Archive for the ‘Pet Nutrition and Weight Management’ Category

How to Choose the Right Food for Your Dog

Monday, November 14th, 2011

[polldaddy poll=5670035]by Sandy Gregory, M Ed, RVT, CCRA

Adapted from the October 2011 issue of Critter Communique, courtesy of the Foothill College Veterinary Technology Program.

Humans have had a long history of companionship with dogs and cats.  As time has evolved, so has that bond.  One of the forms that bond has taken is the care and concern for proper nutrition for the beloved family dog, and advances in food science have extended and enriched the lives of our compation animals.  Today there are so many choices for the best dog snack, food, and even dietary supplements, that selecting one for your dog can be overwhelming.  There are foods that are advertised for better skin, stronger joints, weight loss, and better memory; there are also foods that promise to be more palatable for pets, that look good enough for humans to eat, and that are more widely available through pet stores.  The consumer can easily get lost in all the options for his or her pet.

To help pet owners make the right choice for their pets, there are two sets of nutritional profiles that have been established as the basis for regulation of dog food in the United States:  Adult Maintenance and Growth and Reproduction.  Anything other than this has no legal mandate for specific nutritional levels.

The consumer, however, should not rely on government standards to dictate his or her dog’s food.  A basic understanding of nutrition is most helpful when deciding on your dog’s nutritional needs.  The consumer should keep in mind the dog’s specific needs (age, weight, etc.), the ingredients, and how well the dog ingests those ingredients (avoiding a food that has corn as an ingredient when the dog is allergic to corn, for example).  It can be a science all by itself.

The listing of ingredients in commercial pet foods is not random; they are listed by weight in descending order.  The ingredients are governed by American Association of Feed Control Models, or AAFCO, model regulations.  Further to those regulations, every ingredient in that product also needs to be recognized by the FDA and be approved by AAFCO.  It is important to read the list of ingredients and know what is in your pet food.

The first two ingredients should be a whole protein, such as chicken, lamb, or beef.  The third and fourth ingredients might be a vegetable or whole grain source, such as brown rice, but the consumer should be careful that it is not corn filler.  Lastly, you have the bulk of the food.  The sources for this might be corn, rice, or wheat.  Sometimes you might see barley or sorghum, and even gluten for thickener.

It is just best to stay away from foods that list meat by-products as ingredients.  If the dog’s dietary restrictions leave no choice but to feed a food with by-products, at least choose a food that lists the specific source of the by-product. For example, “chicken by-product” is not a great protein source, but it’s better quality than “meat by-product,” which is a mix of feet, feathers, beaks, hooves, hair, tumors, and other low quality products made into a meat mix.

When looking at the preservatives in dog food, look for foods preserved with vitamin E and vitamin C, sometimes labeled as “mixed tocopherols.”  Avoid foods with BHA, BHT, or other chemical preservatives.

These are some of the many examples of ingredients consumers will find in many commercial pet foods.  It is important to look at the label and not always trust what picture is on the front of the bag or the can.  Since the company wants to sell food, it will whet your palate with inviting photographs.  And some of the ingredients advertised might include things like berries, fruit, and herbs, but while they sound good to you, those ingredients may be in such a small amounts that their benefits are negligible.

So, do your research.  Knowing and understanding good pet nutrition and food labels will help to extend the life of your pet.  There are many resources out there to aid your research, including AAFCO (, the American Pet Products Association (, and the Pet Food Institute (  Bon appetit!

Sandy Gregory has a Master’s degree in Exercise Science and specializes in pet nutrition and weight management.  A Registered Veterinary Technician and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Assistant, she works as a physical rehabilitation therapist at Scout’s House and as an Instructor at the Foothill College Veterinary Technology Program.

Read This If You Give Your Dog Pig Ears

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

From dvm360 (, recall on pig ears:

Bravo! recalls pig ear treats for possible Salmonella contamination – DVM.

Science Confirms: Fat Dogs with Arthritis Feel Better When They Lose Weight and Exercise A Lot

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

I’m always amazed by the scientific rigor that goes into clinical studies, but sometimes the results just confirm what seems like plain old common sense.

In this study, researchers found that overweight dogs with osteoarthritis who went on a diet and received intensive physical therapy lost more weight and moved better after 30 days than did dogs who just went on a diet or who dieted and received moderate physical therapy.  If your dog has arthritis and you’re wondering whether rehab therapy can help, read on:

5 Best Ways to Keep Your Dog Out of Rehab Therapy

Friday, May 20th, 2011

1)  Keep Your Dog on A Leash—You wouldn’t believe how many dogs we’ve seen at Scout’s House who suddenly bolted away from their owners and got hit by cars (HBCs, in vet med lingo).  Use a leash and you’ll spare yourself the expense of rehab—and surgery.

Daily controlled exercise will help keep your dog on the outside looking in at your local animal rehab therapy center

2)  Don’t Let Your Dog Jump Off Furniture—Little dogs especially but big dogs too can do a lot of front limb damage jumping off of beds, sofas, out of the car or SUV.  Train your dog to use stairs or a ramp or even to wait for you to put them on the ground.  (Or don’t let them on the furniture in the first place.  Yeah, right!)

3)  Put The Kibosh on Squirrel-Chasing—A veterinary orthopedic surgeon we know gives a slide show on knee surgery for dogs (CCL repair, as it’s known) and always asks the audience what’s the number one cause of CCL tears.  The answer:  squirrels.  Not hard to believe if you’ve ever seen a squirrel-crazed dog take off after her favorite fluffy prey!  Unfortunately, ball-chasing isn’t much better for dog knees.

4)  Keep Her Lean—Fat dogs are more prone to a whole host of medical problems, including arthritis, disk ruptures, and those nasty CCL tears we just talked about.  Keep your girl (or boy) lean and you’ll improve the odds for a healthy dog life.

5)  Keep Him Fit—Making sure your dog gets daily, controlled exercise is the best thing you can do for his musculoskeletal health.  Brisk walks, boisterous play sessions, any controlled exercise can help keep your dog on the outside looking in at your local rehab center.  (The key here is “controlled”—chasing squirrels or balls does not qualify!)

Want to know how physical rehabilitation therapy can help your dog? Click here.

A Natural Remedy for Your Dog’s UTIs

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

For those of us who live with special needs pets, especially geriatric or paralyzed dogs or cats, we understand the dangers of urinary tract infections, or UTIs.

According to an article published in the May 2010 issue of Clinician’s Brief, UTIs develop when the pet’s natural defense mechanisms break down enough to allow virulent microbes to attach and multiply within the urinary tract. In dogs, these microbes are most often E. Coli, a particular nasty bacteria that can be especially problematic for dogs who are paralyzed (such as from degenerative myelopathy or disk disease, or IVDD), dogs with diabetes mellitus or hyperadrenocorticism, dogs who have been on long-term courses of steroids, and dogs who have had indwelling urinary catheters. The risk of getting an E. coli UTI also increases as dogs get older.

Veterinarians often combat E. coli UTIs with antibiotics, repeatedly if a dog suffers from recurring UTIs. But the reality is no one really likes having a pet on antibiotics longterm. As our clients have often asked us at Scout’s House, is there a more natural remedy? Turns out, cranberries just might be the answer.

One cranberry-based product that supports urinary tract health in dogs is Crananidin from NutraMax Labs (the same people who created Cosequin and Dasuquin). As a veterinary researcher from NutraMax recently explained to me, Crananidin uses bioactive proanthocyandins, or PACs, to minimize the ability of the E. coli bacteria to adhere to the bladder wall. She described it as “putting boxing gloves” on the bacteria so that they can’t grab onto the bladder epithelium and are instead flushed out in the dog’s urine. A NutraMax Labs study showed that by Day 7, a once-daily dose of Crananidin increased the bioactivity, or anti-adhesion, of the urine by over 78%.

My understanding is that Crananidin is best used in dogs who get recurrent E. coli UTIs, not for first-timers who really do need antibiotics to knock out the infection. But if your dog suffers from recurrent UTIs, talk to your veterinarian about Crananidin or other cranberry-based remedies. You might be able to avoid that next round of antibiotics after all.

Next up:  What about cats?

Can It! Potential Health Effects of Pet Food Packaging

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Am I nuts to worry about the canned dog and cat food I feed my pets everyday? My husband thinks so, but after reading about a study recently published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, I wonder if we all shouldn’t be more concerned about pet food packaging.
Recently, researchers found that people who give up packaged foods, such as canned soups and canned vegetables, can significantly lower the levels of a hormone-disrupting chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA, in their systems. BPA, used in the epoxy resins that line metal food cans and in some clear plastic containers, has been linked to a number of serious health problems in humans, including birth defects and reproductive issues.
Is it too much of a leap to wonder what it might be doing to our pets? I hate to sound like some wacky animal lover who sees ghosts in every corner, but hey, I’ve lost too many of my dogs and cats to cancer, so I can’t help but wonder what effect BPA and other chemicals are having on our animals. And since no one seems to be regulating what actually goes into pet food, my guess is no one’s paying much attention to the packaging of it either. Maybe it’s time we did.
Food for thought.

Read more about BPA at

A Dangerous Mix: Dogs and Mushrooms

Friday, April 1st, 2011

As usual, Dr. Nancy Kay relays some invaluable information about how dangerous “found objects” can be to our dogs–this time those mushrooms that pop up everywhere after lots of rain.  A must-read for any dog owner, but especially for those of us with dogs who eat anything (Lab owners, are you listening?!):

A New Danger in Using Pediatric Medicines for Your Pet

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

A blog post by Florida veterinarian Patty Kuhly, VMD, MBA, warns that the sweetener xylitol, which is toxic to dogs, is now being used in some of the pediatric elixirs that veterinarians prescribe for pets.  Read more, be informed–and never be afraid to ask your veterinarian and your pharmacist to double check that the formulation prescribed for your pet is xylitol-free:

Dog toxic xylitol in gums, mints, desserts … and now drugs | PetMD.

How Veterinarians Choose the Right Joint Supplement for Your Pet

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Ever wonder how your veterinarian decides which joint supplement to recommend for your pet’s arthritis?  Here’s an excellent article from Clinician’s Brief that helps veterinarians choose the right neutraceutical for a pet’s joint health.  (Don’t be put off by the medical-speak; there are some really interesting facts in here.)

Onions and Garlic, the Secret Killers of Dogs?

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Over the years, I’ve seen dozens of homemade dog food and dog treat recipes that include onions and garlic, but I’d also heard that onions and garlic were dangerous for dogs. Naturally, I was confused.  But after reading this blog post by veterinarian Dr. Sophia Yin, I have my answer.  No more onions or garlic for my dogs–not even in small quantities.

Onions, the Secret Killer? | Blog | Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS.