Monday, December 24, 2007

Adventures in Raw Feeding

(contributed by Lori Whitwam)

I have four dogs, ranging in weight from 65 to 110 pounds, and all of them are fed at least 50% raw. Sprocket, the 14 year old golden, gets 90% raw, using the Honest Kitchen (Force or Embark) because you rehydrate it with warm water, and all his supplements mix into it really well. Plus, he loves it, and at his age it is extra-important for him to eat well. The other three (Brody the Pyr, Ozark the Pyr mix, and Darwin the golden) get 1/2 raw and 1/2 Nature's Variety, Wellness or Merrick dry. Still, the expense of feeding this many BIG dogs raw food, even with employee discounts and manufacturer-sponsored sales programs, was becoming a concern. The pre-made Nature's Variety frozen raw food cost me anywhere from $1.93 to over $3 a pound, and I feed two pounds of raw a day. I know the importance of raw food in their diet, but how to keep doing this, and not end up in the poor house?

I don't cook. If I had my way, my house wouldn't have a kitchen at all, just a hotline to every place in town that delivers. Oh, and a really great bathroom. But the answer to making my dogs' raw food more affordable was (deep breath)... make it myself.

I have to say, I'm just starting out in this endeavor. I've recently joined Midwest BARF Buyers (a raw meat-buying co-op), so in January I should be able to order large quantities of pre-ground (with bone) raw meat at a great price, provided I can find someone to pick it up for me. The pick-up is on Wednesdays, in the middle of the day, when I have to be at work.

So for now, it's just me and the local grocery store. I went shopping yesterday for Batch #2, checking to see what was on sale. I ended up buying:
5# tube of high-fat ground beef (it was on sale for $6)
3# of ground turkey (about $1.38/lb)
1.5# of chicken gizzards (cheap!)
1# of chicken liver (also cheap!)
1# of cottage cheese
a sweet potato
green beans

I ground the gizzards, liver, fruit and vegetables, added it to the ground beef and turkey, also pulverized 4 raw eggs (including shell), added some garlic, some Missing Link Plus and fish oil, put on my Playtex Living Gloves and mushed it all around in my giant turkey-roasting pan (as if I ever roast a turkey) like the world's biggest meatloaf, then it was time to make it into portions. Brody, Ozark and Darwin each have two Gladware containers, and I used my $5 kitchen scale to measure out their individual portions. Brody's portions also get a Chondro-Flex joint support in the middle (like a special treat!), and Darwin's portions get a scoop of Standard Process Canine Immune Support. Within about 1/2 hour, I had a week's worth of raw food for all three of them!

Another added benefit is that it makes it easier for my husband to feed them at 5:00 AM. He's the first up in the morning, and believe me that feeding the dogs better be the FIRST thing that happens every morning! Now all he has to do is give them each one of their patties and a cup of the dry food, and it's set. Their supplements are already in there.

I'm not happy with the limited protein choices (ground beef, ground turkey, chicken or beef livers) at the grocery store. I'm also looking at tripe and chittlings (EW, intestines, but dogs love it), but am looking forward to having the increased options from the buying group. This way I will be able to feed other proteins such as lamb at an affordable price. There are other places you can get things like rabbit and wild-caught beaver, but that will be an occasional purchase, as it would drive my cost per pound up quite a bit.

The two batches I've made so far have cost around $1.30/lb! That is at least 60 cents less than my least expensive option in the "pre-made raw frozen" products, and less than HALF of many of the choices! By spending a half hour to an hour once a week, I've found I'm able to feed all my "Big Boys" the food I know is best for them, and make it more affordable, too!

The next step? Buying a good grinder that can manage to grind chicken and turkey wings, necks and backs. Bone is an important part of the canine diet, and my food processor made it QUITE clear that chopping up bone was Not In Its Job Description. By the way, the food processor was a gift from my mother-in-law about five years ago. After 25 years in the family, you'd think she'd be aware that cooking is not something I do, but now I have a weekly use for it! The dogs! (Don't tell her... she'd be horrified!) (OK, tell her... it might be funny!)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Visit the Dog Show!

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

We're planning to have a booth at the upcoming Land O'Lakes Kennel Club Dog Show on January 4, 5 and 6 at the River Centre in St. Paul. We haven't really done any events like this, but thought it would be a good way to get out and meet pet-lovers in the community, and also get the word out that we're out here as a holistic option for their pets' care. Plus, we get to spend the day surrounded by a whole bunch of wonderful dogs!

It's also a great opportunity for you to not only meet a lot of wonderful dogs and their trainers, handlers and breeders, but to get a wealth of valuable information, too. Besides the usual "dog show" that many people are familiar with from television, this event also features obedience competition, which is so much fun to watch.

Just think of all the things you can learn! If you want to train your dog, you can ask obedience competitors where they train and what methods they use. If you are considering adding a dog to your family, you can talk to experts in that breed. Besides their extensive knowledge of their breed, they love to "talk dogs." You'll find out the good points of the breed, as well as the drawbacks. These folks are passionate about their breed, but also are quick to point out that it is might not be the breed for everyone. You might find out that the breed you've set your mind on requires more coat care or exercise than you're able to handle, that it isn't typically good with children, may not do well alone at home through a long work day, or isn't likely to get along well with your other dogs or cats.

Many breed clubs and breed rescue groups will have booths at the event as well, and are good sources of information.

One word of caution, though! Be sure to ask the permission of the human at the end of the leash before touching any dog you encounter. Some of the obedience competitors are very focused and don't want to be distracted before going in the ring. The handlers of the dogs about to enter the conformation ring, however, may be even more opposed to having anyone touch the dogs. They have been meticulously groomed, so always, always ask, and it's best to approach someone after their breed is finished showing.

Above all, be sure to stop by our table and say hello!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Guardians for Pets

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

I had a friend ask me today if I would allow her to put me in her will as the guardian of her three golden retrievers, should anything happen to her. She said it was important to her that they be kept together, and that they be showered with love and security for as long as they live. Being a "golden person," she knows I'd be happy to do that for them.

But this got me thinking. My own dogs are all from either Retrieve A Golden of Minnesota or NorthStar Great Pyrenees Rescue, so I know that these groups will take care of finding them great new homes if something should happen to me (and my husband), since I don't have any strong feelings about keeping any combination of them together. They're all more connected to me than each other, which is probably a good thing. Therefore, I'm not as worried about a "pet will" as others might be.

We've all seen the stories on the news about wealthy eccentrics leaving fortunes to their pets. I'm all for it, being a "pet person," but have to admit I don't see much sense in it. The important thing for all pet owners to consider, though, is whether they have any plans in place for what should happen to their pets if they should pass away. Do you know who would take them in, care for them, feed them and love them? Are you able to leave some sort of fund to help with special care your pet might need? Don't assume your kids or grandkids - or even your spouse - will be willing or able to care for your beloved pets.

Nobody likes to think about this sort of thing, but for the sake of your precious animal companions, give it the same thought you would put into choosing guardians for your human children.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rescue Dog Update

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

For those of you who read my blog from earlier this month, I wanted to let you know how things turned out with our new rescue dog!

I'm happy to report that he came to us the night before Thanksgiving, and everything is working out beautifully! We named him Darwin.

I had a few apprehensive days as I watched to see if he would settle in and get along with our resident dogs. The main potential obstacle was Brody, our 2 1/2 year old Great Pyrenees. Pyrs are by nature more aloof than goldens, and I wondered if their personalities would match, especially since they are so close in age. Darwin barks when he wants to play, and to Brody (from a long line of livestock guardians) that means either a threat or challenge. At first he wasn't sure what to do about it. Darwin, being a golden, is a very sunny and outgoing dog, and I think Brody initially interpreted this as a challenge to his position of authority. It took several days, but Brody finally gave Darwin a chance, and now they play wonderfully. Ozark, my 8 year old Pyr mix, seemed to hold back and wait for Brody to decide how things were going to be. He was pretty nervous, avoiding Darwin's play attempts for fear of starting or getting in the middle of a conflict between the two younger dogs.

Right from the beginning, though, our 14-year-old golden, Sprocket, seemed to recognize "one of his own." The very first night he was playing tug with Darwin (and winning, but he cheats).

Our pack is now 4 dogs strong, and we couldn't be happier! I just spent ten minutes watching the three younger dogs wrestle out in the yard, while old Sprocket napped by the window with me.

If you'd like to see a short clip of the first time Brody and Darwin played, check out .

Holiday Pets

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

I end up having this discussion every year. I'm never sure how much good it does, because it's such an emotional decision, and the happy holiday commercials showing a puppy with a big red bow around its neck are everywhere. Still, I have to say it. "Please don't give pets as a holiday gift!"

There are so many reasons not to do this.

Some parents decide the kids are old enough now to have a pet, and it will be a good lesson in responsibility for them to take care of it. The reality is that almost never turns out to be the case. Kids are kids, and unless YOU as the parent are willing to ultimately to care for the pet, don't get one. This applies all year long, not just at the holidays. I once did the intake of a golden retriever into our area rescue group in which the mother sat there with her 9 year old son and told me repeatedly that they were "getting rid" of the dog because the boy didn't take care of it. How do you think that poor little boy felt?

Other people think things like, "Aunt Mary lost her cat this year, and a new kitty would sure put a smile on her face." Selecting a pet for another person is a recipe for disaster. Which pet is the right one for any person is a very personal decision. There is that "this one just feels right to me" factor which cannot be perceived by anyone other than the person looking for a pet. And did you even ask Aunt Mary if she's ready for a new cat? Maybe she's still mourning Mittens, or has decided that maybe she'd rather have a dog or a bird or a fish tank. And can Aunt Mary afford the food, vaccinations, spay/neuter, supplies... and time your gift will need?

Some people get so caught up in the idea of getting a pet for the holidays that they forget about the realities. Puppies cry, bark, chew, pee on the floor, require constant supervision and training. And do you really want to take an 8 week old puppy out in the frigid Minnesota weather to housetrain him? Kittens get on the counters nibbling your Christmas cookies, climb the tree, and try to eat the tinsel.

Impulsive pet-buying decisions have sad consequences. Cute puppies and kittens grow up in just a few months, at which point some people lose interest. No commitment has been made to training, so puppies grow into unruly and badly-behaved dogs. Kittens grow into cats that nobody ever really bonded to. By summer, many of these "special holiday gifts" end up in shelters or rescue groups.

Even if your family has sat down together and made a careful, considered decision that you would like to add a pet to the family, the holiday season is a bad time to do this. Most families are very busy with holiday shopping, decorating, entertaining, visiting, cooking and other related activities. This all takes time away from the care and attention that any new pet (puppy, kitten or adult) requires. Guests coming and going can be extremely stressful to a pet that is trying to adjust to its new home. And don't forget the holiday hazards! Trees full of shiny objects, gifts beneath, food and baked goods, new toys with small bits, and other things that will prove to be tempting dangers for the new addition.

If you sincerely believe a pet is a gift you want to give this year, consider some creative ways to do this. Make a card good for one trip to the local humane society, or get a certificate from a breeder you've found, willing to work with you to select a puppy or kitten sometime in the next month or two. (A good breeder will appreciate your careful planning and willingness to make sure the right pet comes to your family at the right time.) Give a box with a bowl, collar, leash and toy along with the card or certificate. No, it doesn't have the same impact as the puppy or kitten with the pretty bow around its neck. It kind of feels like giving a gift card, doesn't it? But is that one moment of "OH, it's a PUPPY!" worth the sick feeling you will have about the middle of February when you realize what you've really gotten yourself into?

Pets are not video games, toys, jewelry or nice sweaters. They are living, loving creatures who will depend on you for the rest of their lives. Please be sure you are willing to make that commitment before taking the steps to add a pet to your family!

Monday, November 19, 2007

New Rescue Dog

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

It appears as if our three-dog pack will expand this week to four. To some people that sounds like a lot. In fact, I've been chastised by members of my own family for having "too many dogs," to which I generally reply with something along the lines of "mind your own business." I tell people that we don't have the hobbies that many families have. We don't own a cabin, a boat, a jet ski, a snowmobile, a motorcycle or an expensive car. We don't spend our money on going out to restaurants frequently, we don't collect antiques, and I couldn't care less about a huge wardrobe or jewelry. We love dogs. They make us happy, and we make them happy. They ground me in the natural world, and watching the pure joy they derive from the simplest experiences reminds me that my own petty problems aren't so awful in the scheme of things.

But, having said all that, I wasn't looking for another dog. Other than when we adopted Brody, a 2-year-old Great Pyrenees, last New Year's Eve, I haven't actively set out to find a dog for our household in 13 years. The right dog always seems to find us at the right time, whether we were aware it was the right time or not.

So there I was last Monday, perusing the Retrieve A Golden of Minnesota website, as I frequently do. While I'm not an active volunteer at this time, I have a 10-year history with the group. I used to serve on the board, was the Placement Coordinator, and originated the website and newsletter. I like to check out the dogs in the system, bookmark ones that catch my eye, and follow their progress through their foster experience to their eventual adoption. But Monday I saw a dog, and the bells went off in my head. I felt the same way I did when I first laid eyes on our Ruxpin, when he was at the clinic where I was working for his neuter. Something told me that this was OUR DOG, and I was right.

I emailed my husband right away, and he replied "NOT FAIR!" But when I got home that night, he still had the dog's page up on the computer. I made some inquiries, got my application reactivated, and before long our information was in the dog's foster-mom's hands and we had an appointment to meet him on Saturday.

Let me tell you a bit about this boy. He is a golden retriever, 3 years old, and had apparently been kept chained in a garage and neglected horribly. He's a short-stature dog, but has a thick bone structure. He should probably weigh about 70-75 pounds, but is barely over 50 pounds. He was terribly matted, so much so that most of his chest and rear end and tail had to be shaved, revealing sores from the knots pulling on his skin and the matted urine and filth. His toenails were nearly an inch long, forcing him to walk on the backs of his feet. He escaped (thankfully!) and was impounded. His "family" declined to claim him, so he was turned over to RAGOM. He's cleaned up now, healing, and is neutered. When we met him on Saturday, you would never guess that this tiny, abused boy had suffered as he did. He has a true golden personality, is sweet, loving and playful, and has managed not to lose his joy in just being alive.

The next step in the adoption process is for him to come to our house one evening this week and meet our three resident dogs. The only one I'm slightly concerned about is Brody, the 2 year old Great Pyrenees. Being a livestock guardian breed, Brody takes protection of his house and yard very seriously, and might not readily accept another dog, particularly a male, into it. But even considering that, Brody is a pretty easy-going dog and has never showed any signs of aggression. We'll manage the introduction carefully, and I'm optimistic that it will go well. If it does, we will go to the foster's home again on Saturday and complete the adoption, and he will officially be a member of the family.

Besides the fact that I immediately predicted a real connection between this dog and my husband (which he needed... he hasn't had his own "special dog" since our Ruxpin died in March), I feel like I can do so much to get this sweet boy back on the road to being a strong, healthy, vital dog again. At our clinic, we promote raw/natural diets, and that will be the first step. I'm sure his skin will improve rapidly with the right diet, some essential fatty acids, and possibly some Standard Process Canine Whole Body Support. We'll assess any other issues he might have, such as if he needs a chiropractic adjustment from many months of being forced to walk in an unnatural posture. Dr. Andrews thinks the physical and emotional trauma he's endured would respond well to some Traditional Chinese Herbs. I plan to take "before and after" pictures of him, to track his progress as he moves closer and closer to true wellness.

I think Ozark, my 8 year old Pyr Mix will likely enjoy having another young dog around to siphon off some of Brody's energy! They love to play, but there are few dogs who can keep up with Brody for long! I have my fingers crossed that he and Brody hit it off, otherwise I will gladly withdraw our application and allow him to be placed in a home that will truly be perfect for him. I know the importance of not "forcing" a dog to fit into a pack. What matters most of all is what is best for the dog, and if that isn't our family, I'll happily watch him be matched with someone who is.

Did I NEED another dog? Nope, and I wasn't looking for one. But this one found me, and I'm sure he needs US. I'm sure we'll find out we needed him, too, in ways we didn't even know.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

First Experience With Animal Chiropractic

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

We recently added a fantastic new doctor to our staff. Dr. Cara White has experience with holistic medicine, has particular knowledge of herbal medicine, and is a Certified Veterinary Spinal Manipulative Therapist. What is that?! In language that those of us who are not doctors would use, she practices Animal Chiropractic care. I’ve been excited to have her skills and energy added to our practice, and I’ve been particularly glad to have the opportunity to learn a bit about Animal Chiropractic.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I have a 14 year old golden retriever, Sprocket. While we’ve been very lucky that he hasn’t spent his senior years battling debilitating hip dysplasia as many other goldens have, he has definitely experienced a lot of age-related changes. With Dr. White on our staff, I quickly took advantage of her expertise to evaluate my sweet old boy.

I have been amazed to learn the wide range of illnesses and conditions that can be helped with chiropractic care! I knew that aching, painful joints and various musculoskeletal injuries would respond to chiropractic adjustments. But at a recent staff meeting, Dr. White told us that since the spinal cord is contained within the spinal column, and that all nerves radiate from that space, any spinal abnormalities would affect those nerves and can affect all the body’s systems. A chronic anal gland problem could stem from the associated nerves being compromised because of a misalignment somewhere you would never think of in relation to anal glands! The same principle applies to kidney, bladder and digestive problems, just to name a few. In addition, a slight misalignment or subluxation in one location of the body is going to cause the body to compensate for that, creating further misalignments throughout the body.

When Dr. White did Sprocket’s initial evaluation and adjustment, I learned things about him that I’d never even considered before. He had good range of motion in his hips (for a 14 year old), but his pelvis has almost no movement. I had never thought of the pelvis being particularly moveable! I associated “pelvis” with “hips”, with the hips being the moving part and the pelvis being more of a big frame to hold it all. But (imagine my surprise) the pelvis is supposed to move in a wide variety of ways! The areas that needed adjustment extended from his tail, to his toes, to his pelvis and spine, to his shoulders, and to his neck and jaw.

In the six months prior to his appointment, Sprocket had stopped using any stairs at all. He hadn’t even attempted the six or seven stairs up to our entry way, requiring him to be carried, or at least assisted with a towel around his belly. The three steps up onto the deck at the cabin where we spent a little time this summer were too much for him. When he and I got home from work the day of his adjustment, he hesitated at the entry way stairs, and then went up them unassisted for the first time in months! In the weeks since then, he has been consistently brighter, more alert and energetic, more frisky and playful, and has an easier time rising from the floor. I can tell he is much more comfortable than he has been in a long time.

He has had one follow-up adjustment since then, and will continue to have them about once a month. Just as you can’t trim your hedges or clean your kitchen once and have them stay that way forever, chiropractic care does require maintenance. My dog’s aging body has changes going on all the time that cause changes throughout his body, so we’ll continue to address those.

I’m grateful that I’ve been exposed to Animal Chiropractic. I feed my dogs well, use the right supplements, and manage their weight, and those are things that all pet owners can do. But now I have a way to help manage the discomfort and mobility problems that Sprocket is experiencing, with no drugs or surgery. I know that we’ve added quality, comfortable, active time to his life without any painful, invasive procedures.

So, who needs chiropractic care? The answer to that is almost every pet can benefit! My son has a 2 ½ year old 11-pound lhasa-poo who has a bad knee, and he will soon be getting his first adjustment. Have you noticed that your dog is holding his tail or neck oddly? Is it taking him longer to get up after lying down? Is he having difficulty eating or chewing? Have you noticed changes in his gait? Do you have a hunting, working or competition dog that seems to be slowing down? Chances are good that chiropractic care can help.

I had been to a chiropractor a few times myself, but I had had no experience with the same care for my dogs until recently. Now I have seen the results in my own dog and just had to share that experience so that others are aware that this option is available to help their beloved pets.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Value of Senior Testing

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

We always encourage regular health screening for pets, especially as they get older. I’ve always believed in that, but today I got a first-hand lesson on just how important it truly is.

Yesterday, I took my 14 year old golden retriever, Sprocket, with me to work so that Dr. White could do a chiropractic evaluation and adjustment. His last bloodwork had been nine months ago, so I knew it was past time to check him over. His adjustment went well, but his bloodwork was cause for serious concern. His white blood cells and other infection-fighting indicators were very, very low, which meant they were being used up somewhere in his body faster than he was producing them. His liver and kidney values were slightly elevated. In addition, his urinalysis showed his urine was very dilute. The doctors decided to do x-rays, looking for any abnormalities that might explain what was going on.

The x-rays were even more frightening than his bloodwork. As any of you know, if you’ve ever tried to “read” an x-ray, they can be tough to decipher. They’re only a two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional animal. But Sprocket had what appeared to be a large, round mass on or near his liver. His spleen was larger than it should be, and appeared bumpy. Putting all these clues together, the most likely diagnosis was hemangiosaracoma, a deadly cancer of the blood vessels. It tends to not show any symptoms until it is very advanced and has already metastasized to other organs in the body. Occasionally a dog is fortunate and it’s caught early, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Most often, dogs live days, to perhaps a couple of months after diagnosis. Surgery and chemotherapy may buy another month or two, if you are very, very lucky.

I lost my 12 year old golden, Ripley, less than 10 months ago to hemangiosarcoma. He lived only 11 days after his diagnosis. Was it possible I was going to be going through that loss all over again, with the sweet and gentle-natured Sprocket? I lost 7 year old Ruxpin, another golden, just six months ago to sepsis. How would I bear losing my three golden-boys in less than a year? Sprocket had been fine. He didn’t have any signs of illness, such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, or unusual pain or weakness.

I spent today seeing Dr. Ralph Weischelbaum for an ultrasound. The outstanding image quality of an ultrasound allows the doctor to virtually “see” inside the body, and get a much more detailed picture of what’s going on in there. I walked in with a heavy heart, dreading what was to come. Sprocket, as always, was pleasant, mellow, and totally agreeable. Dr. Ralph looked at the bloodwork and the x-rays I’d brought along. Then the ultrasound began. I kept one hand on Sprocket, and both eyes on the display screen. As the other doctor manipulated the ultrasound device over his abdomen, I was afraid to listen. Then I heard, “…nothing that looks like hemangiosarcoma.” As things progressed, we looked at his liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, adrenal glands, prostate, gall bladder and spleen. His spleen was slightly enlarged and had a patchy surface, but this is how it reacts to an irritation or infection, while it’s doing its job. We’d begun antibiotics the night before, and that will most likely resolve the spleen issues. His adrenal glands and kidneys are slightly large, but nothing too worrisome in a 14 year old dog. Best of all, the large round object seen on his x-rays was actually his pylorus, the outlet from the stomach. Apparently, Sprocket just has a really, really big one! His liver is fine, and not being taken over by hemangiosarcoma, as I’d feared.

Dr. Ralph suggested testing him for Cushing’s disease, which is a malfunction of the adrenal glands. I had a cocker spaniel who had Cushing’s, and I maintained him on diet and supplements, no prescription medication, and he lived to be 13. If Sprocket does turn out to have Cushing’s, I can deal with that! My mantra as I entered Dr. Ralph’s office was, “Anything but hemangio, anything but hemangio…” I fully expected to find some sort of cancerous invasion, either in the spleen or liver, and couldn’t believe the wonderful news that my boy is not in imminent danger of leaving us!

So, what did this teach me? What point does it prove? Sprocket looked fine. I didn’t take him in because he’d stopped eating, was losing weight, was vomiting, or suddenly couldn’t get off the floor. I only took him for routine senior bloodwork. Though he was showing no symptoms, that bloodwork and the urinalysis showed something was wrong, and needed immediate attention.

If it had been hemangiosarcoma, he would have had a better chance for more time with us, because we’d have been catching it earlier than most. (Many hemangio cases come to light because the dog has an internal bleed and collapses, or becomes very weak and pale.)

If it is “only” Cushing’s disease, I’m happy that it was caught so early, because left untreated, Cushing’s can do serious damage to the liver and kidneys, beginning a cascade of symptoms that eventually leads to death. Now, we’ll be able to put together a treatment plan consisting of diet and carefully-selected supplements, we’ll recheck a urinalysis frequently, and we’ll monitor his kidney and liver values.

A simple blood test probably just added months and months to my “old boy’s” life. I’ve always believed in the value of those tests, especially for older pets, but now I have living proof!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pet Store Puppies

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

Every so often, a client will bring a new puppy to our clinic and announce that they “rescued” it from a pet store. They mean that the conditions in the store were unpleasant and unhealthy, the puppies were overcrowded, dirty, or perhaps even sickly. In their minds, they’ve “saved” that puppy from spending one more moment in such an environment, and I certainly understand that feeling. I’ve done it myself. From 1988 to 1991, I “rescued” three cocker spaniel puppies from pet stores near where I lived in Indiana. Largely because of them, I learned about pet stores, puppy mills, and the whole ugly pets-for-profit industry. In my clueless, kindhearted but well-meaning way I had helped support that industry. Instead of “rescuing” my three dogs, all of which I loved dearly, I had actually rewarded the unethical breeders and everyone along the line who made a buck, and sentenced many more yet-unborn puppies to the same fate.

Wow, how did I get from falling for a cute face in a pet shop window to supporting an industry that exploits animals?

Every single national breed club for purebred dogs states in their Code of Ethics that responsible breeders do not ever sell puppies to pet stores, or offer them as prizes in auctions or raffles. Why? Because an ethical breeder assumes lifelong responsibility for every puppy they breed. They also want to carefully screen potential families, and select a puppy that will fit their lifestyle, or even tell them that this breed is not the one for them. They can’t do that if they hand a puppy over to a store that has to sell it to anyone who pays for it.

So, then, where do puppies in pet stores come from? Other than the stores that offer space to rescue groups to showcase homeless dogs and puppies, they either come from large breeding facilities called puppy mills, or occasionally from local breeders who keep dogs to breed for profit. Puppy mills keep large numbers of breeding females in horrible conditions, breed them as often as possible, and don’t waste money (profit) on things like health testing, genetic screening, proper nutrition, selective breeding, or veterinary care. Puppies are a commodity, not a family member. I won’t go into the specifics of the horrors of these facilities here. I will provide some links at the end of this blog for those seeking more information. Local breeders who sell to pet stores are no better; they just operate on a much smaller scale.

“But the breeder that someone recommended to me charges twice as much for puppies as the pet store does.” This may well be true, but what are you getting? A good breeder’s dogs see the inside of a show or obedience ring, or an agility course, or a hunting trial, or something other than a kennel or back yard. They invest in their dogs, through training, socialization, health screening, nutrition, and other important factors. They breed carefully, infrequently, with dogs chosen to make a puppy even better than either parent. They know their breed, and will be a valuable resource for you. They offer health guarantees, and if for any reason you’re unable to keep the puppy (even when it’s an adult), they will take it back and either keep it or find it a new home. A pet store is essentially done with you once your payment goes through. They might give you a partial refund if the puppy is sickly and you want to give it back, but what do you think they’re going to do with it? They didn’t breed the puppy, don’t personally know who did, and can offer you absolutely no useful information.

“But this puppy has AKC papers! He’s pedigreed!” Every dog has a pedigree. So does the stray cat that keeps sneaking into your garage. So do you. It only means a family tree, a genetic lineage. As for AKC (or other registration) papers, every well-bred dog has them, but countless poorly bred dogs do, too. All they mean is the breeder took a few minutes to fill out the proper paperwork. It says nothing about health, quality, temperament, or anything else, or even if the information provided is true! Unless the breeder is audited (a rare occurrence), who would ever know? In pet stores, large quantities of puppies are moved in and out, and paperwork often arrives jumbled, and is matched with the “right” dog. Is your Bichon really a toy poodle? Is it even a mix, since the puppy mill had a little breeding mishap?

“But look at that face! He’s so cute! I have to get him out of that awful place!” Newsflash: All puppies are cute. And while you may buy him and adore him, you are not “rescuing” him. By buying that puppy, you are financially rewarding the store owner, the distributor who got all the puppies from the puppy mill, and encouraging the puppy mill to produce more puppies (because they sure sell well!), and sentencing the breeding dogs to churn out even more litters. The cycle will never be broken as long as we continue to fall for those cute little faces and pay these people to keep doing what they’re doing. Every time a pet store sells a puppy, fewer ethical breeders produce puppies since they won’t breed if they aren’t sure of an appropriate home waiting for their litters. Rescue groups aren’t able to place a puppy from an accidental or abandoned litter, and more dogs are euthanized at animal shelters because there is nobody to adopt them.

I just don’t go into any store that sells puppies. It’s that simple. Not only am I then not tempted (and heartbroken) by those little bundles of fluff, I never, ever purchase a single collar or treat or toy there. I refuse to give these places one cent of my money.

Stop Puppy Mills

The Humane Society of the United States Puppy Mill Facts Page

Prisoners of Greed

Friday, July 20, 2007

Welcoming New Avian Clients

(Contributed by Dr. Jina Andrews)

From the time we opened two and a half years ago, we have required an exam the first time we see any bird, even for something as routine as a wing trim. It is important to assess the bird’s overall health to catch any underlying issues it might have, and to be sure we can handle the bird safely, without undue stress or trauma.

During the course of these examinations, we found that many (if not most) of the bird owners, even those who had owned birds for years, were making basic husbandry and diet mistakes that, while not causing overwhelming harm to their birds, was still impacting their health and well-being.

So earlier this year we began approaching our avian exams in a different way. We feel strongly that it is our job to provide pet owners with all the information they need to give their pets the best possible care. Now, the first time anyone comes to us as a bird owner, their initial “New Avian Client” appointment is a longer one, so that we can cover the wealth of important information regarding diet, supplements, husbandry, behavior and health. This exam also includes a full avian fecal test. Why is that fecal test so vital? We’ve found that at least 80% of the avian fecals we run show some degree of abnormality, which tells us so much about that bird’s health. Besides parasites, we find undigested starches and bacterial counts that are not properly balanced, all of which can lead to a wide range of health and behavior problems, including feather-plucking, maldigestion and even malnutrition. This test and the exam enable us to provide that bird owner with specific instructions and suggestions on how to maximize their bird’s health and quality of life, and eliminate many of the nagging issues that may have plagued them for some time.

When that owner returns with another bird, they are not required to have that “New Avian Client Appointment” again, just the general avian exam. While some clients have felt the extended first appointment is unnecessary, we truly believe it is. If we can form a good working partnership with that bird owner right from the start, we can, together, provide their birds with the best we all have to give, and that is what is most important to all of us!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Why We Don't Declaw Cats

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

Declawing is a hugely controversial procedure. To some people it seems a routine procedure, to others it's a horrible mutilation of a beloved pet.

Jina and I have always debated declawing, whether we should even do it, and just how awful it was to continue to perform this procedure. Neither one of us would've ever declawed our own cats. As new business owners, however, we feared that if we didn't offer declaws, our surgery schedule would be bare! I felt very confident about Jina actually doing them, because her surgical skills are amazing, and she is extremely conscious of pain control.

Then this past winter, I was on my way to Israel to visit family and attend my nephew's wedding. Somewhere I came across a list of the countries in which declawing is illegal. To my surprise, Israel was one of the countries on the list. When I lived in Israel, there was not a big pet-owning population. In the Middle East animals were traditionally considered dirty, so having them in your house was quite unusual. Animals tended to often be casually mistreated or neglected. The people who frequented the vet clinic I worked at after high school were mostly Americans who had immigrated with their strange beliefs about keeping animals in the home.

My return to Israel was an eye opener! Pets were everywhere! Animals were treated courteously and kindly! When I grew up there, we used to joke about the "fur-lined streets," but those are history! The best part is that all cosmetic surgeries are now illegal, so there were Boxers and Dobermans with ears and tails. I saw restaurants putting out leftovers for the cats.

As soon as I saw that Israel was on that list, I thought, heck, if they can do it, so can we. And as of the first of the year we stopped doing declaws. Our surgery schedule has remained steady. And we can feel good about ourselves, as doctors and as the representatives of those who cannot speak for themselves.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Farewell, April

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

April, our diabetic clinic cat, died over the weekend. She was one of our greatest successes, having been on insulin for most of her life, but maintained for the last year and a half with diet and supplements.

April was the queen of our hospital. The other cats knew to give way when she stalked the hallways. She especially ruled the countertop in Pharmacy, eating unattended snacks, walking on the x-rays, and stretching out on top of everything you happened to be working on.

April, we love you and will miss you.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Toward a More Natural View of Health Care in Pets

(Contributed by Jessica Levy, DVM)

What would we do if we didn’t have all these chemicals available? What if we had to rely on more natural sources for simple problems?

Recently our farrier, Fred, reintroduced an old idea that I had practically forgotten about under the onslaught of chemicals in our environment. He l

He learned from a client that instead of toxic fly sprays, if you just spray the horses with a half and half mixture of water and vinegar, flies are eliminated.

I should have thought of this.

When I lived in Israel, if our dog got fleas, we gave her a vinegar bath. Voila! No fleas!

When my sister got lice from babysitting young children, she’d brew up a pot of rosemary tea and wash her hair with it. Voila! No lice!

When I lived in Maryland, before going hiking or camping, we’d take a bunch of B-vitamin pills. Voila! No mosquitoes!

In 1998 I was at a large Arabian racehorse stable in Ocala, Florida, in June. It was hot, but there were no flies. The groomers were adding vinegar to the horses’ grain.

For years I’ve been adding apple cider vinegar to my horses’ water trough, because it cuts down the algae growth.

In some ways these simple practices seem almost harder to think of, because we have chemicals available easily at hand, and also we wonder, “Will this really work? It seems simple. Too simple, perhaps.”

I’m sure we’d be a lot more inventive, and successfully so, if we didn’t have carte blanche to grab the nearest toxic preparation and just use that. And it can be hard to tell which claims are true and which are not. How do we know what really works?

It has always been my policy to try stuff on my own pets before recommending natural products to other people. Unfortunately, what works well for one animal may not work for another, for no reason that we can see. Every member of Central Bird & Animal Hospital is striving to achieve perfect health for our pets, and this common goal is what drives us to test products and supplements at home. This way we can be sure that we are offering our patients proven, reliable options for natural health care.

Friday, May 25, 2007

What Makes Us Different

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

In recent years, it seems as if veterinary practices are springing up all over the place. How does one practice distinguish itself from another, and how does a pet owner select the one that best suits their needs?

For the past several decades, the standards of veterinary practice remained largely unchanged. We were all taught that annual vaccinations and "complete and balanced" processed food in a bag was the key to health and long lives for our pets. Yet pets have chronic illnesses, cancer, immune system problems, obesity, and other health problems in higher numbers than ever before. What's wrong with this picture?

Central Bird & Animal Hospital was founded by two veterinarians, Dr. Jessica Levy and Dr. Jina Andrews, who believed that we could do better for our pets. Not only could we do better, we had to do better. Our doctors and staff reach beyond those standards that we've been living with all these years. They truly believe in forming a partnership with people and their pets, and empowering owners through information and education to improve their pets' quality of life and their longevity.

We do not promote automatic annual vaccinations. Yes, young animals should receive the protection that their immature immune systems need. Beyond that, however, we believe in evaluating a pet's overall wellness, risk factors, previous vaccine history, legal requirements, and their owners' wishes before determining which vaccines are necessary for that pet. People are often shocked when our doctors decline to vaccinate their pet. We cannot, though, in good conscience, further destabilize a struggling immune system with the artificial jolt of a vaccine.

Does this mean you don't have to take Buddy or Mittens to the veterinarian? Quite the opposite. We promote "Twice for Life," the term for twice a year wellness exams. There are some who think this is excessive, yet we all know that we should visit our own doctors for an annual exam. Pets' lives are shorter than ours, though, and therefore take place in a more compressed timeframe. Six months in a pet's life can equal several years in our own. Regular exams, with or without vaccinations, can and do catch early signs of illness, allowing us to take steps to restore health or minimize complications, adding both quality and length to our pets' lives.

When asked, most owners will say, "Buddy is fine. He doesn't have any health problems." But our veterinarians might notice that the dry, flaky skin and hot spots are a sign of a dietary intolerance or some systemic problem. They can palpate the abdomen and feel signs of problems with the internal organs. They might notice a pattern of hair loss or an unusual lump that indicates an issue that, if caught early, can be managed through diet and supplements, rather than waiting until the condition progresses and presents a true danger to the animal. A trained veterinarian can manipulate joints and feel the signs of early joint disease. And as always, our doctors work to continually expand their skills and knowledge to enable them to provide the most progressive care possible.

Our doctors believe that proper nutrition is the cornerstone to our pets' health. Dogs and cats (or any pet, for that matter) are not made to eat highly processed, nutrient-depleted, carbohydrate-rich food from a bag. But since that is a reality for most pet owners, they and their staff have put a lot of time into researching what makes a quality pet food, so as to be better able to guide the clients that come to the clinic seeking such information. Proper whole-food supplements and the addition of as much raw food as possible are other key points that they discuss with clients each and every day.

CBAH strives to be the center for holistic health in the Midwest. This not only can be achieved, but it will be. When you have doctors and a skilled team who deeply believe that this is the key to helping every pet enjoy a long, happy life, there truly is no other possible outcome. The world is full of clinics that will continue to treat a pet's chronic ear infections, dispensing medication repeatedly, or treating urinary tract infections time after time with antibiotics. Our doctors certainly will do that when needed, but they go the extra mile. They will present all the options to the client, and share their knowledge about not only how to clear up the current health problem, but to work toward improving the animal's overall wellness so that the problem will not recur.

That is different. It is special. It is unique. And we are very proud to be a part of it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Pet Obesity

The following letter was written by Bud Stuart, DVM, of Santa Barbara, CA, to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association and appeared in their April 15, 2007 edition. Dr. Stuart has graciously allowed us to post the content of his letter here, as he spells out very clearly his thoughts on pet obesity and nutrition. Dr. Stuart is compiling information for a book on pet nutrition which he hopes to publish soon, so be sure to look for it!

"As a pet practitioner for over 40 years who puts nutrition first, articles dealing with any aspect of pet nutrition always catches my attention. Allow me to say that I was rather disturbed by your recent news article on the newly introduced drug for pet weight reduction.

I wasn't bothered by the fact that still another large pharmaceutical firm has come up with yet one more money making medication to treat a clinical sign, not a cause. That's what they do to produce a large profit flow. We all understand that.

What does continue to disturb me is my own profession's continued inability (or is it a choice?) to deal with the major cause of pet obesity in the United States. During almost half a century of pet practice, my patients have been trim and healthy when their owners followed my instructions. The pets maintained a proper weight, had healthier skin and coat, had less urinary tract problems (including stones), and lived into a happy old age.

In my experience, the magic key to this dietary success, which all of your so-called experts can be counted on to consistently ignore as they always have, is to restrict the overuse of dry pet foods. To blame table scraps is to act as a spokesperson for the enormously powerful pet food industry. To be satisfied with merely "reducing 10 to 15 percent of body weight" in obese pets is to fail your patient.

When will the AVMA and all other veterinary organizations take a clear, unbiased look at what high-carbohydrate, grain-based diets do to our pets when fed according to instructions on the bags? My poster pet for obesity control was Jimmy the 47-kg (103-lb) Labrador Retriever that once waddled into my examination room but quickly and easily got down to 29.5 kg (65 lbs) on a properly balanced diet. My clients who view Jimmy's before and after photos were not hard to convince to follow my advice. Why can't I convince my own profession?"

Bud Stuart, DVM
Santa Barbara, Calif

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Food Testing

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

Once upon a time, there was a woman named Julie. She agreed to participate in a nutritional study being performed by a large national food corporation, testing a new line of vitamin and mineral enhanced foods. She, along with 7 other adults who were of normal weight and health, participated. All they had to do was have some basic bloodwork done before and after the six month testing period, and during that time they were to eat only the company’s new products, a fortified bologna and Ramen-style noodle cup.

After a month or so on the diet, she noticed she was losing weight, though she was eating an even higher than usual amount of food. She was tiring more easily, she noticed her skin was breaking out, and it seemed she kept catching the same cold over and over. But it was so easy to eat this convenient, processed food, it was pretty tasty, and she always felt full.

By the end of the test, Julie had lost 14 of her slim 130 pounds. She was also shocked to learn that two of the study’s participants had passed away toward the end of the testing period! One, a woman in her early 40s, had died of kidney failure, though her pre-test bloodwork had not indicated that she had a problem. A 50-year-old man had also died after contracting a serious infection. While the food company’s staff was saddened by these deaths, they were not due to “nutritional causes,” and so did not affect the outcome of the study. The new foods were certified as safe and providing complete and balanced nutrition.

Yes, the above story is totally fictitious. There is no way that a human dietary item would receive such inadequate testing! However, that is exactly the testing required for pet foods to receive certification from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which must appear on every product offered as a maintenance diet for pets.

The requirements for a food to pass the AAFCO test are:
8 pets older than one year must start the test.
At the start, all must be normal weight and health.
A blood test is taken from each animal at the start and finish of the test.
For six months, the animals must only eat the food being tested.
The animals finishing the test must not lose more than 15% of their body weight.
During the test, none of the animals used are to die or be removed because of nutritional causes.
6 of the 8 animals starting must finish the test.

So, what does that tell us about our processed pet foods? We cannot take the labels at face value, and must work to educate ourselves about what ingredients are used, and whether they are something we want our pet to eat. Huge pet food companies pay advertising agencies millions of dollars a year to present their foods in the best possible light. Is a slick ad campaign enough? Don’t you want to know more about what you are feeding your pet?

At Central Bird & Animal Hospital, we talk with clients every day about the importance of proper nutrition. It truly is the cornerstone of our pets’ health. One thing that we frequently hear is, “Those foods are too expensive.” Yes, in most cases a quality food does cost a bit more than something with a lot of fillers, by-products, and questionable ingredients. However, the reality is that by feeding a food that supports your pet’s health, you actually save money in the end. You will feed less of a high-quality food, because it is more digestible and contains more nutrition than “bargain” brands. You will also spend much less money treating recurring or chronic problems such as ear infections, hot spots, other allergy-related problems, immune system problems, and kidney disease, just to name a few. And the best benefit of all is that your pet will have a longer, healthier life and more energy.

The fact is that any processed food is, by its very nature, less than ideal nutrition. Much of the nutrition, the essential fatty acids and probiotics, vitamins and minerals, are lost during the necessary cooking process. While a raw natural diet is best, for most owners, a kibble or canned food is a convenience that they are unable to give up. In those cases, choosing the best quality food you can find, and supplementing it with raw food and whole food supplements is a good alternative.

Nutrition truly IS the most important decision you will ever make regarding the health of your pet.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Homeopathy Milestone

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

This past weekend I graduated from the Northwestern Academy of Homeopathy. This is a four year program dedicated towards treating humans with classical homeopathy. I am a member of the fifth class to graduate from this program.

My homeopathic studies began in 2002 with the Veterinary Homeopathy course taught by Dr. Richard Pitcairn, a veterinarian who also has a PhD in immunology. It's interesting how many homeopaths have a background in immunology. I had come across many mentions of homeopathy throughout the years, and had always thought it sounded too far out to be applicable to my practice. Then one day I saw the ad for the veterinary homeopathy course, and something shifted in my brain and I thought, "I've got to take this course!" I registered two weeks before it started and flew out to Eugene, Oregon, for something I really knew nothing about.

Needless to say, it blew my mind. Once I graduated from that year-long course, I felt frequently stumped while trying to integrate homeopathic philosophy into the conventional practice I was working in at the time. Then suddenly the information about the Northwestern Academy of Homeopathy jumped out at me in the same fashion, and I thought, "I've got to take this course!" Again, I registered within two weeks of starting classes.

I am so glad I've had this training, and feel privileged to have been a part of this educational program. The first two years were largely didactic, mostly lectures and discussions with the opportunity to observe cases taken by the instructors, who had all been practicing for over 20 years. The last two years were student clinic years, during which the instructors opened their private practice for our use and taught us how to practice homeopathy in a real life setting.

This experience was priceless. It was like being back in vet school, where you are responsible for animals and clients in your care, but you have a senior clinician assisting you and making sure you don't make any huge mistakes, while guiding you through the diagnostic and treatment processes.

This allows me to practice homeopathy with much greater confidence than I would have otherwise. In 2005 I attended the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy annual conference, and met veterinarians with a wide range of experiences and practices. It was gratifying to see the advantages that the education I've had has granted me.

I graduated in a class of 24. The ceremony was held at the Jewish Community Center on Cedar Lake Road in Minneapolis. There were over 300 people who came to cheer us on as we stepped into the world of professional classical homeopathy. My husband, who is a devout adherent of conventional medicine, was amazed at the attendance and at the grace and dignity of the proceedings. He was quite impressed!

I definitely had reservations when I started this program, and it was not easy for me, as a time commitment and as a personal commitment as well. It has completely changed the way I practice medicine, and encouraged me to open my own hospital so that I could practice as I see fit, focusing on promoting true health and well-being for my patients.