From Cat Poop to Coffee

Tips to Keep Your Pets Safe
in Freezing Temps

(NECN) - Don't forget your pets during the deep freeze.

The MSPCA says there are several things pet owners should do to ensure their animals are safe and warm.

--Make sure outdoor shelters are dry, secure from the wind, and large enough for the animal to move around.

--Keep walks short during winter months.

--Rap on the hood of your car to make sure your cat is not asleep in a wheel well or under the hood.

--Short-haired dogs should wear protective clothing.

--Pets that spend more time outdoors also require more food.

Frostbite is Real Danger for Pets

As Mother Nature continues to blanket the region with ice and snow, make sure your pets are protected from a lurking danger the cold presents — frostbite.

"In the recent weather we have experienced, these dangers have been, and will continue to be, real and urgent matters for pets and their owners," warns Dr. Philip Gaudet, owner of Capeway Veterinary Hospital of Fairhaven.

Frostbite attacks a pet's extremities, including the ears, toes, tail and genitals, when the animal is exposed to freezing temperatures for more than a few minutes.

"This is the worst and most rapid way to interrupt the blood supply to those body parts," Gaudet says.

Frostbite can occur at and just below the freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. While shorthaired or smooth-coated animals, such as pugs and whippets, are more prone to freezing than longhaired pets, all animals can be affected.

"Of course, husky-like pets will fare better than Chihuahuas and their short-coated relations," Gaudet notes.

Although the time it takes for frostbite to develop depends on the ambient temperature, if it's below freezing, a few minutes can make a difference. So when you let your pet outside to relieve itself, make sure it gets back inside when it's freezing.

"Better yet, if possible, set up a small, easily cleaned, papered area in the house for your pet to soil," Gaudet says.

When a pet's frostbitten extremities begin to thaw, the area will first become warm and painful, then swollen and tender when touched. If not properly treated, the tissue gradually hardens to a texture similar to old leather or cardboard, and eventually begins to flake and peel away from the skin like a scab.

"Underneath may be more dead tissue or an open wound," Gaudet warns. "Ear tips and tails will rot off and may expose the cartilage or tailbone. Toes and sometimes lower legs are similarly affected. The prepuce (penis sheath) can also freeze."

Gaudet says that treatment of frostbite is initially a matter of returning the tissues to normal body temperature, 100.5 degree to 102.5 degrees for both cats and dogs.

"A soft massage with your bare hands or cool moist cloths will slowly return any tissue to body temperature. Sometimes a simple antibiotic and good nursing care is all that is necessary. In some cases, surgical intervention (amputation) is required."

Author and columnist Amy Shojai says that cats are actually "a bit more savvy than dogs when it comes to cold weather" and generally seek shelter more quickly.

"Cats tuck their feet under the belly so toes may not be affected as often," Shojai says, but she warns that ear tips and tails are at risk because these extremities are exposed even when a feline is curled into a ball.

Shojai, author of 23 pet care books including the "The First-Aid Companion for Dogs and Cats," says that frostbite can be difficult to detect when the pale white, gray or blue color of frozen skin is hidden by fur. She adds that even the Nordic breeds, such as huskies and Finnish spitz, can suffer from frostbite.

"Pets may limp from frozen toes, frozen ear tops tend to droop and the skin will be very cold, hard and non-pliable," she says.

Shojai says it's imperative that outdoor pets have proper shelter from the wind and cold, or the animal could die. The size of the shelter should only be slightly larger than the pet's body so the animal can be warmed by its own body heat.

"Even better," she says, "keep your cats and dogs inside and avoid the risk altogether."

Swansea resident Brian J. Lowney has been writing about pets for more than a decade. He is a past president of the Wampanoag Kennel Club, an active dog show judge and shares his home with two shelter-adopted cats. All of Brian's columns are available online in our new pet section. Visit

Irresponsible Pet Owners
Need to be Held Accountable

I have fostered and adopted numerous dogs and cats from local shelters during my lifetime and my current menagerie of dogs and cats includes several rescues – one from the Pender County Animal Shelter. All are spayed/neutered.

The article about the shelter seeking immediate homes for its current animals because the facility needs to be closed temporarily for much needed repairs rightfully stressed the often heard need for pet owners to spay or neuter their animals. But it was with some disgust and anger that I read “Litters of puppies regularly arrive … multiple times per year from the same pet owner…”! Public tax money pays for this shelter. People talk about getting the government out of their lives. What about getting problems like this out of their lives?

If a pet owner makes us pay for his/her irresponsibility, I think it’s time for us to take away their right to have a pet. Fourteen hundred plus dogs and 1,300 plus cats went through the Pender shelter in 2010. When will we say enough is enough?

Christopher Smith

Tug Gettling:
Tips to Prevent a Pet-Caused Fire
Tug Gettling - Daily Herald

Although the National Pet Fire Safety Day is typically held in July, the winter season is a good time to think about fire safety for your pets as most home fires occur during the winter. As temperatures get colder indoor activities increase and a variety of heat sources are utilized to keep ourselves and our pets warm and cooking appliances are used to prepare food.

Fire is a major hazard for both people and pets in the United States. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that more than 4,000 people die and 25,000 are injured every year due to fires in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 85 percent of all fire deaths occur at home. Fire departments respond to more than 350,000 home fires every year and deaths caused by fire and burns are the third leading cause of fatalities in the home.

In comparison, roughly 40,000 pets die annually because of fire. The shocking statistic is that approximately 1,000 house fires are accidentally caused by the homeowner's pets.

Taking some preventative measures can greatly reduce the chance of a pet-caused home fire. Here are some things to consider.

• Pet proof your home. Spend some time walking around and through your home looking for potential fire hazards. Check for dangling or exposed wires, stove knobs that can be turned on by your pet, unsecured heaters or cords, etc. Create barriers such as doggie doors or pet crates to keep your pets away from hazards.

• Eliminate open flames in your house -- especially when you are not present. Candles and fireplaces need to be monitored at all times if a pet is present.

Scented candle burners and warmers can intrigue a pet enough to investigate, leading to an accidental fire. Keep them turned off and unplugged when you are not home and your pet is.

Heat lamps are often used to heat dog houses in the winter. This should be done with extreme caution and special measures should be taken to assure that a fire cannot inadvertently be caused by your pet.

• Assure your pet has identification; microchip, license, and/or affix a pet identification tag to your pet's collar so that in the event you are separated you can be reunited.

• Get a pet alert window cling or sticker and put it in your window. This notifies emergency personnel that there is a pet in the home.

• Do not use glass water or food bowls for your pets as they can act like a magnifying glass when they are in the sunlight, igniting a fire.

• Remove your stove knobs or purchase safety covers for them as this is the No. 1 appliance involved in a pet-started fire.

• Keep your pets on the ground floor in rooms or areas near the entrances when leaving your pets home alone so that emergency personnel can easily locate them.

• Have your heating system inspected annually.

Consider utilizing a monitored alarm system that notifies emergency personnel in the case of a fire.

• Make a fire/emergency escape plan that includes your pets. If you have to evacuate your house take your pets with you. Keep leashes and collars near the door for easy and quick location -- you do not want to be running around the house looking for a leash during an emergency.

• If you return home and find your house is on fire DO NOT attempt to rescue your pet. Call 911 immediately and let the professionals handle it.

• Tug Gettling is director of North Utah Valley Animal Services

Samaritans Rescue Cat
By Marlene Switzer/

Ralphie recovers from life-saving surgery following a serious car accident Jan. 21.

Amesbury, Mass. — The motorist whose car struck Ralphie might have been distracted by the falling snow Friday, but this was a hit-and-run, all the same. The 10-year-old, grey and white cat escaped with his life but sustained grave injuries in the encounter.

Ralphie is known to many people although he doesn’t have a home. He lives with a feral cat colony in Salisbury and depends on the kindness of caretakers who provide him food and water.

On Jan. 21, they intervened in his fate, plucking him from the 7 a.m. accident scene, monitoring his condition and finally delivering him to the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society shelter on Route 110 in Salisbury. He arrived at about 3 p.m. in severe distress and, so, was handed off to another Samaritan, who first took him to Newbury Animal Hospital, where it was determined he would require emergency treatment. The last leg of his journey was to Essex County Veterinary Emergency Hospital in North Andover.

That evening, the gentle cat underwent surgery to repair a diaphragmatic hernia. The veterinarian’s report to Stacy LeBlanc, founder of the MRFRS, was detailed and optimistic. She shared the information with an e-mail group made up of shelter supporters and other interested parties:

“Ralphie sailed through the surgery and is doing better than anyone could expect! He has a chest tube, which is hardly draining at all ‑ a great sign that his lungs are fully expanding to fill the pleural apace.

“If he continues to do so well, they will pull the chest tube later today. He has a fentanyl drip for pain, which is necessary while the chest tube is in,” she wrote.

In laymen’s terms, LeBaron explained, “He was hit in such a way that his intestines were pushed up into his chest cavity, putting a hole in his diaphragm. So he couldn't breathe on his own.”

Ralphie’s strong recovery has doctors predicting he will be released to foster care Monday, and what has been the worst thing to happen to him ironically could turn out to be the best thing: He will be available for adoption.

The down side
What takes the glow from this feel-good tale is the story behind the story. Ralphie’s plight became known Friday when Stacy LeBaron sent out a desperate appeal for donations to cover the cost of his surgery. The estimate was $3,000, a figure that could rise.

Ralphie is a mature feral cat that, just following painful surgery, expressed his gratitude with robust purring and “making biscuits” (a.k.a. kneading). He has lived all 10 years of his life without a home.

Which is not so unusual in this area. LeBaron said the MRFRS knows of about 50 feral cats in Newburyport, Salisbury and Amesbury. Shelter volunteers care for about 20 of them, and the others are handled by private caretakers. Like many, many feral cats in this area, Ralphie was neutered by the MRFRS 10 years ago, so he is known to its volunteers.

“We know there are more out there, and we want to be able to make sure those cats get the attention that they need,” she said. “We estimate that there are about 100-150 cats in these towns that we don't know about and we want to know about.”

The dire straits in which Ralphie found himself are not unusual, LeBaron said.

“We usually have something like this every month. Our last appeal letter focused on Scarface and Al Capone, two cats that had some very serious injuries, and they have now been adopted and are extremely well loved in their homes.

“This just shows that it is so hard for these free-roaming, feral kitties; when something traumatic happens, there is no one there for them.

That necessity has led the MRFRS to look for ways to tap into a sympathetic community of animal lovers for donations when the need is acute.

“We are actually starting up an emergency funding e-mail group, so that when a situation like this happens, and there are folks willing to contribute a few dollars, we will be able to get the word out right away.

“I am proud to say that the MRFRS is there for these kitties,” LeBaron said. “Through the support of our volunteers, donors, Captain Courageous Fund, and now this emergency assistance group, we will be able to help these cats in need.”

Donations to help Ralphie can be made by sending a check to: MRFRS, 63 Elm St, Salisbury, 01952, or online at Feel free to create a Facebook page for Ralphie by going to

Savvy Senior:
Affordable Vet Care for Senior Pet Owners
By Jim Miller - Contra Costa Times

Struggling with the high cost of veterinary care is a common problem for millions of pet owners today, especially seniors living on a tight budget. Routine medical care can cost hundreds of dollars, while urgent/specialized treatments and procedures can run into the thousands. Fortunately, you can do some things to reduce your vet bills without sacrificing your pet's health. Some tips and resources:

Shop Around: If you're not attached to a particular vet, shop around and compare costs. Call different vet clinics in your area to get price quotes on basic services such as annual exams and vaccinations, as well as bigger-ticket items like to repair a broken leg, and be sure to ask for references, too. Also, check to see if you live near a veterinary medical school (see for a listing). Many provide low-cost care to limited-income pet owners.

Work With Your Vet: To help make your bills more manageable, see if your vet's office accepts payment plans. Find out if your vet offers discounts to senior citizens or reduces fees for annual checkups if you bring in multiple pets. Also, if your vet prescribes an expensive treatment for your pet, it's a smart idea to get a second opinion. It will cost you another consultation fee, but another vet may have other, less expensive ways to treat your pet.

Search for Low-Cost Care: Many municipal and nonprofit animal shelters offer free or low-cost spaying and neutering programs and vaccinations, and some work with local vets willing to provide care at reduced prices for low-income and senior citizen pet owners.

Financial Assistance: A wide variety of "veterinary care assistance programs" help people in need pay their vet bills. The U.S. Humane Society provides a listing of national and state programs on their website at If you don't have Internet access, ask a friend or family member to help you, or visit your local public library. Another good resource is the American Animal Hospital Association's "Helping Pets Fund" (, 866-443-5738). Details are available at

Buy Cheaper Medicine: Medicine purchased at the vet's office is usually much more expensive than you can get online. Instead, get a prescription from your vet (ask for generic is possible) so you can shop for the best price. Good deals can be found at sites like (800-738-6337) or (888-511-7387). Or, see, a resource that has links to sites that offer lower-priced medications. It also doesn't hurt to ask the vet for free samples.

Contact Savvy Senior at: P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit

Oldest-Known American Dog Found in Texas
by Kirsten Taylor -

While analyzing archaeological remains from Southwest Texas, a University of Maine graduate student has discovered evidence of the oldest-known dog in the Americas.

Samuel Belknap was studying ancient human waste to determine what residents of the Lower Pecos region of Texas ate between 1,000 and 10,000 years ago when he found a fingernail-size bit of bone. DNA analysis confirmed it belongs to a domestic dog that lived approximately 9,400 years ago, the Associated Press reports.

According to UCLA professor Robert Wayne, North America's first mutts are thought to have arrived with early settlers who crossed the Bering land bridge from Asia 10,000 years ago or more. Not much is known about our continent's early dogs, so Belknap's find was a lucky one.

Older dog remains have been discovered in other parts of the world, including some from 31,000 years ago unearthed in Belgium, Wayne told the AP. But Belknap's find is thought to be the oldest domestic dog yet discovered in the New World.

Roasting the Most Expensive Coffee
 in the World, from Cat Poop

Jonathan Woods writes: According to Wikipedia, Kopi luwak, or civet coffee, is coffee made from the beans of coffee berries which have been eaten by the Asian Palm Civet and other related civets, then passed through its digestive tract.

A civet eats the berries for their fleshy pulp. In its stomach, proteolytic enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids. Passing through a civet's intestines the beans are then defecated, keeping their shape. After gathering, thorough washing, sun drying, light roasting and brewing, these beans yield an aromatic coffee with much less bitterness, widely noted as the most expensive coffee in the world.

Kopi luwak is produced mainly on the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali and Sulawesi in the Indonesian Archipelago, and also in the Philippines (where the product is called motit coffee in the Cordillera and kape alamid in Tagalog areas) and also in East Timor (where it is called kafé-laku). Weasel coffee is a loose English translation of its name in Vietnam, where popular, chemically simulated versions are also produced.

Have you tried this coffee before? Is it worth paying top dollar?

A four month old Luwak is tempted by some red coffee beans at the BAS Coffee plantation on Jan. 20, 2011, in Tapaksiring, Bali, Indonesia. The Luwak is an Asian palm civet, which looks like a cross between a cat and a ferret. Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

Vet's View:
10 Most Common Complaints
By Patty Khuly, Special for USA TODAY

Some pet owners really get my goat. They're the ones whose moans, lamentations and outsized hand-wringing make me and my staff want to wring their necks. You know who they are. They're not your favorites, either. They're just as willing to regularly return food at restaurants and routinely declare war against anyone behind a counter. Tiresome, right?
In a veterinary environment, such whining takes on very specific forms. In an effort to exorcise the demons of a difficult week (and for your infotainment, of course), here's a list of the 10 most common pet owner complaints I hear:

• The free pet wail. "This FREE (fill in the blank species) is costing me hundreds of dollars!"

Need I explain why this grievance grates like nails on a chalkboard?

• Dental extraction denial.

"But I've had dogs my entire life and none has ever needed all this expensive dentistry — and all those extractions!"

Are you sure about that?

These owners want their pets to keep all their teeth but they're unwilling or unable to do what's necessary to mitigate the root cause: periodontal disease. Nor are they willing to accept that diseases sometimes truly are beyond our control.

• The sick pet protest.

A corollary to No. 2: "Why do all my pets get sick? How can this be? What are you going to do about it? Why isn't he getting any better?" Which I can only answer, "With your help, we will do our utmost to get your pets well again. We can only do as much as our technology and your cooperation (funds, sometimes) allows."

I understand this one, really I do. Partly because my family is commonly afflicted with all kinds of bizarre and stressful issues that aren't always treatable. But to effectively lodge a complaint against the veterinarian, as if it's the vet's fault that your pet has X disease (as many clients are wont to do) is completely unfair and highly counterproductive.

• The obesity whine.

"But she eats almost nothing! How am I supposed to get her to lose weight?"

I don't know, but something about her waistline tells me you're feeding her too much, regardless of what you consider a reasonable volume.

• The lost hair lament.

"You did NOT clip the hair between her toes!" or "Did you have to take off all that hair just to ultrasound her belly?"

Step away from the ledge and get a grip: It's just hair!

• She's been vomiting for two weeks but I need an appointment NOW.

It might be easy to say, "Your emergency is not our problem!" But the reality is, it is, seeing as it's not the patient's fault his owner waited until the last minute.

• I found her by the side of the road … is it OK if I just leave her here?

Much as I would like to help you (and I will), this is not a shelter. I expect you to do your part, too.

• "I need a payment plan …"

Which is a perfectly acceptable request that most of us can accommodate in some form or another (CareCredit is the one our hospital uses). But expecting the payment plan of your choice is another story. After all, a veterinary hospital shouldn't have to play health care provider and banker.

• The pet shop puppy nightmare.

You might be surprised by all the negativity I get from some owners as I explain the many problems their "well-researched" Internet purchase or "high quality" (read: expensive) pet shop puppy possesses. Everything from congenital eye diseases and heart murmurs to hereditary hip and knee diseases … people can get kind of testy.

But I'm just the messenger!

• Impatience is not a virtue.

When you show up 20 minutes after your appointment and expect to be seen quickly … well, let's just say your expectations are unrealistic.

So can you tell I've had a bad week? Even so, perhaps I should take my own advice and keep my grumblings to myself.

But then, it's probably already too late for that.

Pet Bunnies in Peril as
Year of the Rabbit Nears
By Bernice Han - AFP

SINGAPORE — With just days to go before the Year of the Rabbit dawns, animal-welfare groups in Asia are warning of an inevitable outcome: abandoned and neglected bunnies.

Pet retailers across the region are seeing brisk demand for the furry, fast-breeding creatures ahead of the Lunar New Year, which falls on February 3 in the Chinese almanac.

"There's no better time to help rabbits than during the Year of the Rabbit, and you can do so by refusing to support the pet trade that causes so many animals to suffer," said activist Maggie Chen from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

"Rabbits aren't just cute and fluffy, they're high-maintenance animals who require significant resources, equipment, attention and veterinary care."

As the Year of the Tiger draws to a close, Thai retailer Eakmon Prempinitpong says his rabbit sales via the Internet have roughly doubled thanks to customers buying them as presents for their sweethearts.

"The main customers are teenagers and college students," Eakmon said.

In China, rabbit sales are also up, with shop owners touting them ahead of dogs and cats as perfect household companions -- and affordable as well.

Prices vary from $3.00-$39.50 depending on the breed.

"Sales from January 1 until now are nearly as good as sales for all of last year," one vendor at the Nanshan pet market in the northeastern city of Qingdao was quoted by Chinese media as saying.

"They look cute and are easy to care for," the vendor said.

It is exactly such sales pitches that worry animal-welfare groups and veterinarians who say bunnies suffer from the misconception that they are easy to maintain.

"Many people buy pets on impulse and do not fully understand the responsibilities of keeping an animal at home," said Jacelyn Heng, president of the bunny-loving group House Rabbit Society Singapore.

"The problem is particularly acute for rabbits because people wrongly assume that they are low-maintenance starter pets for children.

"Many pet shops in Singapore are also not well-informed about the care needed for a pet rabbit and often provide wrong or false information to the unknowing first-time owners."

Thai veterinarian Thosaporn Anuntakulnatee from the Faculty of Veterinary Science in Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University agreed.

"Some people don't know how to take care of the rabbits and end up throwing them away in the wild or leaving them at a temple," he said.

"Rabbits can breed quickly, and we will have a problem controlling their population, especially if they are an alien species."

When the last Year of the Rabbit occurred in 1999, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Singapore took in 625 pet bunnies that had been abandoned or given up by their owners.

That was a 116 percent spike from the previous year.

The SPCA says it is too early to predict if this year will turn out to be any different but it is not taking anything for granted.

It has joined hands with the House Rabbit Society Singapore to urge the public not to fall into the trap of buying a pet bunny on impulse.

"Just as we would like to be optimistic, we have learnt to be cautious from our past experience as to whether or not people are going to be tempted to buy bunnies," Deirdre Moss, the executive director of the SPCA, told AFP.

"Unfortunately, we are living in a consumer-oriented society -- people get tempted easily especially when it's cute and cuddly," she said.

"We are just keeping our fingers crossed. Hopefully, it won't be the same as it was 12 years ago. We just hope that members of the public who get tempted will think twice."

Abandonment is not the only threat to bunnies in Asia during the festive season.

Some restaurants are offering rabbit-meat dishes for the Lunar New Year celebrations, which last for 15 days until February 17.

One such restaurant is Szechuan Court in Singapore, where head chef Sebastian Goh has specially created a spicy rabbit stew that includes other prized Chinese delicacies like abalone and dried scallops.

"I thought that this would be an auspicious opportunity to introduce rabbit meat to Chinese diners by adding it into this dish, as rabbit is very seldom featured in Chinese cuisine," said Goh.

Fancy Goldfish Make a Terrific Pet

Fancy goldfish make an exceptional indoor pet for loads of individuals with busy lifestyles and the yearning for pets and a few variety of companionship but not the gap of their homes or their lives to actively maintain and lift pets like dogs or cats.

Goldfish have many advantages that pets that experience legs don’t enjoy and they’re a completely low maintenance but an extremely therapeutically beneficial pet. You never ought to take a goldfish for a walk early within the morning or perhaps when it’s raining. Sometimes you’re just not within the mood for a walk however the conditions are perfect. This isn’t a controversy with goldfish.

Most pets are hideously expensive. The price of raising an ordinary size dog has been estimated by some studies to run in to the tens of thousands of greenbacks that is a sum that few people can really afford. In these hard economic times where people are attempting to lessen on expenses and decrease spending across the house your dog will not be this type of great pet whether it is almost as expensive as citing a toddler. Dogs are expensive to shop for and the prices continue throughout their lives. They must be inoculated and fed with expensive food and later in life after they need hospital treatment that could be a very costly proposition too.

Fish are cheap and simple to purchase and really easy and absolutely painless to preserve that you can even give them as a present to someone without wondering whether or not they could be ready to deal with them and won’t find them to be a burden. Dogs and cats can quickly change into white elephants when given as gifts regardless of how cute and adorable they’re as kittens or puppies.

Fancy goldfish haven’t any such issues. Their short lifespans mean which you don’t have to fret about long time take care of them. Once they die you may decide for you to get another batch and also you are never stuck with them. This is often also vital when you’re taking place vacation or leaving town for business. You don’t have to fret friends with requests to come back over and watch and feed your pets with gold fish and also you shouldn’t have to fret about paying the exorbitant fees that kennels and doggy day care centres charge.

So get yourself some goldfish today. They make great pets and they’re relaxing to observe.

Q. and A. with a Pet Nutritionist

Dr. Joe — Joseph J. Wakshlag — a clinical nutritionist at the Baker Institute for Animal Health at Cornell University, is answering readers’ questions about pet food. He is no longer taking questions.

I was not expecting over 100 questions, since other forums I have dealt with have only generated a handful of questions, I guess this tells the story of The New York Times readership. Since the response seems to be overwhelming, I am only picking questions as they relate to overall “concepts in nutrition.” And yes there is a Dr. Joe, but he does have a day job which pays the bill’s, so I am afraid that I will not get to a majority of the “my dog” and “my cat” questions. I am also refraining from answering the “personal pet” questions because I cannot do your individual animal justice in a blog in which a two-page questionnaire is essential to understanding the medical needs and goals for each of your animals. For those looking for balanced homemade diets for healthy dogs and cats, there is a veterinary-run service I recommend called It’s relatively cheap and will likely be something useful for those of you looking to home-cook. Cornell University Hospital for Animals also offers similar services.

Q.I would just like to know a good home-made dog food recipe for my 10 year-old pitbull -shar pei mix, or even the correct percentage of protein, vegetable, carbohydrate, fat, etc. as well as any supplements to add. Even my vet wasn’t 100 percent sure of the percentages. – T. Goodridge, Maine

A.I wish I could provide this basic information, but without any idea of the known medical history, predisposition, body weight, body condition, this is very difficult.

I would like to touch on the idea that your vet does not have advice for you on this subject. I think we expect our veterinarian to know a little too much in today’s day and age. Vets are expected to be infectious disease experts, pediatricians, surgeons, endocrinologists and yes even nutritionist. We don’t expect this of our general practitioners, but for some reason expect this of our vets. It’s a tall order particularly when we work in the multiple species component. This is the reason the veterinary medicine also has specialists.

Q.I breed and show dogs. I’ve had dogs since 1987. I feed my dogs a conventional commercial diet and I have never had a dog with any kind of food allergy. I usually have 5-6 dogs at any one time. My dogs have been living long, healthy lives into their teen years. Have I just been very lucky? I hear people talking about their dogs having allergies and problems with food all the time. I can’t believe that I’m the only person with dogs that do well on an ordinary commercial dog food. I do read about dog foods a lot and make sure that I’m using a good food, but it baffles me that so many people/dogs have trouble with foods. I used to add supplements and vitamins to my dogs’ diet but now I just feed the dog food. They have beautiful coats, great skin, healthy dogs. I guess I don’t understand why other owners and dogs have so many problems and I’ve been so lucky. It seems like, in all these years, with so many dogs, I would have had a problem if there was something wrong with commercial dog food. – Eshever, Tennessee

A.I do agree with you as I have been using commercial foods all of my life, and yes, I too have dabbled with feeding meat to my performance dogs. However, I have decided against it for a number of reasons. I think in today’s market there are so many choices that it’s actually hard to justify feeding homemade diets in a kennel like yours. Not only is the expense greater than what the article suggested in general, if using high quality produce and meat. Also there are risks of sub-clinical to clinical deficiency if not done correctly. This is why we as nutritionists harp on these things since we are the ones that end up seeing the problems due to diet. Can it be done correctly, absolutely! But I think one has to do the research and become comfortable knowing that they are meeting recommended daily requirements. Even though most of us as humans rarely meet our recommended daily requirements!

Q.Tomorrow, for the second time in seven years, we take a cat for radioactive iodine treatment for hyperthyroidism (not the same cat). The condition seems to be increasingly common. Is that true? What evidence is there that hyperthyroidism is associated with or caused by the canned and dry food that these guys eat their entire lives? How solid is that evidence? Michael, Vancouver, B.C.

A.This is a hard question to address since we do see it more often, but we also see A LOT more older cats in vet offices than we did 10 to 15 years ago. There have been some implications that food may be correlated to incidence of the disease, and though I am no expert in hyperthyroidism the most interesting correlation has been to canned foods. A fairly extensive study from Michigan State suggested that the chemicals using in the lining of some of the pop-top cans might be problematic. It’s probably way to early to say, but it is definitely one of the top five medical problems in older cats today that needs to be addressed with more research.

Q.I’d be interested to hear your opinion on the different “tiers” of pet foods these days. It seems like there is mass-market, high-end mass market (i.e., Eukanuba), even-higher-end dry food (often high-protein, like Blue Buffalo or EVO — which we use), dehydrated natural foods (e.g., Honest Kitchen), and finally cooking real food for your dog. What do you think is worthwhile and actually has benefits for our favorite pup? – CT Dub, San Diego, Calif.

A.Well I must say I am a bit superstitious about food and feel that what comes out in the end is a pretty good indicator of the performance of a food. I deal with sled dogs and some are high octane dogs and just do better on certain foods. I think I can say there are some benefits from certain things in food. I am a fan of seeing a soluble fiber source, as well as a source of long-chain omega-three fatty acids. Often the higher-cost foods have had a “more cerebral” thought process put into their formulation, whether your dog needs some of these nutrients is debatable, particularly the “kitchen sink” foods, as I like to call them. These foods add every know vegetable, fiber source, probiotic and herb into the mix to catch your attention.

What I don’t understand is why certain ingredients that are in our diets such as corn, soy and rice have been getting a bad rap. Corn and rice are highly digestible have low fiber content compared to other grains and too my knowledge are associated with allergies only due to the sheer number of products that have these things in them. These carbohydrate sources are essential to the processing and extrusion of kibble. If it’s grain free it doesn’t mean carbohydrate free.

One of the worst things we can do is speculate based on human conditions. Dogs and cats don’t get the same kind of heart disease or cancers that humans get, which is the major centerpiece for nutritional advice and things that tend to cross over into pet foods. One reader asked if there was a dog and cat food pyramid like in human nutrition. Unfortunatley not, but rest assured the pyramid would look dramatically different than the human one!

Also, as something of an aside, we bought some frozen raw bones for our dog from our local “organic/natural” pet food store. They gave him diarrhea, likely from bacterial contamination. The first time he started having voluminous diarrhea that lasted for 7 days despite bland diet, etc., until we treated him with Flagyl (and then it rapidly cleared), but we weren’t sure that time of the cause. The second time we gave him a bone he also immediately started having diarrhea, and once we started Flagyl 2 days later it again cleared up immediately. I’m a (human) physician and was pretty convinced it was the bones that were at fault. A lesson to me about the risks of a more “natural” approach.

Thanks for your insight.

“Natural surely” does not mean not cooked. When advocates of raw diets talk about “enzymes” and native forms of proteins, they are also talking about enzymes that are in tissue that actually inhibit protein breakdown. So for every natural enzyme that might potentially help with digestion, there is likely one to inhibit food breakdown. And once it all reaches a pH of 2 in the stomach and pepsin in the stomach, these enzymes don’t have a fighting chance. Actually cooking in many instances is essential to actually get to certain nutrients in the food. Therefore, I am a fan of cooking foods due to digestion issues and of course zoonotic threats to people in the environment. In your dog’s case it sounds like either a bacterial problem, but more likely a food tolerance issue.

Another reader asked about the cooked vs. raw debate and whether there was any proof of zoonotic transmission. Its assumed that 1 percent of bacterial zoonosis is through animal contact so I would say there is some evidence. Additionally literature based from Dr. Scott Weese in Canada suggests that shedding of salmonella or enterogenic e-coli species are between 7-15 times greater if a dog is fed raw. Furthermore he did a study looking at what methods of disinfection are best in the kitchen after contaminating a dog bowl and the results are shocking. Nothing was 100 percent and most things we do to decontaminate are pretty ineffective. Is there risk? Epidemiologically, yes.

Q.I was under the impression that providing domesticated cats a vegan diet was particularly harmful to their health. For example, don’t cats tend to go blind without necessary amino acids in their diets — amino acids (taurine) found exclusively in meat? – Emily, Cambridge, Mass.

Q.I have a family member who has put all of his pets, dogs and cats on a vegan diet, for ethical reasons. Is it possible for dogs and cats to do well on such diets? The pets do not live that long, especially the cats…which typically only live for 4 or 5 years. Needless to say, I am very upset about all of this, and would like an expert opinion. – Catherine, Wilmette, Ill.

A.I fully agree that cats do better on a carnivore diet due to their intricate metabolism that actually makes them carnivores. Essential nutrients include taurine, arachidonic acid, arginine and higher amounts of other amino acids and vitamins are the major differences. However, vegetarian diets can be made for both cats and dogs. I would say that if you are attempting to try these things due to ethical reasons, then try to find a commercial food that is well fortified with many of these nutrients I discussed. I too have seen disastrous results of ill thift in cats being fed a vegetarian diet and do not recommend trying to make a vegetarian diet for a dog without guidance from a nutritionist (preferable a board certified Veterinary Nutritionist that is part of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition). I don’t recommend even trying the home-made vegetarian approach for a cat.

Q.hi dr. joe; “neptune” and i would love your thoughts on dry vs canned food for cats. is there any sort of dry food that wont promote obesity? do the health benefits of canned cat food outweigh the convenience and tastiness of dry food? neptune is delighted that this is in diner’s journal–wnere else but new york?? – babs in gramercy, new york, ny

A.From my perspective I would have to say that it really depends on the medical condition you are most worried about. For years there were many advocates of dry food for dental health, but unless the kibble is made correctly it’s a long shot to say that kibble will really help with dental problems and since one of my cats swallows the kibble whole it’s not helping him one bit! More recently from an evolutionary and urinary tract health stance canned food in general has higher protein and fat therefore recapitulating the carnivore better than the average dry food. To boot, canned food provides more water for a cat eating a normal amount than most cats actually take in from the water bowl. So in the end I think there are advocates of both depending on what you are most concerned about in your feline friend. I personally like to start kittens out eating both canned and dry since cats are harder to introduce new forms of food to than dogs. If you feed only dry food and then at 5 years old your cat develops urinary tract issues or kidney issues canned food is a better choice for the water content and that cat may refuse to eat this new form of food. On a side note the idea that dry food causes diabetes or obesity has yet to be proven. As for obesity, it’s still the mantra of calories in and calories out; if diagnosed with diabetes, a cat should be fed a lower carbohydrate higher protein diet to help control the blood glucose.

On the side of dental health, for both dogs and cats, there are products out there on the market that have a veterinary oral health council seal of approval. It means that the manufacturer of the product submitted their proof of concept that it helps reduce tarter or calculi, and has been approved by veterinary dentists. These products have been deemed safe and are likely effective without the risk of causing diarrhea, constipation, or lodging somewhere in the GI tract.

Q.Dr. Joe, Could you please comment about the relative proportions of advertising hype vs. science behind the organic/natural superpremium pet foods compared to premium commercial foods such as Science Diet, Royal Canin, Purina and Iams/Eukanuba. As a practicing veterinarian, my understanding is that only the 4 brands listed above actually conduct feeding trials to confirm that the diets keep pets healthy; other commercial diets are approved by laboratory analysis only. Please comment as to whether labels such as “organic” or “human grade” contain any legal or nutritional designation relative to pet foods. My understanding of “organic” is that it is somewhat vague in definition, even in human foods. As to “human grade” foods, all I will say is I don’t eat certain things like bologna.

A.This is an interesting question and I think I would have to agree with you that only the 4 above have participated in significant research in the field of nutrition with Waltham included. These companies have conducted research internally and externally and have advanced the field for sure. The idea of a feeding trial probably needs to be elaborated on as it’s not a concept people are probably familiar with.

When one buys a bag of food it will have a nutritional guarantee on it. This guarantee will say that it has undergone “feeding trials” or has been “formulated” to meet AAFCO’s requirements. Feeding trials in general are groups of 10 adult dogs (for a maintenance claim) being fed for 6 months and “doing well” on the food base on some blood work and maintaining body weight and “staying healthy”. This has been considered the gold standard and puts the proof in the pudding that the food can sustain the dog without any gross deficiencies. These are expensive trials to run for a product, therefore many of the smaller brands cannot afford to do these trials and formulate based on calculation which is also acceptable, but probably not quite as good as making sure their product can sustain a dog for a period of time.

As far as organic is concerned AAFCO has passed some legislation as to what percentage of the food has to be made from organic to have the organic seal or statement put on the label. I believe if the food has less than 70% organic then they are not allowed to label as such. The human grade story is as vague as you have stated above. We see that and in general I have been told that most meat put into commercial feeds is considered human grade and I would have to defer to someone in the industry to elaborate further on grading of meats.

Ask the Vet:
Parakeet's Beak Needs Constant Trimming

Q. My parakeet's upper beak grows constantly and every six weeks or so, I take him to the pet shop to have it trimmed. The owner of the shop says his beak keeps growing because he is not chewing on his cuttlebone. That sounds reasonable, but I've never had this problem with any of my other birds. What do you think and what advice can you offer me?

A. A parakeet's beak is composed of bone covered by a layer of keratin, a tough protein also found in fingernails. Like nails, the beak grows continuously, but it is worn down in the normal process of chewing. Parakeets wear their beaks by chewing food as well as branches, cuttlebone and toys. Grinding the upper beak against the lower beak should keep it from overgrowing. If the beak is not properly aligned, however, either the upper or lower beak can overgrow.

Some illnesses can result in a misaligned and overgrown beak. Parakeets that eat mainly or exclusively seed will develop vitamin A and calcium deficiencies. Make sure you feed your parakeet a combination of seeds, nutritious pellets and fresh vegetables to avoid this imbalance.

Parakeets can also be afflicted by a parasitic mite, Knemidocoptes, or "scaly face mite," which can lead to beak deformities. This condition can be treated, although if the beak is misaligned, it will probably need to be trimmed periodically for the rest of the bird's life.

— Frank Boren, DVM, Avian & Exotics

This column is prepared by the veterinarians of the Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus, one of the largest technically advanced veterinary facilities in the world. The veterinarians wish to remind readers that any suggestions or advice mentioned in the column are not a substitute for a consultation with your veterinarian.

Don’t Tell Me Not to Sleep with My Dog

A researcher who I’m guessing doesn’t have a dog says pets don’t belong in the bed, and that allowing them to sleep with us can lead to infections, parasites and diseases.

He further advises that anyone who is licked by a dog wash the area immediately.

To me, a guy who has spent the last eight months with my dog nearly constantly at my side during our travels across America — including in whatever bed we happen to be sleeping in at night — that seems a massive over-reaction.

Bruno Chomel, a professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, says that, while such cases aren’t common, people have contracted infections from sleeping with, kissing and being licked by their pets. Chomel and fellow researcher Ben Sun, of the California Department of Public Health, express their views in the latest issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

I don’t subscribe to that publication, because my theory is the surest way to get a disease is not from sleeping with your dog, but from reading about that disease.

Though I sleep with my dog nightly, I’m not so much concerned about Zoonoses, or diseases transmitted to humans by animals, as I am about Merckitis, a chronic case of which I’ve suffered from since childhood.

It stemmed from a big blue book called The Merck Manual, on my mother’s bookshelf, which allowed you to, based on your symptoms, diagnose your medical issue, read about the treatment and determine, in my case, if I was going to live to see 13.

I must have diagnosed myself with a dozen different diseases, many of them fatal, in the course of matching up my symptoms — usually those of a common cold — with the worst possible maladies.

I remember one night that — congested, unable to breathe through my nose and worried that my throat breathing pipe (non-medical term) might close up – I gathered the necessary supplies to perform an emergency tracheotomy (bic pen, with the ink part removed, pocket knife, duck tape) and kept them under my bed, alongside the book.

The Internet has made it much easier to wrongly self diagnose — just a few clicks and you can jump to the conclusion that you have the most dreaded disease imaginable. The key word there being imaginable. In a way, those medical self-help websites, rather than lessen the need for doctors, only create more of one as we, fueled by our fears, rush to confirm our faulty self diagnoses.

Pulled muscle? I was sure it was a heart attack.

Of course, such concerns are not always entirely baseless, and many of them should be checked out by professionals. But often, they’re only in our heads — having been placed there by WebMD,, and the like. Often they are really far-fetched, instilling a fear out of all proportion with reality, which is the case with Chomel’s study, or at least his remarks:

“I think pets can be very nice in the home environment, but certainly, they don’t belong on the bed,” Chomel told LiveScience.

Chomel says humans can contract bubonic plague from flea-infested pets, bacterial infections resistant to multiple strains of antibiotics, and various parasitic worms.

Since 1974, Chomel says, multiple cases of plague have been associated with people in the southwestern U.S. who allowed flea-infested cats to sleep with them. And in a 2008 outbreak, a study found that people infected with bubonic plague were “more likely to have shared a bed with a dog than uninfected counterparts.” (Despite that, I still don’t recommend sharing a bed with uninfected counterparts.)

The authors cite surveys conducted in the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands that show up to 45 percent of dogs sleep in their owners’ bed.

Several reports of bacterial infections have been attributed to sharing a bed with pets, and in “multiple” cases, they report, patients acquired various infections after allowing their dogs or cats to lick wounds or damaged skin.

That’s the total opposite of my philosophy. Whenever I get a boo-boo, the first thing I do is let Ace lick it. Then it feels better. If thousands of microscopic parasites enter my bloodstream by doing so, so be it … join the party, fellas.

Don’t tell me not to sleep with my dog, especially when it’s this cold. That’s like saying, because there may be some impurities in the air, I should stop breathing. I’m going to continue to engage in both risky behaviors.

And if worse comes to worst I can always, after consulting my Merck Manual, perform an emergency tracheotomy.

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