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Choosing the Right Dog Food: What to Ask

Posted on: September 4th, 2007 by

Posted by Shannon Steffen on 9/4/2007 in Nutrition

Dog foods come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. Wet dog food is used primarily for those canines with particular taste palettes or as an intermittent treat. For the less discriminating, dog dry food varieties are available. It is not necessarily the delicate palette of a dog that determines what type of food it eats, but rather a combination of its dietary need, availability of the food brand in the area, owner preferences, and financial cost.

Current Foods

It may be simple if there were only wet and dry foods on the market. However, there are numerous varieties of dog foods currently in production, and each one claims to provide different nutrients, minerals, and life-sustaining substances to help dogs live longer and healthier lives. Often new dog owners will become confused by the numerous aisles of dog foods at the local pet store outlets. Some stores stock over 50 types of dog food alone, which would easily raise the question as to which one to choose.

Health Concerns and Dog Foods

So what dog food is the best? First the dog owner needs to know the dog and its particular needs. Some questions to answer include:

Is the dog a puppy, young adult or senior dog?

Is the dog overweight, underweight, or the correct weight for its breed?
Is the dog very active or less active?
Is the dog a toy, small, medium, large, or giant breed?
Does the dog have any allergies to certain ingredients?
Does the dog need any additional supplements in its food to help prevent certain possible health problems in the future such as hip dysplasia, joint problems, or eye problems?
Does the dog currently have any health problems that may make certain ingredients not digest well?
Has the dog’s vet discussed any dietary concerns that may cause problems for the dog such the size of the kibble, the amount of moisture in the food, or anything else that may cause an upset stomach?
These are only some of the questions that must be answered prior to a trip to the local pet store. Of course, no one would not want to feed an 8-week-old puppy a senior formula or dog food that is lacking in those nutrients and minerals needed during a puppy’s major growth phase. If the owners are unsure as to how to answer these questions, they should consult their veterinarian prior to making any changes in dog foods.

Regular, Holistic, and Organic Foods

Once those questions have been answered, the dog owner must decide which type of food is best: regular, holistic, or organic food. Those dog foods that are labeled as the “regular” dog food are those that may be readily found on any supermarket shelf. These products are usually made of a lower quality grade food and have less stringent quality controls. Holistic foods are predominantly labeled as such and have a high quality food grade, strict quality control measures on the production of their food, and are fortified with higher quantities of nutrients and minerals. Organic dog foods are comparable to human organic foods. They do not use preservatives or chemicals in their foods, and all ingredients are made locally within the country and are of an organic quality.

As each food has both positive and negative attributes to it, choosing a food is a very personal choice for each dog owner to make. However, there are some recommendations when deciding between these types of food. Dog owners will want to choose a dog food that:

Is appropriate for the age of the dog.
Has the highest nutrients and minerals needed for the dog.
Contains real meat (duck, fish, chicken, lamb) or “meal” within its first 2 ingredients.
Contains the proper protein and fat percentages for the dog’s breed and age. (Walk with your veterinarian for recommended guidelines.)
Does not have any “by-product” as listed as a main ingredient.
Provides easy-to-read feeding guidelines on the package.
Provides a company contact phone number on the package and is readily available to answer any questions or concerns dog owners may have about the product.
Once these questions are answered, you should have a better understanding of the quality of food that is best for your dog. This will help narrow the list to a few specific brands that can then be checked to make sure they meet any health concerns your dog may have.

Contamination and Food Recalls

With the recent spur of dog and cat food recalls, pet owners have become panicked. Are they feeding the best food or are all foods at risk of possibly being contaminated. Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that any food is safe for consumption; this includes both pet and human food alike. Product testing and quality control are crucial to ensure that food is okay for consumption. Human food has a series of checks and balances that it must go through before it can be placed on the grocery store shelves. However, not all pet food and its ingredients go through this same type of rigorous testing, and even some human foods pass inspection and still create series of ailments and death. This is why it is crucial that whatever food chosen to feed to the dog is of the highest quality and that the manufacturer performs their own series of health checks on the food before it is shipped out to the consumers. This includes testing on the ingredients that are mixed with the food during its early stages of production. Such foods are usually more expensive but are well worth the cost when compared with the veterinary bills or losing that long cherished canine.

In light of the recent pet food recalls, please check the following:

All pet foods owned should be compared to the current food recalls on their manufacturers’ websites.
If the pet foods are being recalled due to a specific ingredient that was contaminated, and the product is not currently used, check the current dog food and make sure that it does not contain the ingredients that are listed as being contaminated. Cross contamination is possible.
Confirm that the producer of the dog food has proper testing and quality control.
Ensure that the dog food company’s plant is USDA and APHIS inspected.
All ingredients used by the manufacturer should be EU certified.
All incoming ingredients should be sampled and every batch of food should be lab tested prior to shipping to the market.
Rules to Follow

Feeding the proper dog food alone does not help ensure the long life and best health of your family dog. There are some other simple rules that every dog lover and owner should follow:

Fresh water is a must! Refill the water dish often and at meal times.
Start to reduce frequency of feedings after your puppy has reached three months old. This means the pup will go from three meals a day to two meals a day.
Mature dogs should be fed twice a day. This allows them time to properly digest the food and move it through their system without becoming bloated.
Check with the veterinarian to see which food would supply the most amounts of nutrients and minerals needed for the pup. Most dog owners will recommend staying with a type of food specified for the breed of dog.
Look for foods that contain fish oil or sunflower seed oil. These will help promote healthy skin and a shiny coat.
If a person must feed table scraps, treat the pup to a very small and non-seasoned portion as to not upset the pup’s stomach.
Don’t change the dog’s food rapidly! If you must, change it gradually and infrequently. Unlike humans, a dog’s digestive system does much better when on one food. Changing food frequently or quickly will result in upset stomachs, diarrhea, throwing up, and very bad gas! This includes giving table scraps.
Keep the dog away from any hazardous food such as chocolate, coffee, cocoa, tea, onions, garlic, mushrooms, grapes, raisins, raw salmon, salmonoid fish, macadamia nuts, nutmeg, and alcohol. Very small quantities may not harm your pup. However, the greater the quantity of any of these foods, the greater the risk for health problems such as kidney failure, shock, seizures, or worse, death.
Keep in mind that as the quality of foods increase, the price of the food increases as well. However, it is the reputation of the company, the quality of its goods, and the ability of the food to give the dog the nutrients it needs that should be taken into account when choosing a dog food. Ultimately, one or two dog foods will stand above the rest and the owner will feel confident that they are feeding their dog the best food possible. Remember that the goal of every dog owner is to provide a nutritionally balance diet for their canine family member so that it lives a healthy, happy, and long life.

Shannon Steffen is a freelance writer with DogWireGifts.com and 8PawsUp.com.

References:

Day, C. (2007). Human Foods that Poison Pets. Petalia.com.

History of Dog Food. (2007). Web-Rover.com.

Product Testing and Quality Control. (2007). Eagle Pack Pet Foods.

Ruben, D. (2007). Are Grapes and Raisins Really Toxic? PetPlace.com.

Tobiassen-Crosby, J. (2007). Veterinary Q & A: Chocolate Toxicity. About.com.

Dishing Up Grr-eat Advice

Posted on: August 27th, 2007 by

By: Arden Moore

It’s not everyday one receives a personalized letter from Martha Stewart. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine I would garner praise from the queen of daytime TV regarding a six-year-old dog cookbook.

It just goes to show that some nutritional advice is timeless. In this case, I wrote a book called Real Food for Dogs: 50 Vet-Approved Recipes for a Healthier Dog (Storey Books). The recent commercial pet food scare sent sales of my cookbook soaring all the way up to #6 on Amazon. The book has sold more than 40,000 copies this spring, and my life has been forever changed. When I wrote the book, the meals and treats were intended to compliment quality commercial dog food as ways to hone in good doggy manners. The pet food recall, though, found more people turning to my book for safe ways to prepare food for their dogs.

I’ve been on dozens of television and radio shows coast-to-coast plus Canada to tout tips on how to prepare healthy meals and treats for dogs. One stop included an appearance on the “Martha Stewart Living Radio” show with co-hosts Dean and Betsy. Just before airtime, the producer whispered in my ear, “You know, Martha listens to this show. She listens very carefully.”

During the hour, we prepared a recipe from my book called “Bow Wow Brownies” (made with carob – a safe substitute for chocolate, which is lethal for dogs) and made it in honor of Martha’s Chow Chow named Paw Paw. I also gave the producer an autographed copy of my book to deliver to Martha. Within a week back from New York City, I received a letter from Martha, who practiced – as always – good etiquette. She wrote:

“Dear Arden: Thank you so much for sending me a copy of your book, Real Food for Dogs. It was kind of you to think of me and very much appreciated. I have started preparing more home-cooked meals for my dogs since the recent dog food scare and they seem to be happier and healthier because of it. Kind regards, Martha Stewart”

Today, the letter is inside a frame and displayed in my home office in Oceanside, California. True, the letter comes from a celebrity, but the words come from a person who loves her dogs and who wants to do what she can to keep them healthy. That’s the real message all of us who are fortunate to have a dog share our lives should heed.

Plays Well With Others? What to Know Before Hitting the Dog Park

Posted on: August 27th, 2007 by

By: Arden Moore

My dog, Chipper, goes ga-ga if I mention the phrase “woof park.” That’s my nickname for dog parks. If I say that phrase – even in a whisper – Chipper, my Golden Retriever/Husky mix, will start to whine and wiggle with delight.

For nearly three years, we’ve gone to a local dog park in the early morning. There’s a regular crowd there featuring well-mannered dogs just looking to play a friendly game of chase (or chase me, please) and tennis ball fetching. The owners pay attention to the canine antics and share training tips and goofy dog stories with one another.

Recently, however, we arrived an hour later than usual. The usual gang was not there. Chipper and my small dog, Cleo, bolted into the fenced-in dog park and began what they normally do – the perimeter prowl. They stopped and sniffed. Their noses were filled with the scents of dogs and other delights – pure canine bliss, I guess.

At dog parks, I pay close heed to the body languages unleashed from my dogs and other dogs. This time, an Australian Shepherd mix made a direct beeline to Chipper. In the world of dog etiquette, that’s a rude – and threatening – gesture. Most dogs come up to one another from the side. This dog then growled and leaped on Chipper. I produced my deepest, I-mean-business tone and yelled at both to stop and sit. Surprisingly, they did. If they hadn’t, I was prepared to use Chipper’s leash to safely separate them without getting my hands bit.

I managed to put the leash on a shaken Chipper and noticed that she had a cut below her left eye. It was starting to bleed. Meanwhile, the owner of the Aussie just looked, shrugged and said, “Oh well. Dogs will be dogs.” Unbelievable.

Fortunately, I keep a dog first-aid kit in my car, and I cleaned Chipper’s wounds and stopped the bleeding. Then I noticed another man coming back into the parking lot with a dog limping. It turns out that the Aussie attacked his dog, too.

Dog parks are designed to be places where well-mannered dogs can romp and socialize. They are not places for aggressive dogs to try to “work out” their bully tendencies. And, they are certainly not places for owners to abandon their responsibilities to keep their dogs from harming others.

My parting advice: Please pay close attention to the interactions of dogs – and the watchfulness of their owners – before you decide to bring your dog inside the park. If you see aggression, leave and treat your dog to a long walk elsewhere. Even though your dog will have to be on a leash, it will be a far safer way to get in some exercise.

Frustrated by Felines?

Posted on: August 27th, 2007 by

By: Arden Moore

The Book Expo of America is to authors and publishers what the Super Bowl is to quarterbacks and linebackers. It’s THE event of the year. The most recent book expo took center stage in New York City and I was invited by my publisher, Storey Books, to unveil my latest book, The Cat Behavior Answer Book.

When my publisher told me that I would be signing books at the autograph arena – rubbing elbows with the likes of far-more-famous folks like Dave Barry and John Grisham, I tried to be realistic in my expectations.

My hope was that at least a dozen or so attendees would come to my table in search of my autograph on this new cat book. After all, the topic is cats – not the latest Dave Barry humor-filled take on life in the 21st Century or a suspense-filled page turned penned by the likes of John Grisham.

I was wrong. Instead, the line s-t-r-e-t-c-h farther than I could see. In one hour, I had signed more than 300 copies – and ran out of books! This is clear evidence that people – especially fans of feline – are mystified and puzzled by cats and their behaviors. They want answers – and they want peace and harmony in their households.

Why does my cat make a cackle sound at birds? What can I do to stop my cat from sleeping on my pillow at night? How can I teach my cat to shake paws? These and more questions were fired my way by those in line to have my books signed.

Face the feline facts – cats revel in being a bit mysterious and hard to pin down. But they can be as loyal as a Labrador and as fun as a Border Collie. If you’re blessed to share your life with a feline or two, count yourself fortunate. Invest in their health by booking regular veterinary visits, obtaining pet insurance, serving nutritious food and spending one-on-one time with them. The dividends you reap will be beyond your expectations.

Trainer, Behaviorist or Vet: Whom to call with pet behavior troubles

Posted on: August 21st, 2007 by

Posted by Amy Shojai on 8/21/2007 in Dog Behavior

Adopting a puppy or kitten often conjures anticipation of his eventual Lassie-like devotion and intelligence, or fond memories of dressing Grandma’s oh-so-tolerant cat in doll clothes. But soon, reality sinks in.

Few new pets measure up to the sometimes-inflated memories of cherished childhood pets. For first-time pet owners, even normal cat and dog behavior can prove perplexing.

Perhaps you have experienced one of these behavioral scenarios:

Your new puppy outgrows his cute phase and still has not perfected housetraining.
Your kitten doesn’t seem so adorable when her frisky antics end up breaking family heirlooms like china plates.
Your resident pets appear to hate the new one (or vice versa), or they scream in fear at the sight of another animal.
Your resident pet starts displaying unwanted behaviors, like growling or snapping at you or houseguests.
You need to find workable answers, but where should you go for help?

The first line of defense is your veterinarian, who will examine your pet to determine if a medical issue is the reason behind your cat or dog’s behavior problems. Your veterinarian can also recognize if your pet’s behaviors are within the realm of normalcy.

For behaviors deemed to be normal – such as a cat walking on counters or a dog barking frantically when the doorbell rings, veterinarians often can provide some basic behavior tips. They may also recommend a dog trainer to help you teach that active puppy some manners. Some veterinary clinics may suggest products geared to keeping cats off counters – or refer you to places offering training classes and support.

But not every veterinarian has the time to provide training or behavior advice. And, even experienced dog trainers who excel at teaching obedience and performance skills, may not have the knowledge or inclination to deal with pets with emotionally-based, extremely challenging issues.

For example, a standard obedience class won’t help a severely frightened dog or cat. The fear emotion can block an animal’s ability to think and learn. Pets displaying aggression toward other animals or people require professional help – the sooner, the better.

In searching for an animal behavior expert to treat challenging issues, be leery of behavior professionals who promise quick fixes or instant cures. Longstanding behavior problems tend to require intense dedication on the part of the owner and rarely can be guaranteed to have a 100% turn-around.

Though some behavior professionals also may teach dog training, most primarily concern themselves with helping owners and pets work through issues, such as:

Hit or miss bathroom behavior
Aggressive, shy or fearful behavior toward people/animals
Household issues such as countertop cruising or jumping up
Excessive vocalization like dog barking or cats screaming
Destructive behaviors including dog chewing or digging and cat clawing
Introductions of new pets or human infants to a resident pet
Environmental challenges—transitioning outside cats inside
Attachment or separation anxiety and related problems
Self-directed behaviors like licking, chewing, or obsessive tail chasing
Be aware that anyone can claim to be a behavior expert. Following poor advice can make your pet’s problems worse, so be sure to check out claims and verify credentials.

There are several reputable behavior and training associations with professionals available who specialize in pet training and/or behavior problems. Behaviors such as aggression can be difficult to unlearn and require professional help to teach cats and dogs how to react in new, more positive ways. Many times, your local veterinarian will know of any expert help in the area. You can also find behavior help through the following resources:

American College of Veterinary Behaviorists – This group consists of veterinarians with a special interest and additional study in the field of animal behavior. As veterinarians, they are also able to diagnose concurrent health conditions and prescribe drug therapies that may be helpful. There are currently 42 board-certified veterinary behaviorists (designated by the initials DACVB) in the United States and Canada. Find a listing of members by visiting their website: www.dacvb.org.

Animal Behavior Society – This group certifies qualified individuals as Applied or Associate Applied Animal Behaviorists. These professionals hold doctorate-level education in the field of animal behavior and hold the title CAAB: certified applied animal behaviorist. There are currently about 50 members. Find more information by visiting their website:www.animalbehavior.org.

International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants – This professional organization accredits and qualifies members as certified animal behavior consultants (CABC) or certified dog behavior consultants (CDBC). They address behavior issues of cats, dogs, and other companion animals. These experts may or may not hold graduate-level degrees and often work in partnership with local veterinarians to offer the best for your animals. Learn more about the organization by visiting their website: www.iaabc.org.

Association of Pet Dog Trainers – This group consists of more than 5,000 members worldwide and certifies dog trainers as Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT). Members may be qualified to help pet owners with canine aggression or other dog behavior problems, as well as training. For more information and a list of member trainers, visit their website: www.apdt.com.

In the best of all worlds, our companion animals understand us, we understand them, and all live peaceably together. But when frustration and confusion about why your pets do what they do emerge, take comfort in knowing professional help is available.