3 Hazards During Warm Winter Weather

by: Jennifer Oldfield

Here in Saskatchewan, well Canada really, it isn’t unusual to have drastic changes in temperature.  Going from -40C one week to +3C the next, can be a common occurance.  Although the warm weather may seem great, there are some disadvantages to having temperatures on the plus side at this time of year.

bambi-iceIce

Plus temperatures during the day and colder temperatures at night mean more sheets of thin ice.  Ice as expected, presents a slipping hazard for everyone, including our pets, and just as we can injury ourselves, so too can they.  The “bambi” slip (where back +/- front legs splay out from underneath) can cause strains to tendons and muscles that can take time to heal.  This may mean requiring medication, rest, and even some massage or rehab work to get back to tip top shape.

How can you prevent this?

Avoid exercising your pet during the hours where frost and ice are forming.  Here in Saskatchewan this can be tough as that may mean only a handful of hours in the day when the frost and ice are melted.

If you can’t avoid these times, go slow.  Be cautious of where you are walking.  Don’t throw toys for retrieving in areas that are most prone to icy sections.

Salt/Ice Melt

sand-truckWith the new layers of ice even more salt/sand mixtures are being applied to roadways and ice melt being applied to walkways.  The salt from the roadway can be harmful to a pet’s paws and can make them sick if they groom it off.  Ice melt, if not pet friendly can also be hard on paws and potentially toxic if they lick it off.

How can you prevent this?

If you can’t avoid it (which at this point is near impossible), wash your pet’s paws off as soon as you get home.  Also be sure if you are using any ice melt products on your walkways, that you are using a pet safe version.

Water

You may be thinking how can water be a hazard.  Think of it this way, when you are out melted-snow
building a snowman and your mitts get wet, what happens to your hands?  They get cold.  Leaving them wet and cold could lead to frostbite or even hypothermia if the rest of your body gets chilled or other parts of you are also wet.  The same holds true for your pets.  Wet paws, fur, and possibly bellies can potentially lead to frostbite or hypothermia.

How can you prevent this?

Again avoiding is the best option although somewhat impractical.  Instead, avoid lengthy periods of time outdoors in areas that have water built up, have your dog wear waterproof booties (provided they are tall enough to not allow water inside the boot), dry feet and underbelly when you arrive home.  If you have driven to your exercise location bring a towel and dry bedding.  Dry your pet’s feet and underbelly and ensure they aren’t laying on wet or damp bedding materials for the ride home.

Have fun but be safe!

Taking advantage of the warmer weather is definitely more enjoyable than staying indoors and avoiding the hazards.  Just take care and caution when out and about.  Ensuring you and your pet are safe and warm will mean you both get to enjoy the best part of warmer winter weather – running and playing in the snow!

snow-play

Photo by Cassandra Lobb

 

 

 

The Importance of Diagnostics Part 3

In Part 1 of our series we discussed the importance of ultrasound; Part 2 was about x-rays; now in our final part of the series,we discuss the importance of lab tests.

by: Dr. Barb Eatock

20161114_125233If your pet is sick, your veterinarian may recommend performing lab tests to help determine the underlying cause of your pet’s symptoms.  These tests can provide a lot of important information to your veterinarian regarding the diagnosis and therefore the appropriate treatment.  Even if all the results come back in the normal range, this helps your veterinarian rule out several potential causes of the symptoms your pet is having and these results can then be used as a baseline to compare to future tests.

The most common laboratory tests for a veterinarian to recommend are bloodwork and a urine sample.  The veterinarian may recommend other tests such as an examination of a stool sample; depending on specific symptoms.  Bloodwork may include a complete bloodcount, chemistry or additional tests.  The complete blood can help determine whether your pet is anemic, has an inflammatory response and whether he or she has enough platelets to aid with blood clotting.  The chemistry shows whether your pet has liver, kidney, or pancreatic disease, checks protein and electrolyte (sodium, potassium, and chloride) levels, and checks blood sugar and calcium levels.  The blood count and chemistry can also be used to determine if patients are a good candidate for an anesthetic procedure.  Urine samples also provide important information such as infection, blood  (which may indicate bladder stones or other problems), sugar in the urine (which may indicate diabetes), and how concentrated the urine is (which can help determine whether the kidneys are functioning properly).

img_3662

Additional tests which may be recommended depending on species, age and symprotms, include thyroid tests and tests for certain viruses such as parvo, feline leukemia, and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).  Most tests can be performed in clinic with same day results; tests that need to be sent away will generally have results back within a few days.

img_3664Lab tests are a very important tool for your veterinarian.  They provide essential information to allow for a precise diagnosis, which allows your veterinarian to provide specific treatment, which can help save time, money, and prevent the needless suffering of your pet.

 

 

Bunnies, bunnies, bunnies!

With Easter around the corner it seems a good time to talk about rabbits as pets.  Although they do make good pets, they aren’t the most ideal for children and certainly should not be purchased on a whim, just because, well it is Easter bunny time after all.   As with all new pet additions to any home, it is good to do your research first.  Be aware of the time, feeding, housing and care required for the pet you are considering, and remember that your veterinarian is your best source of information.

Our most exotic knowledgable and experienced tech Meghan has written this great post to provide you with the information you need if you are considering adding a rabbit to your household.

by: Meghan Eggertson

The popularity of rabbits as house pets has grown greatly in the last couple decades.  They are very social, most active in the morning and evening (when their people are usually home), clean, and quiet, making them a great companion for many people.  For most of their domesticated history, rabbits have been used as production animals (for meat and fur) and more recently in research settings – but the needs for these rabbits are different from those of the pet rabbit, which is what will be discussed in this article.

Behaviour

Rabbits are very social animals that like companionship; however, they have very strong feelings of like or dislike towards other rabbits.  When introducing rabbits to one another, do not allow them direct access to each other initially.  Place them in separate cages/areas where they can see and smell each but cannot physically interact for a few days.  If both of the rabbits seem comfortable with the other’s presence, they can be placed directly on either side of a barrier (such as a baby gate or wire mesh cage top).  If they continue to do well in each other’s presence (laying down near each other, touching noses, etc.) the

IMG_1963

Tech Meghan snuggling a surgery patient

rabbits can be allowed in the same area under supervision.  Dogs and cats can also be trained to accept the presence of rabbits, but they should not be left alone with them unsupervised.

Enrichment is necessary for a rabbit’s well-being.  They should be provided with lots of items to chew on such as branches from fruit trees, untreated sisal mats, and cardboard rolls.  They also enjoy toys that they can toss around such as hard plastic cat balls and toy keys.  Places to hide such as tubes or tunnels, boxes, or “igloos” also need to be provided.

If kept in a cage, your rabbit needs to also be provided with access to larger areas where they can run around and exercise.  Exercise is not only mentally beneficial but also helps with digestion and decreases the risk of foot and bone issues.  If inside the house, make sure all electrical cords are covered or out of reach and plants are not accessible.  Be aware that some rabbits also like to chew on baseboards and drywall or furniture; baby gates or exercise pens may be set up to keep them out of certain areas.  If your floors are smooth (wood, tile, linoleum, etc.) place a mat or rug down so that your rabbit can get traction.  Outdoor exercise areas can also be set up for your rabbit using a dog exercise pen.  Make sure the grass is not treated and the area is protected from predators (including dogs and cats).

Housing

There is a wide variety of commercial and homemade options available for housing your rabbit, but they should all follow the following guidelines:

  • Your rabbit should have enough room to stretch and hop around and the roof should rabbit homenot touch its ears when it is standing.
  • The area should be will ventilated (i.e. wire mesh should be used, not glass) as rabbits are more sensitive to the heat than the cold.
  • Due to their sensitivity to heat they should not be placed in direct sunlight.
  • Ideally the bottom should be solid, not mesh, to prevent pododermatitis (foot sores) and plastic because it is easy to clean.

Bedding may consist of hay, wood shavings, newspaper, or a blanket/towel.  Fabric (blanket or towel) should only be used if the rabbit does not like to chew on it.  If using shavings, make sure they are not made of preserved pine or cedar as the fumes from these are toxic to the rabbit’s liver.  Newspaper may cause staining on the feet of light coloured rabbits, but the ink is vegetable based and nor harmful.  If the rabbit is not litter trained the bedding should be changed every couple of days, but if it uses a litter box the bedding only needs to be changed every 1-2 weeks.

rabbit houseLitter training is relatively easy for rabbits.  Use a pelleted litter, like Yesterday’s News, not clumping or clay based litter which if ingested can impact the caecum.  Place the litter box in the area of the cage that the rabbit already uses as its toilet.  It is sometimes helpful to place your rabbit’s hay next to or in the litter box because rabbits like to eat as they defecate.  Clean the box out every day or two.  After a few weeks using the box, it can be moved to whatever location the owner desires and the rabbit should continue using it.

If the housing area needs to be cleaned, diluted vinegar or CLR can be used to remove urine scale.  Let it sit for a few minutes, use a scrub pad if needed, then rinse very well with running water (especially if using CLR).  Bleach can also be used for disinfecting at a ratio of 30mL bleach to 1L water; again, make sure to rinse very well afterwards.

Feeding

Rabbits are vegetarians and hind-gut fermenters – this means they need to re-ingest their “night feces” (caecotrophs), which are a source of amino acids and vitamins.  Caecotrophs look like a little mucous encapsulated cluster of grapes.  Rabbits normally ingest these right away, so they are not usually seen by the owners.

Rabbits eat constantly and require a high fibre diet.  The majority of their diet should be hay: not only is it high in fibre, but it wears the teeth down and can be grazed on all day long.  Grass or timothy hay is ideal; alfalfa hay is high in calcium and protein and can lead to obesity and urinary crystals.  Make sure the hay looks and smells fresh and is stored in a dry area.timothy-hay

Pellets are good as a more concentrated source of nutrients.  They should be timothy (not alfalfa based), have no artificial colours, and be uniform.  “Mixed ration” type food is not ideal as some rabbits pick out their favourite ingredients which can lead to a deficit in vitamins and minerals.  Pellets should not be fed ad-lib but restricted to about 20% of the daily diet; most recommended feeding amounts on bags are for commercial rabbits and are usually more than what a pet rabbit needs.  Offer the pellets just once daily, and whatever isn’t eaten in a couple of hours should be removed.

A variety of fresh vegetables can also be fed as a supplement to the hay and pellets.  Limit the amount of fruits and carrots given as these are high in sugar.  Some greens such as kale, spinach, alfalfa, and dandelion greens should also be fed in moderation as they are high in calcium which can be hard on the kidneys.  The best vegetables to feed include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrot tops, parsley, cauliflower leaves, parsnip, and green beans.  If a change in diet needs to be made, it should be done over at least a 5 day period so that the rabbit’s gastrointestinal system has time to adjust.

Salt and mineral blocks or vitamin supplementation are not needed as long as the rabbit is receiving a balanced diet (as described above), unless specifically recommended by your veterinarian.  Some rabbits chew their mineral blocks out of boredom which may result in harmful levels of calcium.

A good supply of fresh water should always be available to your rabbit.  Rabbits have high water consumption and a 2.5kg (5.5lb) rabbit can drink a cup of water a day.  Water is extremely important in the digestion of the rabbit’s high fibre diet and therefore should not be withheld for any length of time.

Types

Lionhead, dwarf, angora, lop…. the list goes on.  Although there are many types of rabbits when it comes to the information provided above, all pet rabbits are the same – they all require the same stimulation, housing, and feeding.  The only thing to consider is that longer-haired rabbits, such as the angora, may require additional coat care with brushing and possible shaving of the backend to prevent matting and urine scalding.

Rabbits truely are a fun and interactive pet and can provide a lot of companionship. If you do decide to get a pet rabbit, it is recommended that they receive a yearly veterinary visit (just like cats and dogs!) with a veterinarian with rabbit experience to make sure there aren’t any underlying health issues. If you are considering getting a rabbit (or alreay have one) and have any other questions, please call the clinic and we will be more than happy to help.

Additional Resource:

House Rabbit Society

 

What’s In Your Backyard?

by: Jennifer Oldfield

Where is all the snow?  Normally at this time of year we are just waiting for the snow to melt so we can enjoy the outdoors and the warmth of spring. Instead we have been fortunate and are enjoying an early taste of the summer to come.  With no snow, now is the perfect time to take a good walk around your yard.

Look everywhere for all potential hazards.  Some things are very obvious – broken branches, sharp objects, etc.  There are however, some items that may not seem to be of concern, but are definitely still hazards.  Look for kid or dog toys, especially anything that may be easy to swallow, or items that are broken or breaking.

toyMagnum, my 7-year-old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever found one of those items that you may not think is a hazard, especially if you have dogs that don’t tend to eat toys.  He loves to pull them apart but he never eats the bits!

This is the end to one of those kid’s plastic golf clubs.  Chewed, and as you can see, split at the seam.  I found my boy sitting outside with this stuck on his foot.  Somehow he had managed to step on it just right and got a toe – including the pad – stuck inside!  Although not a frantic emergency, still an emergency.  I had no idea how tight this was and leaving it too long could cause damage to the toe, even potentially leading to an amputation.toy on foot

We needed to get it off, but touching it caused him to scream in pain.  Even just the lightest touch was too much.  So off we headed to the clinic.  Dr. Meaghan Broberg sedated Magnum and  was able to carefully cut it open a little farther and then pry it  wide enough to take off.

After thoroughly checking his toe over, there were no cuts, it didn’t appear broken, however it was definitely swollen.  Once he was no longer sedated and could walk we would be able to see if he was willing to put weight on that foot.

Icing

First round of icing while the sedation was wearing off.

Fortunately Magnum was willing to weight bear.  Treatment would involve a few days worth of pain medication, icing, and rest.

We were lucky, in part, because I was able to act so quickly. However, I regret the fact that I did not consider this item a hazard in my yard.  Once home I did a complete yard tour and picked up anything that really did not belong out on the lawn when nobody was out there to use it.  I threw away any items that were even moderately not in good shape and have marked reminders on my calendar to do this sweep through the yard every week.  With two young active human boys and three very busy dogs, there is no telling what could end up out there next!

 

Top 5 Holiday Hazards

by: Jennifer Oldfield

The month of December is a busy one.  We are all preparing for whatever the holiday season means to us; parties, family get togethers, celebrating Christmas or Hannakuh, eating and being merry.  It is super important in all the hustle and bustle to be aware of the hazards this time of year brings to our pets.  If your pet gets into any of these items or anything else this holiday season you are concerned about, please contact your veterinarian for information on how you should proceed with your pet’s care.  In certain circumstances, time will be of the essence in ensuring a positive outcome.

Here are a list of the top 5 hazards to be on the watch for:

5) Tree Water and Melting Salt Crystals

If you plan to purchase a real tree, be sure to have measures in place to prevent your pet from drinking the water.  The water may contain fertilizers or other additives that can cause stomach upset, vomiting and/or diarrhea.  Also stagnant water is the perfect place for bacteria to grow, which if ingested, could also cause stomach upset, vomiting and/or diarrhea.  Read all labels carefully before adding anything to your tree’s water.

safe paw smMelting salt crystals aka ice melts and salt rock, are often used on icy surfaces.  These products contain sodium chloride or calcium chloride which can be harmful to paws and is toxic if ingested.    Pet safe ice melt products are available, so use these if you need to.  To help protect your dog either wash their feet once you are home from your walk or have them wear booties to protect them from this hazard.

4) Lighting and Candles

It is important to ensure pets are not chewing on any electrical cords, be sure to regularly check them for fraying or utilize special cordchristmas-candles tubes to put cords in to prevent pets from getting at them.  Unplug any holiday lights when you are not home to reduce the risk.

Keep lit candles out of reach of pets and small children and be sure to monitor them whenever they are lit.  Candles, oil warmers, and fireplaces are very enjoyable especially at this time of year, however they pose potential dangers to your pets, and are also fire hazards when not properly monitored.    Take preventative measures by keeping items out of reach and having a protective fire screen in place over the fireplace.

3) Plant Toxicity

There are several plants that are highly toxic to pets and some that aren’t toxic but can cause a lot of tummy upset including vomiting and diarrhea.  The ones to pay particular attention to during the holiday season are:Winter Lilies_Large

Lilies – any variety are extremely toxic to cats.  The ingestion of any part of this plant can be lethal.

Holly – when ingested can cause nausea, intense vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea for both dogs and cats.

Mistletoe – can cause cardiovascular issues, stomach upset, difficulty breathing, erratic behavior, hallucinations, collapse, and depression.

Pine needles – can cause oral irritation, vomiting, lethargy, and posterior weakness.

Poinsettia – although not toxic can cause vomiting and irritation of the mouth and stomach.

For a more complete list of toxic plants see our website.  You can also check the quick reference guide on our Mobile App available free on iTunes or GooglePlay.

You may want to consider the non-real versions of these holiday favourites to be on the safest side.

2) Tinsel, Ornaments, and Decorations

christmas candlesThe shiny tinsel strands are particularly enticing to cats.  Although non-toxic, if ingested this can become an immediate medical emergency as the tinsel could twist inside the intestines causing many problems.   Avoid decorating with tinsel at all if you have a cat.  Ornaments on the tree often resemble a pet’s favourite toy (balls!) and especially with cats, the shinier, the more exciting they are.  Keep fragile decorations hung on higher branches out of reach to minimize the risk of lacerations, choking hazards, ingestion and possible obstruction.  The same should be done with any decorations that could be considered a great toy to a pet but is really a potential hazard – place these on higher surfaces out of reach.

1) Diet and Food Hazards

It is best to continue your pet’s regular diet as much as possible to avoid stomach upset.  Too much of a good thing, is often not a good thing.  Instruct guests to resist giving pets unapproved treats.  Keep garbage can lids on tight and unattended plates and drinks out of reach.

holiday feastAlcohol, coffee (especially beans or grounds), nutmeg, foods containing the artificial sweetener xylitol, yeast, nuts, apple seeds and stems, apricots, cherries, peaches, plum pits and stems, grapes, raisins, onions, garlic (and others of the allium family), can range from potentially toxic to fatal for pets.  Chocolate contains various levels of caffeine, fat, methylxanthines, and theobromine. Toxicity levels depend on the amount and type of chocolate ingested.  Generally, the darker the chocolate, the higher levels of theobromine it contains.  Symptoms of chocolate poisoning will appear in 1 to 4 hours after ingestion and may include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, muscle spasms, seizures, coma, increased thirst, and even death from abnormal heart rate.  Remember that cocoa is a powdered form of chocolate and is among the most toxic.

For more human foods to avoid click here.  You can also check the quick reference guide on our Mobile App available free on iTunes or GooglePlay.

We also can’t overlook that one relative – you know that sweet aunt or uncle who means well but doesn’t understand your pets are not being neglected by not sharing in the holiday feast.   Explain to these relatives that bones, fat trimmings, etc. can become a serious health problem for pets.  Caution them that bones can cause choking, dental fractures, and obstruction.  Bones can also splinter off into small, razor-sharp fragments causing potential perforation and laceration of your pet’s digestive system.  Fat trimmings and fatty foods can cause not only the obvious weight gain but also stomach upset and pancreatitis (a condition that needs to be medically treated often requiring hospitalization).  All of these situations require a vet visit that could include as little as some medication or special diet to help that upset tummy to as much as an emergency surgery to remove and possibly repair the damage from perforation, laceration, and/or obstruction.

Solutions for sympathetic relatives include safe treats in moderation (have a jar of these at the ready) or a play session.  However,  keep in mind not all pets like the immense amount of attention, especially if half the guest list consists of small children that may or may not behave appropriately towards animals.  Depending on the personality, temperament, and stress level of your dog or cat, you may want to consider whether or not they would be more comfortable in a quiet room away from the hustle and bustle of company or even at a trusted kennel.  Ultimately, you know and love your pets more than anyone and it is up to you to make the decision everyone will be happy with.

We hope these holiday hazard tips will assist you in making this season a stress free and enjoyable time for both two-legged and four-legged family and friends.

 

 

The Importance of Annual Preventative Care Exams

by: Jennifer Oldfield

September is a busy month.  Not only is it the month that students head back to school, it is also Senior Wellness Month, Happy Healthy Cat Month and Responsible Dog Ownership Month.  That is a lot going on!  These 3 events can be summed together under one simple heading – Preventative Care.  What exactly is preventative care and how can you prevent something you may not be aware of?

In general terms, a preventative is a preemptive agent or measure.  In medical terms, preventative refers to a drug, vaccine or additional agent used to prevent disease.  In animal medicine (and human too!) this refers to things such as: annual exams, vaccines appropriate to your area and lifestyle, blood workups, and if necessary, supplements (such as glucosamine) or other medications to prevent or reduce the advancement of disease or illness.

An annual exam or a Preventative Care Exam for your pet is a vital part of ensuring subtle changes in your pet’s health don’t get missed.  Minor things that you may just consider a part of aging (in senior pets) or maturing (in younger pets) may in fact be a sign of IMG_1623the beginning of something medically wrong.    For example were you aware that cats tend to hide or sleep more when they are in pain?  Have you noticed your cat isn’t coming around as much as he used to?  That she has found a new place to lay and sleep than the usual spot?  This may be an early warning sign that something isn’t right.  A preventative care exam, which may be paired with bloodwork, can help to determine the cause of those subtle changes.

The same can be said for dogs – although they don’t tend to hide when in pain, they are VERY good at masking it.  You may notice little things such as a “hitch” in his step when first rising that goes away or the usual laps around the yard aren’t as fast as they once were or don’t last as long.  Maybe she doesn’t want to retrieve her favourite toy anymore.  Little things that don’t seem to be a big deal but are just “odd” can in fact be a sign that something is wrong.

So why come in annually and not just when you notice these other things?  Annual exams give a medical record of what is normal for your pet, so that when something is amiss it can be caught.  An example of this is when a pet comes in for his annual exam and he has lost weight.  Maybe he was overweight to begin with, in which case this could be a good thing.  IMG_1080However, if the owner indicates that she hasn’t changed anything in the pet’s routine or in his eating habits then this weight loss may not be a good thing.  It may be happening because of something else occuring in the body.  Often owners won’t notice that weight change because a few pounds can be hard to notice on a pet, especially if it happens gradually.  What if that pet hadn’t been in for several years?  We wouldn’t notice that change either.

Catching something like kidney disease in its early stages could mean something as simple as changing food to help the kidneys function better.  Without this the kidney disease will continue to progress, ending with, in most cases a shorter and poorer quality life.

Another example of something the veterinarian may notice is joint health, noticing that although your pet is not necessarily old, the joints don’t feel as smooth or are stiffer when they move.  This could be the beginnings of arthritis.  Being able to recognize this and then getting them on a joint supplement appropriate for them can dramatically help slow the progression of arthritis; putting a cushion back into the joints thus reducing inflammation and pain.

Ultimately Preventative Care is Proactive Care – together with your veterinarian, annual check ups, recommended vaccines and recommended diagnostic testing can extend the life of your pet by several years.  Who wouldn’t want that?  I think we can all agree that more time with our animal companions is one of the best gifts of all!

PeeWee

 

What is your Pet Food Label Telling You? Part 2 of 2

by: Brianna DeVries

In part 1 we discussed the informaion commonly found on the front of the bag and some of the marketing trends some companies use to mislead you.  This post is about the information on the back of the bag.

Protein First and ‘Real’ Chicken

There is no AAFCO definition for ‘real’ chicken. When companies advertise whole chicken as the first ingredient it means the following: The clean combination of flesh and skin with bone, derived from the parts or whole carcass of chicken or a combination there of, exclusive of feathers, heads and feet. May or may not include entrails and includes all its moisture content.

Manufactures advertise that dogs and cats should be fed only animal based protein. Although most animal protein is defined as complete, the digestibility of the protein varies. Plant based proteins (such as gluten) help to round out the animal based protein profile. Dogs’ and cats’ bodies cannot distinguish between animal and plant sourced amino acids – so the source of the protein in terms of animal or plant is insignificant.

Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. The protein source (such as chicken) is weighed before it is processed. As chicken is not rendered (a cooking process to remove fat) it has a moisture content of 75% to 85%. Therefore whole chicken has a very low nutrient density when compared to a concentrated chicken meal. Below is a chart to help explain.

Diet A advertises whole chicken as the first ingredient based on 200 kg/ton in the food.

Diet B does not have chicken as the first ingredient, but includes chicken meal (may be 3rd or 4th in the ingredient list) at 180 kg/ton in the food.

table
As you can see Diet A appears to have higher levels of chicken because it is the first ingredient, but this is due to the high moisture content of the chicken ao that it appears higher on the ingredient list. Once that moisture is removed it contributes less to the finished product when compared to chicken meal, which has a low moisture content.  Owners think they are getting a diet with a lot of good protein when in fact they are not getting much at all.  The term “meal” is not a negative.  It simply means ground down and dried.

Now it is time to talk about the three scariest things in pet food, corn, wheat/gluten and by-products! Dun dun dun…….

By-Products

By products could be more accurately termed co-products. They are not the primary product being produced, so they are called by-products. If you are raising chickens for breast meat, once the breasts are removed the entire rest of the chicken is a by-product.

chicken

When people hear by-products they think that it is hair, hooves and feathers. At Royal Canin by-products can include heart, lung, liver, kidney, etc. Materials that are indigestible such as hair, horns, teeth, beaks, hooves and feathers are not included. Please note that by-products used by different companies can vary in quality.

Chicken wings and thighs, summer sausage and liver are all by-products that we eat. Organ meats are more nutrient dense than meat derived from muscle and are the source of important essential nutrients. Hearts for example are a good source of taurine (an amino acid needed by cats), L-carnitine and protein. Connective tissue is a good source of chondroitin, which is good for joints. Chicken meal and chicken by-product meal are identical in digestibility, nutrient profile and have virtually no visible difference. Some food companies use chicken by-product meal instead of chicken meal because there is a growing demand for chicken meat for human consumption. Companies like Royal-Canin want a sustainable protein source that is not going to impact the public. So please do not be scared when you see that there are by-products in your pet’s food.

Corn

Many people believe that corn is just a filler and has no nutritional value. This myth is completely wrong. It is true that when we eat corn on the cob you can clearly see that the outer husk was not digested. This is due to its fibrous nature.  The corn inside the husk however is highly digestible.  When corn is ground up into a meal it becomes even more digestible. It is like when we eat corn tortilla chips. They do not come out whole. Corn is a valuable and nutritious ingredient that provides protein, amino acids, fibre, vitamins, fat and essential fatty acids. Let us take a closer look at the many things corn provides for your pet.

  • Essential fatty acids – the germ is a source of linoleic acid (omega 6 fatty acids) which promotes healthy skin and coat.corn
  • Vitamin A – involved in healthy vision and skin regeneration.
  • Vitamin B Complex – enhance immune and nervous system.
  • Essential Amino Acids (such as methionine) – corn gluten is a source of amino acids which are the building blocks for protein in the body. Protein supports muscle mass, growth and immune system function. Methionine is a natural urinary acidifier which reduces the likelihood of struvite crystal and stones from forming in the bladder.
  • Antioxidants – Beta carotene, vitamin E, lutein and zeaxanthin support eye health.
  • Fibre and Highly Digestible Carbohydrates – It is more efficient for the body to use carbs as energy and save proteins for vital functions. When protein is used for energy it increases waste products that are excreted by the kidneys. Fibre helps with intestinal mobility and health.
  • Minerals – Corn is rich in phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron and selenium.

 

People also believe that many dogs are allergic to corn. Studies have suggested that corn is equivalent to or less allergenic than other protein sources such as beef. Food allergies are responsible for less than 1 % of all skin conditions.

There is also the belief that dogs are carnivores and do not do well on a diet high in grains. The definition of a carnivore is an animal that requires certain nutrients in the diet that are more commonly found in animal sources such as the amino acid taurine. It does not mean that these animals have to live solely on meat. In fact, all-meat diets are unbalanced and can lead to vitamin and mineral excesses and deficiencies. Dogs today are better classified as omnivores like us, where their bodies utilize carbs for energy before protein and do well on plant and animal diets. Cats are obligate carnivores where they need certain nutrients from animal sources such as taurine, niacin and vitamin A. Cats also use protein before carbs for energy, so cat foods should be higher in protein than dog foods. This does not mean that cats cannot use carbs or need only animal based protein. As stated earlier, bodies cannot distinguish if an amino acid is from a plant or animal source.

As you can see corn is not a filler with no nutritional value and is not a common food allergen. Corn is more of a super food that provides protein, amino acids, fibre, vitamins, fat and essential fatty acids.

Wheat and Wheat Gluten

wheat glutenGluten has been under scrutiny due to the fad of gluten free diets and more people becoming diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. People then look at the family pet thinking that gluten must also be bad for them. Unfortunately quite a few people do not know what gluten actually is.

Wheat gluten specifically refers to the protein portion of the grain. To obtain it, the flour and the bran components of the whole grain are separated. To release the germ from the gluten, the wheat is first steeped and then ground. It is then spun in a centrifuge to separate the gluten and the starch. The gluten is then dried into a powder and this form is used in pet food.

Wheat gluten is a valuable protein source that has been shown to have a 99% digestibility by the small intestine. This minimizes the delivery of undigested proteins to the large bowel, thereby improving stool quality, reducing fecal odour and flatulence.  Plus it also can reduce the amount of stool you have to pick up.

Wheat gluten also has an amino acid profile that complements meat protein profiles. Wheat gluten is low in saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium.

Gluten is made up of many different proteins. The two main groups are the gliadins and the glutenins. Celiac disease is an glutenautoimmune disorder found in individuals who must avoid gliadin, a glycoprotein found in gluten sources such as wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats. Celiac disease is serious for those affected, but it is generally well controlled by avoiding consumption of gliadin. Celiac disease is a relatively uncommon condition that affects less than 1% of the population.   This is a human disease and is not found in pets.

Gluten sensitive enteropathy is a disorder of the small intestine that results from an intolerance to gliadin. It is not a food allergy to gluten. Consumption of wheat gluten is not a risk factor for developing the disease. It is a very rare disease that only affects certain breeds such as the Irish Setter. For the rest of the pet population wheat gluten is a wonderful source of nutrition.

Comparing Diets

Now that we have had a look at some items you may see in the ingredient list and cleared up some myths and misconceptions there is one last item I would like to address. How do you compare diets?

analysisThe guaranteed analysis provides information on the levels of protein, fat, fibre, and moisture in the formulation. This is on an “as fed” basis and only provides information on the maximum and minimum levels of nutrients. It is impossible to compare diets based on the guaranteed analysis because you do not know the exact levels.  The food can literally range anywhere within the provided ranges.

A typical analysis or nutrient composition table is necessary to compare diets. The analysis gives a specific nutrient level instead of the max/min levels in the guaranteed analysis. Some companies cannot give you a nutrient table or typical analysis because their diets fluctuate frequently due to what ingredients are available through their manufacturing plant.

The best way to compare diets is to look at the level of nutrients based on the calorie or nutrient density of the diet. If diet A says to feed 2 cups for a 10kg dog and diet B says to feed 1 & ½ cups then diet B would be the better choice. Some companies sell you a big bag of food for a low cost, but you have to feed more than a higher quality diet equaling a higher cost overall.

I hope this information has helped to clear up some misconceptions and helped in educating you in some common marketing tactics. I wish I could just give you a list of diets that are good for your pet and which are bad. If you keep in mind that there is a pyramid when it comes to pet food. Grocery store diets are good, pet store diets are better and veterinary exclusive diets are best.

Pyramid

For some companies it is their job to sell you food and some of them are excellent at it. Try to not get tied up in the hype and fancy commercials. Also, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. If your pet is doing well on their current diet and their weight is good, skin and coat is healthy and they are having good bowel movements then the diet you are on is most likely fine. But if your pet is having problems such as skin/coat, joint, urinary or weight problems, your veterinary staff is there to help you. Extensive research and quality control go into making veterinary exclusive diets. For more information about the research and quality control that goes into these diets please read my blog post called ‘My Tour of Royal Canin’.

I would like to leave you with one last piece of advice. Remember to regularly wash your pet’s dishes with soap and water and rinse thoroughly. Remaining food particles attract bacteria and insects. Stay healthy out there.

wash dish

 

Additional information/sources

http://www.albertnorthvetclinic.ca/diet-recommendations.pml

http://www.albertnorthvetclinic.ca/pet-food-labels.pml

http://www.albertnorthvetclinic.ca/get-the-facts.pml

Royal Canin Nutrition Module: Ingredients vs Nutrients

 

My Tour of the Royal Canin Plant

The pet food market is a fiercely competitive one, where many food companies take advantage of the lax marketing laws to make their food appear to be the absolute best.  In the veterinary field we spend a lot of time constantly increasing and updating our knowledge about nutrition; as nutrition is a vital component of your pet’s health.   The diets carried in our clinic are ones we know go through vigorous testing and are made by companies that are open and uphold extremely high standards for themselves.  Recently our lead nutrition consult, technologist Brianna, went on a tour of the Royal Canin plant.   Below is what she learned.

by: Brianna deVries

I was flown out to the Royal Canin Plant in Guelph, Ontario along with other technicians and support staff from Western Canada.

First off I want to say that Royal Canin is dedicated to the environment and protecting it and it’s resources.

When we arrived at the plant the first thing I noticed or should I say, didn’t notice, was the smell of kibble. We all took a deep breath, but couldn’t detect an unpleasant odor. This was thanks to Royal Canin’s odor treatment system. The plant air is filtered through bio filters that use naturally occurring bacteria to destroy odor causing compounds before being released into the environment. This process uses very little energy, requires no hazardous chemicals and doesn’t produce any harmful waste products.

RC Plant

Once inside we all met in one of the conference rooms where we received an overview of the plant and the safety gear we would be wearing. Since the process of making the diets goes from dirty to clean we were going to see the process in reverse to prevent any contamination. We got dressed in our lab coats, safety glasses, hair nets, hard hats and safety vests, then we were on our way.

The plant is broken down into different color coded sections. Before entering the packaging area we headed into a small room to wash up. We put on white shoe covers, washed our hands and finished with hand sanitizer. We were now geared up, clean and ready to learn.

In the packaging area the diets flow through a hopper and into bags. Before the bags are sealed they are flushed with nitrogen (a non-reactive, natural part of the air we breathe). Replacing the oxygen in the bag with nitrogen minimizes the potential for fat oxidation and product rancidity. The flushing process is performed three times to ensure that the level of oxygen never goes over the maximum allowable limit.

Royal Canin prides themselves on quality control. Before the diets are packaged special testing magnets are placed in the batch of food. All of the sealed bags pass through three different metal detectors to help ensure that there are no metal fragments in the kibble. If all of the magnets are not recovered the entire batch is rejected. Random bags are selected for further testing such as checking oxygen levels, appearance and consistency of kibble, or placed in a water bath to ensure the bags are properly sealed. A sample from each batch is taken and kept for 18 months. Then if they ever receive multiple complaints about a diet from the same batch they can go back to their sample on file and do further testing. This helps determine if there was a problem in the manufacturing or if it was a problem that occurred after the product left the plant.   The bags of food that have been rejected (had a magnet, were underweight, not properly sealed, etc.) and the bags that were selected for random testing do not go to waste. The food is used as fertilizer/compost and the packaging is mulched and used as a fuel pellet.

RC ImagesOne of the things we noticed was that there were beautiful pictures of pets hanging on the walls and the packaging area had windows to let the sun in. What we learned was that all of the pictures on the walls throughout the plant are employee pets and the pictures go through a rotation. The picture of the pet also stays in the same area that the owner works in. So if you work in the packaging area your pet’s professionally done photo will be rotated through that area.  We also learned that all the pet’s images used in Royal Canin’s brochures, website, etc. are owned by employees of the company.

After seeing the packaging and testing process it was off to the extrusion room, or as our tour guide called it, ‘the playdoh press’. We weren’t allowed to enter the actual room, but did get to go into the control room and see the machines through the large windows. Inside the room were all of the computers that operate the machines. Due to Royal Canin’s kibble technology each diet has their own extrusion plate to create the unique kibble.

Royal Canin also has an interesting drying process. Instead of having the kibble dry on a conveyor belt it goes into a drying silo. As the kibble rotates in the silo it dropsUrinary-SO
into the lower levels as the kibble shrinks. This process uses the power of gravity and ensures the kibble are uniformly dried. Once the kibbles are dry a special coating is applied. The coating depends on the particular diet. It could be a mixture of omega fatty acids, green lipped mussel, dental coating or palatants (a coating that helps increase the desire of the pet to eat the food).  The employees take a sample of each batch and mark the date and time. The kibble is then checked for uniform color, size and texture. We had the opportunity to try warm feline urinary s/o fresh from the extruder. It tasted like an unsalted triscuit.

Due to the coating that is applied to the kibble it is recommended to keep the diet in its original packaging and not in a plastic container. The oils in the coating can absorb into the plastic and become rancid. Royal Canin uses natural preservatives such as rosemary extract, so if there is any old kibble at the bottom of the plastic container when new food is poured in, the old food can become moldy and feed on the new food. If you are going to store the diet in a different container be sure there is no old food and thoroughly wash it with soap and water between bags.

Next was on to the lab where the initial testing is done on incoming raw materials. When a shipment is brought to the plant the ingredients are tested before they are accepted. The samples are taken using a long probe with multiple openings that is stuck several feet into the material, so they are not just testing the top. Royal Canin uses near-infrared spectroscopy to ensure that the ‘fingerprint’ of the incoming raw material matches the data base. If the material passes this initial test it then goes to the larger lab on site for further testing. The driver waits on site until all tests are finished; which can take up to 4 hours.  If it doesn’t match the fingerprint on file the shipment is rejected. When materials are rejected they are tested to find out why and Royal Canin then informs the supplier.  If the raw materials meet Royal Canin’s high standards it is given a batch number and put into storage. This batch number allows each raw material to be traced back to the bag of food it was used in. All of the suppliers are rigorously audited and regularly monitored. If a raw material from a supplier gets rejected multiple times they are put on probation and can potentially be dropped as a supplier. Royal Canin does have back up suppliers, so when a shipment is rejected they can call their back up supplier.

RC adultThe last stop of the plant tour was the silos where raw materials are stored and the bins in which vitamins and minerals are stored. Everything had a batch number so all materials can be traced. We were informed that Royal Canin does not store pallets of finished product on site. All diets are made to order, so when one of the distributors such as WDDC (where we order our products through) place an order, Royal Canin then makes and ships the product out. This ensures they are able to send the freshest product possible.

Do you remember those white shoe covers we had to put on at the beginning of the tour? Keep in mind that we were in the packaging area, hallways, the extrusion control room, labs, in where raw materials are stored and even stairwells. There was barely anything on the bottom of our shoe covers! This shows just how clean Royal Canin keeps their facility to prevent any contamination.

We headed back to the conference room where we took off some of our gear. Still keeping our lab coats on and safety glasses we headed outside into the beautiful spring air and walked to their main lab.  The larger lab on site performs the other testing on raw materials and the finished product. The lab also does digestibility tests, checks amino acid compositions, etc. They test products that are under investigation, such as a bag returned because of an odd odor or the pet vomited after eating. They also test the mineral content of certain raw materials because of the specificity of microminerals in a diet. An example of why they do this kind of testing is that all carrots are not the same. If you use carrots that were grown in a selenium deficient soil, then you need to supplement the diet, but if they used a shipment of carrots that were grown in selenium rich soil then the diet would now have too much selenium. The analysts are highly trained chemists and go through an extensive validation process to ensure they provide accurate, reliable and repeatable results no matter the type of samples.*

After the large lab tour we headed back to the conference room where we given an opportunity to have a Q & A session with some of the management. They told us that Royal Canin is very conscious about their impact on the environment. They had planned on becoming a zero landfill company by 2015. Through innovation they achieved this goal in 2013, a year and a half ahead of schedule. All of their waste is diverted from the landfills to be re-used, recycled or re-purposed. When it comes to selecting raw materials for their diets they look into the sustainability of the natural resource.

The Saskatchewan Group

The Saskatchewan Group

It was a fantastic tour that I wish everyone could go on. Royal Canin had nothing to hide from us. They strongly believe in research and what is best for the animal instead of giving in to fads and marketing. They answered all and any questions we had without hesitation. The overall feeling of the tour was positive, enlightening and of course fun.

 

*Amendment – the original post indicated the analysts were biotechs who trained in France, we have since been informed they are chemists and that although they do go through extensive training, this is not done in France.  The blog above has been amended to correct this information.

Pipps – A Story to Warm your Heart

IMG_0255

Pipps prior to her health issues & weight loss

by: Jennifer Oldfield

Pipps is a 13 year old cat with a new lease on life.  Pretty amazing is a great way to describe her for more than one reason.  Let’s start her story in April of 2013 when her owner brought her in because she wasn’t eating and she suddenly had lost a lot of weight*.  Pipps was jaundiced and had mild dehydration.  Dr. Barb Eatock suspected she had fatty liver and went over the options with her owner.  It was decided that she would return the next day for an ultrasound by our in-house diagnostic ultrasound expert Dr. Jo-Ann Liebe.  Ultrasound confirmed a diagnosis of fatty liver.

In a nut shell fatty liver is a form of liver disease where too much fat has entered the kidney too quickly and the body can not process it.  When cats end up with this form of liver disease they often will not eat so the next course of action for Pipps was to place a feeding tube.  The options were to place a tube in her esophagus (through the neck) or directly into her stomach.  Dr. Liebe discussed the options with Pipps’ owner and it was decided to proceed with the esophageal tube.

Although the surgery (performed by Dr. Tracy Fisher) went well, when Pipps breathing tube (from the surgery) was removed she turned blue and stopped breathing.  She was immediately intubated again, CPR was performed and she was given epinephrine.  Once Pipps stabilized the tube was again removed however Pipps was still not well oxygenated so an oxygen mask was kept on her and her chest was xrayed.  Her left lung lope looked as though there could possibly be a tumor.  Dr. Fisher contacted Pipps owner to discuss and it was decided to not proceed further with investigating the potential tumor.  Fortunately Pipps began to stabilize on her own and was steadily improving.

Pipps was kept overnight in clinic on IV fluids.  The following day she was very yellow (more jaundiced then when she first came in), depressed but responsive.  She was fed Recovery and given water through her feeding tube.  Her owner came and took her home with a guarded prognosis.. she anticipated that Pipps may not get better and it could be the end of Pipps time.  However, Pipps had other ideas!  Nine days later she was doing well  – well enough that she was eating again on her own!  It was recommended to change her food to i/d, a diet that is easy on the digestive system.   She came in, had her feeding tube removed and was looking great.  She was no longer jaundiced and she had gained a bit of weight.  Yeah Pipps!  Her owner was thrilled and relieved.

By November, however, Pipps had gained a bunch of weight on the i/d.  Definitely not good as overweight cats are at higher risk of fatty liver and her owner certainly did not want a repeat of the problem she had miraculously overcome.  Pipps’ owner had a consultation with veterinary technician Brianna and together determined it best to switch her over to Metabolic – a diet that works to increase a pet’s metabolism.  By April of 2014 Pipps had not lost any weight, although fortunately she was no longer gaining.  While in for her annual exam she was measured to determine exactly what her daily intake of Metabolic should be and she entered our Biggest Loser Challenge.  At this point Pipps owner described her as a pretty laid back cat.  She couldn’t jump up on to the counters (her owner thought in part due to her age and in part due to the weight).  She didn’t really play much, seemed like the kind of cat that just wanted to spend the day lounging – an older cats prerogative, right?

Over the course of the 6 month challenge Pipps weight lose initially was non-existent, however after 3 months she had lost 0.4kg and by the end of the challenge she had lost 0.7kg (a significant decrease for a cat) clinching the winning spot for the biggest body fat percentage lost by a cat!  Well done Pipps.  Another great success in her health challenges.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Now Pipps has a renewed lease on life.  She is energetic and playful and surprises her owners daily.  She can get up on the counters, loves to look out the window and in fact, aids the dog in stealing food by knocking it off the shelf!

Even though she is behaving like a kitten, her owner would never complain.   Two years ago she didn’t know if Pipps would still be with them.  Her owner feels it is important for people to realize that just because your pet is older doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be playful and energetic.   It could, in fact, mean that something medically is going on that may be causing them pain or other health issues.  She recommends consulting your vet to be sure your pet is in their peak health so they get the best quality and biggest quantity of life.

IMG_0368  IMG_0370

If you have any questions about your pet, if something seems maybe not quite right, please don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian.

*Quick weight loss in any pet is not a positive, regardless of whether they are overweight or not.  Just like in people weight loss should be intentional and slow.  If it occurs quickly and unexpected it is a sign that something is wrong.

A Foreign Body – Why Time is Important

by: Jennifer Oldfield

The month of March is Poison Prevention Awareness Month and we have had 2 posts this month on toxins to your pet, but sometimes things that aren’t technically toxic can be just as problematic if swallowed.  Occasionally cats, but much more frequently dogs, will eat items that really aren’t intended to be edible; items such as rocks, all kinds of toys, socks, even gloves.   In many cases if the item is small they are able to pass them through their system, or they will vomit them up, but sometimes they end up caught part way through being digested and surgery becomes required to remove the item.

Grace is one such dog who required surgery.  Her story is fairly simple.  One day she threw-up a gardening glove.  Grace appeared fine but her owner exercised caution and gave her a very small meal.  She didn’t vomit again, so a bit later she gave her more food.  She ended up vomiting all of it up.  Without hesitation Grace was brought in to us.  Although Dr. Liebe could feel a foreign body in Grace’s abdomen x-rays were taken to confirm.

Rad

Dr. Liebe got Grace into surgery right away.   The surgery only lasted 30 mins.  She was able to remove the foreign body (which turned out to be the other glove) and sew her back up without requiring any additional surgery time, thanks to Grace’s owner acting quickly and bringing her in right away.

 

Why is that time so important?  What difference would 12 or 24 hours have made?

There are 2 answers to that question:

  •  Especially quickly in cats, but certainly also in dogs, they can become sick enough that they don’t make it
  • Provided surgery can occur it is higher risk due to;
    • possible dehydration
    • abnormal blood results because the body is trying to fight what it sees as an infection
    • the tissue surrounding the foreign body begins to die (labelled in the image below as hypoxic intestine)

7___hypoxic_intestineOften the surgery to remove a foreign body is an hour or more in length.  This is due to the necessity of removing a section of the intestines, anywhere from a few inches to, on rare occasion, as much as a foot.

For your pet to have the best case scenario the sooner you get them in the better.  Our basic rule of thumb is:

  1. if you know they have eaten something they shouldn’t have, but you think they can pass it, monitor them
  2. if they are having diarrhea or vomiting they should be seen as soon as possible
  3. if they can’t keep anything down (especially water) do NOT wait any longer, they need to be seen immediately.

Ideally we will see your pet prior to getting to #3.  If your pet ate something and you are unsure if it will pass, please always call your veterinarian, they are your best source for information.

To see a video clip of part of Grace’s surgery, click here.