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Changing Your Pet’s Diet: What You Need to Know

Posted on: March 21st, 2007 by

Posted by Pets Best on 3/21/2007 in General Articles

This week, we have been receiving many calls regarding the pet food recall, and one of the primary questions we have heard is, “How do I switch foods without causing stomach upset?”

Normally I would advise pet owners to switch foods slowly by mixing in the new food with the old food to facilitate the adjustment of the pet’s digestive system adapting and help avoid stomach upset and diarrhea.

However, when a food is suspected of causing medical problems, especially something as dangerous as kidney damage, you should eliminate the offending food immediately.

If you suspect (or know) that your pet’s food is included in the recall, do not feed one more morsel of the offending food! Why? Because with many toxins or tainted food, it is the amount of the food and how long the pet has been eating the food that exacerbates the problem. The longer they eat the food, the more damage that can result, because of the buildup of the toxin or harmful ingredient.

Suggestions for switching food are numerous and depend on the types of food your pet has been eating, your pet’s health, his or her age and how sensitive their digestive tract is to changes in food. It is always best to consult your veterinarian if your pet has health problems, is older, or has a history of digestive problems.

For a healthy pet, you should be able to switch to a good quality food immediately with no resulting gastrointestinal problems. If diarrhea results, then you may have to take other measures or see your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may prescribe medication to treat and prevent diarrhea, they may suggest a special bland prescription diet or they may suggest you try mixing rice with the pet’s food, to tone down any dietary indiscretion from changing foods.

Remember, diarrhea can be very harmful and a symptom of more severe problems. If diarrhea persists see your veterinarian, and remember that you are your pet’s biggest champion and spokesperson.

Pet Food Recall

Posted on: March 20th, 2007 by

By: Dr. Jack Stephens

Few things, other than politics, can bring up such emotion as pet food preferences. The recent recall of certain “wet” pet foods has gained national attention. The results are not in as to how many pets were negatively affected and what it was in the pet food in question that caused the problems, but I commend the pet food manufacturer for their rapid action and even recalling pet food beyond what was to be expected. This rapid and broad response demonstrates how committed the pet food manufacturers and distributors are to your pet’s health and to protecting their brands.

It has been several years ago, but I have visited pet food plants and was amazed at how clean and efficient they were. In fact I found the few I visited were even cleaner and more modern than a couple of the canned food plants for humans I visited. Food contamination whether pet or human is most regrettable and shakes our faith.

Fortunately it is not that common or prevalent. We must stay diligent to prevent this type of problem from reoccurring, and I am sure this episode will create more safeguards to protect our pets.

When I was a child, commercial pet food was not common. Now we have special diets for particular medical problems, gourmet foods and a large selection from which to choose.

I have witnessed incredible growth in the pet food industry, from few commercial selections to today where the pet food isle is the largest single product area in a grocery store. I have also witnessed the expanded life spans of pets, much of which is due to great quality commercial pet foods.

In addition, I can relate that after 25 years of reviewing pet health insurance claims, pets have fewer medical problems, such as pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas and other ailments, when on a stable diet of high quality pet foods as compared to feeding leftover people food (or people food in general). My best advice is to not panic or overreact and to be certain your cupboard does not have any of the suspected products.

I am sure more answers will be forthcoming and that they will find the cause of the offending agents. If your pet has been eating any of the products listed on the pet food manufacturer’s website, call or make an appointment with your local veterinarian and have a urinalysis and blood screening test performed on your pet.

The tests are easy, fast and can detect a host of other problems, as well as detecting kidney failure. Early detection is the key, while there is still time to prevent symptoms or disease and before the damage is irreversible. Remember, if you have a pet wellness plan, those tests are covered, and your pet should have those tests annually anyway.

When anything new develops that will help you have a healthier pet, or we learn more news on the pet food recall that might help, we will keep you informed.

Pets Improve our Health

Posted on: March 12th, 2007 by

By: Dr. Jack Stephens

As you know from my prior blogs, and the book I am writing, pets are good for us. Pets have measurable positive effect on our biochemistry that improves our health and well being.

Recently there was an Associated Press article titled “Americans Tenderly Stuffing their Pets with Drugs” and another version “Americans Increasingly Medicating their Pets,” both on the same theme. The article pointed out that $2.9 billion was spent on drugs for pets and was now larger than spending on drugs for farm animals.

Basically, the article’s premise is that we continue to indulge and spend more on our pets. It was interesting to note that pet owners quoted in the articles where not complaining, they were simply stating how they felt it was important to them to provide whatever medication their pet needed. One pet owner estimated she spent $5,000 over the past two years. “You cannot put a price on that,” she was quoted as saying. And her husband, replied, “And I don’t want to.”

Why are pet owners willing to spend so much more on their pets?

Could it be they are receiving enough value from their pet to offset the expense?

The benefits of pets are just now being fully understood by science, something pet owners have known all along. Pets relieve stress, decrease feelings of anxiety, reduce and even eliminate depression. Pets entertain us, provide us with a feeling of security, cause us to exercise more, provide valuable services such as for the deaf, the blind, the physically handicapped and in psychotherapy. They make us smile. When we smile, we feel better. Pets are a “social lubricant” for meeting, greeting and conversing with others.

Scientific measurements have shown that sitting with your pet (dogs were used for the study) and petting them, improves your biochemistry of hormones and neurotransmitters. Your stress (bad hormones) decreases and your good hormones increase by that simple act. Your immune system is believed to be positively impacted by pets, thereby helping you to fight off disease and illness.

Pets make people feel less lonely and they provide us with unconditional love, which is hard to find these days. Pets listen to us (97% of pet owner’s report they talk to their pet) and even though they cannot answer back, we always feel better after talking to them.

DIFFERENT APPROACH

A better story would be “Pets make us Healthier,” thereby decreasing our own reliance on drugs and reducing human medical cost. All medications have unintended consequences, even if unnoticed. Why not allow interaction with a companion pet improve your health and decrease your reliance on some medications?

In a survey of surgery patients, those with a companion pet reported less post-surgical pain than those without a pet. Less post-operative pain would indicate that pet owners required less medication and shorter hospital stays. Heart attack victims with a companion pet had a higher survival rate than non-pet owners. It has been demonstrated that quiet pet interaction decreases our blood pressure.

I strongly believe that increased spending on pets is the result of people intuitively knowing they feel better and want to maintain and reward that relationship by providing the medication necessary to increase their pet’s longevity and health.

As to cost, the articles stated that even at $2.9 billion spent on pet drugs, it was only 1% of the cost of human drugs. The headline would lead one to think spending on pet drugs is excessive.

However, consider the benefits of pets with only one very prevalent epidemic in America, depression. There are an estimated 48 million people (16% of the population) with some form of depression in the United States. If only 25 % of these people were able to eliminate antidepressants and it saved only $200 per year, that would translate into a savings of $2.4 billion annually in decreased drug cost for those drugs alone! Add to that the fact that those people would have the extra benefit of not having the many side affects that these drugs can cause and you can see how the cost of owning a pet is money well spent.

Of course we know that the actual annual cost of medication for depression is higher, but you get my drift. Pets pay for themselves many times over, and we receive so many more benefits from pets than simply helping to relieve or prevent mild depression.

I have personally witnessed a number of people on antidepressants who have eliminated the need for the drugs completely by the singular act of obtaining a household companion pet.

A close relationship with a companion pet increases your sense of well being, improves your body chemistry, increases natural anti-depression chemicals and enhances your immune system, thereby improving your odds of fighting off disease and illness: all natural methods biologically rooted into humans. Why not indulge something that helps you so much and in so many ways? Imagine how much money we might save in our present health care system by simply prescribing a companion pet.

My motto? “Prescribe Pets Not Pills.”

Do The British Love Their Pets More Than We Do?

Posted on: March 1st, 2007 by

By: Dr. Jack Stephens

In the United Kingdom it has been reported that 15% of dogs and 4% of cats-or 19% of U.K. pets-have pet health insurance. Yet, in the United States we are just approaching 2% of all pets being insured, which leads to the question: Do the British love their pets more than we do?

I am repeatedly asked why there are not more pets insured in the United States. Having been the pioneer of pet insurance in the U.S. and sitting here as a bonded pet owner with my Chihuahua in my lap as I write this, I have firsthand experience to both pet insurance and the joy pets bring to our lives, and I can definitively state that the British do not love their pets more than Americans do, even if one uses the acceptance of pet insurance as a measurement. There are actually several theories I have as to why pet insurance is not as common in the U.S. as it is in the U.K.

Pet insurance in America has larger obstacles to overcome than in Europe, beginning with the individual regulatory requirements for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Insurance regulations and financial qualifications in America are more onerous and have set higher financial standards, even for pets.

In Britain, pet insurance is unregulated, making it easier to start and operate a pet insurance plan. In the U.S. the financial and regulatory requirements set some high hurdles for companies to jump.

Second, there is more competition in the U.K., which increases awareness of the service, provides more features, options and price ranges from which a consumer can choose.

A third difference is the maturity of the field itself. Pet insurance started initially in 1946 with Dog Breeders Insurance (DBI) in the U.K., whereas I started pet insurance in the U.S. in 1982. The reason these dates are relevant is because the current 27% compound annual growth pattern of pet insurance in recent years is similar, demonstrating a much higher acceptance of the concept than the actual numbers show.

The fourth-and I believe biggest-reason for the enrollment difference is “risk transfer,” or the fact that pet care was simply not that expensive compared to most Americans’ disposable income, until recently. This is certainly not the situation now. Previously, most veterinary expenses could be managed through discretionary income. This has changed dramatically, though, with the increasing acceptance by pet owners of more sophisticated-yet more costly-care.

More and more often, people in America refer to their pets as family members, which means that their care and well being have a higher priority than a dog or cat who is considered “just a pet.” That is a good thing.

Pet insurance is simply one method that allows pet owners to budget and always be prepared for their pet’s medical expenses. Other methods are tapping your savings, borrowing, foregoing other expenses or worse yet, credit card debt. Budgeting with affordable monthly premiums is a better method. At Pets Best Insurance we are proud of our part in helping pets always receive the care they need and protecting your pocketbook, despite the cost.

Can You Really Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?

Posted on: February 15th, 2007 by

Posted by Pets Best on 2/15/2007 in Training Tips Articles

We’ve all seen them—dogs who seemed out of control with problem behaviors, dogs who seemed beyond hope. Fortunately, the truth of the matter is that no matter the age of the pet, obedience training and breaking bad habits is always an option.

When considering classes, many owners turn to local pet stores and online resources to determine what type of training will be best for them. A variety of options exist, from books and videos to individual personal trainers and group obedience classes. The key, according to dog expert John Ross, is consistency and dedication.

“Haphazard training produces unreliable results,” Ross says. “The old cliché, ‘What you put into it is what you get out,’ is particularly true with dogs.”

Author of Dog Talk, Puppy Preschool and Adopting a Dog, John Ross is a newspaper columnist, former radio-show host, and long-time dog trainer, working with literally thousands of dogs and their owners to help owners better understand how to communicate with and train their canine friends.

Dogs from six months to sixteen years can always benefit from obedience training and refresher courses, says Ross.

Puppy training expert Linda White agrees. In her videos on dog training, Linda breaks down bad behavior and tackles each subject head on. Whether it’s biting, chewing, jumping or general obedience, Linda walks owners through the process of turning their troublesome pup into a well behaved guy or gal.

“The number of dogs surrendered to shelters and euthanized is mind-boggling,” says Smart. “Even more saddening is how many of these dogs could have been saved if people had affordable training tools to deal with these behaviors.”

From that desire to help and educate, Happy Puppy Kindergarten was born. Puppy Smarts: Lessons for a Lifetime videos are available from veterinarians and also on her website at www.puppysmarts.com.

Whether it’s weekly dog obedience classes or the convenience of at-home books and videos, resources are available to help with problem behaviors and integrate even challenging pups into our homes and hearts. As the adage says, there truly are no bad dogs!