding trial is totally inadequate.

So, if the ingredients on the bag seem to be okay, why would the nutrients be lost? Let's look at the process by which pet foods are made.

Meats and proteins are typically rendered, which involves cooking at very high temperatures. This creates a fine protein and mineral rich "meal". Most dry foods are made by a machine called an extruder, or expander. The raw materials (meat meals, grains, vegetables, fruits, etc.) are blended, then fed into the extruder and steam or hot water is added. The mix is subjected to steam, pressure, and high heat as it is extruded through dies that determine the final shape of the product and puffs it up like popcorn. The food is dried, then typically sprayed with fats, digests or other flavorings to make it more palatable. A few foods are baked rather than extruded. This produces a dense, crunchy kibble that doesn't need added palatability, and pets can be fed about 25% less of these foods due to their density.

Most pet foods lose 50-75% of their nutrients during the manufacturing process. Think about that. If the ingredients are bad to begin with, as with many cheap commercial foods, the end result can only be worse! Because the ingredients are not wholesome to begin with, their quality may vary greatly by the time the final product is produced.

Dr. Randy L. Wysong, a veterinarian who also produces his own line of foods, is a long-time critic of pet food industry practices. He has stated "Processing is the wild card in the nutritional value that is, by and large, simply ignored. Heating, cooking, rendering, freezing, dehydrating, canning, extruding, pelleting, baking, and so forth, are so commonplace that they are simply thought of as synonymous with the food itself."

True, processing meat and by-products can greatly decrease their nutritional value. The cooking process, however, does increase the digestibility of cereal grains.

To make the foods nutritious, pet food manufacturers fortify the product with vitamins and minerals. In some cheaper, cereal grain-based, grocery store foods, this is still not adequate.

So, what do we do to ensure that our pets are receiving all the nutrients they need to thrive?

Raw food advocates will jump right on this as another reason that raw food diets are superior to any sort of commercial pet food. Others, who do not feel that the raw food diet is safe or balanced, promote the use of high-quality pet foods with superior ingredients. High quality natural foods carefully supplemented and balanced to the appropriate life-stage to ensure that your pet is receiving all he needs. Nutrients that were once thought to be destroyed by the cooking process are now supplemented in premium, high-quality foods...thereby making these foods as good as, or better than, a raw diet.

If you have been reading my blog all along, you are aware of the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to pet food ingredients. If you choose a premium food with premium ingredients, you can most likely be assured that your pet is receiving adequate nutrition to thrive. If you are feeding the cheap stuff, you may want to reconsider. You might save money on food for now, but you may have much higher vet bills in the long run.

For a list of top foods with superior ingredients, check out the website of the Whole Dog Journal.
They publish an unbiased list of the top recommended premium foods each year.

Trust me....your pet will thank you.

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