food

FAT DOG SLIM

FAT DOG SLIM

Lose the puppy fat!

WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR OUR PUPS TO SHED THEIR PUPPY FAT?

Our vet Vicky recently went on a course about how dogs move, but the research teams had found out about more than just the mechanics of dog locomotion.

Dogs are incredibly good at trotting. Tracking their close relatives, wolves, in Germany showed that packs covered over 30miles a day! They hunt their prey by slowly wearing it down, only going in for the kill when the prey is exhausted. Wolves can do this because trotting is incredibly energy efficient, and because they have a type of muscle fiber that doesn’t tire in the way our does. Our dogs have inherited these traits, which is why most dogs won’t tire on a walk or run before you do!

The efficiency with which dogs move may have caused a problem though. An adult dog walking 5-7miles a day uses just 5-10% of his daily calories for that exercise! Over 70% of the calories he eats are used in maintaining a stable body temperature, and the rest for digestion, repair etc. This means it is easy to overestimate how much food our dogs need. If a 30kg Labrador who gets two 45minute walks a day needs 200g of a complete dry food, he would need less than 20g extra food if he started going for two 90minute walks! And it gets worse…an overweight dog has more fat to insulate the body so less calories are needed to maintain body temperature.

Obesity is a huge problem for pet dogs. Being overweight predisposes pets to joint and mobility problems, diabetes, even some cancers. Aim for your dog to have a body condition score of 4-5. If you think your dog is overweight consult your veterinary practice for advice.

At Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary care we can help support those who want to feed a raw or homemade diet, as well as those who choose prepared foods, and we can advise on safe and fun exercise plans. Contact us for more details.

Body Condition Chart from Royal Canin

 

GARLIC: HERB OR HAZARD?

GARLIC: HERB OR HAZARD?

We’ve been asked several times later if garlic is toxic to dogs. The internet gives conflicting advice with recipes for dog treat which contain garlic, but posters listing garlic as a potential poison…so today our blog is an attempt at the truth about garlic!

Herb or Hazard?

IS GARLIC A HERBAL MEDICINE FOR DOGS AND CATS?

Yes, it is! Garlic has a very long history of medicinal use. It is useful topically crushed in water to reduce infection in wounds (something done by Roman soldiers!). Taken internally it reduces the tendency of blood to clot and improves circulation so may be suggested for older animals. Garlic has been shown to help control internal parasites, and to improve cardiovascular health. Certain garlic compounds may even have anti-cancer properties. Garlic is a great appetite stimulant so is often added to homemade treats such as liver cake, and many holistic vets recommend making garlic a regular part of dogs diets.

IS GARLIC TOXIC TO DOGS AND CATS?

Garlic is definitely toxic too, as are all members of the onion family (Alliums). These plants contain sulphur compounds which cause oxidative hemolysis if there are more of them in a red blood cell than the antioxidant metabolic pathways in the cell can cope with. Dog red blood cells have low antioxidant activity, and the haemoglobin in cat red blood cells is two to three times more susceptible to oxidative damage than the haemoglobin in other species. Certain dog breeds, especially Japanese breeds, can have genetic differences in their metabolic pathways which make them more susceptible to the toxic effects of onions and garlic. Dogs and cats with an inflamed stomach lining may also be at higher risk of toxicity.

Symptoms of Allium toxicity are initially quiet vague with vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and lethargy. After a few days gums may be pale, or even yellow due to the breakdown of the red blood cells. Anaemia will cause weakness, a high heart rate, and high respiratory rate. There is no specific treatment, but some dogs and cats recover with supportive care and anti-oxidant supplements.

Garlic should be avoided in pets on anticoagulant drugs, and should be introduced carefully to diabetic pets. Garlic should be stopped a week before planned surgery.

HERBAL OR HAZARD: IT’S A QUESTION OF DOSE

Consumption of  5 g/kg of onions or garlic for cats, or 15 to 30 g/kg for dogs can be toxic. An average garlic clove weighs 3-4g, so your dog or cat would need to eat quite a lot in one go to become sick. There have been cases of toxicity where pets have eaten garlic or onions at lower doses over long periods of time. These have included pets fed human foods where concentrated onion powder is often added for flavour.

If you are using herbal supplements containing garlic ensure you choose one designed for cats and dogs so that you know you are giving a safe dose, and never exceed the recommended dose.

If using fresh garlic a clove (3-4g) appears to be safe for a 20-25kg dog. I usually recommend giving garlic 5 days a week to reduce the risk of long term toxicity.

Dried garlic appears safe given at around 10mg/kg, but always consult a vet before adding any herb or supplement to your pet’s diet.

HYPOALLERGENIC HYPE?

DOG FOOD – HYPOALLERGENIC HYPE?

There has never been more choice in diets for dogs. There are complete raw diets, lightly cooked diets, grain free pouches and kibbles, gently cooked nuggets, freeze dried raw food…not to mention any number of books and websites teaching you how to make your own home cooked or raw diets. Many of these diets claim to be hypoallergenic, but what does that mean, and does your dog really need a hypoallergenic diet?

HYPOALLERGENIC?

Hypoallergenic means ‘low in allergens’ or ‘unlikely to cause an allergic reaction’, but in dog food terms it is fairly meaningless. It is usually used to describe food which don’t contain the most common ingredients which cause allergy or intolerance symptoms in dogs. These food usually have a fixed formula (meaning the same ingredients are used in every batch), and restrict the sources of protein. However, they can still cause illness in food allergic or intolerant dogs. If a dog is sensitive to turkey, then a ‘hypoallergenic’ food based on turkey won’t actually be hypoallergenic for that dog! The most common causes of food allergies in dogs are chicken, beef, dairy, and egg but rather than there being something special about these ingredients, it is simply that they are the most common ingredients in pet foods (because pet food use the leftovers of the most common human foods). Feeding a diet based on ‘exotic’ meats like kangaroo, wild boar, or goat doesn’t mean they will be less likely to develop a food allergy, but they would develop it to the exotic meat instead of chicken.

DOES MY DOG HAVE A FOOD ALLERGY?

Food allergies happen when  the immune system misidentifies a protein from food as a threat and launches an immune response. Food allergies in dogs can cause gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting and diarrhoea) or skin problems (itching, ear infections, skin infections). Food allergies are actually not that common in dogs; vomiting and diarrhoea are far more likely to be caused by a dog eating something it shouldn’t (high fat foods, rubbish, spoiled food etc.) or by a bacterial or viral infection. Dogs can have an intolerance to certain ingredients or diets which physically irritate the gut (the diet might be too high in fibre or fat for instance), but in these cases there is no immune response. Allergies to fleas, house dust mites, food storage mites, and pollens are the most common causes of allergic itching.

GLUTEN FREE? GRAIN FREE?

Grains are a less common cause of food allergies than animal proteins, despite the trend to feed grain free diets. Gluten intolerance is also very rare in dogs, though there is a gluten sensitive enteropathy reported in Irish Setters, and paroxysmal gluten-sensitive dyskinesia (canine epileptoid cramping syndrome/ Spike’s disease) in Border Terriers. Recently grain free diets have been linked to cardiomyopathy in Golden Retrievers. The diets involved have been high in legumes (peas and beans) and it is theorised that this may be reducing the uptake of taurine in affected dogs.

DIAGNOSING AND TREATING ADVERSE FOOD REACTIONS IN DOGS

Blood, saliva, and even hair sample testing are offered to identify the foods which your dog reacts to, but research in both humans and dogs now suggests that these tests are not particularly accurate or useful. If tests aren’t the answer, what will your vet do to diagnose a food allergy?

In the past vets used to recommend home-made elimination diets based on a single novel protein and carbohydrate source. Unfortunately it is getting more difficult to find truly novel ingredients as ‘exotic’ meats such as wild boar and kangaroo, and even alternative carbohydrates such as quinoa or tapioca can be found in mainstream pet foods and treats! Dogs might have to be on elimination diets for up to 3 months and vets did see poor compliance by owners who got bored of cooking, and dogs who got bored of eating the same thing every day. Such a restricted diet also risks nutritional deficiencies if continued long term, however this option can be followed if owners do not want to use processed foods. Care must be taken to avoid contamination of the diet with other ingredients.

We now have access to diets where the proteins (and sometimes carbohydrates) are hydrolysed. The hydrolysis process breaks the protein into pieces which the body can no longer recognise as being a potential threat. Imagine someone builds a Lego chicken, then smashes it up…if you hadn’t seen the completed chicken you wouldn’t guess what the bricks had been; that’s how hydrolysis works. For gastrointestinal symptoms feeding a hydrolysed diet for 2 weeks should improve symptoms. For skin reactions improvements may not be seen for up to 12 weeks. To make a definitive diagnosis you should then feed the original diet to see symptoms return, but understandably owners often skip this step.

It is vital that when using an elimination or hydrolysed diet that your dog eats absolutely nothing else! This might even mean avoiding palatable medicines and worming tablets as these might have meat based flavourings.

If a food allergy is diagnosed and controlled using an elimination diet or hydrolysed diet, a less restricted diet can be introduced slowly – perhaps one of the ‘hypoallergenic’ diets so you aren’t introducing too many potential allergens all at once.

COULD FOOD REACTIONS CAUSE BEHAVIOUR PROBLEMS IN DOGS?

This question is what prompted this month’s blog. 

We know that diets with insufficient animal protein can result in a dog lacking essential amino acids which are precursors of neurotransmitters and that this can lead to problem behaviour and difficulty in learning new tasks. Dietary manipulation can be used to make the essential amino acid tryptophan more available for uptake into the brain, this in turn raises the levels of serotonin.  But there may be even more exciting links between diet and behaviour on the horizon. There is currently a lot of research being done into the gut microbiome and the gut-brain axis. A diverse gut microbe population may be important in maintaining normal tryptophan metabolism and healthy functioning of the behavioural, central nervous, and gut processes which serotonin controls. Inflammation in the gut cause by a food intolerance, as well as antibiotic use, and even a failure for the gut to get a healthy bacterial population in the first days of life could all cause a poor gut microbiome and predispose to a range of health and behavioural problems. At the moment we don’t know exactly how to manipulate the microbiome to improve physical and mental health, but finding a diet which does not cause inflammation and which supports healthy gut flora seems a sensible start.

For more information on the serotonin raising diet please look here: http://www.breakthroughdog.co.uk/

A good diet is the foundation of health and diet should always be considered when looking for ways to treat chronic physical or behavioural problems. Sadly the answer may not be as simple as grabbing a bag of the latest trendy dog food, or switching to a raw diet.

If you would like to discuss the potential impact of diet on your dog’s physical or behavioural health please book an appointment!

UNDERSTANDING DOG FOOD

UNDERSTANDING DOG FOOD!

What’s for tea?

DRY, WET, RAW, HOME COOKED…WHAT’S BEST FOR YOUR DOG?

There isn’t an easy answer to this question! Just as people can be happy and healthy on a variety of diets, so can dogs. And a food that suits one dog down to the ground could cause skin or digestive upsets in another. Our Vet Vicky visited Crufts last month and was bewildered by the huge number of dog foods out there, all claiming to be the very best thing for your dog to eat! So where to start?

Complete vs Complemetary

A complete food contains all the nutrients a dog requires to support daily life when fed as directed.

A complementary food needs other things added to balance the diet; meat and mixer diets, many raw foods, and treats fall into this category.

There are guidelines for nutrient levels in complete pets food, but in the UK only PFMA members formally promise to meet these levels. Small food producers balance their diets using computer programmes, larger food companies may do laboratory testing, or feeding trials.

Raw, home cooked, dry, wet, home-made, commercial….?

Buying a pre-prepared diet made by a PFMA member is the only guarantee of a nutritionally balanced diet. There are PFMA members who supply raw and lightly cooked diets as well as baked dry foods, extruded kibbles, and canned wet foods. 

Although many people feel that natural raw meat diets are the healthiest for dogs, there is sadly little well researched evidence for this. There is evidence that processing can alter the digestibility of some ingredients, and that cooking or processing may make foods more likely to cause digestive or skin problems in some pets (and make others safer to eat!). There is also little evidence that dry or canned diets are particularly bad for dogs. And with a large choice of gently cooked, high meat products on the market it is possible to feed a great (or really bad!) diet from any category!

Home-cooked and raw diets have been analysed and found to be deficient in key nutrients, so take advice on what foods to include, and whether supplements are recommended for your dog.

Raw fed pets have also been found to shed more bacteria (including e.coli, salmonella, and campylobacter) in their faeces. All dogs can pick up these bacteria from the environment (and eating nasty things on walks) so although we would not recommend raw feeding where there are ‘high risk’ people (babies, the elderly, or otherwise immunocompromised) good hygiene should be practised however your dog is fed.

Other things to consider when choosing a diet include cost (but work out the price per day as an expensive bag of food might go further) and convenience. Dry diets are easy to store, but can get infested with house dust mites or go stale if you buy bags your dog can’t eat in a reasonable time. Wet diets are more expensive and go off if your dog doesn’t eat them up quickly, but are often more appetising than dry diets. Pre-prepared raw diets remove some of the concerns over unbalanced diets and should carry a lower risk of bacterial contamination than home made raw diets, but are expensive to feed larger dogs. raw feeding can be very economical, and certainly suits many owners, but requires freezer space for ingredients, ideally a separate preparation area, takes time to do properly, and needs thorough research to ensure your dog gets a balanced diet.

Finally, food is not just fuel. Your dog should enjoy eating his food! Raw bones certainly fulfil a dog’s need to chew, but if you aren’t comfortable feeding raw bones (which can break teeth and cause digestive distress in some dogs) consider stuffing rubber toys with wet food, or using dry foods with snuffle mats or puzzle toys.

THE ‘DRY MATTER’ THING

If you really want to compare different pet foods you need to understand ‘dry matter’.

If a tin of dog food says it contains 5% fat and a dry food label says the food contains 15% fat, which has more fat?

If the wet food contains 80% moisture, the dry matter fat content is 25%

If the dry food contains 10% moisture the dry matter fat content is 17%….so the wet food is much higher in fat!

THE STUFF ON THE LABELS

Pet food labels have to list the percentages of protein, crude fibre, fat, and ash. They also have to list the ingredients, but these can be somewhat vague!

It is often stated that foods which list the ingredients individually are higher quality, and that the food is good if meat is the top ingredient. But again, things might not be so simple! Terms like ‘meat and animal derivatives’ can look off putting, but all dog food in the UK is made from animals suitable for human consumption. Dog food just uses the parts we don’t like to eat! A premium food might list ‘beef’ rather than ‘meat and animal derivatives’, but both could include beef tongue, heart, lung, and tripe. Although ingredients are listed by weight if beef is the top ingredient don’t assume the diet is mostly beef; if the next three ingredients are rice, oats, carrots these could add up to more than the beef. To confuse matters further some products use dehydrated meat, which weighs less but obviously makes up a larger proportion of the finished product than fresh meat would gram for gram.

Protein

Adult dogs need 20-40% dry matter protein. Protein can come from both animal and vegetable sources, but animal sources are easier for dogs to digest and provide essential amino acids (EAAs) which high vegetable protein diets may lack. Lack of EAAs can lead to poor behaviour, poor coat, or even to heart problems.

Fat

Adult dogs need 10-65% dry matter fat. Very high fat diets are required by dogs doing extended hard exercise such as sled dogs, and may cause digestive upsets or even pancreatitis in normally active dogs. There are essential fatty acids which must be taken in from the diet, and many foods have added omega 3 fatty acids which can have anti-inflammatory properties.

Carbohydrates

Adult dogs don’t need to eat carbohydrates as they are able to make glucose from fat and protein. However, carbohydrates are digestible by dogs and offer a cheaper source of calories than animal protein and fat. Even some dogs on raw diets benefit from some carbohydrates in the diet to maintain weight or improve behaviour. Our Vet Vicky is Veterinary Adviser for Breakthrough, which uses carbohydrates to raise serotonin levels and improve behaviour.

Fibre

Fibre is not just a ‘filler’ as some websites suggest. Soluble and insoluble fibres help with a feeling of fullness (important for dogs on a restricted diet to prevent weight gain), control gut transit time, and can act as pre-biotics improving the gut microbiome.

Ash

“They put ash in pet food!”. No, ‘they’ don’t! ‘Ash’ is just a legal term for the residue left after a pet food is incinerated as reflects the mineral content. The correct balance of calcium and phosphorus, as well as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and trace minerals including copper are important for health.

Vitamins

Added vitamins will be declared on the pet food label, but vitamins will come from food ingredients too. It is important not to over supplement with vitamins or minerals, especially fat soluble ones, as excess can cause illnesses. Unbalanced home prepared diets can also cause vitamin and mineral excesses or deficiencies, as can giving more than 10% of a dog’s daily food ration in treats, or cutting food back below the lowest guidelines to try and get a dog to lose weight.

DO I NEED TO CHANGE MY DOG’S DIET?

If your dog is fit and well, with good teeth, a shiny coat, and a good quality stool….probably not!

If your dog has skin, behaviour, or digestive problems then a change of diet could help improve things, but always take the advice of a vet or nutritionist rather than chopping and changing foods.

At Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care we take feeding and nutrition very seriously and think that a healthy gut is the foundation of a healthy dog. But we don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ policy and will help owners choose the vest diet for their pet and lifestyle from raw, wet, or dry diets.

RAW DEAL?

RAW FEEDING RAW DEAL?

RAW FEEDING RISKS

Recent news headlines have suggested that raw feeding dogs and cats could be bad for their health, and yours.

The concerns surround contamination of raw meat pet food with bacteria which can cause gastroenteritis in humans, and in animals.

Any raw meat can be contaminated with bacteria including salmonella and e.coli. Every year people become ill from eating undercooked meat, especially during barbecue season, and we are constantly reminded to ensure high risk meats such as chicken and mince are thoroughly cooked, that separate utensils are used for raw and cooked meats, and that we wash our hands well after handling raw meat.

So, what’s different about raw dog and cat foods?

Not much really…except that we feed the meat raw! Major raw food suppliers claim that they tolerate a lower bacterial count in their foods than would be tolerated in meat for human consumption as their food is not going to be cooked. Bacterial contamination levels may be unknown in meat direct from slaughterhouses, butchers, or game dealers.

Dogs fed salmonella contaminated food don’t necessarily become ill. That fast gastric transit time in dogs may account for their ability to eat meat that would make humans ill. However, dogs fed raw meat contaminated with salmonella will shed higher numbers of the organism into the environment. This has implications for human health as salmonella can cause very serious symptoms, even death in those with compromised immune systems.

Other risks associated with raw feeding include obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract by chunks of bone, and fractured teeth from chewing on bones.

Does this mean you shouldn’t raw feed?

RAW FEEDING SAFETY

Despite numerous studies showing that raw fed dogs shed higher levels of potentially pathogenic bacteria than kibble fed dogs, cases of gastrointestinal disease in raw fed dogs and their owners does not appear higher than those in kibble fed dogs in my practice. In fact most of the GE cases I treat are fed dry or canned dog food ( I always ask!)…but their owners do often admit that their pets will scavenge dead creatures, and discarded food on walks. Added to this, there have been several cases of dry dog food recalls due to salmonella contamination, and dried treats such as pig’s ear may also be contaminated.

Raw bones are softer than the cooked bones and antlers which are sold as dog chews. Dental fractures and gastrointestinal obstructions are a genuine risk when feeding raw bones to dogs. However, cooked bones, antler chews, and hard nylon chews can also fracture teeth; I have yet to remove a raw bone intestinal foreign body, but have removed numerous chewed and swallowed dog toys and stones. I have treated a raw fed dog who needed surgery to remove bone from his oesophagus, but colleagues have treated more dogs which have swallowed large chunks of rawhide or pig’s ear. The risks of tooth fracture and obstructions can be minimised by feeding appropriate size and type bones, or by feeding only ground bone.

Vets who support raw feeding have always advised that certain dogs in certain families may not be suitable for raw feeding, and that excellent hygiene is required in any family with a pet dog.

Families with members who are immunocompromised should avoid raw feeding due to the increased handling of raw meat, and potential higher contamination of the home with potentially pathogenic bacteria. If raw feeding in a home with young children care should be taken to protect children through good hygiene, for example; handwashing, separate food preparation utensils for pets, and avoiding licking by pets.

Immunocompromised pets may not be suitable candidates for a raw diet. This would include dogs receiving high dose steroids, chemotherapy, or recovering from certain illnesses.

ALTERNATIVES TO RAW

Where a raw fed pet’s circumstances change, but owners want to continue feeding a high meat ‘natural’ diet, what are the options?

Firstly, consider switching from home-made raw to a commercial complete raw food. These are tested to ensure low bacterial contamination, as well as being nutritionally balanced, and requiring less handling.

If that is considered too high risk, look for lightly cooked high meat foods, often sold in tray or pouches.

Finally, there are increasing dry food options, both extruded kibble, and baked which are made with over 60% meat.

VETERINARY ADVICE ON RAW

If you are concerned about your dog or cat’s raw diet, and want advice on how to feed raw safely, consult a vet who understands and supports raw feeding.

 

 

TURMERIC; SUPERFOOD OR SUPERFAD?

TURMERIC; A WONDERHERB FOR PETS! Or is it?

USES FOR TURMERIC IN PETS

The main reasons pet owners use turmeric are for arthritis and for cancer prevention.

Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that turmeric helps pets with arthritis, there have been relatively few clinical studies. In Vitro (lab studies in isolated tissues) studies have shown that turmeric extracts can reduce inflammatory cytokines, and reduce cartilage degradation. Turmeric appears to work like some of the more modern anti-inflammatory drugs by inhibiting COX2 enzymes which cause inflammation in preference to COX 1 enzymes which are needed for many normal processes in the body. Studies in live animals have in some cases shown little effect from giving turmeric, but in others have shown improvement in arthritis symptoms. Larger scale studies are needed to draw more accurate conclusions.

The role of turmeric in cancer cases is more complex. In lab tests turmeric extracts can actually cause DNA damage, which could increase the risk of cancer. However, the low risk of stomach cancer in people in India has been attributed to turmeric in the diet. Several studies have shown that turmeric extracts can inhibit cancer cell growth in the lab, but again, studies in live animals are lacking.

PROBLEMS WITH TURMERIC FOR PETS

Turmeric is a relatively safe herb to use, but one reason for this is that the active compounds aren’t very well absorbed. Dissolving turmeric in oil may increase its bioavailabity, as may adding in black pepper, however studies have focuses on rats and result may not be the same for dogs and cats.

Turmeric should be used with caution in pets who are receiving medications. Turmeric can inhibit an enzyme pathway which is important in breaking down some commonly used drugs including digoxin, anticoagulants, cyclosporin, and some anti-inflammatories. This could lead to toxicity over time. Turmeric has also been shown to reduce the absorption of iron from the diet.

In some animals turmeric is associated  with irritation of the gut. If this cause vomiting or diarrhoea be aware that turmeric really stains! It should also not be used in animals with gallstones, or those with a tendency to produce oxalate crystals or stones.

Turmeric powder sold for cooking can have variable amounts of active compounds, and the volatile oils will be lost during drying and processing. Fresh roots contain more oils, but the growing conditions can still affect the levels of active compounds. Over the counter supplements don’t always contain sufficient quantity or quality of active compounds.

IS TURMERIC RIGHT FOR MY PET?

We like turmeric, and recommend it to many of our clients. But it won’t be suitable for all pets. We strongly recommend contacting a vet trained in herbal medicine to suggest if turmeric will be useful and safe.

 

 

 

 

Brain Food

bones

CHANGE THE DIET, CHANGE THE BEHAVIOUR?

If you spend any time on the internet, reading dog magazines, or in pet shops, you will be aware of the huge range of foods out there promising your dog a longer, happier life. But could a change of diet really help change your dog’s behaviour?

CAN DIET FIX BEHAVIOUR PROBLEMS?

Some behaviour problems may actually be related to a dog’s diet. Take the case of a collie who was attacking his owners when they tried to sit on the sofa. Initially it was thought that the dog was guarding the sofa, but when the behaviourist visited in the daytime there was no attack… careful questioning revealed that his behaviour was more related to the time of day, than the sofa. His owners were very active people and only tried to sit on the sofa in the evening. They were only feeding their dog in the mornings and then he was having long, exciting walks. By the evening the collie was tired and had low blood sugar which made him extremely grumpy. He would curl up to sleep on the sofa and when woken by his owners he was so confused he would snap at them. This dog didn’t need retraining….just food at tea time as well as at breakfast!

Another case involved a rescue springer spaniel who suffered badly with shadow chasing which meant he could only be exercised at certain times of day. Being a springer this meant he had lots of pent up energy and could be destructive in the house. To help, a trainer recommended a very low protein diet…which made the poor dog worse. Reducing the protein in his diet meant that he wasn’t getting the raw materials to make the brain chemicals that make dogs (and people!) happy. Against his owners expectation switching him onto a diet of raw meat, vegetables, and bones didn’t send him crazy, it improved his behaviour a lot. And chewing on large, meaty bones not only provided essential amino acids, it gave him a very satisfying activity to do when it was too sunny to take him out for walks.

One of the advantages of a behaviour consultation with our holistic vet is that she will consider your dog’s diet, health, and exercise when assessing problem behaviours. Key areas she will consider are the quality and quantity or protein, and how often the dogs is fed. Not all protein sources are the same; muscle meat is important in a dog’s diet to supply essential amino acids. These can’t be manufactured in the body and are vital building blocks for proteins, hormones, and messenger chemicals in the body and brain. Some diets seem to have sufficient protein, but it comes from vegetable sources, or from feet and feathers which don’t have the right levels of essential amino acids. Some dogs cope well when fed once a day, but the very active dog, young dogs, and toy breeds can suffer from low blood sugar on once a day feeding. Low blood sugar can cause confusion, grumpiness, and in severe cases collapse or fits.

A DIET TO RAISE SEROTONIN

For some dogs low serotonin is the cause of their problem behaviours, or makes it difficult for them to learn new behaviours. Serotonin levels in the brain can be raised through the use of drugs usually used for depression in people. Unfortunately these drugs can have side effects and getting the right drug for the dog (or human!) can be a case of trial and error. In many dogs, switching from a diet with low protein quantity or quality (like the springer we discussed above) to a diet with higher muscle meat levels, or a raw meat based diet can lead to improved behaviour. In others behaviour does not improve enough. Various supplements are sold containing tryptophan, the essential amino acid which is needed to produce serotonin. These have a limited effect on brain serotonin levels however, as tryptophan is often broken down before enough of it can enter the brain as it competes with other amino acids to cross the blood-brain barrier.

The good news is that our clever colleagues have designed a diet that allows plenty of tryptophan to enter the brain, which in turn means higher serotonin levels, and a happier dog!

We have been recommending this serotonin raising diet to our clients for several years and we have used it with owners who are raw feeding, as well as those who prefer prepared wet or dry foods, Sadly the DIY version we recommend has proved difficult for some owners as it involves feeding four times a day. For owners who raw feed, or who have very fussy dogs we will still recommend the DIY serotonin raising diet (please book as consultation for details!). However, for those owners who would prefer to feed a kibble food twice a day we will recommend Breakthrough ™.

If you think your dog might benefit from either the DIY serotonin boosting diet, or from Breakthrough™, we would strongly advise you to book a behavioural assessment. If you decide to try Breakthrough™ before a consultation, please thank us for making you aware of it by choosing 02301 Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care as your referring behaviour practice.

KIBBLE? BUT AREN’T YOU PRO RAW FEEDING!!!!?

We don’t judge our clients. We aim to help as many pet owners as possible improve the physical and mental health of their pets through a truly holistic combination of conventional diagnostics, conventional medicines, acupuncture, physical therapy, behavioural assessment and treatment, herbal medicines, nutritional supplements, and dietary changes, as appropriate for each client and pet.

We do love raw feeding as it allows owners to feed high quality protein, and to know exactly what their pet is eating. Some dogs don’t do well on grain based diets, and others become intolerant of processed meat proteins so raw feeding can be ideal for these pets. It can be a cost effective way to feed, and when whole meaty bones are fed there is ample opportunity for chewing and food play. However, raw feeding isn’t for everyone! It may not be safe for those who are immunocompromised, and may not be practical for those without room to store meat and bones. It is also unsuitable for dogs with food guarding issues until these have been addressed. If our clients want to feed raw we will help them every step of the way, even adapting the serotonin raising diet to suit raw feeding. However, for those who can’t or won’t raw feed, we will work with our client to find the best alternative.

 

FOOD GUARDING

PREVENTING AND FIXING FOOD GUARDING IN DOGS

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Food is REALLY important to dogs. Left to their own devices most of their waking hours would be spent looking for and eating food, and they would spend the rest of their time sleeping and digesting food. Guarding food from other dogs, other animals, and even people is a natural dog behaviour, a survival tactic even. Unfortunately a very common problem for dog owners is that their dog growls if people approach him while he is eating, and this can escalate to snapping or biting. We need to teach our dogs that they don’t have to guard their food from us.

FOOD GUARDING FROM A DOG’S POINT OF VIEW

Snoopy loves mealtimes, he can’t wait for his dinner to come and he’s not planning on sharing! Up until now Snoopy’s people have put his food bowl down and left him to eat in peace but Snoopy’s people have just read that you should be able to take food away from your dog and as their baby is now a free ranging toddler they decide to see how ‘good’ Snoopy’s food manners are. Snoopy’s male owner strides over to the bowl while Snoopy is eating, Snoopy is a bit worried as this is unusual. The male owner reaches down and tries to take Snoopy’s bowl which makes Snoopy gobble his food down really fast, but he’d nearly finished anyway. The next day the male owner puts Snoopy’s food down, leaves the room, then walks back in. Snoopy is worried the male owner will take his food again so he stands over the bowl and gives a little growl. The male owner has read that he should hit Snoopy if he growls so he knows who is in charge so he smacks Snoopy on the nose and takes the food away. This happens most evenings for a few days, even the female owner has started taking his food away. Every time he is fed Snoopy gets more and more worried as his people not only steal his food, they hit him as well. Finally Snoopy is so worried that he growls and growls and when the female owner moves her hand to hit him he snaps at her. She doesn’t move quickly enough and his teeth sink into her hand. Snoopy didn’t mean to bite, just to scare her away from his food…but she’s straight on the phone to the vet, “Enough is enough,” she says, “next time it could be our toddler’s face!”

FIXING FOOD GUARDING IN DOGS

Luckily when Snoopy’s owner called the vet she was given the number of a COAPE behaviourist who agreed to come out and see Snoopy. They discussed how to keep the toddler safe while Snoopy learnt new food manners and how Snoopy’s owners would change their behaviour at feeding time. Various options were discussed and tried including hand feeding, scatter feeding, and adding tasty treats to the bowl. It took several weeks of patient practice but before long Snoopy began to trust his owners again. He stopped growling and would sit it they approached his bowl in the hope of getting an extra treat. Because food guarding can have serious consequences we aren’t going to tell you exactly how to fix it here. It is safer for a behaviourist using modern, dog fair techniques to visit and assess your dog. Our vet Vicky is a COAPE behaviourist and is happy to help with this as well as other behavioural issues.

(Snoopy isn’t a real case, he’s just an all too typical example!)

PREVENTING FOOD GUARDING IN DOGS

Prevention is always better than cure. What if Snoopy’s owners had done things differently when they brought him home?

Snoopy’s owners did lots of research before bringing him home, and they spoke to COAPE behaviourist about how to teach him manners around his food. The behaviourist told them they should use his food ration to help train him instead of using lots of treats. Snoopy’s owners held the bowl and when Snoopy did clever things like sitting, or peeing outside, or coming when they called they would feed him from their hands. Being a puppy Snoopy would occasionally get a bit excited and nip his owners when taking the food. When this happened he wasn’t offered any more until he calmed down; Snoopy soon learned to be gentle with his mouth. After a while Snoopy’s owners needed to use less food for training and Snoopy was allowed to eat by himself from the bowl more often. Sometimes they came over to his bowl and added tasty things like bits of chicken. Now when Snoopy sees people coming towards his bowl he steps back to give them lots of room to add treats.

 

ZOOPHARMACOGNOSY

ZOOPHARMACOGNOSY- SELF HEALING OR SNAKE OIL?

Zoopharmacognosy is the latest buzz in the complementary treatment of cats and dogs. There are courses in it for pet owners, and some claiming to certify you to offer the service to others. There is also letter in the Vet Times encouraging vets to get involved. So, is this a treatment you should consider with your pets?

WHAT IS ZOOPHARMACOGNOSY?

Zoopharmacognosy means animals self selecting medicinal plants or minerals to cure themselves of illness. Scientists have observed several animal species using naturally occurring plants or minerals when unwell. The two most commonly cited cases are that of elephants with diarrhoea seeking out a special type of clay to eat and sick chimpanzees eating bitter and mildly toxic leaves to treat parasite infestations. In our domestic animals we see cats and dogs chewing grass; as this often induces vomiting it has been suggested they eat the grass when feeling sick to help remove toxins or parasites from the gut. otherwise evidence for this type of medicine in companion animals is largely anecdotal. Yes, rabbits will often choose dandelion leaves over grass when they have gut stasis, but we can’t know if they are seeking out the gut stimulating bitters in the herb, or whether being offered a favourite food is why they choose it. There is also a story of a worm infested dog choosing an onion over and apple and never touching an onion again; was he really trying to rid himself of worms, or did he make a bad choice and decide onions weren’t tasty? How did he know that the dose of onion he took was safe (as onions are quite toxic to dogs).

IS ZOOPHARMACOGNOSY SAFE AND EFFECTIVE?

This is an important question and hinges on our domestic pets still being able to detect toxic plants from safe plants, and knowing when to take mildly toxic plants and in what doses. The experience of most general practice vets would be that domestic pets aren’t that good at it; we’ve all treated dogs, cats, and small pets which have eaten toxic house or garden plants, unsuitable vegetables, toxic substrates such as cocoa mulch, and garden bulbs. Part of the safety element relies on the therapist only offering safe plants, and then knowing what dose is suitable for the animal. Another element is the form in which herbs are presented; we know that horses won’t ingest toxic ragwort when it is growing (unless they are starving) but readily ingest it in hay. Plants may be safe whole and dried, but their refined essential oils much less safe, especially for cats. Finally herb quality must be considered; not all suppliers check the quality of raw ingredients and there have been cases of contamination and substitution, even in big high street brands!

If zoopharmacognosy is practised then it should only be offered by experienced trained herbalists. The many courses are as yet unregulated making it hard for owners to know what level of understanding a practitioner has. The practitioner needs an in depth knowledge of herbal medicines, animal physiology, and conventional drugs- as many herbs interact with conventional medication. We feel that non-veterinary practitioners should work under the supervision of, and on referral from a vet (as with other valued paraprofessionals such as physios, behaviourists, hydrotherapists and massage therapists). Sadly the Vet Times letter suggests that Zoopharmacognosists don’t have to have veterinary referral (an issue we are clarifying with the RCVS).

In conclusion, whilst we are BIG fans of herbal medicine, and find it effective in a wide range of cases we will continue to recommend that you seek out a diagnosis by a vet, and that any herbal treatments are prescribed by a vet trained in herbal medicine. If you do decide to see a Zoopharmacognosy practitioner ensure your vet is involved in case of any reaction or interactions.

HOME ZOOPHARMACOGNOSY

Despite our concerns about this therapy (which is in it’s infancy and may prove useful with more research and safety considerations) there is some fun you can have with self selection at home! Plant a range of tasty treats for your pets to nibble on if the fancy takes them…this is especially useful for indoor cats and rabbits.

Rabbits and guinea pigs: try dandelion, chicory, fennel, mint, and french marigold.

Cats: try valerian, catnip (these two have opposite effects so don’t plant them too close!), lavender, and cat grass (a type of oat).

Dogs: try fennel, mint, parsely, lavender, cat grass, and cleavers (goose grass).

WHAT WE DO

WHAT WE DO AND WHY WE DO IT!

People can be confused by the term ‘holistic’, especially as it seems to be used to sell just about everything. So what does it mean at Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care?

HOLISTIC VETERINARY CARE

Holistic care is characterized by the treatment of the whole animal, taking into account mental and environmental factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.

Animals are usually referred for holistic assessment and treatment because they have complex, multiple, or chronic conditions.

We will ask questions about your pet’s diet, exercise, and mood state as well as the main symptoms. All too often a chronic illness means a pet can’t take part in the activities it used to enjoy and a low mood state or poor quality of life can make managing a disease more difficult. We often make changes to what,or how a pet is fed as well as using appropriate games, training and exercise to improve their mood as well as using acupuncture or herbal medicine.

Holistic also means that we use a wider variety of treatments than most primary care practices; we offer herbal medicine, acupuncture, and physical therapy as well as advising on diet, lifestyle, supplements, and behavioural modifications.

HOLISTIC VETERINARY CARE CASE STUDY: THE DEPRESSED PUG

A pug was referred to Four Seasons after diagnosis of a degenerative spinal condition. His pain was well controlled but he seemed to have lost all his spark and his owners were considering euthanasia. A detailed discussion revealed that as his mobility was poor the owners were taking this pug out on his own, then taking the other pugs for their usual walks. It seemed that the pug had a low mood state because he was missing out on walks with his friends. The solution was two-fold; herbs with a proven effect on improving mood and perhaps more importantly getting the pug back with his mates. His owners bought a ‘dog pushchair’ so he didn’t have to do the whole walk and let him out to sniff around with the others. In no time at all his cheerful personality was back and an integrated approach from his referring vet and our vet made a huge difference.