Why Is My Dog So Itchy?

 

5/23/17

What is causing all that scratching?

 

All the veterinarians and staff at Family Pet Animal Hospital are pet owners and know how hard it is to watch your pet be uncomfortable in his/her own skin, literally! Just like humans, all pets will have an itch they need to scratch from time to time.  However, if your pet is frequently scratching, biting, rubbing, and licking himself/herself, he or she is likely suffering from one of the following problems:

  • Allergies:
    • Contact allergic dermatitis
    • Flea allergic dermatitis
    • Food allergies
  • Infection: Bacterial or Fungal
  • Skin Parasites

Itchy pets can be a frustrating experience for pets, pet owners, and veterinarians alike.  Keep in mind that there are entire books written on each category of issues listed above.  While our feline friends can also be itchy and suffer from similar problems as dogs, this post will focus on dogs in order to limit the scope.  Here, we examine the most common causes and treatments for all that itching and scratching in your dog.

 

Common Types of Allergies

Allergies often manifest as itchy skin with your pet scratching, biting, and licking especially under the paws and tail, conjunctivitis, and/or chronic ear infections.  Allergies can lead to skin infections due to a disruption of the immune system of the skin and the self-trauma caused by all of the licking and scratching.  These infections often manifest as red and flaky skin, scabs, and pimple-like pustules.  (See section below on bacterial and fungal infections for more information.)

It is important to note that most allergies are inherited, and while they can be managed, they cannot be cured.  Here are the most common types of allergies making our dogs itchy, methods of diagnosis, and courses of treatment.

 

Contact Dermatitis – Allergic or Irritant

Contact dermatitis is a skin condition that can occur when a dog’s skin reacts negatively after making physical contact with an allergen.  While allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis are technically two separate conditions, they are often grouped together because symptoms and treatment are typically quite similar.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when a pet becomes hypersensitive to substances in their environment, including substances that are seasonal, such as pollen (from weeds, grasses, and trees), molds, and dusts.  Allergies develop after a period of repeated exposure and sensitization and therefore typically develop between the ages of 1-3 years of age.  Due to the extreme seasons and the myriad of various allergens presented in those seasons, allergies are a common problem in Chicago.  Typically, the worst seasons for contact allergies are spring and fall, but can be a year-round problem.  Pay attention to the time of year and watch for patterns in flair ups of itchy skin.

Veterinary dermatologists can perform intradermal allergy testing (AKA “skin testing”) to determine what specific things in the environment are making your pet itchy.  More importantly, skin testing provides the information needed to custom formulate an allergy injection designed to desensitize your pet to the offending allergen.  Treatment with these custom injections is called allergen specific immunotherapy.

Allergen specific immunotherapy is a long-term treatment option which generally takes 3-12 months to reach maximal effectiveness.  As with people, allergy injections are not effective for every pet.  When allergen specific immunotherapy is successful in controlling allergy symptoms, while it may be possible to extend time in between doses, treatment will be necessary for the lifetime of the pet.

Irritant contact dermatitis

Unlike allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis does not require a period of sensitization and can occur from your pet’s first contact with a substance.  Examples of common chemicals and substances that cause irritant contact dermatitis are household cleaning chemicals or detergents, insecticides, poison ivy sap, and road salt.  Certainly, if you can easily identify the offending irritant, eliminate it from your pet’s environment entirely or minimize exposure.

At-home care

If your pet suffers from contact dermatitis, here are some at-home tips to help ease your pets itching that may be utilized in conjunction with additional supportive care treatments recommended by your pet’s veterinarian when necessary.  Ultimately, these are all methods to remove or minimize the irritant or allergen from your pet.

  • Bathing once or twice a week with an oatmeal based shampoo or other product prescribed by your veterinarian for your pet’s condition. Avoid over-lathering, over-fragranced, or drying shampoos, which may exacerbate the problem.
  • Wash your pet’s bedding more frequently. If you’re short on time, you can throw a clean blanket, sheet, or towel over your pet’s bed for the same effect.
  • Use disposable baby wipes to wipe down your pet in between baths to remove the offending allergens.

 

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)

Flea allergic dermatitis occurs when a pet develops a hypersensitivity (allergy) to flea bites (specifically flea saliva) and is characterized by severe itching.

Because fleas can survive indoors even during the winter here in Chicago, FAD may be a problem year round.  Typically, veterinarians will diagnose FAD based on the clinical appearance – actually finding fleas, flea dirt, or skin lesions from the flea bites.  For pets with FAD, even a single bite can set off a reaction and a small number of bites can cause severe and prolonged itchiness.  So even though you or your veterinarian may not find a flea or flea dirt on your pet, he or she could still have FAD.

Treatment for flea allergy dermatitis is reducing or eliminating the number of flea bites and can be achieved by a number of products designed for the control of fleas.  Many of the products for flea control recommended by the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital are combination parasiticides (control various types of parasites such as heartworm, ticks, and/or mites as well as fleas).  Examples of the topical products we use to control fleas are Revolution, Parastar and Parastar Plus.  Bravecto is an oral medication that is effective for 12 weeks against fleas.  Your veterinarian can help you choose the right treatment for your pet based on his/her and your family’s lifestyle.

As with treatment of other causes of itchiness, additional supportive care and medications for secondary skin infections may be recommended by your dog’s veterinarian when needed.

 

Food Allergies

Similarly to humans, dogs and cats may develop hypersensitivities (allergies) to foods.  Symptoms of food allergies are most commonly skin irritation or gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea and vomiting.  The most common food allergens in pets are proteins, although virtually any food ingredient can produce an allergic reaction.  While food allergies account for approximately 5-15% of allergies in pets, it is an important possibility to investigate.  Additionally, many dogs can have both food and contact/environmental allergies.

Unfortunately, there is no simple and reliable test to diagnose a food allergy.  Instead, your pet’s veterinarian will recommend a strict food trial where your pet’s diet will be changed to a “novel” or hydrolyzed (broken down into small components) protein for a period of 8 to 12 weeks.  During that time, no other foods, treats, or supplements are to be fed.

The only treatment for food allergies is avoidance of the offending allergen.  Luckily, most pets are successfully treated with a hypoallergenic or other type of specialized diet.

 

Infectious Dermatitis

Infectious dermatitis is the inflammation of the skin caused by various bacterial or fungal (such as yeast) organisms.  Typically, infectious dermatitis does not occur spontaneously – meaning there is usually something else going on with your pet creating conditions for opportunistic organisms to create problems.  In a healthy pet, the skin provides a very effective protective barrier against bacteria and yeast.  However, allergies, damage to the skin (from bite wounds, irritants, parasites, scratching, etc.), autoimmune disease, or immunosuppression caused by certain medications or diseases can all create conditions in the skin that allow yeast and bacterial to invade and cause infections.

Yeast Infections

Malassezia pachydermatitis, which is a type of yeast, is a common culprit of infectious dermatitis.  Infected areas are usually odorous, greasy to the touch, and often affect the ears and/or other areas of the body.   The skin of a dog with a yeast infection can appear red and thickened.  Diagnosis is made via cytology – a sample is taken from the affected area and evaluated under a microscope.  Yeast infections are commonly treated with topical therapy or oral anti-fungal medications.

Bacterial Infections

Staphylococcus is a group of bacteria that are widespread and usually harmless.  However, they are opportunistic pathogens that can invade the skin and cause infections when conditions are right.  Diagnosis of staph infections is typically by visual examination and/or cytology.  The infected skin is often appears red and crusty and pimple-like pustules may be present.  Staph, like fungal disease, is generally treated topically with medicated shampoos, sprays, and/or wipes.  Depending on the severity of the infection, a course of oral antibiotics may be prescribed as well.

While yeast and bacterial skin infections are responsive to treatment, the underlying cause – parasites, allergies, skin irritants, or other medical conditions – must be addressed.  Pets with underlying causes of itching will scratch and damage their skin.  The skin is then prone to infection, which causes more itching.  The underlying cause of the itch must be addressed to halt the cycle of scratching and infection.

Ringworm

Ringworm or dermatophytosis is a contagious and zoonotic (can be transmitted to humans) parasitic fungal infection that can cause red and/or darkened skin, poor hair coat, hair loss (alopecia), often in patches, and severe itching.  Unlike Malassezia and Staphylococcus discussed above, ringworm is typically a primary problem.  Treatment of ringworm requires oral or topical anti-fungal medications and environmental cleaning.

 

Skin Parasites

While dogs can get the occasional bite from mosquitoes, biting flies, or other common insects, these types of bites do not frequently cause severe itching.  As discussed previously, fleas, specifically flea saliva, can be the cause of an allergic reaction.

Sarcoptic Mange

Sarcoptes scabiei mite

Sarcoptic mange or “scabies” in dogs is caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite.  This type of mite burrows into the skin of its host and causes severe itching.  The resulting scratching can cause a loss of fur, red, irritated, and/or crusty or thickened skin.  It should be noted that scabies is highly contagious and zoonotic.

Sarcoptic mange is diagnosed by a skin scraping examined under the microscope.  Unfortunately, it is common not to see the mites when performing a skin scraping because the mites can burrow deep into the skin and it only takes a few mites to cause significant itching.  Therefore, a presumptive diagnosis may be made based on clinical signs and ruling out other potential causes of your pet’s scratching.

Luckily, sarcoptic mange is treatable with a combination of therapies to resolve the infestation.  Your pet’s veterinarian will determine what treatment is right for your pet.

Demodectic Mange

Demodex canis

Demodectic mange is an overgrowth of the Demodex mite and is the most common form of mange in dogs.  All dogs have some of these types of mites on their skin, but a properly-functioning immune system keeps the numbers in check and they cause little to no harm to the dog.  Demodectic mange most often occurs in young dogs with immature immune systems or adult dogs with defective immune systems, which allows the numbers of skin mites to increase rapidly.

Demodectic mange is not contagious and is transmitted from mother to puppy during the first few days of life.  Interestingly, demodectic mange does NOT typically cause severe itching, although it does cause hair loss, generally in patches, especially on the face and around the eyes.

 

French bulldog with Demodex

 

A veterinary technician will examine skin scrapings under a microscope. A higher than normal number of demodex mites confirms the diagnosis.  Your pet’s veterinarian will determine the proper course of treatment, which may include topical and/or oral medications.

 

 

Summary

If your pet’s skin and coat are not in optimal health and he is scratching, biting, licking, rubbing and chewing, it’s probably making both of you crazy.  Be sure to have your pet seen by his veterinarian because he surely is not feeling well.

The process of determining the cause of your pet’s itch may take a good deal of time and multiple visits to your veterinarian or a specialist.  Each category of dermatitis must be evaluated carefully and rule outs made prior to a final diagnosis being reached.  Only then can proper, effective treatment begin.  Resolving these cases often takes time but the rewards are a happy pet, owner, and veterinarian.

 

 

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Why Are We Seeing More Ticks in Chicago?

5/10/17

 

Ticks – Not Just In the Woods Anymore

Experts predict that the tick population and the diseases they carry will continue to be more and more prevalent in our area.  Why?  While more temperate weather has provided conditions for ticks to be active for more months of the year and to grow in their habitats, there’s another big reason.  According to Dr. Susan Little, a veterinary parasitologist at Oklahoma State University, that reason is the increasing mouse population.

Immature black-legged ticks (AKA “deer ticks”), responsible for transmitting the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, prefer mice as hosts. (In their adult phase, black-legged ticks prefer deer as hosts, thus their nickname.)  Deforestation and reforestation over the last century created the forest fragmentation we see today.  These fragmented forest areas have significantly less biodiversity and cannot support the larger predators needed to keep the mouse population under control.  Fewer predators lead to more mice and subsequently more ticks.

Why does it matter?

Ticks can carry and transmit a multitude of diseases to our pets and to us, including:

  • Lyme disease
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Tularemia
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Babesiosis
  • Anaplasma

For a more comprehensive list, check out the Center for Disease Control’s website:  https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/diseases/

What should we do?

While many tick-borne diseases are treatable and/or manageable if diagnosed, some diseases can be fatal for both pets and humans.  Therefore staying vigilant and protecting your pets and yourself is incredibly important.  Here are some tips:

  • Check frequently. We recommend daily tick checks to limit the time a tick is attached.  Check more frequently if you and/or your pet are traveling through grassy or wooded areas.  Transmission times vary greatly based on the pathogen (15 minutes to 24+ hours).
  • Note the following attachment site preferences:
    • Usually areas of thinner skin
    • American dog ticks prefer the scalp & head
    • Black-legged tick tends to attach on trunk or legs
    • Lonestar tick generally prefers areas below the waist. These ticks are most common in the southern U.S. but have been moving north.  They are present in Illinois and most recently spotted in Chicago as well.
  • Use tick preventives for your pet. Family Pet Animal Hospital carries various effective products for prevention and control including topical and oral products.  While we used to recommend preventives from April through November, due to changing weather patterns and the increase in cases of ticks we’ve seen even in the winter months, our veterinarians now recommend year round preventives for most pets.  Talk to your pet’s veterinarian to determine which preventive is right for your pet and his/her lifestyle.
  • Vaccinate against Lyme, when appropriate.  Discuss the Lyme vaccine with your pet’s veterinarian.  We do vaccinate against Lyme in some of our patients which are at a high risk of exposure.  However, because the Lyme vaccine’s efficacy is not 100% and it provides NO protection for other tick-borne illnesses, the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital consider preventive measures (vigilant tick checks and prompt removal along with effective oral or topical preventives) to be paramount for protecting your pet.
  • Test annually for common tick-borne illnesses.  As we began to see more cases of these illnesses, Family Pet Animal Hospital changed our canine standards of care for annual wellness checkups to include a 4DX test, which tests for not only heartworm, but also Lyme, Erhlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis.

 

According to Dr. Little, another thing to keep in mind is that ticks typically do not fall from trees.  Instead, ticks typically will crawl onto an animal from grass or ground litter.  From there, they will attach to and crawl up your clothes until they find a good feeding site.  Because ticks want to feed undetected for days or even weeks, they inject an anesthetic into their host that numbs the skin and delays the immune response (such as swelling or itching).  You or your pets are unlikely to feel a tick feeding, so make sure your checks are thorough!

See the additional resources below for more information on ticks, the diseases they carry, and their growing prevalence.

Additional resources:

Start your Dog’s or Cat’s Flea/Tick Preventive Now (includes 2016 Cook County Parasite Prevalence infographic).

Choosing the Right Heartworm, Flea, and Tick Prevention for your Dog

Companion animal Parasite Council – Ticks

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – “Tickborne Diseases of the United States”

Beyond Lyme:  New Tick-Borne Diseases On the Rise in U.S.https://www.wbez.org/shows/all-things-considered/beyond-lyme-new-tickborne-diseases-on-the-rise-in-us/11ee9d0e-4c0d-450c-84b5-be8bd4f7ebc8

Source:

“Tick-Borne Illnesses Could Be On The Rise In Illinois This Summer.” WBEZ. N.p., 09 May 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.

 

Start Your Dog’s or Cat’s Flea/Tick Preventive Now

03/4/17

While the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital recommend year round heartworm preventive (for an explanation on why, click here), we’ve generally recommended preventives for fleas and ticks April through November with caveats based on temperatures.  Because of the higher than average temperatures and bouts of very unseasonably warm weather we’ve had in the last couple of months, we’ve seen patients with fleas and/or ticks or our clients have reported seeing them on their pets or in their homes.  If you have not started your pet on external parasite preventives yet this season, we recommend you go ahead and start now.

External parasites, such as fleas, ticks, or mites, are an annoyance that many pets (and their owners) will experience at some point.  Not only can these parasites cause discomfort and skin problems but they can also carry serious diseases.  Modern preventives make treatment, control, and prevention of many external parasites easy and safe.

FLEAS AND TICKS 101

How does my pet get fleas?

Fleas thrive when the weather is warm and humid and can be found in areas frequented by other cats and dogs.  Unfortunately, fleas can also thrive in our homes.  In Chicago, fleas are typically a seasonal problem.  However, because fleas can also survive in our homes, if they are not eradicated in the home, problems may persist through times not typically associated with flea infestations (summer).

How do my pet and home become infested with fleas?

Adult fleas spent virtually all their time on their host, feeding, and laying eggs (for females).  Females begin laying eggs within 24 hours of landing on a host.  The eggs fall off of your pet into the environment, hatch into larvae, and burrow into carpets, furniture, bedding, or soil in the outside environment), where they can lay dormant for weeks.  Once they emerge as adults, they will seek a host to begin the cycle again.

How do I know if my pet has fleas?

Fleas bite the host and feed off the host’s blood.  You may not recognize that your pet has fleas until the fleas have multiplied to the point that your pet is experiencing visible discomfort – from skin redness and itchiness to open sores and skin infections.  Fleas are no bigger than a sesame seed and are fast movers.  Here are a few ways to check for fleas:

  • If you see a small red or brown, moving speck on your pet, it’s probably a fleaComb your pet’s hair the “wrong” way (back to front) to get a good look at his or her skin.
  • You can find flea combs at pet stores, but any fine-toothed comb will work.
  • Look for red, irritated skin on your dog’s neck, belly, or hindquarters
  • If you see specks of “flea dirt,” the digested blood the flea has excreted, on your pet’s skin or fur, he or she may have fleas.

Should you suspect a flea infestation, contact us to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.  Our doctors and staff will be able to determine if your pet has fleas and proceed with proper treatment.  Additionally, we can make recommendations on how to properly clean your pet’s sleeping quarters and the rest of your home to minimize the risk of re-infestation.

If my pet has fleas, what’s the big deal?

Besides the discomfort it can cause, flea infestations can drain enough blood from your pet to make him or her anemic.  Additionally, fleas also carry tapeworms which can infect your pet if your pet ingests the infected flea(s).

How does my pet get ticks?

Ticks are commonly found in wooded areas, brush and undergrowth.  Pets or people who frequent these types of areas are at risk of becoming a tick’s host.  In recent years, we’ve seen a slightly higher frequency of dogs that live in Chicago contracting ticks as well.  Immature ticks feed on small, wild animals.  Adults typically seek larger hosts such as dogs and cats.

What are the dangers of tick bites?

Ticks can not only cause skin irritation and anemia in pets, but are also capable of spreading serious diseases such as Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (uncommon in the Midwest), Anaplasmosis, and Erlichiosis to your pets.

How do I identify ticks on my pet?  What should I do if I find one or more ticks on my pet?

Ticks can be found anywhere on your pet, but are most commonly found around your pet’s neck, in the ears, between the toes, and in the folds between the legs and body.  These parasites use their tiny sharp teeth to embed themselves firmly into their hosts’ skin and tissue.  An adult tick is roughly 3mm in size and therefore visible to the naked eye.  In their larvae and nymph stages, they are much smaller and may be difficult to identify on your pet.

Ticks feed on the blood of the host and an adult female can ingest up to 100 times her weight in blood.  Typically, pet owners only discover ticks on their pet once the parasite has been feeding and has become engorged.  Prompt removal of ticks on your pet can lessen the chance of disease transmission.  Ticks should be removed properly, with care, to avoid leaving the mouth parts embedded in your pet, which can cause irritation and infection.

If you find ticks on your dog, we strongly recommend consulting with your pet’s veterinarian.  The doctors and staff at Family Pet Animal Hospital can remove ticks appropriately as well as provide recommendations for the appropriate treatment, tick-borne disease screening, and prevention.

What’s the best flea and tick preventive for my pet?

Family Pet Animal Hospital has various effective products for flea and tick prevention and control including monthly topical products and a three-month oral product.  There are many factors to consider when choosing the right preventive(s) for your pet.  The veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital can recommend and appropriate parasite control plan for your pet based on his/her and your family’s lifestyle and needs.

 

Additional resources:

Tick encounter resource center:  www.tickencounter.org

Sources:

“External Parasites.” External Parasites. American Veterinary Medical Association, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

“How at risk is your pet? View CAPC Parasite Prevalence Maps.” CAPC Vet. Companion Animal Parasite Council, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Myths (and Truths) About Grains in Pet Food

by Linda L.

“What is the best food to feed my pet?”

This is one of the most common questions posed to our veterinarians here at Family Pet Animal Hospital. Answering this question has certainly become more complicated than it once was.  Good nutrition for your pet means feeding him or her food that provides the building blocks and energy components that allow him/her to grow, develop properly, and remain healthy and active throughout his or her lifetime. Because every pet is unique, there is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The goal is to find the right food for your pet that is nutritionally balanced to produce optimal health.

Navigating through the abundance of information and misinformation, deciphering cryptic pet food labels, and being constantly inundated with food manufacturers’ marketing buzz words can create a lot of confusion. It is important to think of food in terms of providing the energy, vitamins, and minerals necessary for normal body functioning.  Energy comes from proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. In recent years, grains, especially corn, have developed a bad rap. Is there any truth in the claim that a grain-free diet is best for your pet?  We’re here to debunk some of the most common myths about grains (and other ingredients) in pet food so you can make more informed decisions about what to feed your pet.

According to Jennifer Larsen, DVM, PhD, DACVN, an associate professor of clinical nutrition at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California Davis, “Grains, and any other single category or individual ingredients, are neither good nor bad.  Rather, what is important is how the ingredients work together to create the full nutritional profile of the diet.  Likewise, carbohydrates, as an energy source, are utilized by the body the same way regardless of source, such as grain, legume, or tubers, and different sources of carbohydrates also bring other nutrients, such as fiber, fatty acids, and amino acids.  Again, no ingredient has a simple effect since each provides multiple nutrients, and it’s not consumed in a vacuum.”

Let’s talk about the most common MYTHS and TRUTHS about grains (and other controversial ingredients) in pet food.

 

Myth vs Fact - Grains in Pet Food (1)

 

Myth #1:  Dogs and cats did not evolve eating grains and therefore cannot digest them

“In fact, modern dogs have adapted/evolved eating a high starch diet during their domestication,” says Rebecca Remillard, PhD, DVM, DACVN, the founder and president of Veterinary Nutritional Consultations, Inc.  She cites a 2013 study reported in the journal Nature, which states that in a comparison of a domestic dog’s genome versus a wolf’s, the three genes responsible for the digestion of dietary starch were expressed 7-12 fold higher in the dog.  Remillard adds, “…digestibility studies published in the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition … have clearly demonstrated that both dogs and cats digest better than 95% of the starch in a properly cooked diet containing 50% corn or rice.”

Ann Wortinger BIS, LVT, VTS, is a veterinary nutritionist who has worked in the field for over 20 years.  She notes that with any grain, “when higher levels are included in the diet, protein digestibility can go down… All plants, due to their cellulose layers, have decreased digestibility when compared to meats.  But when ground and cooked, so that the cellulose layer is broken, digestibility is comparable [to meat].”

Myth #2:  Grains are responsible for pet allergies

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, meat ingredients are the more common culprit of food allergies than grains. There is no current evidence to support that pets on grain-free diets have lower incidence of food allergies than pets on conventional diets.  Larsen adds, “… to my knowledge, there is no inherent characteristic of any particular grain that would make it more likely to elicit an immune response.” She states that historically, the most common allergens for dogs and cats are beef and dairy.  While she suspects that this may be changing due to ingredient trends, no change has been recently reported in scientific literature.

While some dogs do have allergies to wheat, Celiac disease (allergy to wheat gluten) is very rare in pets and has primarily been reported in the Irish Setter breed.  Wheat gluten is more than 80% protein, highly digestible, has an amino acid profile similar to other proteins (meat), and enhances the texture of food.  Anyone who has a pet that is a finicky eater can tell you that last one can be a top priority.

Myth #3:  You can determine the quality of a pet food by reading the ingredient list

Remillard says, “Despite aggressive marketing campaigns by various manufacturers and self-appointed websites, the ingredient list according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) should not impart any information regarding the quality, nutritional balance, or digestibility of the pet food product… The ingredient list was simply not designed, or is not regulated, as a measure of pet food quality.  So the source of the meat or carbohydrates in a pet food is not important to the nutritional profile in a complete and balanced product.”

Does your pet food boast the labels “all natural,” “holistic,” or “human-grade”?  According to AAFCO, the term “natural” requires a pet food to consist of only ingredients that have not been subjected to chemical synthesis.  There are no legal definitions of the terms “holistic” or “human-grade,” therefore under pet food laws, anyone can claim these terms for their food.  These terms may sound appealing but are, in fact, meaningless.

Are all “by-products” bad?  Not at all, in fact, we eat them!  By definition and regulation, by-products are the non-meat parts of chicken, beef, pork, etc. after the meat has been removed.  However, by-products are NOT feathers, beaks, fur hooves, or teeth.  Examples include animal fats and clean internal organs – pork, chicken, and beef liver, heart and kidneys.  All these items have nutritious value and are often preferred over muscle meat by animals.  Other examples are treats we commonly give our pets – bully sticks, raw hides, pig’s ears, cow hooves, trachea, and lamb lung.  By-products are a valuable source of energy, vitamins, and minerals.  And while it may sound good to feed your pet a meat-only diet, muscle meat alone is deficient in many nutrients, which could lead to poor growth, bone fractures, and loose teeth.

Is whole meat better than meat meal?  Here are the AAFCO definitions of what constitutes “meats” and “meals.”

  • Meat – “Meat is the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and is limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart, or in the esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of the skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”
  • Meat meal – “Meat meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain added extraneous materials not provided for by this definition…. If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin, it must correspond thereto.”

As with all ingredients, if the meat is from a well-known provider and is of good quality, it can be an excellent source of protein.  According to “Myths and Misconceptions Surrounding Pet Foods” on the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center’s website, “Because of the variation in meal content, and in meat and meal quality, purchasing a food from a well-known company who stands behind their product and has the feeding trials and evidence to support its quality is best.”

We recommend that you look at the nutrients rather than the ingredients in foods.  According to Wortinger, “The body does not care if the meat is chicken, beef, or reindeer; what is cares about is the amino acids included in the food.  The body does not care whether the fat is animal or plant-based, but whether all the essential fatty acids are present.  Look at nutrients, not marketing.”

Myth #4:  Grains are non-nutritive fillers

“I’ve heard concerns about them [grains] being ‘filler,’ which is nonsense,” Larsen says.  Grains are added because they are a good source of carbohydrates, which are essential for growth in puppies and kittens and are an important source of energy for most cells of the body (young or adult).  Corn and wheat, two common grains found in pet foods, are excellent sources of quality protein, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants.  Corn meal, which commonly appears in a list of pet food ingredients, is simply corn minus the water and fat and is highly digestible.  Properly processed and cooked grains are generally well-utilized by both cats and dogs.  Furthermore, the fiber provided by grains is essential for the health of the gastrointestinal tract.

Martha G. Cline, DVM, DACVN, is a clinical veterinary nutritionist at AAHA-accredited Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Fall, N.J.  She states, “Although fiber is not a required nutrient, I find that it can be very beneficial in optimizing the stool quality and the overall health of my patients.   Grain-free diets can provide optimal nutrition for cats and dogs, however, diets containing grain can do the same.”

Now What?

We’ve debunked some of the biggest myths about grains and ingredient lists, but you’re still asking, “What should I feed my pet?”    There is no “best” food for all pets because of each pet’s unique factors that determine what is “best” – life stage, body condition, level of exercise, environment, and health status.  The most important considerations are if the food is nutritionally adequate and if your pet is healthy when you feed him or her that food.

All pet food labels in the United States must include the AAFCO adequacy statement.  This statement confirms whether the diet is complete and balanced, for which life stage the food is intended, and how the food company determined that the food is complete and balanced (recipe or analytic testing of the finished product; or feeding trials).  If you are home-cooking your pet’s food, then a diet formulated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist is recommended so that the food isn’t nutritionally deficient.

Raw diets, produced to supposedly mimic what cats and dogs eat in the wild, have become increasingly popular.  Generally, these raw diets consist of variable combinations of raw meats, grains, vegetables, and bones.  As with grain-free diets, there is no scientific evidence that feeding a raw versus conventional diet is advantageous to your pet’s health.  While we recognize the desire for some people to feed a raw diet to their pets, we stress the importance of understanding the risks.  Raw diets are much more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.  Exposure to these pathogens has the potential to cause serious illness in both pets and humans.  If you have a household with very young, old, or immunocompromised inhabitants, the risks are even greater.  Anyone feeding a raw diet should follow strict handling guidelines such as these outlined by the FDA:  http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm206814.htm

In summary, no matter how good the company, how pretty the packaging, how yummy sounding the ingredients, the only TRUE test of whether a food is good for your dog or cat is what happens when you feed it.  Don’t let your decisions about pet food be based on marketing messages instead of objective nutritional data.

Additional Resources

Pet Nutrition – Separating Fact from Fiction

Pet Nutritional Counseling

Searchable Pet Health Articles Database

Sources:

Smith, Kelly. “Myth Busters: Corn Edition!” NEWStat. American Animal Hospital Assocation, 17 Jan. 2017. Web. 25 Jan. 2017.

Freeman, Lisa M., DVM, PhD, DACVN. “Pet Food Myth Busters: Answering Common Questions Owners Ask About Pet Food.” (n.d.): n. pag. Clinician’s Brief. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2017. <http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/sites/default/files/attachments/Pet%20Food%20Myth%20Busters.pdf>.

“Myths and Misconceptions Surrounding Pet Foods.” The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2017.

Loud Noise Aversion in Dogs and Cats

6/14/16

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Summer is a wonderful time of year for most – more time outdoors, picnics and barbeques, and trips to the beach. However, for those of us that have pets with loud noise aversion, summer means thunderstorms, fireworks, and all the anxiety, distress, and suffering that our pets experience.  Here is a brief overview of causes, signs/symptoms, along with treatments and strategies to help manage your pet’s noise aversion.

Causes of Noise Aversion in Pets

While the exact cause of loud noise aversion is unknown, it may be due to lack of exposure in early development, a genetic predisposition for emotional reactivity, or result from a traumatic event.  Often, pets with noise aversion or phobias also suffer from other anxiety disorders.

Signs of Noise Aversion

While reactions to loud noises are natural, some pets experience escalating fear behaviors.  If you repeatedly see the following symptoms in reaction to loud noises, your pet may have a true noise aversion.

  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Hiding or clinging by the owners side
  • Excessive salivation
  • Trembling
  • Destructiveness
  • Excessive vocalizing
  • Attempting escape and/or panicked running
  • Self-inflicted trauma (from self-soothing behaviors like licking or chewing, or from escape attempts)
  • Hypervigilance
  • Fecal incontinence

 

What can be done to help our furry friends with noise aversion?

Firstly, consult with your pet’s veterinarian at Family Pet Animal Hospital to rule out any underlying medical conditions.  Certain medical conditions can exaggerate your pet’s fear responses.  Moderate to severe noise aversion is managed most successfully with a combination of strategies including environmental controls and drug therapy to ease your pet’s suffering.  Below you will find some tips to help keep your pet safe and reduce his/her anxiety during noise events.

Don’t panic.

You’ve heard the saying, “Anxiety travels down the leash,” right?  Our pets are acutely aware of our emotions and responses to the environment.  Try to stay calm and be present for the needs of your pet.

Close windows and doors to secure your home.

Securing windows and doors to your home can help limit the exposure to fear-evoking sights and sounds.  Additionally, this will decrease the risk of your pet escaping.

Create a safe space. 

Choose a safe spot for your pet to “weather the storm (whether it is an actual storm or other noise event that induces fear and anxiety in your pet).  Pets will often find a covered space comforting.  Place familiar items such as favorite blankets and toys in the area and provide plenty of your pet’s favorite treats.  Ideally, this safe space should be in an interior space in your home, away from windows and doors to limit exposure and decrease chances of escape.  Consider installing sound-insulation for this safe space as well.

Don’t use punishment.

While this seems like a no-brainer, we have to say it.  Physically punishing or yelling at your dog or cat for his or her fear behaviors will likely make your pet more anxious and reinforce his/her fears.

Redirect your pet’s attention.

Try redirecting your pet’s attention to fun activities that he/she enjoys – obedience exercises, agility, food puzzle toys, etc.  For some pets with mild anxiety, his or her desire to participate in these activities may be an effective distraction during a noise event.

 

Dress your pet in a Thundershirt.

Thundershirts, made for both dogs and cats, are snug-fitting shirts for your pet designed to help calm your pet during stressful events.  Effectiveness for treating anxiety varies, but we’ve seen great results for some of our patients.

 

Consult your veterinarian about medications that can help your pet.

While some pet owners do not want to resort to drug therapy, the repercussions of allowing your pet to suffer severe anxiety caused by noise can be detrimental to his or her health.  We want to stress that noise-induced anxiety often worsens over time if left untreated and there can be serious physiological effects.  The decision to utilize drugs to treat your pet should only be made with the advice of your veterinarian.

Ask us about Sileo® – a NEW oromucosal medication for noise anxiety.

Family Pet now carries a new medication, Sileo®, for dogs that is the first and only FDA-approved treatment indicated for canine noise aversion. Your pet’s veterinarian at Family Pet Animal Hospital will determine if and which medications are appropriate for your pet’s needs.

The American Humane Association states that July 5th is the busiest day of the year for animal shelters.  July 4th fireworks send many pets fleeing in fear and many are found miles from their homes, disoriented and exhausted.  When you can anticipate anxiety-inducing noise events and manage the situation from the start, you will likely see better results.  So plan ahead and be prepared!  Call us to schedule an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian if you’d like more information on how to help ease your pet’s distress and suffering due to noise aversion.

 

 

Sources:

“Help Dogs during Thunder & Fireworks – Vet Med at Illinois.” University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. N.p., 2016. Web. 16 June 2016. http://vetmed.illinois.edu/help-noise-averse-dogs-thunder-firework-season/=

“Holiday Issues.” Holiday Issues. American Humane Association, n.d. Web. 16 June 2016. http://www.americanhumane.org/animals/adoption-pet-care/issues-information/holiday-issues.html

 

“Thunderstorm Phobias in Dogs.” Pet Health & Nutrition Information & Questions. PetMD., n.d. Web. 16 June 2016.  http://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/behavioral/c_dg_thunderstorm_phobias

 

Pet Insurance – Is It Worth It?

5/17/16

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The last thing you want to think about when your pet is sick or injured is how much the veterinary care will cost.  Pet insurance helps to cover the cost of unexpected veterinary costs so that you can focus on making sure your pet gets the best care.

Understanding the Cost of Pet Care

Understanding the cost of veterinary care is an important part of making a decision about purchasing pet health insurance.  According to Wallet Hub, dog owners spend an estimated $235 – $776 per year on veterinary care, and cat owners spend $160-$564.  While lifespans vary, that can equate to around $10,000 over the course of your pet’s life!

However, due to the other financial obligations people have, only 3% of dogs and 1% of cats are insured. Of course, those that don’t have pet insurance are asking the question – “Is it worth it?  Is the protection against an unexpected cost of veterinary care worth the monthly premiums?”  There are two basic scenarios to consider:

  • The insurance pays out less than what you paid in premiums because your pet stayed healthy and did not have any accidents.
  • The insurance pays out more than what you put in if your pet does get injured or become ill.

Because either scenario is possible, pet insurance should not be used with the expectation of saving money.  Let’s break down the potential benefits by looking at the numbers:

  • Average life span of a dog:  10-13 years, approximately 11.5 years
  • Average cost of pet insurance for a dog = $32/month (according to pet insurances quotes)
  • Average cost of premiums over a dog’s lifetime = 11.5 years x 12 months/year x $32/month = $4,416
  • Potential estimated savings:  $8,924 (high end of estimated cost of lifetime care for a dog) – $4,416 = $4,508

 

  • Average life span of a cat:  15 years
  • Average cost of pet insurance for a cat = $26/month
  • Average cost of premiums over a cat’s lifetime = 15 years x 12 months/year x $26/month = $4,680
  • Potential estimated savings:  $8,460 (high end of estimated cost of lifetime care for a cat) – $4,680 = $3,780

None of us have a magic 8 ball to know whether or not your pet will get injured or become ill and whether pet insurance will be “worth it.”  However, at Family Pet Animal Hospital, we recommend having health insurance simply to help you soften the financial burden if something unexpected happens, so that you may provide optimal medical care for your pet that you may not otherwise be able to afford.  Pet insurance will provide the peace of mind that you will not have to sacrifice saving the life of your pet due to financial considerations.

What Should I Consider?

When deciding on what insurance is best for you and your pet, consider the following:

  • Do not choose your pet insurance provider based on cost alone. Choose it based on the coverage provided.
  • Choose the right maximum payout structure that first your “worst case scenario costs” (the threshold beyond which you would not be able to pay for your pet’s injury or illness – this will vary for everyone).
  • If possible, choose a plan that has coverage for cancer, hereditary and congenital diseases, continual coverage for chronic disease, medical conditions common to your pet’s species and breed.
  • Pre-existing conditions are not covered by ANY pet health insurance company. Therefore the sooner you get coverage for your pet the better.
  • Insurance companies have differing deductibles, maximum payouts, and waiting periods and restrictions. Read through policies carefully.

Our Pet Insurance Recommendations

We want pet owners find the insurance that best fits their needs and the needs of their pet.  Here at Family Pet Animal Hospital, we recommend Figo, Embrace, and Trupanion.  (Pet Insurance Review offers a plethora of information to help you choose the right insurance for you and your pet.)

 

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Figo & Embrace at a glance.  Please note that information was pulled from each company’s respective websites and Family Pet Animal Hospital cannot guarantee accuracy of the information.  Please call the insurance provider directly with questions regarding exactly what is covered along with what is excluded.

 

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Sources:

Editor, author, or compiler name (if available).”Article name.”  Name of Site. Version number. Name of institution/organization affiliated with the site (sponsor or publisher), date of resource creation (if available). Medium of publication. Date of access.

Kiernan, John S.  “Is Pet Insurance Worth It?  Pros & Cons Explained.”  WalletHub.  n.d.  Web.  31 May 2016.

“100 Facts About Pet Insurance.”  PetInsuranceQuotes.  n.d.  Web.  31 May 2016.