Are favorite health foods good for dogs?

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Not necessarily, says Veterinarian Katy Nelson, who follows the latest trends as host and executive producer of a popular Washington, DC televised pet program. Set down the goji berry and kale smoothie and check out this doctorly advice:

-        Eat that whole avocado yourself — it’s not good for dogs. The fruit, stem, leaves, and seeds contain a compound called persin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs.

-        Feel free, however, to share your turmeric and coconut oil. The mild-tasting, boldly-yellow spice revered for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-bacterial, and possibly ant-cancer properties might interact with other medications, so ask your vet first. Tumeric is good to pair with coconut oil, as it aids absorption of the healing properties. Dr. Nelson says it’s okay in small amounts or as a topical treatment for itchy, dry skin. Just don’t get excited over rumors that the oil can cure thyroid or other diseases in your dog. There’s scant evidence to support such claims.

-        Flax seed oil? Probably yes, says Dr. Nelson. There’s evidence that it’s good for dogs’ skin and joint health, but only your vet can say if it might be right for your pup.

-        Finally, while trustworthy studies are scarce, Nelson says her own pets and patients do well on hempseed oil for anxiety or arthritis pain, so it’s worth a conversation with your own vet.

Fresh food — it’s good for everyone

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Heather Macfarlane of WILD Pet Provisions has worked in the pet health and nutrition field for more than 30 years. In that time, she says one of the most frequent questions she’s heard from pet parents is what senior dog/cat food is best.

Macfarlane says nutritional recommendations are based on each dog and cat's individual needs, and senior pets are no exception. “Diets should be tailored to meet each pet's nutritional needs, and not based on age alone,” she says. “Every person I know eats for their needs — why should pets be any different? 

In the natural world, Macfarlane points out, there is no puppy, adult, or senior food for wolves or wild cats, and in fact no packaged food at all. “Their food is their prey —  raw muscle meat with organs, bones, fur, and pre-digested greens, berries, and anything else that’s in the stomach of their prey.”

What did dogs eat before commercial pet food became available a mere hundred years ago? Macfarlane says, “People food. Mostly consisting of the parts of the food we didn't eat — meat scraps, organs, bones, veggies, etc. This was much closer to their natural diet than what we find in the pet food aisle today.” 

Macfarlane goes on to say that while the pet food industry holds that senior dogs and cats should eat differently than adults or young pets, there isn't a consensus for guidelines on such senior formulas. “In reality, senior pet foods on the market vary in content and analysis, including protein, fat, carbohydrates, and calories,” Macfarlane says. “Just because a pet food says it is for "senior dogs/cats" it doesn't mean it's good for all senior pets. A dog the same age as your senior dog may have very different nutritional needs, so feeding them both the same food may not be beneficial to one, or either one for that matter.” 

22-year-old Turtle is one of Macfarlane's four senior felines (and one senior dog)

22-year-old Turtle is one of Macfarlane's four senior felines (and one senior dog)

All dogs and cats should eat according to their individual needs, not just based on their age, Macfarlane says. 

So what to consider when making food choices for your pet? Macfarlane says body condition and underlying disease or imbalances are much more important factors than age when it comes to feeding your senior pet. 

“What I recommend is that all dogs and cats, including seniors, eat fresh, raw food,” Macfarlane says.  “Raw food is in its natural state and the nutrition is readily recognized and utilized in dog and cat bodies. Older pets thrive from food they are designed to eat, which provide moisture, natural joint support, digestive enzymes, and animal-based protein.” 

Where to start? “Some fresh food is better than no fresh food at all,” Macfarlane says. “You probably don't eat salad every single day, but you eat salad, right? Likewise, if you don’t feed your pet a 100% fresh food diet, then incorporate fresh as much as you are able by adding fresh foods to your pet's current meals, feed fresh meals once a day, once a week, twice a week, whatever is feasible for you and your pet.”  Pet nutrition assessments and individualized dietary plans are available through Macfarlane’s business. 

Beneficial foods Macfarlane recommends incorporating into your senior pet's diet include:

  • Green Juju (contains buffalo bone broth, celery, coconut oil, dandelion greens, ginger, kale, lemon, parsley, turmeric, zucchini)
  • Canned sardines (packed in water, not oil)
  • Bone broth
  • Freeze dried food and/or treats (such as Stella & Chewy's, K9 & Feline Naturals, Vital Essentials, Primal)
  • Phytoplankton
  • Eggs
  • Wildcraeft's Heal
  • Turmeric or Golden Paste
  • Green and Blue Lipped Mussel
  • Coconut oil
  • Probiotics
  • Digestive enzymes
  • Boswellia

Learn more and meet the nutrition specialists at WILD Pet Provisions at 2393 NE Fremont, Suite A in Portland, or at wildpetprovisions.com.

Lunchtime!

We all remember when school lunches consisted of greasy pizzas and salty fries. Thankfully, school lunch menus have evolved, and today’s meals are lower in fat, calories, and sodium. Veggies have replaced pizzas and there are even vegetarian options. 

Pet meals have undergone a similar evolution. Increasingly, pet foods are made with fresh ingredients, and what’s in their bowls (or puzzle toys) ranges from balanced raw foods to kibble with high-quality ingredients and no fillers.

Even more recently, the evolution includes ways to enrich meals, and spicing things up can be simple and easy.

Nancy Fedelem, owner of Salty’s Pet Supply and Fang & Feather, loves the idea of enriching daily meals. “Adding enrichment to your animal’s diet doesn’t take away from the benefits of dry kibble. I do recommend cutting back on their base food so they don’t gain weight.” Fedelem adds, “Take what you’re currently feeding and add something that complements it.” This might include pre-made foods you can re-hydrate, or
something as simple as veggies. Other great additions to the menu include canned or other pre-made moist foods, or supplements like pumpkin. 

Toppers

A great way to easily add variety to your pet’s diet, consider pre-made toppers that are dehydrated or freeze dried. Honest Kitchen offers options that rehydrate fast and mix easily with food, Fedelem says. Other popular brands include Primal, Vita Essentials, and Bravo.

Supplements

Another option is supplementing with super foods like Green JuJu, bone broth, or goat’s milk. Added to kibble, raw, or home cooked meal, Green JuJu’s ingredients include celery, ginger, dandelion greens, coconut oil, kale and lemon (just to name a few!), which helps with bacterial
infections, hot spots, and stomach issues. Lunchtime finds my dogs often eating better than our human family members! Their meals routinely include kale, coconut oil, celery, dandelion greens and buffalo broth.

Fedelem encourages pet parents to consider the wide variety of options for mealtime. “I always try to give Parker, my dog, a variety in his diet, so I rotate between freeze dried and raw foods, and different supplements. We rotate bone broth, fish oils, joint supplements, and an immune
support supplement.”

Supplements include food fortifiers and vitamin mineral mixes. Digestive enzymes are easy to add to existing diets — ask your local pet merchant for recommendations suitable for your best friend.

Brown Bag it

Don’t forget left overs! Perhaps add a little broth (sans onions), steak, veggies, and anything wholesome they may enjoy.

Waiting for the lunch bell

Frozen Kongs are a great way to keep a pooch waiting for the [lunch] bell happily occupied. And they — or puzzle toys — can make mealtime more fun than a bowl. Freeze dried meat or veggies are great stuffers. Frozen edibles kick in primal instincts, turning a meal or after-school snack into a fun and interesting task! 

There are many ways to enrich mealtime, and it’s a wonderful thing to challenge our lovebugs’ minds while giving them a healthy diet they love.  


As a Certified Vet Tech, longtime PR veteran and content marketing expert, Christy Caplan brings her unique understanding of social and digital media to connect dog lovers to brands both on and offline. She lives with three hounds – two Doxies and a Beagle/Basset Hound
mix, who constantly teach her about life and companionship. Follow Christy at mylifewithdogspdx.com.

 

Good food for a good long life

Rick Woodford and Raleigh

Rick Woodford and Raleigh

What’s the difference between fresh and commercial dog food?  Rick Woodford, aka The Dog Food Dude, is happy to tell you. “If you’ve ever put kibble into a glass of water for two hours it turns into gunk,” he says. “But a carrot in a glass of water doesn’t do much. It needs the stomach to do something to it.”

Advocating dog food made from wholesome ingredients like carrots, yogurt, eggs, fish and blueberries has been Woodford’s work of heart for several years. He empowers people to feed their dogs healthy food, not when they’re old or sick, but NOW, when it can prevent disease. Still, Woodford has researched and developed numerous recipes for older or sick dogs of all sizes. 

It all began when his best friend Jackson was diagnosed with lymphoma and stopped eating. Woodford prepared nutritionally rich dog food for him. Jackson began eating again, and his health improved. But he also gained weight.  

“I realized I didn’t know what I was doing,” Woodford says. So began an impassioned undertaking, researching and creating a database of dog food formulations and recipes. Originally Jackson was given nine months to live. After 18 months of good food, however, the vet found his lymphoma was gone.  

“The vet said, ‘Wow, I don’t know what did this, but you don’t need to bring him back,’” Woodford recalls. “I said, ‘I know what did it, it's the food.’” 

Eventually people started asking for help with their own sick and aging dogs, so Woodford started Dog Stew, a home delivery dog food company. He also began teaching the care and nurturing of dogs with healthy, homemade meals.

And his nickname, The Dog Food Dude? “When I would deliver food to peoples’ homes, the husbands, the children, would say, ‘Mom, the dog food dude’s here!’ Well all right, I thought; that’s what people are calling me, I guess I’ll go with it!” 

Jackson lived for four years after his initial cancer diagnosis. He passed away from old age in 2011, cancer free. “Without exception, every dog who has had a serious illness did really well with my food,” Woodford says.  

While the business was successful and rewarding, Woodford was unable to produce the volume necessary to successfully scale up. He opted to close the business and write the first of his two books, Feed Your Best Friend Better.  

“When Jackson passed away I went into this big, horrible mourning period,” he says, “but I also decided I was going to write this book and give everybody the recipes for the food.” 

Woodford’s mission with the book was getting the recipes into peoples’ hands. “But I wanted to make it even easier for some people, so I wrote a chapter called Foods Worth Sharing, which includes 30 foods you can feed your dog off your cutting board.”  

As dogs age, their metabolisms slow, and caloric requirements diminish, but they still need nutritionally-dense foods. “If you are feeding kibble and start cutting back on that, your dogs will likely be grumbling around hungry,” Woodford says. “That’s one reason why I like fresh foods . . . they slow digestion because they take more time to process so the dog feels fuller longer.”

When dogs eat commercial food at the same time day after day the body starts to remember what’s going on, he says. “It says, ‘Hey, another easy day. Let’s just keep producing the same stuff we did yesterday. The body adapts to what it needs to process every day and over time it forgets how to process some things.”

That’s why some have experienced a “disaster” when giving their dogs fresh food for the first time. When you’re ready to start feeding fresh foods, take it slow. Woodford recommends “teaspoons and tablespoons” not “cups and handfuls.” “Diversity, diversity, diversity,” he says, “but start out slowly with the diversity.”

Sardines and tomato sauce, canned mackerel or salmon, and scrambled eggs are some of Woodford’s favorite whole foods for dogs. “Scrambled egg is a favorite because it’s the most bio-available protein there is and dogs eat it so incredibly easily. It’s also so easy to make in a frying pan,” he smiles.

Omega-3s are important for older dogs, to help prevent inflammation and arthritis. “Use a nice oily fish — tuna’s not so good,” Woodford says. “Or give them a fish oil pill, which I like to call dog jelly beans.”

Woodford’s second book, Chow, is even more accessible than Feed Your Best Friend Better, he says. “I say, these are the things you’re using in your food; here’s how you can use similar things to make a simple meal or a supplement for your dog.”

Woodford’s latest project is still under wraps. While he’s bound to silence for now, his excitement is clear. He did extend this little clue: that he will “be present in more people’s kitchens, hopefully helping both them and their dogs.”

Woodford knows every dog is going to die, and no matter what, every dog will die too soon. “But,” he says, “my goal is to get people to start feeding their dogs better foods early in their life to prevent disease, to give you two years, four years more, with your best friend.”


The Dog Food Dude  *  www.dogfooddude.com

Two recipes from Chow are available here:  http://lisaekus.com/titles/chow-simple-ways-to-share-the-foods-you-love-with-the-dogs-you-love

Some of Rick Woodford’s favorite foods, with portion sizes

Eggs

High-quality protein, low in calories and filling. One large egg has about 71 calories, equivalent to about 1⁄5 cup of commercial dry food. Replace 10% of your dog’s regular meal with the following amounts:

10-lb. dog: 1/2 large egg
20-lb. dog: 2/3 large egg
40-lb. dog: 1 large egg
60-lb. dog: 1 1/2 large eggs
80-lb. dog: 2 large eggs
100-lb. dog: 2 1/2 large eggs

Canned Mackerel 

High-quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and keep the brain sharp. One cup of canned mackerel has about 300 calories, equivalent to about 3/4 cup of commercial dry food. Replace 10% of your dog’s regular meal with the following amounts:

10-lb. dog: 2 tablespoons
20-lb. dog: 3 tablespoons
40-lb. dog: 1/4 cup
60-lb. dog: 1/3 cup
80-lb. dog: 1/2 cup
100-lb dog: 1/2 cup

 

 

 

 

 

Blueberries

High in antioxidants that prevent cognitive decline. One tablespoon of fresh or frozen blueberries has 5 calories; equivalent to just a few pieces of commercial dry food.

10-lb. dog: 1 1/2 tsps.
20-lb. dog: 2 tsps.
40-lb. dog: 1 tblsp.
60-lb. dog: 1 1/2 tsps.
80-lb. dog: 2 tblsps.
100-lb. dog: 3 tblsps.

Turmeric

Potent cancer fighter and anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, helps to prevent cataracts, helps with weight management

10-lb. dog: 1/8 tsp.
20-lb. dog: 1/4 tsp.
40-lb. dog: 1/4 tsp.
60-lb. dog: 1/2 tsp.
80-lb. dog: 1/2 tsp.
100-lb. dog: 3/4 tsp.


Vanessa Salvia's love for animals began as a child, when stray kittens just seemed to follow her home.  She now lives on a sheep farm outside of Eugene, Oregon, with a llama named Linda, a dog, a cat, two horses, a rabbit, two kids and a patient husband.

 

It’s a fact . . . with age comes creaky joints

Today treatments are abundant and improving

Levi receives laser therapy at OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Levi receives laser therapy at OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital

It can happen anyone. Whether caused by genetics, lifestyle, excess weight, or a no-pain-no-gain approach to sports and play, many middle-aged and elderly humans and animals develop some arthritis. The condition, osteoarthritis, is a wear-and-tear condition. It happens when the soft, lubricating cartilage that protects and cushions the joints wears down. The resulting increased friction causes inflammation and pain.

As common as it is, it’s nothing to dismiss. Arthritis can become debilitating, drastically decreasing quality of life or shortening a pet’s life. There is a silver lining, though: treatment options abound. Early treatment is key, so when an animal friend is limping, stiff, painful, or less willing to do daily activities like playing, climbing stairs, or grooming, it’s time to visit the veterinarian. Your biggest challenge may be choosing from the many options, but here’s a summary for you to discuss with your vet.

Lifestyle Changes 

All arthritis patients benefit from weight management coupled with moderate low-impact exercise. While weight management can be a bit more challenging for older, more sedentary pets, keeping extra pounds to a minimum lightens the demands on painful joints. Exercise helps control both weight and arthritis pain, but doctors with the American Veterinary Medical Association warn that either too little or too much exercise can increase pain. With some time and attention, you’ll likely learn the right types and amounts of exercise for your arthritic friend, and can couple that with home massages, supportive bedding, and mats or rugs to make hard or slippery floors more paw-friendly.

Food and Supplements

As with the many contradictory theories about the best diets and healthiest foods for humans, any research about proper pet nutrition and supplements can lead you down a rabbit hole of confusion. Always ask your veterinarian. Few doctors recommend supplements as the sole treatment for arthritis pain, but many see them as a helpful part of a treatment regimen. Some, like Chicago-based Dr. Donna Solomon, wholeheartedly recommend glucosamine chondroitin and omega 3 oils as a complement to anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medication, and acupuncture or physical therapy. Bear in mind that nutritional supplements are largely unregulated and vary in quality and effectiveness. For this reason, doctors often recommend veterinary-specific supplements with dosage and formulas geared to your pets. One chondroitin supplement called Dasuquin comes in a tasty chewable for dogs and a break-apart capsule for cats.

The author, left, comforts her dog Levi, age 13, as he tries out a wheelchair

The author, left, comforts her dog Levi, age 13, as he tries out a wheelchair

There are veterinary diets formulated with supplements to support joint health, although, as always, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian about the best options. And while vegetarian diets are difficult and controversial for cats, they help many arthritic or arthritis-prone dogs. Meat-free diets show some promise in relieving inflammatory conditions, but making home diets that are nutritionally sound for dogs can require research and vigilance. Some commercially available formulas by Natural Balance and other manufacturers take away the guesswork. 

Anti-inflammatories

These widely-available drugs often are the first recommendation of veterinarians. There are several non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs available and approved for dogs, cats, and other species.  Some even come in tasty chewable or liquid form. With all NSAIDS, there are possible side effects and health considerations with long-term use, so your doctor will likely want to do an initial blood test and re-check every six to 12 months.

Pain Medications

Veterinarians are increasingly willing to prescribe pain medication as attitudes and treatment options continue to evolve in the pain management field. Drugs like Tramadol and Gabapentin are widely available and fairly affordable in pill form. Another common pain med, buprenorphine, comes in liquid or injectable form for notoriously hard-to-medicate cats. Pain-management views vary by veterinarian, and might not be necessary for milder conditions that are well managed with other therapies. However, don’t hesitate to advocate for your arthritic fur kid if their pain level seems to warrant medication. As Dr. Solomon writes, withholding pain medication when it’s needed is “antiquated and non-compassionate.” 

Specialty Clinics

Rehabilitation services available for pets now rival the care available in any human physical therapy clinic. From therapy pools to underwater treadmills, laser therapy, neurological re-education, and ultrasound therapy, these clinics can customize a treatment plan for your buddy’s condition and ability. The veterinary teaching hospital at Oregon State University in Corvallis has a state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility for large and small animals. A referral from your veterinarian is required, but visiting with the specialists there will expose you to multiple options. 

Alternative Therapies

Therapies once considered alternative are fast becoming mainstream, as growing numbers of local clinics offer Traditional Chinese Medicine modalities such as acupuncture and herbal medicine. Local clinics, such as Whole Pet Veterinary in Salem, increasingly blend Eastern and Western treatments. At Whole Pet, Dr. Julie DeMarco says acupuncture can dramatically increase quality of life in arthritic pets, and Chinese herbal treatments sometimes cure conditions that Western medicine cannot. It’s also increasingly easy to find non-veterinary practitioners who offer massage therapy that may soothe aching joints and increase flexibility.

Emerging Therapies

Levi learns to use the underwater treadmill at OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Levi learns to use the underwater treadmill at OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Among the growing field of proven arthritis treatments, there are more promising ones on the horizon. Stem-cell therapy is a prime example. An extensive article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association says, “The anecdotal evidence for stem cells as a therapy is compelling, but research is still under way.” Even while research is ongoing, numerous doctors across the country — including Oregon and Washington — are already relying on this treatment for animals who don’t tolerate anti-inflammatory medications or whose conditions haven’t responded well to other treatments. It’s a more costly and complex procedure than most, because doctors must collect blood, fat, or bone marrow from the patient, send it to a lab where stem cells are grown and harvested from the sample, and then inject those stem cells back into the animal. Many doctors and clients report impressive improvements in patients who are able to regrow deteriorating hooves or regenerate joint cartilage in previously painful joints. The procedure can cost $2,000-$3,000.

Resources

·        Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association regarding stem cell therapy in horses, dogs, cats. https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/110215a.aspx

·        Dr. Solomon writes in Huffington Post about caring for an arthritic dog or cat http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donna-solomon-dvm/caring-for-an-arthritic-d_b_1916427.html

·        The Oregon State University veterinary teaching hospital has a summary of rehabilitation services here http://vetmed.oregonstate.edu/hospital/small-animal-rehabilitation


Michelle Blake is a Salem, OR-based massage therapist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in national publications. Her husband wants you to know she's a REALLY crazy dog lady too.

 

Need help choosing good cat food?

The feline food industry is flooded with choices, with product formulations for average healthy kitties to those with special needs. Knowing what’s best for your pretty kitty can be downright confusing.  Consumer Affairs comprehensive Cat Food Guide is working to simplify the task. The guide details what you should know before purchasing, the features that matter most, how to read cat food labels, and expert reviews. Videos feature Dr. Ken Tudor, a recognized expert and leader in pet nutrition, who shares his predictions for the cat food industry. Read, watch and share at consumeraffairs.com/pets/cat-food/

Washington pet store owner eats pet food for 30 days

Dorothy Hunter, co-owner of the Washington-based Paw’s Natural Pet Emporium, ate nothing but pet food sold at her shop for 30 days to show her customers the food she sells for pets is equally worthy of human consumption.  Living solely on a diet of kibble, canned cat food and treats for a month, Hunter wants to prove the point that well-sourced and -produced food made for animals can be just as nutritious for people.  The store owner only sells food free of fillers, preservatives and animal by-products, and avoids food products from China.  Her story gained national media attention, helping Hunter further her point.  “I can’t stress enough how important it is to read labels and see what’s in the food you eat — whether it’s pet food or human food,” she told the Tri-State Herald.  “If this month of eating pet food enlightens people to the importance of that, then I’ll be happy.”  For the record, her favorite nibbles include Tiki canned food and Natural Balance kibble.

Pet food no longer an afterthought

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A burgeoning trend in the thriving and rapidly changing “pet culture” is a significant shift in how pet parents feed their furry family members.  No longer willing to buy the cheapest food off the supermarket shelf, people are instead spending time, energy and money to ensure their companion animals are fed just as well as their human counterparts. 

In line with this, the annual Top Dog Awards included a new category:  Food Consultant.  Not only was the number of votes impressive, but also the number of nominees and the variety and depth of their knowledge.  This year’s winner, Heather Macfarlane of Balanced By Nature, and Top 5 runner-up Rick Woodford (aka The Dog Food Dude), both specialize in animal nutrition.  The 2nd and 3rd Place winners, Green Dog Pet Supply and Evan Smith at Canine Utopia respectively, and those tied for 5th Place, Meat For Cats and Dogs (Heidi Liedeker), are retailers with a wealth of knowledge on animal nutrition.  Everyone in the pack is known for working hard to stay on top of the latest medical and industry information, and for stocking their shelves with foods that support a full range of dietary concerns. 

A driving force behind the growing appreciation of and insistence on quality animal nutrition is the desire to combat chronic illness and disease.  From obesity issues to kidney disease and even cancer, pet parents are turning to more holistic, nutritionally-based approaches to preventive healthcare.   

Christine Mallar of Green Dog Pet Supply says it’s common for someone to come to her with a specific health problem affecting their dog, such as pancreatitis, and ask advice on how best to treat that nutritionally.  “We’re not vets, but we’ve educated ourselves with what works best for that illness,” she says.  “We give them resources so they can educate themselves and talk more knowledgeably with their vet and formulate an opinion about what they feel comfortable moving forward with.” 

Many animal nutrition experts believe that providing healthful food choices from the get-go can prevent many chronic illnesses affecting companion animals.  However, says Heather Macfarlane, who has specialized in animal nutrition for more than 15 years, zeroing in on an optimum diet for the family pet can be a bit overwhelming.  “There are so many opinions out there that it’s difficult for the average pet guardian to decide what’s best for their pet.  It is my belief that there is no one perfect food for every pet, just like there is no perfect human food that we should eat every single day.  Dogs and cats are individuals, and they are at varying levels of health.  Food should be used to achieve balance, vitality, and well-being, and this usually looks different depending on the pet.”

Return of the Zombie Flesh Eaters

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Anticipation is in the air as humans await the return of their favorite mindless creatures thirsty for blood or hungry for flesh.  In television series, video games, movies, comic books (excuse me — graphic novels) — our psyches cannot get enough of the culture of the undead, be it vampires, mummies, monsters, or especially, “the zombie.”  We delight in the gorefest of a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by the walking undead who relentlessly seek out human tissue upon which to feed. 

As for me and my colleagues, this season does provide thrills and chills, but it is not the drooling, ambling, vacant-eyed, two-legged marauders who give us the willies.  From the month leading up to All Hallows Eve until New Year’s Day, our concern is for the seemingly simple-minded, four-legged scavengers slinking beneath our notice.  

Their tail wagging and purring lull us into forgetting that they are the stealthy — and fully aware — creatures in the crowd, patiently waiting for a chance to remove the choicest morsels of meat from the table when their human’s attention is elsewhere. 

Over these next few months, pet owners can become easily distracted by the delightfully gruesome makeup and costumes of Halloween revelers, by the sheer number of long-lost relatives giving thanks around a table, or perhaps by the pretty lights and mind-altering beverages during rounds of Christmas parties.  These festive occasions are the perfect time for our furry friends to snitch a bit of a ham shank, to nudge the remnants of roast from the stove onto a welcoming floor, or to “carcass diem” the entire turkey skeleton while humans lay bloated and unbuckled in front of a football game.  Whether these treats of meat and muscle make their way to our pets by thievery or by guilt (“ahhh, does Snookums want some of Auntie Patty’s pork roast like everyone else?”), a few moments of tastiness can give way to hours or even days of pain and regret.

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Eating fatty leftovers such as ham, roast beef, turkey, or gravy can at the very least give pets stomach and intestinal upset (vomiting and diarrhea).  If the pancreas becomes overwhelmed — by arrival of unexpected fatty meal of turkey skin, meat trimmings or table scraps — it releases digestive enzymes into its “neighborhood” of tissues and organs.  If there is extensive inflammation and swelling of the pancreas and surrounding tissue (pancreatitis ranges mild to severe), abdominal pain, vomiting, dehydration and even shock can occur.  Acute severe pancreatitis often requires intensive care hospitalization and in some cases can be fatal. 

 High fat foods also have the potential to delay the emptying of a dog’s stomach, making him/her prone to bloating.  When a stomach bloats and twists on itself — a condition feared by many large breed dog owners — a simple “gassy” episode can become a surgical emergency.   

Beyond the arsenal of tempting juicy drippings and luscious marbled fat, slabs of meat also can contain bones; some large with the potential for lodging in the bowel, and some sharp like knives (think what a snapped chicken bone looks like and then imagine a pile of them in your stomach — ouch!).  Despite its reputation for being a low-fat meat, the turkey carcass left over from the holiday feast can still pose quite a choking hazard to pets.  If the pet does get the gobbler down their gullet, poultry bones eventually dissolve in the stomach, but large bunches of sharp shards can give dogs bloody diarrhea and painful defecation.  Large or sharp beef and pork bones have been known to cause pain, obstruction of the bowels, and at times, perforation of the intestines.  Potential remedies for bones in the belly can range from simple soothing medications for the stomach to enemas (with sedation) to “loosen” bones stuck in the colon, and at times, surgery to retrieve the nasty painful bone fragments lodged in the bowel.  Because of all the scary potential painful outcomes of pets eating bones, veterinarians believe it is best to keep the bones in the bird or the beast and avoid playing Russian roulette with your pet — or your finances.

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I’ve known 2 families who’ve lost dogs after their dogs ate turkey – more from the effects of skin and fat … can you talk about that?

If you want to include your pets in your holiday celebrations — beyond dressing your Schnauzer as Santa’s little helper — and share your “family feast” with them, we recommend not moving fatty meats and goodies directly from the table into the dog or cat bowl.  Instead, choose some of the menu items (such as turkey, rice, vegetables, and broth) and alter the ingredients into a more pet-friendly dish.  Several good recipes can be found on the Internet — just make sure to get the final “okay” from your veterinarian before serving these foods to your furry family members. 

For those with a strong stomach, venture on for a final warning on flesh eating:

Cooked carcasses aside, it is not uncommon in the Portland parks and rural areas to see your canine cutie chewing on something “off in the distance;” a close-up inspection can find your dog gnawing on the partially decomposed body part of an animal.  For those “live and let the carnivore eat” types who might be tempted to turn a blind eye to Rover’s roadkill snacking, there are things “lurking” in that tissue that can harm your furry flesh eater.  Bacteria and toxins in the decaying tissue are the primary culprits for making your pet ill, but there’s yet another that might give you pause:  if that body part had been part of an improperly disposed euthanized animal,  strong drugs such as barbiturates could poison your pet.  “Found body parts” of all types should not be in your pet’s diet; unearthed “goodies” should be wrapped and placed in sealed garbage for pickup.

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Advice from those in the Vet ER to holiday revelers?  Go ahead and have a great time — but if you are providing an evening or day-long banquet or food spread, it’s best to keep pets confined to a bedroom or kennel.  Provide a tasty treat and park your pet in front of the television so they can also get a visual vicarious “flesh-eating” thrill.  For the bloodthirsty hound it might be the strewn limbs of the cult “Zombie Fest at Band Camp,” while more prim pooches find delight in the raucous but G-rated devouring of the holiday bird by the neighbors’ dogs in “A Christmas Story.”  Confining household canines (and felines) may not seem to be in the holiday spirit, but remember some of a veterinarian’s favorite holiday ditties:  “better to kennel or crate than later constipate” or  “Leave Fido to frolic and he may later colic.”


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Dr. Heidi Houchen is an ER/Critical Care veterinarian at VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists in Clackamas; she writes and lectures extensively about trauma, blood banking, and toxicology.  She is especially passionate about keeping pets and poisons apart.

Top Dog - Food

Winner: Orijen

Proprietor:  Champion Petfoods

11403-186 St. Edmonton, AB, Canada

877-939-0006 ∙ ChampionPetFoods.com

Est. 1975

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Philosophy/Mission:  Our mission is to make biologically appropriate dog & cat foods with fresh regional ingredients.  Located in the heartland of the Canadian prairies known for its rich black soil, abundant fresh water and vast ranchlands, Champion is perfectly situated for easy access to Western Canada’s finest ingredient — all delivered fresh daily from our trusted local suppliers.

Claim to Fame/Signature Product or Service:  Champion Petfoods is an award-winning, independent Canadian pet food maker with a reputation of trust spanning more than a quarter century.  Our Biologically Appropriate TM philosophy represents a new standard of pet food designed to nourish dogs and cats according to their evolutionary adaptation to meat and protein-rich diets.  Our ingredients are different too.  We focus on sustainably raised local ingredients delivered to our door fresh, never frozen, passed ‘fit for human consumption’ standards and always preservative-free.

Our foods are made exclusively in our award-winning kitchens in Morinville, Alberta, Canada, and certified by the Government of Canada to meet every international pet food standard.  It all starts with our genuine passion for dogs and cats.  It’s with our own pets in mind we designed ACANA & ORIJEN — foods designed to keep our pets healthy, happy and strong. 

Tied!

2nd Place: Acana Pet Foods

Acana.com

2nd Place: Wellness

WellnessPetFood.com

Tied!

3rd Place: Blue Buffalo Dog Food

BlueBuffalo.com

3rd Place: Great Life Dog Food

DoctorsFinest.com