Don’t Get Ripped Off!

Many years ago, when I started giving Jana glucosamine supplements, I carefully reviewed all of the special products formulated for dogs, finally choosing one that my vet recommended. Over the years, I have given my dogs many dietary supplements, such as (not all at once):

  • Glucosamine / joint support
  • Fish oil
  • Green-lipped mussel
  • Probiotics
  • Digestive enzymes
  • Vitamin E
  • CBD
  • Pumpkin
  • Yogurt / kefir
  • Sardines

All of these are things that some people use for similar reasons — to enhance their digestion, reduce inflammation or aches, improve overall health. But do you need to get special products for dogs? Not always, though the line can be fuzzy.

Glucosamine, CBD, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and vitamin E are not things that I would generally eat for dinner. I might use them if I thought they’d help resolve an issue, like painful joints or an upset stomach. Can Cali share mine?

I’m not an expert in canine digestion, but I suspect that the doggy digestive tract and microbiome are quite different from their human equivalents. So when I have selected digestive enzymes and probiotics for my dogs, I have used canine-formulated products. I use a canine joint support powder, too, though that is primarily because it’s easy and inexpensive. I mix together a joint supplement, a digestive enhancer, and extra turmeric and scoop a little onto each meal.

But for many dietary supplements, and especially things like fish oil, sardines, or pumpkin — there is absolutely no difference between the “canine” and human products; the human product might even meet higher production or safety standards — and cost a lot less.

Buying 100% pumpkin puree “for dogs” is just silly, for example. As long as you get the puree, not the pumpkin pie filling, there’s no difference. Same with fish oil or sardines, though those dried ones are handy as treats (if you can stand the smell).

If you watch the dosage, you can use green-lipped mussel (powdered) and vitamin E sold for humans; I do, and have safely done so for years. I’ve used generic Immodium and Pepto Bismol and Prilosec for dogs (& humans) as well. And I know many people who do the same with CBD oil, though for edibles … I stick with the doggy ones; no CBD gummy bears for Cali

A lot of foods that are healthful and beneficial for humans are also great treats for dogs: Eggs, fish, fish oil, pumpkin, Greek yogurt (plain) or kefir, peanut butter, many raw vegetables and fruits. As long as there’s no added sugar and absolutely no xylitol, your dog can safely enjoy small amounts of these foods. Cali would add ice cream and pizza crust to this list.

Don’t fall for the marketing and reach for the puppy pumpkin! Instead, share a healthful treat that you and your dogs can all enjoy together.

Cali plucks ripe berries from a mixed cluster, leaving green ones behind
Some fresh-picked raspberries perhaps?

Ouch! Hot Surfaces Hurt Dog Paws!

Golden retriever Cali tries on some hiking boots
Boots can protect dog feet from cold or heat

A friend passed along a horrifying local news story this week: A new bridge is under construction in my neighborhood. One side has been completed and opened recently, just in time for some very hot weather. A local character nicknamed The Beagle Guy was biking with his pack when he noticed them behaving oddly. He stopped to see what was wrong, touched the ground … and realized it was HOT. He told construction workers and got his dogs out of there.

A civil engineer on the project recorded a temperature reading of the bridge surface: A whopping 147 degrees! Nearby concrete sidewalks registered a toasty 106 and a metal handrail, painted black, was “only” 114. But the day hit the low 90s, so this could be a rare problem, right?

Unfortunately no: Another day, when the temperature was in the 80s, common during Missoula’s short summers, the bridge surface was 145 degrees.

Those poor dogs!

During extreme weather in particular, but really, always: Think about your dogs’ experience. Paw pads are sensitive: Extreme heat or cold is painful. Many snow-melt chemicals burn horribly. Rough terrain — icy or rocky or sandy — can scrape and cut pads. When walking or hiking with your dogs, think about that. If you wouldn’t walk barefoot on the surface, don’t ask them to.

Solutions?

On hot days, I don’t ask Cali to walk on asphalt. I won’t walk her across the new bridge at all. In winter, I avoid any sidewalk that has ice-melt on it. If you’re an avid hiker or live somewhere wintry, consider boots (I know, dogs hate them… but many dogs will accept them with proper training that includes a lot of treats).

If your dog has severe burns or you suspect they might, go to your vet or an emergency vet. Burned paws are very painful!

To soothe mildly cut or burned pads:

  • Plunge the paw(s) into cold water and soak for several minutes
  • Clean gently to remove debris
  • Pat the paw dry; do not rub the pads
  • Use a natural balm, such as Musher’s Secret or pure aloe vera gel
  • Wrap the paw loosely with gauze or a sock
  • Keep the dog off her feet (yeah, right!)

How does this happen?

The panels covering the bridge surface use a newish “polymer” material used “all over the world,” according to the Missoulian. It’s significantly lighter weight than concrete.

But most bridges are outdoor, and, though covered bridges are quaint, they are not terribly common, so this cannot be the first bridge using this material that gets direct sunlight. How has this problem never been discovered previously? And why is testing the surface temperature in various weather conditions not a routine part of QA testing?

OK, done ranting.

But, since we can’t count on the world to be safe for dog paws, we need to protect our pets. Have a safe and cool summer!

Update!

The hot side of the bridge got a warning sign as well as a new (temporary) paint job to protect paws and other unshod feet! I am impressed with the speed at which a fix was found — and I hope that a permanent solution is implemented soon!

A sign warns of pavement too hot for dog feet

 

How Clean Are Dogs’ Paws?

a dog paw and two human hands connect
My paws are clean. Are yours?

A common objection heard from people who dislike (or fear) dogs and don’t want to allow dogs to enter their space is that dogs are dirty.

In response to too-frequent denials of access to assistance dog teams, some researchers in The Netherlands decided to check into this contention. “The main argument for denial of access is that dogs compromise hygiene with their presence, which could cause a health hazard. Meanwhile, people are allowed to walk into and out of public places freely,” they wrote.

They recruited volunteers — 25 assistance dog teams and 25 pet dog / human pairs. The volunteer dogs and humans took 15-30 minute walks together, then allowed the researchers to collect samples from their paws and the soles of their shoes (respectively). The researchers tested the samples for Enterobacteriaceae (a common cause of hospital infections), Clostridium difficile, and other bacteria.

And guess what?

The dogs’ feet showed significantly less bacterial contamination than the people’s shoes. “The general hygiene of dog paws is better than that of shoe soles,” the report concludes. They speculate that dogs’ habit of grooming themselves, including their feet, could be the reason — even people who remove their shoes before going into their own homes rarely clean the soles of their shoes. Dog saliva contains high levels of “antimicrobial substances,” the study says.

In addition, some people routinely clean their dogs’ paws upon returning home. I do that if we’ve been walking where people have used snow-melt chemicals or lawn “greening” chemicals or if Cali is excessively wet and muddy.

To be fair, dirty paws are not the only reason that people think that dogs will bring dirt into their houses or businesses. I haven’t found a study that compares the amount of biological ick (yup, that’s the scientific term) humans shed vs. dogs but … I suspect that goldens and labs would not come out on top. Then there are the drooly breeds … Let’s quit while we’re ahead.

News from the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study

Golden retriever Cali wears her yellow Morris Foundation study bandana, with drawings of golden retrievers all over itCali, along with her brothers Sailor and Pirate, is part of an elite group of golden retrievers: They are members of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, a project of the Morris Animal Foundation.

The study is in its ninth year and has shared some of what researchers have learned.

Of 3,044 goldens, aged six months to two years, who enrolled in the study between August 2012 and March 2015, 78% are still in the study and fully compliant. Goldens are much better behaved than humans in long-term studies!

In addition, 99 dogs have dropped out of the study (they didn’t say why) and, sadly, 240 have died. Of those, 60% have died of cancer, mostly hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma.

Studying cancer was the first and is the primary objective of the study, which looks at the dogs’ genetics, exposure and “lifestyle,” — everything from their diet to the amount and types of exercise they engage in.

Researchers, with “21,100 dog years of data” (I don’t know what that means but it sounds like a lot) are also looking at:

  • Possible links between spay/neuter age and obesity
  • Developing an early blood test for lymphoma in dogs
  • Diet and microbiome health
  • Impact of inbreeding on litter size and adult dog size

… and so much more.

Morris Animal Foundation is enrolling “golden oldies,” golden retrievers aged 12 or older who have never had cancer for a companion study. They will compare genetics of these healthy dogs with the genetics of study dogs who had cancer, in hopes of identifying potential genetic risk factors. If you are a human lucky enough to be owned by an elderly, cancer-free golden, please consider participating.

The Risks of Obesity in Dogs (& Cats)

A once-a-year treat for fit (not fat) dogs!

The Morris Foundation, which runs the lifetime golden retriever study that Cali participates in, has also released new and updated findings about the health impacts of obesity on dogs and cats. First is the shocking statistic that in the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, as many as two-thirds of dogs and cats are obese! Cats are slightly more likely than dogs to be obese.

This contributes to many, many severe health problems and can drastically reduce lifespan. Some are surprising:

  • Inflammation, which affects many diseases, but is often most noticeable in dogs as osteoarthritis. Arthritis can affect knees and the back in obese dogs, but the inflammation can occur anywhere, causing pain in other joints as well, even those that are not weight-bearing.
  • The risk of diabetes is significantly higher in obese cats; it’s less of a factor in dogs.
  • Some types of cancer are more prevalent in overweight and obese dogs and cats.
  • Overweight dogs have a harder time breathing, which can be life-threatening for brachycephalic breeds — those with short muzzles and flatter faces,such as pugs, Pekingese, and bull mastiffs.

How can you tell?

Pretty much every vet’s office has some version of the dog and cat obesity chart on the wall. Generally, you should be able to see your dog’s waist and feel their ribs.

What do you do?

Taking off excess weight takes time. A crash diet is not healthy for anyone! The safest approach is to work with a nutritionist or a vet with credentials in nutrition, but you can also learn a lot from the Whole Dog Journal or Dogs Naturally, my go-to sites for dog health and wellness information.

Start by logging everything the dog or cat eats. Often, we don’t realize how many calories they consume in treats. Or we consume in treats … Your vet can help you figure out how many calories your dog should consume, based on ideal weight, age, activity level, and overall health. The right amount for your dog might be quite a bit less than the feeding guidelines on the dog-food package indicate!

A severely overweight dog may need a specialized diet; for many dogs, though, cutting back a bit on food, and a lot on treats, can be enough. I’m generally not a fan of prescription diets or weight-loss foods. I think they are often of poor quality and overpriced. With expert guidance, you can generally find a high-quality food and feed amounts that provide balanced nutrition — while also gradually bringing your dog down to a healthy weight.

Before cutting too severely, though, you do need to be sure that your dog will still get the nutrients she needs. That’s why talking to a professional is important. And your vet can advise on whether and what types of exercise are safe, again, considering the amount of excess weight, any issues with joints or spine, and the dog’s age and condition. Best of all, the exercise program gives you new opportunities to walk and play with your dog!

It can take several months for a dog to lose excess weight. Be patient; you’re more likely to have lasting results if you take the time to do it right and make permanent, healthy changes in how your dog eats and exercises.

Learn more, especially about cats and obesity, from the Morris Foundation’s podcast!

 

How Old Is Your Dog?

Golden retriever Cali relaxes in the grass with a tennis ball
Cali keeps fit to stay youthful

How old is your dog in “human” years?

We used to just assume that a “dog year” equaled seven human years and estimate our dogs’ human-age-equivalent with a simple multiplication. Cali is 7 1/2 years old (calendar years) so she’s  … roughly my age in human years. (She still has a lot more fun though.)

Turns out that that doesn’t work.

Sometime last year, I first saw a chart that estimates dogs’ ages with adjustments for smaller- and larger-breed dogs since smaller dogs tend to live longer. Cali’s vet has this chart hanging on the wall, and I have seen it several places online. Essentially, in a dog’s first calendar year, she matures about as much as a human does during her first fifteen years. Then in year two, while your human offspring is a terrible two, your dog becomes almost civilized — roughly as mature as a 24-year-old human adult.

Guess what? According to this chart, Cali’s human-age equivalent is … drum roll … roughly the same as my age. And exactly the same as the old “7 years” trick.

But … yeah, that one doesn’t work anymore either.

Now we’ve got a shiny new method of calculating dogs’ ages. All you need is an advanced degree in mathematics …

Seriously. According to the Washington Post, all you have to do is “Multiply the natural logarithm of the dog’s age by 16, then add 31.”

Easy-peasy. Wait, what’s a natural logarithm??

Wikipedia to the rescue: “The natural logarithm of a number is its logarithm to the base of the mathematical constant e, where e is an irrational and transcendental number approximately equal to 2.718281828459.”

Or … not.

I have no idea what Cali’s age-equivalent would be with this formula. I’m going to just pretend it’s something like 25. And holding.

 

 

Cali’s Lifetime Project

Golden retriever Cali stands at the edge of a river
Cali recovered from her vet exam with a romp in Packer Meadow

Cali is one of more than 3,000 dogs participating in the Morris Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study.

It started out as a cancer study, and, with the huge amount of data collected, has evolved into a study of risk factors for many diseases that affect dogs — and some that affect humans as well. The Foundation recently held a webinar that presented some information on the study; it took place the day after Cali’s annual physical exam.

Cali’s exam went well — she’s fit and healthy. She was really annoyed by the lack of breakfast, of course. And, as usual, she steadfastly refused to provide me (or Deni) with any samples whatsoever, no matter how long we spent walking her around the back yard with a plastic container at the ready. She refused to pee at the vet’s too — until 1:30 in the afternoon.

All of this got me thinking about her participation in the study. Why we’re doing it and whether it’s worth the Day of Suffering that she seems to endure each year. So the webinar was very well timed.

5 million points of data

The researchers have gathered 5 million data points from the 3,044 dogs who enrolled in the study. As of mid-June, 221 dogs had died, and 100 had withdrawn for other reasons. Of the dogs who’ve died, 139 deaths were from cancer of some type.

Among the participants are 1,225 doggy siblings, including 2 of Cali’s brothers.

The data relate to genetics, environmental exposures, nutrition, and the dogs’ lifestyles. The dogs could enroll at age 6 months to 2 years, and the first dogs enrolled just about 8 years ago — August 2012. Cali enrolled as soon as she turned 6 months old, in June 2013. The researchers are studying a long list of issues, from the role genetics plays in obesity and the role the dog’s age at spay or neuter plays in obesity to various studies on the gut biome to causes of hypothyroidism, allergies, epilepsy, renal failure, and heart diseases.

They have found that early spaying or neutering does not correlate to a higher risk of obesity as dogs mature. But spaying or neutering dogs under the age of 6 months does correlate strongly to a higher rate of orthopedic injuries in adult dogs.

The most common health problem in study participants is ear infections. Cali is proud to say she’s never had one of those!

They’re looking at the lifespan of goldens — and studying whether there are genetic cues to why some dogs live longer.

The Foundation is launching a related study, called Golden Oldies. They are enrolling golden retrievers aged 12 or over who have never had cancer. This is perfect for older sibs of study participants who were not eligible — or any senior goldens who want to make a difference! If you are a senior golden, or you share your life with one, please consider participating.

Back to Cali

So is Cali’s suffering worth it?

The truth is, she still gets very excited about going to the vet. And even though she doesn’t get treats the first 1,000 times she asks, once she’s given up her samples, she is showered with treats. That’s in addition to all the attention she laps up while she’s there. I know she hates the delayed meal and is stressed by the crazy spectacle of her mom or a vet tech chasing her with a plate or a ladle when all she wants is some privacy … but I think it is worth it. She recovers instantly; that is, the instant a cookie enters her mouth.

But I realized that the real bottom line is that she’d have an annual checkup each year even without the study. And, as Cali’s officially a senior golden, that check would always include blood tests. So … whether she loves it or hates it is not really the issue. The real question is whether she’s going through all of the sampling and stress for herself only — or for a bigger cause. Considering the range of studies — and the number of researchers who are or will use the data to improve dogs’ health — I’m glad that Cali is part of this group of golden heroes!

Dog Park Kerfuffle

Cali holds her tennis ball at Jacob's Island dog park, early on a cold morning. A light dusting of snow covers the grass.
Cali at Jacob’s Island, a Missoula dog park

Are dog parks wonderful places to let your city dog off leash to safely run and play or are they the potential source of serious problems and likely places to pick up infections, get hurt, or worse?

Yes to both.

It’s been a couple of years since I last wrote about dog parks on The Thinking Dog, and an online exchange about dog parks, brought to my attention by a friend, got me thinking about the topic.

First this New York Times piece came out: The Dog Park Is Bad, Actually. Not much ambiguity there. It’s pretty clear where this writer stands.

A response was quickly forthcoming from Marc Bekoff, a person I have studied with and admire greatly: Let Your Dog Tell You If They Want to Go to a Dog Park.

The NYT piece raises valid concerns, including the risk of disease or injury. I know dogs who’ve been seriously injured by dog-aggressive dogs at dog parks, and a local dog park was recently closed for a week or so for disinfecting after some dogs picked up an infection there.

The author also talks about the idea that dog parks are for “dog socialization” and explains that that’s not where or how to socialize your puppy. True, and also obvious.

Finally, she delves into the issue of dogs who find dog parks stressful or otherwise unpleasant. She closes with this: “There is no shame in not surrendering your dog to what has become the quintessential urban dog experience: running with dozens of strangers in a small, smelly pen as people stand by, looking at their phones or gossiping,” and encourages owners to spend quality time with their dogs instead.

I have been at urban dog parks that are indeed small, smelly pens where the humans ignore the dogs.

But that is not typical of my dog park experience. And I would never go into a park like that with my dog!

Bekoff effectively addresses the sweeping generalizations in the NYT piece while stating what should be obvious: All dog parks are different.

Many are large, open, wonderful spaces, maybe with woods or walking paths.

Dog park culture varies greatly too. In many, there are regular gatherings of people and dogs who are friends. Many dog park people are conscientious dog owners who are actually paying attention to their dogs. Some even play with their dogs! You can and should spend “quality time” with your dog at the dog park!

Many dog parks have quieter times when dogs like Cali, who wants to play with her tennis ball undisturbed by other dogs, can run and roll in the grass and be free. Now that Cali has her own back yard, she doesn’t need the dog park as much … but when we lived in apartments, she really needed the off-leash time and the exercise.

Not all dogs want to play with other dogs, and not all dog parks are wonderful. But they’re certainly not all bad, either. Wherever you stand on dog parks, and whether or not your local options are appealing to you and to your dog, my bottom line is that over-generalizing doesn’t make sense.

You and your dog need to figure out what works for both of you. If you’re lucky enough to have enjoyable dog parks nearby, go ahead — enjoy some outdoor, off-leash quality time with your dog at the dog park!

 

 

 

Dog Food Update

At the end of June, the FDA released an update on its investigation into a spike in reported cases of Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy, or DCM. This investigation and report have caused many pet owners to worry about whether the food their dogs are eating could cause heart disease.

The investigation is ongoing, and the results are not conclusive. But they do point to multiple factors, not a simple link between diet and heart disease or, more specifically, grain-free kibbles and heart disease.

The investigation was triggered by unusually high numbers of cases of DCM reported in 2018 and early 2019, a total of 320 reports in 2018 and 197 in January through April 2019. For comparison, from 2014 through 2017, the FDA received a total of 7 reports. These numbers include cats and dogs, though very, very few are cats. Since some of the reports concern multiple pets in a household, the total number of affected animals is 560 dogs and 14 cats. To provide context, it’s important to note that these 560 dogs are from a population of 77 million pet dogs in the U.S. It’s a very small number of cases, yet the spike was unusual, and I, for one, am glad to see researchers digging into this.

The most commonly affected breeds are golden retrievers (95), mixed-breed dogs (62), and Labradors (47).

The FDA report offers a lot of information, and here’s where it gets interesting. Most of the dogs affected are older, with a mean of 6.6 years; and since most are also larger (mean weight of 68 lbs.), many are considered “senior.”

The FDA report provides information about the dogs’ diet. Nearly all of the dogs ate an exclusively kibble diet (452 out of the 515 reports). The foods named, with Acana and Zignature topping the list, are all high-end foods with multiple grain-free formulas. Several of the brands named in the report are quality brands that appear on the Whole Dog Journal’s list of approved dog foods.

2019_WDJApprovedDryDogFoods

It’s unlikely that multiple high-end brands of dog food all developed the same nutritional deficiency, suddenly and simultaneously, in 2018. What’s more likely is that people started paying more attention to symptoms their dogs were exhibiting and, rather than simply attributing them to age, got them checked out. The interesting detail that many of the dogs are eating expensive dog food hints that these dogs might live with people who have the means and desire to pamper their pets a bit — just the sort of dog owners who are also more likely than the average to shell out for annual bloodwork and one- or twice-yearly senior pet exams.

A correlation the FDA is looking closely at is whether the high proportion of grain-free foods using large amounts of peas and/or lentils had anything to do with the DCM. The reported foods also contained a large variety of animal proteins, with chicken, lamb, and salmon topping the list. There are so many other variables, though, that drawing a connection between either the animal or vegetable protein sources and the heart disease is tough. For one, the millions of dogs eating those same foods who are not showing any signs of DCM. For another, it’s very rare that a dog eats one kibble and one kibble only — no treats, nothing scavenged on a walk, nothing slipped to him at the dinner table. The FDA is interviewing some owners to determine whether exposure to other things — plants, chemicals — could be a factor.

It’s possible that further study will find a connection. One area researchers are considering is whether large amounts of pea or lentil protein interferes with dogs’ ability to digest necessary minerals or amino acids, like taurine.

I don’t think panic is warranted. I also don’t think boycotting the named brands (or all grain-free foods) is justified. I do have some common-sense suggestions, though, for worried pet owners: Switch up your dog’s food.

Anyone who eats the same diet, day in, day out, for months or years is bound to have some nutritional deficiencies, especially a diet as highly processed as kibble. No one food can provide everything any dog needs. The old “advice” about not switching dog’s food and how anything new will upset their stomachs is bunk. Sure, if your dog has eaten the same kibble for 7 years and you suddenly switch to something radically different, your dog is likely to have digestive issues for a while. If your dog has a lot of food sensitivities, again, proceed cautiously. But most dogs can switch pretty easily. I usually mix the last couple pounds of a bag of an old food with the new food, giving the dog a week or more to transition.

Some manufacturers encourage switching among their formulas. I’d go a step farther and switch companies and formulas to ensure that over a year or so, your dog gets a few different proteins and formulas. They all add different mixes of vegetables, minerals, and other supplements. With Cali, I mix kibble with frozen raw food (one meal of each per day). She also gets salmon oil, a probiotic and digestive enzyme supplement, a joint support supplement, and lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, sardines … OK, so she’s a little spoiled. So?

Even if you don’t want to go that crazy, switching foods every couple of bags could give your dog some variety and a better mix of nutrients over time.

In addition, make sure your dog has regular exams and bloodwork. Raise your concerns with a vet you trust and, if your dog is showing signs of DCM, such as coughing, trouble breathing, or lethargy, get a checkup.

 

 

It’s That Time of Year …

Can I please have a cookie?

Cali knows the drill by now. No breakfast. People at the vet’s office making a big fuss over her but not offering cookies, no matter how many times she helpfully points out the cookie jar that is right there under their noses. And her own nose and rumbling tummy.

They poke and prod her, take about a gallon of blood, clip her nails, and try to make her pee into a cup. She sure shows them, though. They chase her around with that huge black stick with the cup for hours. She has to stay at the vet’s office nearly all day … oh, wait.

It’s her annual physical for the Morris Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study.

Cali would rather be in this other study her mom just read about. The one testing a vaccine for cancer. It just started and the 800 dogs are getting shots. Half will get the experimental vaccine; half will get placebos.

This 5-year study is uses a vaccine developed at Arizona State University to target lymphoma, osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma,  mastocytomas — common canine cancers — and four other types of cancer. The idea is to inject abnormal proteins that occur on the surface of cancer cells, along with a substance to stimulate an immune response. If it works, “researchers believe the vaccine could serve as a universal defender against cancer by ‘turning on’ the immune system to recognize and defeat cancer,” according to a press release from ASU.

Those dogs only have to get four shots over a few weeks, then get regular checkups. They don’t have to pee in a stupid cup on a stick.

The Morris Study looks at dogs’ diet, exposures, lifestyle, and genetics to attempt to determine causes of cancer.

Both hope to find information that could reduce cancer in dogs, and, ultimately, other animals — including humans.

Cali doesn’t really understand the big picture. She knows the routine though. The day starts off pretty badly, but after the blood draw, she tends to get lots of treats. Who knows … she might even get some ice cream.