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Fighting To Cure Canine Cancer

Posted on: July 11th, 2007 by

By: Dr. Jack Stephens

Recently Pets Best joined the Morris Animal Foundation’s campaign to find a cure for cancer in dogs. Pets Best made a multi-year $1 million pledge to the Morris Animal Foundation for their quest to fund research that could find a cure for cancer. This effort by the Morris Animal Foundation is notable even for non-pet owners, because finding a cure for dogs will be a shortcut to finding a cure for human cancer. I will speak to their efforts and progress in future communications, as well as in our newsletters.

As you may know from previous blogs, my wife and I love our dogs. They are truly family members. The following photo was taken in our car as we drove to Colorado to be acknowledged by Morris Animal Foundation for our pledge. Four of our little guys went with us on the three-day, 1,600-mile round trip from Idaho through the middle of beautiful Colorado.

The return trip was not as leisurely, and we drove eleven hours straight through in order for me to be back at the office on Monday. Torrey, Skeeter and Cooper are seasoned travelers both by car and air, and Pepper, our new addition, fit right in. They had two beds, a pillow and, of course, our laps from which to choose their round-robin siestas for the long drive. Torrey, however, seldom relinquished my lap during the trip.

One night we had to drive an extra sixty miles in order to find a hotel that accepted pets. But I must say, both my wife and I marvel at how much more relaxing a long road trip is with our pets than in the days when our human children were young. Two years ago we took a 4,000-mile trip with six of our dogs and thoroughly enjoyed the entire time! Each night was a chore, with the kennels and taking turns to “do their business,” but they enjoyed the experience and all the new smells and places to pee. Dogs simply accept their circumstances and do not have any great expectations, other than the simple pleasure of our company and some attention.

Finding a cure for canine cancer is special to me, not only because of my own prior cancer, but because I lost a special pet to its devastating affects. Treatments are much better now, but costly and cost-prohibitive for many pet families. As a resource, we will be sharing with you in the near future how you can find the best treatment options and expected outcomes for all the many types of cancer.

I will also be sharing with you the many other things that Morris Animal Foundation does for animals and how you can help also. They are truly working in many diverse ways to help animals throughout the world.

Do Dogs Really Laugh?

Posted on: June 18th, 2007 by

Posted by Pets Best on 6/18/2007 in Dog Behavior

Patricia Simonet says she found a way to calm down the raucous barkers at her animal shelter: For several hours a day, she plays a recording of dogs “laughing” – a pronounced breathy exhalation through the mouth, sort of like excited panting.

“It sounds like pigs snorting,” some tell Simonet, a cognitive ethnologist at Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service in Spokane, Wash. She likens it to the human “hah hah hah” without the “a.” (Hear a one-second clip at www.laughing-dog.org.)

Which prompts the question: Do dogs really laugh?

Yes, Simonet says.

While researching dogs at play, she came to realize they make at least four distinct sound patterns during play time: barks, growls, whines and “dog-laugh” – that breathy forced exhalation used to initiate play.

“Only the laugh appears to be exclusively produced during play and friendly greetings, and not during other encounters,” reports Simonet. “So powerful is this stimulus, that humans can initiate play with dogs by using an imitation dog-laugh.”

This is not just a laughing matter. In fact, it’s serious enough that Simonet and her co-authors reported on their research at the Proceedings of 7th International Conference on Environmental Enrichment held in New York in 2005.

Give it a try. Just by hearing you make the breathy sound, your dog may respond by doing a “play bow” – extending his front legs and hoisting his back end in the air – to display the universal canine signal for, “Let’s play!”

(Tip: Another way you can initiate play is by whispering. It works about half the time. To improve your odds, whisper while you’re down on the floor doing a play bow yourself.)

“Perhaps the whisper is a close approximation to the dog-laugh,” Simonet says. “When humans whisper, they produce a pronounced forced, breathy exhalation through the mouth.”

Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, a veterinarian and director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Mass., agrees that dogs laugh, but they do it inwardly, he says – not as Simonet proposes.

“Inwardly, they’re thinking: ‘This is wicked good fun. I’m having the time of my life. Tee hee hee, ho ho ho.’ They just don’t open their mouths,” says Dr. Dodman, author of If Only They Could Speak: Stories about Pets and Their People (W.W. Norton).

Makes you wonder: who really is enjoying the final laugh – you or your dog?

Laughter Learning

Curious about canine comedians? Check out these references:

* Don’t Look Now, but is That Dog Laughing?

www.sciencenews.org/20010728/fob9.asp

* Dog-laughter: Recorded Playback Reduces Stress-Related Behavior in Shelter Dogs”

www.petalk.org/LaughingDog.pdf

* Compare dog laughter with the sound of dogs panting at www.laughing-dog.org

By Sally Deneen, a freelance writer from Seattle and co-author of The Dog Lover’s Companion to Florida (Avalon Travel Publishing).

Dishing Up Nutritional Advice

Posted on: June 18th, 2007 by

Posted by Pets Best on 6/18/2007 in Nutrition

Listen in as Pets Best correspondent Kim Campbell Thornton chats with nutritional expert Jean Hofve, DVM, a holistic veterinarian who lives in Jamestown, Colo.

Q. Good morning, Dr. Hofve. Thank you for talking with us today. To begin, many pet owners have been asking what’s new in pet nutrition?
Dr. Hofve: The biggest news is in feline nutrition. Most pet nutritionists have woken up to the fact that it’s unwise to feed excessive carbohydrates to our carnivorous cats. They’re now recommending more canned food for cats to prevent obesity and a wide variety of health problems.

Q. What about dogs?
Dr. Hofve: Taurine, which was a big deal in the 1980s when it was discovered to be essential for heart and eye function in cats, now appears to be important for certain dog breeds, too, including Dobermans and Newfoundlands. Taurine is naturally found only in meat. As the trend toward less meat in dog foods has become more pronounced, some dogs are also developing heart disease—the same dilated cardiomyopathy as cats—from lack of taurine. Look for increasing taurine supplementation in dog food in the near future.

Q. There are a lot of myths about pet food. Can you address some common ones?
Dr. Hofve: Dry food does not clean the teeth. If it did, you and I could floss with toast. At best, dry food produces a little less tartar than canned food. Regular vet checkups and proper dental care are essential, no matter what your pet eats.

* High protein diets do not cause kidney disease. In humans and dogs, a reduced phosphorus diet helps manage symptoms when kidney disease is already present. This effect is less clear in cats. Protein and phosphorus are found together in meat, so in order to reduce phosphorus, protein also has to be limited. However, many experts feel that—especially for cats—it is much more important for the cat to eat and maintain body weight than to try to feed any particular food. If the cat doesn’t like a food and won’t eat it, the resulting loss of weight and body condition can be as deadly as kidney disease itself.

* Lamb and rice foods don’t prevent allergies. Lamb and rice foods were initially created to address common food allergies to proteins like chicken and beef. The reason such diets worked was not due to any particular properties of lamb or rice, but simply because most animals had never been exposed to them; they were “novel” ingredients. It takes exposure over time to develop a food allergy. A dog or cat who develops a food allergy in the first place is apt to become allergic to any food if they eat it over a long period of time.

Q. What are the most common food allergens facing pets?
Dr. Hofve: Chicken, beef, fish, corn, wheat and dairy products.

Q. We learned during the recent pet food recall that one company was making many different pet foods. Does that mean they’re all basically the same?
Dr. Hofve: You can have a company that makes cake and you can buy just a plain cake from that company. But if you’re Brand X Cake, you might ask for nuts in your cake and butter cream frosting and swirls and marbling.

Q. So different companies have different recipes and ingredients?
Dr. Hofve: Yes. Some companies provide the ingredients and then the manufacturer makes the food.

Q. Can you give some tips on reading pet food labels?
Dr. Hofve: Make sure the top ingredients are high-quality protein sources, such as chicken, lamb, turkey, etc. Beware of foods that list by-products or other meat substitutes first or as the top three ingredients. Don’t buy it. Avoid foods containing corn, corn gluten, corn gluten meal and soybean products. Soy and corn gluten are often substituted for animal protein. Dogs and cats are carnivores and although dogs can do well on vegetarian or even vegan diets, cats need meat, not meat substitutes, for optimal health. Corn and rice have a very high glycemic index—a measure of the body’s insulin response—about the same as a chocolate bar. Starchy grain carbs are a big contributor to obesity and diabetes, especially in cats. Corn and soy are also common allergens in pets.

Q. With all the concern about what’s in pet food, is it a good idea for people to prepare homemade or raw diets for their pets?
Dr. Hofve: Homemade diets are definitely on the rise, as are raw diets. There are even complete frozen diets on the market that make feeding a raw diet very easy. The advantages of homemade diets include known ingredient quality; fresh, whole ingredients; ability to fine-tune the diet to the animal’s particular needs and tastes; and the presence of natural enzymes.

Q. Are there any disadvantages?
Dr. Hofve: Disadvantages include possible severe dietary imbalances if using a poorly constructed recipe or failing to include all needed supplements; a tendency to use the same ingredients all the time—variety is important—and possible contamination of raw meat. A bad homemade diet is more dangerous than poor quality commercial food. It must be done right.

Q. What are some of the concerns about feeding raw meat?
Dr. Hofve: The contamination issue is the most common argument against raw diets. Healthy dogs and cats are relatively resistant to most food-borne bacteria and rarely become ill from them, but when switching a sick animal to a homemade or raw diet, caution is warranted. Raw meat can contain parasites. When feeding raw, it’s a good idea to have your pet’s stool checked periodically and treat for parasites if necessary. Feeding organic meat may help minimize contamination, and freezing can eliminate some parasites. It’s crucial to do enough research so you understand how and what to feed and why. Work with your veterinarian or find a holistic vet who can guide you.

Get Fit With Your Dog

Posted on: June 18th, 2007 by

Posted by Pets Best on 6/18/2007 in Lifestyle

Say the word exercise and many people respond with one word: ugh. Or, they may come up with a half-dozen excuses why they can’t make it to the gym or reasons why their bike gathers cobwebs in the garage.

But the secret to improving your health is just a tail wag away. Your best workout buddy just may be your dog. For starters, replace the word, exercise with motion. Each time you lift, bend down, twist, turn, throw, walk, run, or even skip, you’re improving your digestion, melting away body fat, and fortifying your body against a host of medical woes.

Keeping your body in motion is like putting gold in the bank. A national study by the American Heart Association reported that burning 2,000 calories a week by performing a physical activity ­such as walking an hour a day for a week ­could increase life expectancy by two full years.

So, why not step into an exercise program with your dog? The payoffs: you and your dog can become fit and healthy together. You will enjoy happier, healthier years together, have improved strength and flexibility, be at reduced risks for heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and other conditions, and save money on doctor and veterinary bills.

An added bonus: You may discover that you have much better behaved dog, adds Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, a veterinarian and director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass.

“Quite often, the cause behind doggie destructiveness in the home is sheer boredom,” says Dr. Dodman, author of If Only They Could Speak. “A dog who doesn’t receive adequate exercise will find something to do to release that pent-up energy. That may mean chewing on the sofa or digging up the garden.”

Before you lace your sneakers and start getting serious about regular workouts, get a complete physical exam from your doctor. Then book an appointment with your veterinarian to give your dog a head-to-tail physical exam. Also, discuss the best optimal workout plan for your dog based on health, age, body shape, likes and dislikes.

Keep in mind that no two dogs are the same. What may work, exercise-wise, for one dog, may not work for another, even if they are the same breed, say experts. Generally, long-legged, light-framed dogs are best suited for jogging and leaping. Short-legged, stocky-framed dogs are built for short energy bursts and steady-paced walks. But, there are always the exceptions: the low-to-the-ground Dachshund who craves a spirited jog down the block or the Golden Retriever who prefers long, lopping walks over mile-long runs.

Begin major activities with a five-minute warm-up to stretch your dog’s muscles. Using a treat for motivation, have your dog jump up on you. Then instruct your dog to get into a “play bow,” (outstretched front legs, head down low, and rear end up in the air). If willing, have your dog do a figure-8 in between and around your legs.

Depending on your dog’s condition, start with a five-minute walk, gradually working up to 30 minutes or longer. Equally important: size up your dog. Dogs of extreme sizes—the gigantic (like Bull Mastiffs) or the itty-bitty (like Yorkshire Terriers) – usually require less exercise than mid-sized breeds (such as Labrador Retrievers).

Make a date with your dog daily ­even if you can only spare 10 undivided minutes with them. For starters, break up the monotony of the nightly walk, says Susan Greenbaum, a professional dog trainer who operates the Barking Hills Country Club in Milford, New Jersey. Don’t bring your dog back inside as soon as he goes to the bathroom. Vary your routes and stop occasionally to practice obedience commands and fun tricks. Have your dog sit or gimme paw. These actions reinforce your dog’s mental focus and provide him a good workout so that when it comes inside, he is ready to relax.

Avoid turning your dog into a weekend warrior by only working out with him on Saturdays and Sundays. Devoting some time each day to exercise – even 10 minutes – can reduce you ­and your dog’s ­risk for injuries to muscles and joints, say sports veterinarians.

Even a simple game of backyard ball can provide ample aerobic exercise for your dog. If your throwing arm is a bit achy, you can use a tennis racket to bounce the ball for greater distance in a game of fetch that will satisfy your dog’s natural instinct to chase and retrieve.

During hot weather days, scrutinize the walking surfaces. Always place your palm down on the sidewalk to test for its heat intensity on a sunny day before allowing your dog’s footpad to touch the asphalt or concrete surface. If it’s too warm to your touch, time your walks in the early morning or evening after the sun goes down to protect your dog’s footpads.

Bring a water bottle for you and a lightweight collapsible water bowl for your dog on your excursions beyond your neighborhood. On hot days, squirt a few jets of water into your dog’s mouth every 30 minutes.

With your dog as a workout partner, your choices of activities depend on where you live and your interests. Your choices may be swimming, hiking, or even canine musical freestyle (translation: dancing with your dog to choreographed steps).

Take the TV Test

Is your dog exercising too much – or too little? Try this test when you are watching television at night. A dog craving more exercise will often get in between you and the television show in an attempt for attention. A bone-tired dog will flop on the floor and barely move, even during a noisy TV show. A dog who received adequate exercise will lightly snooze or contently chew on a bone near you, says Suzanne Clothier, a professional dog trainer and breeder from St. Johnsville, New York.

Dog-Tired Signs

Be careful not to overexert your dog on walks and during activities. Stop the activity and allow your dog to rest if he displays any of these signs:

Drooping tongue
Rapid panting – an early sign of overheating
Hesitation – taking a few extra seconds before retrieving a tossed ball
Weight shifting – using different muscle groups to offset soreness
Staggered walking
Muscle tremors
Limping – check footpads for cuts and bruises and legs for sprains or muscle pulls

Who Is Actually Buying Pet Insurance?

Posted on: June 6th, 2007 by

By: Dr. Jack Stephens

Who Is Actually Buying Pet Insurance?

In one of my previous posts, I talked about the myths of pet insurance that we learned from our recent series of pet owner focus groups. The pet owner focus groups also told us in these sessions who they thought would buy pet insurance, and the results may or may not surprise you.

We found that:

The Pet Owner Perception of a Buyer Is Someone Who:

1. Considers the pet part of the family.
2. Sees the cost benefits of insurance.
3. Has had experience with the cost of veterinary care.
4. Is a first-time pet owner who is concerned with the unknown expenses of veterinary care.
5. Is a high-income, well-educated, sophisticated purchaser.

People Who Actually Purchase Insurance Are People Who:

1. Consider their pets part of the family.
2. Are professionals who see the value of insurance.
3. Are pet owners who want to budget for their pets’ care.
4. Are primarily women who make the actual purchase.
5. Purchase insurance for their puppies and kittens (which may or may not reflect first-time ownership).
6. Have previously experienced high veterinary costs for a pet.
7. Have a pet who already has a medical problem.

As you can see perceptions and reality were actually very similar regarding the value of obtaining pet insurance, that is, those who are buying and the core reasons they purchase insurance.

Typically a pet insurance policyholder lives in a household where the pet is a family member, the family has experienced a high veterinary expense in the past and now wants peace of mind and protection for their pocketbooks. Pet owners also want their coverage to be broad, yet reasonable in cost and payable monthly, so it fits into their budget.

Of course there are other factors that pet owners take into consideration before purchasing, such as the level of customer service of the company, few plan exclusions, how quickly claims are paid, and options that provide for routine care, to name a few, but these are usually a concern only after they have made the initial decision to buy pet health insurance.

Once a pet owner has made the decision that pet insurance may be right for them, then they begin to seek out information about pet insurance and the different types of plans available. Most pet owners will use the Internet for information, but many will turn to their veterinarian or the pet hospital staff regarding their final decision. If in doubt, ask your vet or their staff for their recommendation. They’ve heard all the stories and can direct you to a plan and company that’s right for you.