Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Dogs Can (And Do) Eat Nearly Anything

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

My dogs have Garbage Gut. And I couldn't be happier.

Sounds awful, doesn't it? But it's just an informal phrase that describes a dog who can eat nearly anything and not get digestive upset.

We've all been through it. The dog gets in the trash or snatches something from the counter, or we give them what we think is a "special treat," only to spend the next three days dealing with vomiting, diarrhea, or both. As disgusting and frustrating as that is, that's the mild end of the "dietary indiscretion" spectrum. Some dogs wind up with pancreatitis from the rich, fatty content of what they've eaten, and that can be life-threatening. (And not to mention expensive!)

How does a dog develop Garbage Gut? It's not an overnight process, by any means. Taking a dog who has been fed the same variety of processed kibble for years and suddenly giving them a lot of new foods is asking for the very digestive upset you're trying to avoid. Go slowly, introducing only one new thing at a time.

The key to having a dog with a hardy dietary constitution is variety. (Let me say that again: Variety!) We used to be told that it was best to find one brand of food, in a single variety such as chicken or lamb, that seemed to agree with our dogs' digestion... and stick with it.

There are several problems with that. First of all... boring. Even if you love Eggplant Parmesan more than any other food on the planet, do you want to eat it every single day for the rest of your life? Second, there is no one food that any of us, canine or human, can eat that will provide perfect, lifelong nutrition. Third, even if your dog never has a problem as the result of the processed kibble you've chosen (unlikely), sooner or later he is going to eat something he shouldn't. Chicken thawing on the counter. Steak bones in the trash. The semi-decomposed mole he finds behind the shed. He's a dog. He'll find it.

And then you have problems.

At Whole Health Veterinary, we strongly advocate a raw food diet. If convenience or expense are an issue (though feeding raw is no more expensive or difficult than feeding a premium grain-free kibble if you put some thought and planning into it), we recommend at least 50% raw food. But unless your dog has serious allergies to multiple grains or proteins, the other part of the equation is variety.

Let's take a look at what I feed my dogs. Ozark is a 10-year-old Great Pyrenees/Labrador mix, Darwin is a 5-year-old Golden Retriever, and Brody is a 4-year-old Great Pyrenees. That's nearly 300 pounds of dog. They are fed about 75% raw food and 25% premium grain-free dry food. They have healthy skin and soft, abundant coats. They have small, solid stool, and they don't have chronic ear or anal gland problems. Their teeth are beautiful.

For the grain-free dry, they get either Wellness Core (Ocean or Original), Fromm's Surf & Turf, Merrick Before Grain (chicken or buffalo), or Nature's Variety Instinct (chicken, rabbit, or duck).

Their raw food, when I "make my own," might include a mixture of whatever I find at the grocery store. Raw chicken parts (including necks, backs, wings, etc.), liver, ground turkey, ground beef or bison, gizzards, cottage cheese, yogurt, dark leafy greens, sweet potato, cranberry, carrot, whole egg... use your imagination!

But I don't cook for myself, so I don't make my own raw food that often. I prefer to rely on the prepared frozen or dehydrated raw diets. We use Nature's Variety (chicken, lamb, beef, rabbit, buffalo), Primal (duck, pheasant), or Bravo (chicken, turkey, or lamb) as far as raw frozen foods are concerned. The dehydrated raw by Honest Kitchen or Sojos are also big hits. Honest Kitchen Force, Embark, and Keen are often used, or the Sojos Complete.

These raw foods usually get a sprinkling of one of the kibbles, and any supplements the dogs might be taking, such as joint support.

I never offer the same raw or dry food/variety two bags or packages in a row. Today it might be Honest Kitchen Embark with a sprinkle of Fromm's Surf & Turf. When that's gone, it might be Sojos Complete with a bit of Wellness Core Ocean.

I don't give a lot of treats. I like the Stella & Chewy's Carnivore Crunch (beef, duck, or chicken), or the Stella & Chewy's freeze dried "steaks" in different varieties. Treats from your own table are okay, as long as they're not too fatty or heavily seasoned (yes, salt is a seasoning), and are not too frequent. Since I know I'm feeding my dogs very, very well, I find it easier to make my food "mine," and off limits other than an occasional special treat. It doesn't stop them from breathing hot doggy breath on my knee while I'm eating, but with three big, drooly dogs, I'd never get to eat any of my own meals if I start sharing.

If your dog still has digestive problems, we can look at adding a probiotic or other enteric support to the diet. But the truth is that a dog who is transitioned to a varied diet (especially raw) has a much stronger digestive constitution. He won't be as likely to become ill if (when!) he finds an entire, delicious, vulnerable, unguarded pizza in the kitchen. He is also getting a broad range of nutrients, adding to his overall wellness.

And - honestly! - it makes feeding them a lot more fun... for both of you!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Free Vet Advice - Click Here!

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

Double-digit unemployment. Gotta love it!

The number of people calling for free vet advice is increasing along with the unemployment figures. My staff regularly tries to explain to people why it's just not a good idea for us to give free advice about sick pets over the phone. It's like calling the pediatrician's office, refusing to bring your sick child in (you can't afford it, he doesn't travel well, or you just live too far away), but demanding to speak to one of the doctors because you only have a couple of questions about your child's condition.

I don't think it's appropriate for me to give you a whole lot of information about how I would treat your sick pet without even being able to see it, examine it, and review its previous medical records. So many people helpfully say at this juncture, "I can send you the records, and then you can just tell me what you think!"

No. Here's what I think. Pick a veterinarian. Pay them for their services, including a good, thorough physical exam, and follow their recommendations. If things don't work out, let them know, ask them for different solutions, whatever.

Your veterinarian truly cares about your pet. Okay, that's a wild generalization, but most of us do. We care if our treatments work, we care about whether our patients are getting better or not, we lie awake at night wondering if we did the right thing, or if we did all we could have.

When you call just to get some quick advice about your critically ill pet that you feel you cannot afford to have seen, you are putting your vet out of business. Then who ya gonna call?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Vaccine Crazy

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

As I go along in practice, I am becoming more and more anti-vaccine. It amazes me how often I see animals that have been diagnosed with some dread condition - cancer, lupus, Cushing's disease, diabetes, chronic renal failure - who are then vaccinated, because they are "due." As if all is well. As if the immunity provoked by vaccines magically wears off by the assigned "expiration date." As if, when sick with a chronic or immune mediated condition (allergies, urinary tract infections, hypothyroidism, epilepsy), the immune system is not already busy/messed up/dysfunctional, and therefore may not respond at all or may respond unpredictably to the vaccines.

Then there are the "shot clinics" where unsuspecting pet owners can get their pets vaccinated for cheap. Why? Because there's no physical exam, people! That's right; your pet is getting vaccines without anybody looking at it first to make sure it is healthy enough to tolerate vaccination! What a bargain!

This is the whole point of the twice-yearly exams that we do at our hospital - to evaluate the health of your pet, to determine if any adjustments in care are necessary, and to truly act preventatively, rather than giving a bunch of vaccines and then lying to pet owners and telling them "these will keep your pet healthy!" No, they won't. Because that's not what vaccines are for. Vaccines are meant to provoke the immune system into developing immunity - sometimes very limited immunity - to very specific disease organisms. Some vaccines are better at this task than others, and that's a whole different topic.

Why do most veterinarians persist in this regrettable practice? Because of a lack of perceived harm. In other words, vaccines might prevent disease and don't cause any damage, so why not? Plus it gets the pet in the door every year for that all important physical exam. My approach is that my clients are not stupid. They easily understand the value of the physical exam and the potential harm of vaccination, and are quite capable of making the right choice.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Bright Spot In Every Day

One of the reasons it's so much fun to come to work! The office is always full of animals. There are usually at least 3-4 dogs, and the clinic cats come and go as well. This clip is practice manager Lori's 10 year old Great Pyrenees mix, Ozark, playing with Dr. White's 5 month old Mini Australian Shepherd puppy, Murphy. This will go on all day! It makes it really hard to be in a bad mood when you're surrounded by this much cuteness!

(Ozark and Murphy take a break to pose for a picture. If it's possible for them to be any cuter, we can't figure out how!)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dr. White's Trip North

In October, Dr. Cara White attended the Waggalot Dog Lover's Weekend at the Gunflint Lodge in Grand Marais. Below is the Fox 9 news story about the event. Dr. White had a fantastic time, as did her greyhounds Ziggy and Brick, and her Mini-Australian Shepherd puppy, Murphy!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Why Take The Risk?

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam, Practice Manager)

This is the time of year when many families employ a lawn treatment service. Most of us want – or are under pressure from neighbors to have – a lush, vividly green, weed-free yard. Unfortunately, there is almost no way to achieve this without the use of chemicals.

The lawn treatment companies advertise the safety of the chemicals they use. They even put giant pictures of Golden Retrievers and Dalmatians on the sides of their trucks. They tell customers that the lawn is perfectly safe for pets once the chemicals have dried.

I absolutely do not believe this.

These chemicals are toxic. They kill foliage. They interfere with seed germination. They circumvent the natural life cycle of the plants they eliminate and the insects that inhabit those plants. I don’t care if the chemicals are wet and soaking your pet’s pads and fur, or if it is dry and leaving only traces of residue.

It is poison.

I can’t cite studies or specific research, but I do have – on most days – a certain amount of common sense. I can also give you some unofficial “research,” which much to my shame and dismay was unintentionally conducted on my own dogs.

When we moved into our first house in 1990, we had two Cocker Spaniels, Flash and Porsche. In 1991, we added another Cocker, Cricket. In 1994, we got my beloved Golden Retriever, Ripley. We lived in that house until June of 1996, and we used a well-known lawn service the entire time. Many times throughout the spring and summer, the technicians pulled their big truck with the picture of the puppy on the side into our driveway, hooked up their hoses, and saturated our lawn with chemicals to kill the dandelions and crab grass, as well as to fertilize the lawn itself.

We had a beautiful yard. Our dogs ran, played, and rolled in it, always after the treatment had dried. They ate grass and licked their paws. They ate bugs and who-knows-what-else that they found outside. They lay in the shade under the maple trees.

We moved to Minnesota in 1996, and never once used a chemical lawn treatment after our relocation. But let me tell you the fates of the dogs who lived for so many years with a poisoned yard.

Porsche died suddenly at the age of 12 due to an immune-mediated blood disorder. Cricket died at the age of 11, due to a similar disorder. Cricket had also suffered from seizures since she was six months old, and had glaucoma. She was blind by the age of 5. I can’t directly tie the blindness to chemical exposure, but I can sure make a good case for the seizures and both dogs’ immune-mediated blood disorders.

Flash made it a bit longer, until the age of 13. However, he spent the final 5 years of his life suffering with Cushing’s Disease, which is a malfunction of the adrenal gland. He lost most of his hair and muscle mass, and was a shadow of his former self. As this is again a defect of the immune system, I can see a probable connection with the chemicals.

My Ripley died of hemangiosarcoma, a fast-moving cancer of the blood vessels. Again… chemicals used in lawn care may have been responsible.

No, I can’t say beyond doubt that lawn chemicals caused the diseases and disorders that took my dogs’ lives. But given the following evidence, it’s enough proof for me, and I will never, ever use any sort of chemical on my yard.

I’ve had numerous other dogs since moving to Minnesota, and none of them have ever been exposed to lawn chemicals while in my care. Seko and Sprocket, both Golden Retrievers, lived to 14 and 16 years old, and both were ultimately euthanized due to structural degeneration in the rear quarters. Despite all the supplements and supportive care they received, the eventual physical breakdown of a large-breed dog is almost inevitable, if they live long enough. I do not associate this in any way with chemical exposure.

Gulliver, a Great Pyrenees mix, died abruptly from what was believed to be a brain aneurysm. This was probably a congenital defect, and I cannot see any connection to toxins.

Ruxpin, a Golden Retriever, also died rapidly from an antibiotic-resistant staph infection and had nothing to do with the absence or presence of chemicals.

I currently have three dogs. Ozark is a 10 year old Great Pyrenees mix, Darwin is a five year old Golden Retriever, and Brody is a four year old Great Pyrenees. None of them have any health concerns whatsoever.

No, this is not conclusive evidence. But I can say that there is a high degree of likelihood that all four dogs who were raised on chemically-treated lawns died of things that were associated with that chemical exposure… and there is a very low likelihood that chemicals had anything to do with the symptoms or illnesses seen in the dogs I’ve had since I stopped allowing lawn chemicals to be used. My chemical-free dogs have enjoyed overall better health during the course of their lives, and their deaths were not hastened in any way because of toxins.

I understand that there are other factors that have contributed to my chemical-free dogs’ health. I began feeding my dogs a lot better about ten years ago, a combination of raw and super-premium dry foods. I also have refused to vaccinate any dog once it comes into my care. I know these are beneficial changes in their overall lifestyles, just as I know that banning lawn chemicals from their environment is.

And that’s good enough for me.

We determined long ago that the yard belongs to the dogs. Really, how yard-proud can you be if you have dogs? Their urine leaves spots in the grass, they dig holes, and they construct their own motocross courses around the fence line. Am I so worried about the appearance of a hunk of grass that I am willing to deny my dogs the pleasures of their own yard? And is the need for a green, fluffy lawn so important that I’m willing to risk my dogs’ health? The evidence may not be proven to the nth-degree, but my common sense and years of monitoring my dogs’ health tells me that soaking my yard in chemicals isn’t good for them.

And it’s probably not good for children, either.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Whose Decision Is It, Anyway?

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

Okay, so veterinarians have been over-vaccinating animals for years. A lot of health problems and serious diseases are caused by vaccines. Many animals suffer severe reactions or even die after vaccination. It's all true.

In spite of this, I think that blasting veterinarians as the sole source of over-vaccination is overrated. How many times have I been forced against my better judgment to vaccinate an animal because the boarding kennel, the groomer, or the trainer required that the pet have "all his shots" before setting paw in their establishment? In order to take your dog to PetCo for a $5 nail trim, you have to prove that all the vaccines are up to date.

Any pet catalog will sell you any animal vaccine you want, and you can vaccinate your own pet as often as you please. In some states, the vaccines are available for purchase at farm stores or feed mills. State and municipal laws require boostering of rabies vaccines at predetermined intervals, regardless of what science tells us about post-vaccination duration of immunity.

Veterinarians play a decreasingly important role in deciding what gets done to animals and why. Yes, we're the ones conducting the research, but the information is not being disseminated to the wider public. In the past, we put so much time and effort into brainwashing people into believing that their pets would die without their annual shots, that now we've created an uncontrollable monster.

Some veterinarians may feel that if they don't follow the manufacturer's recommendation for that annual booster that they will expose themselves to legal attack. There have also been articles in the veterinary literature claiming that if I use a vaccine labeled for booster in a year, but I tell my client that it's good for three years, that I am putting my license at risk.

Hello, fellow veterinarians. We are professionals. We are highly educated. We have brains, and we can think. Can we regain control of this situation and put a stop to this nonsense? I fear that as a profession we are losing our credibility. The American Veterinary Medical Association has not shown the strong leadership I had hoped when I joined that organization. Veterinarians end up being blown around by the latest trends instead of taking a stand and upholding ourselves as the medical professionals we are.

Do day care employees determine the vaccination schedule of the children in their care? I think not.

Friday, June 26, 2009

It Doesn't Hurt

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

I love it when people say that they know their pet is not in pain. The dog who is three-legged lame, the cat hiding in the closet, the horse who refuses a jump, whose owners all announce, "He doesn't seem to be in pain. Yeah, he's limping, hasn't eaten in three days, and his eye is squinted shut and crusty, but he seems to feel fine!"

Look at the person next to you in line at the bank, on the next treadmill over at the gym, in the checkout line at the grocery store. What do you think? Are they just starting to get a migraine, having really bad period cramps, or holding in a fart? Guess what - YOU CAN'T TELL!

Why the heck would we think we know what our pets are feeling? Are we a nation of animal communicators? (And don't even get me started on that topic!) Are we all psychic? Have we all dropped so much acid that now we can see auras? Not likely!

Bottom line, we have no idea what any person or animal is feeling. All we can base our assumptions on is what is thought to be normal for that animal or that species. When dogs are not in pain, they use all their limbs equally. When cats feel good, they are friendly and active. When horses feel limber and flexible, they take the jump with ease and confidence. And even these assumptions will get us fooled sometimes.