Friday, April 30, 2010

Spot On - Part One

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I have to admit that I am having trouble with this blog entry. Why? Because the staggering amount of information on all sides of this issue is overwhelming, and I'm not even sure where to start.

I guess I'll start at what prompted this entry to begin with, and then break the subject down into several manageable entries.

Just this past week a friend of mine told me that her sister had used a particular spot-on flea treatment on her dogs, and they became very sick. My friend asked me if I was familiar with these side-effects, which I was not. I personally do not use chemical flea treatments on my pups and don't have much experience with them. Her email compelled me to start doing some research on the subject, and what I found blew me away.

The products I am talking about are the spot-on flea treatments for dogs and cats (ie: Frontline, Hartz, ProMeris, Zodiac, Sergeant's Sentry Pro, BioSpot, K9 Advantix, and many others). These are topical flea treatments that are applied between the shoulder blades or down the back of the pet, depending on the individual product's instructions.

I found site after site of people posting stories of horrible side-effects, even deaths, from using these treatments on their pets. has heard scores of stories from pet owners across the country who say their dogs and cats started to shake and tremble uncontrollably, drool excessively, vomit, have seizures, suffer burns and welts on their skin, whimper in pain, lose control of their legs, and experience other neurological problems after using these products. Most reactions began almost immediately after application of the product, so there is little doubt as to the cause.

First, let's take a look at exactly what these products are and the chemicals they contain.

There are approximately 70 products registered with the EPA as "spot-on", for direct application to dogs or cats to control fleas or ticks. These products have an EPA Registration Number on the label.

Pesticide products used on pets contain active ingredients that aid in flea and tick prevention. Spot-ons are generally packaged in tubes or vials, and are applied to one of more localized areas on the body of the pet. Spot-ons used on dogs and cats contain active ingredients (pesticides) that kill fleas and/or ticks. Their active ingredients are chemicals such as amitraz, cyphenothrin, dinotefuron, etofenprox, fipronil, imidicloprid, metaflumizone, permethrin, pyriproxfen, or S-methoprene. These products can be purchased from retail outlets, veterinary clinics, or over the internet.

Let there be no misunderstanding here. All the chemicals listed above are chemical pesticides. They are poisons designed to kill fleas and ticks. All of them are toxic at some level and have the potential for side-effects. They are regulated by the EPA, a few by the FDA.

That being said, I'm sure you know many people who use these products on their pets and have no problems. Most pets do not seem to have any obvious reactions, though effects from their long-term usage are relatively unknown.

How common are these side-effects? The EPA said it received 44,263 reports of harmful reactions associated with topical flea and tick products in 2008, up from 28,895 in 2007. Reactions ranged from skin irritations to vomiting to seizures to, in about 1200 cases, death of an animal. Small dogs and cats seemed to be the most affected. I could not locate EPA statistics for 2009. A 2009 study by the ASPCA reported the majority of illnesses linked to proper use of topical flea and tick products were mild, with cats being more susceptible than dogs to illnesses and deaths from misuse of the products.

Dr. Steven Hansen from the ASPCA says "We don't have very many cases of true neurological issues when these products are properly used." He states that pet owners often use the products incorrectly, misread the directions, and/or overreact to how their pets respond.

When the companies that make these products were contacted, many did not respond. One of the worst offenders (and the one my friend's sister had issues with) is Sergeants, and their Sentry line of spot-on products. They had no response. Hartz did respond and said they welcomed the EPA's suggestions and want to ensure that their products are as safe as possible. The product that seemed to have the least number of problems is Frontline.

From the various consumer sites I visited, it seems the standard response when someone calls their helpline to report a reaction to the drug and to find out what to do, the blame is most often put on the consumer for applying too much product, or using the wrong product on the wrong animal (dog meds on cats, etc). They often insist that the person had to apply it wrong in order for there to be a problem.

I'm sure in some cases that is true, but certainly not in all. I find it very frustrating that many of these companies seem to think consumers cannot read and follow directions, and take little or no responsibility for the results.

Should we stop treating for fleas entirely? No! An infestation of fleas can pose serious health problems for animals - anemia, tape worms, and other health issues. There have been cases of puppies and cats that needed blood transfusions, or even died, from severe flea infestations.

I will stop here for now simply because I have enough material to write a small novel, and I don't think any of us really want me to do that. I will post another entry in a few days that covers the EPA findings and their recommendations, how to safely use these products, and what to do if your pet has a reaction. After that, I will follow up with a post on natural alternatives to flea and tick chemicals.

Until then, stay safe!

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Bones? A little something to chew on.

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Dogs love bones. They love to chew on them, bury them, and hide them all over the house (well, at least my Bella does). But are they safe? There is a lot of evidence that they are not.

I can hear dogs all over the world growling at me and saying "Say it ain't so!"

We will look at both sides of the argument.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in a consumer update released on Wednesday, stated that giving your dog a bone is a dangerous practice and can cause serious injury to your pet.

"Some people think it's safe to give dogs large bones, like those from a ham or roast," says Carmela Stamper, D.V.M., a veterinarian in the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the FDA. "Bones are unsafe no matter what their size."

In the Associated Press article, the FDA lists 10 reasons that it's not safe to feed bones to your dog. Among them are broken teeth, bones or bone fragments getting stuck in the esophagus or stomach, mouth or tongue injuries, intestinal blockage due to compacted chewed bones, and rectal bleeding. The worst potential risk is of peritonitis. Peritonitis is a bacterial infection of the abdomen caused when fragments of bone poke holes in the stomach or intestines. It is difficult to treat and very dangerous.

"Your dog needs an emergency visit to your veterinarian because peritonitis can kill your dog," says the FDA.

The Better Business Bureau recently warned pet owners about a particular treat, Dynamic Pet Products' Real Ham Bone for Dogs. It states that a number of pet owners have complained about dogs becoming seriously ill or dying from internal damage from bone fragments. The company denies there is a problem according to the bureau's news release.

"But I've always given my dogs bones" you say, "and I've never had a problem." That may be so, but we need to be very cautious. Let's take a look at the types of bones and what may or may not be safe.

The general consensus is that cooked bones can be very dangerous. Cooking changes the structure of the bone, making it indigestible and easily splintered. The large, weight-bearing bones (such as femurs, soup bones and knuckle bones) are harder to chew up, but they can split into large, sharp pieces that can crack teeth or get lodged in the throat. Pet stores sell these like crazy. I have stopped giving them to my guys because they do tend to split into sharp pieces that could easily be swallowed. It happens almost every time. I have to say, though, that my guys are very aggressive chewers.

Those who feed their dogs bones reason that canines in the wild eat bones all the time and never have any problems. That isn't exactly true. Yes, wild canids eat bones....raw ones. There have been documented cases of wolves choking or starving to death from bones stuck in the throat. It isn't common, but it does happen.

Okay, so what about raw bones? I'm sure the RAW food advocates are chomping at the bit here.

According to those who feed RAW or BARF food diets, raw bones are completely digestible and not dangerous for your pet. They say raw bones rarely splinter and rarely cause any problems. Raw marrow bones, which are very thick and have marrow inside them, are very sturdy and not likely to splinter.

The health benefits of feeding raw, meaty bones are superior to any other diet, they say. The RAW diets are designed to emulate the diet of wild canids. Proponents of this diet feed raw, meaty bones almost exclusively, and say they provide excellent nutrition.

"Bones from prey are required by wolves as the major source of calcium and phosphorus for the maintenance of their own skeletons. Bones, in fact, are a surprisingly well-balanced food for canids." (Mech, L.D. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. Pg 125)

Of course, wild canids feed on the whole carcass, swallowing meat, hide and hair with the bones. This may provide some protection from any possible gastrointestinal problems.

RAW food advocates do acknowledge there is a very minimal risk from feeding raw bones, and therefore it is important to understand which bones are safe and which ones should be avoided.

Raw bones should be chosen according to the size and chewing ability of your dog. Whole chicken and turkey necks, pigs feet, chicken wings, and marrow bones are fed to dogs as a meal, along with certain fruits and vegetables. Bones should be fed in appropriately sized pieces for your dog. In other words, don't feed tiny chicken wings to a great dane. He may try to swallow them whole. Larger dogs are often fed a whole chicken or leg quarter. Smaller, cut bones seem to be the biggest risk since they can have sharp edges and dogs will try to gulp them down.

As stated earlier, the large weight-bearing bones of large herbivores, even raw, are prone to splitting into sharp pieces and have the potential to cause cracked teeth.

If you feed a raw food diet, choose raw meaty bones that are in as whole a condition as possible. Make sure the bones are surrounded by plenty of meat. Don't feed bones with little or no meat on them. Too much bone can lead to constipation. If the bones don't have enough meat on them, add some plain meat to their meal as well.

If your dog chews the bones up too quickly and tries to gulp down the pieces, feed him meaty bones that are frozen or partially frozen. The dog will have to work much harder to chew it up, which slows them down a great deal.

Safe bones will satisfy your dog's desire to chew, prevent boredom, and relieve anxiety. The chewing action will help scrape plaque from their teeth, diminish bad breath, and stimulate the gums. Bones will provide needed calcium and other nutrients. A bad bone, however, can be very dangerous, costly, and can cause much grief.

I suppose the point here is that whether you choose to give your dog cooked bones or raw ones, always supervise them when they eat. If you do feed bones, be sure to choose appropriate sizes and types for your dog. If the pieces become small enough to be swallowed whole, or if they should happen to splinter, throw them away.

As always, I encourage you to do your own research before making a decision.

Next time we will look at alternatives to bones for chewing (rawhide, nylon bones, pig ears, etc.)

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Just a reminder....I still have emergency pet rescue stickers!

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I have a stack of pet rescue window stickers that I got from the ASPCA. If you would like one, please email me with your name and address and I will be happy to mail you one at no charge.

I think these are great to have for police, fire, or other emergency personnel to let them know there are pets in the home.

Limit 2 per address, please.

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