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A Few Hot Potatoes about Pet Nutrition

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I heard a colleague say that along with politics and religion, you should never talk about pet food and what people are feeding their pets.

I get why this could be a thing:  there are so many new pet foods out there in the last 10 years. There are so many opinions and so-called experts and there is so much aggressive marketing. Pet owners can be very passionate about what they feed their pets.

But I am a veterinarian. I am a doctor and a scientist with a goal of helping pets. I think we SHOULD talk about pet food. No, I’m not a veterinary nutritionist, and I’m not an alternative/holistic veterinarian.  But I am trained as a general veterinarian, I do study researched articles, I attend veterinary continuing education, and I have a lot of hands-on experience with my patients.

I know that our pets are part of the family and we want the very best for them.  But they have become so anthropomorphized that whatever seems to be the latest diet trend/fad/craze for people is now the going concern for our pets as well. Much of what people believe comes from the media, from marketing, and from celebrities on social media.

I don’t want to upset pet owners or get on a soapbox because I have no soapbox.   I want you to be informed. I have the responsibility to educate you and to challenge unscientific, fear-based marketing ploys. 

These are some hot button points/untruths:

  • Grain and corn are bad for pets
  • Natural is better.
  • By-products are bad.
  • Raw food is better and healthier for pets

Myth: Grain and corn are bad for pets.

So, maybe wild canines don’t eat corn, but wild animals are also one step away from starvation. They have little fat reserves because they eat food (other wild animals) that is low in energy and high in protein. Corn and grains are a source of carbohydrate that if added to diets in a proper amount allow us to feed our pets affordably and in a more sustainable, earth-friendly way (plant proteins have a lower impact on the environment than animal proteins).

I am not saying that our pets need to be vegetarian or vegan. Just that protein, made up of individual amino acids, can be sourced from many places. An amino acid is an amino acid and it doesn’t matter where it comes from. It only matters that there are enough of the correct amino acids in the right ratios to make up a complete or whole dietary protein for the type of animal being considered.

Corn is a nutritious nugget.  It’s a good source of two amino acids, which make up protein. The carbohydrate part of corn is used as an energy source in pet food.  Corn is also a source of fatty acids, antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals. It is affordable and available.  Unless your pet is actually allergic to corn, there is nothing bad about it in the right amounts.

Did you know that only a very small percentage of skin irritations in dogs and cats is due to food allergies?

Grains contain a very digestible protein called gluten.  There are only a very few dogs that are intolerant to gluten. Celiac disease is a human disease, and although there is a similar condition in some setter type dog breeds, it is very rare. Sensitivities to grains and/or gluten in dogs may exist, but they are super uncommon.  In general, grains are a very good source of digestible amino acids (but not complete protein), carbohydrate, vitamins, and fibre.

The most important thing in pet food is high quality nutritional ingredients in the right proportion for the animal’s dietary needs.  Yes, some animals have allergies and sensitivities, but that’s no reason to condemn the whole group.

I like strawberries and think they’re wonderful, but some people cannot enjoy them because they’re allergic to them.  It doesn’t make them bad.

Many commercial grain-free diets that have potatoes or legumes instead of grains have now been shown to be at the root of a life-threatening heart condition in dogs call cardiomyopathy. The condition is related to an absence or imbalance of the amino acid, taurine.  The relationship between grain-free and this missing amino acid is not quite understood yet. We have seen dogs in our practice with this heart condition that was totally caused by a diet heavily marketed as healthy and grain-free.

This leads me to another myth…

Myth: Natural is better.

Well, no.  Not always. This is nothing new to you. Poison ivy is natural.  Tornadoes are natural. Forest fires are natural.  Oil bubbling up out of the ground is natural.  Having well organized sewage retrieval systems in our cities is not natural. (But it sure is good and sure goes a long way to improving the sanitation and decrease spread of diseases in our country).  Natural is not always what you want. 

We need to look at what natural means. Just because something was added, even a flavour or a preservative, doesn’t mean that it’s bad.  Preservatives actually improve the flavour and lifespan of pet food. Flavours make eating enjoyable for fussy pets and help to keep your pet eating nutritionally sound food instead of salty junk food that’s not so good for him.

I have always been confused by the stigma concerning protein derived from “by-products”. By-products are the things that people don’t eat from butchered animals, such as the internal organs and intestines.  A wild animal eating another wild animal will eat these parts first, as they have far more nutritional value than the muscled part of the carcass, which is what humans eat. All proteins are not the same.  What matters is how digestible they are and what complement of amino acids they have. By-products would be considered “natural”, and yet they are heavily shunned on many marketing campaigns.

The movement toward avoiding vaccination and feeding raw diets – both very dangerous “natural” practices, is a threat to animal welfare. This is only made worse by marketing that capitalizes on people’s misconceptions and fear.

Raw diets.

Raw food is definitely what animals eat in the wild.  But there is no research that proves that raw has more nutritional value than cooked food.  Cooked food is definitely safer than raw.  Yes, dogs and cats have more resistance to bacterial disease in raw food than humans, but they are not immune to them. As a veterinarian, I see many cases of digestive upset and illness related to raw food ingestion, either purposefully or raw food that animal found on its own. Intestines perforated or obstructed by bones and pet dental fractures are very commonly caused by chewing on bones.  

The biggest danger is to human health. A raw diet is swimming with bacteria that pose a health risk to pets and humans Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, and Staph aureus are just a few of the organisms that linger in raw meat.  Raw food contamination of feed dishes in your home, and contamination around your pet’s mouth/lips is a true source of concern. Pets that eat raw food shed the bacteria in their feces, another source of contamination risk to humans.

Many raw diets are also not nutritionally complete.

Despite this, however, the raw food diet movement is huge and many pet owners and even some veterinarians swear by it. There is just no clinically proven benefits of a raw diet, but the hazards and risks are well documented.

I am not going to push this further. I know that it’s a hot topic.  But I do want you to take raw food seriously. Do your research and know what you’re getting into. Talk to a veterinary holistic nutritionist at least, and know that this is not a diet to play with or take lightly. It takes work, research, knowledge, strict cleanliness, and money.

What about commercial pet foods?

Well, if you stick with the companies that put a lot of their time and resources into research, testing, and quality control, you will be on the right track. I can name a really good company that puts huge amounts of time and money into testing and quality control. Seriously, I think it’s higher than human food company standards. I’ve visited the company and it’s food production facility and I was impressed.  Just ask me or anyone on our staff which company this is.

Yes, there have been serious problems with ingredients in commercial pet foods. Very serious. But you don’t hear about all the many more numerous serious problems caused by boutique trendy foods and raw foods to the same degree because there are so many variables.

Bottom line is: be a smart consumer. Don’t fall prey to heavy marketing that follows human trends. Try to stay with what’s been tested and researched and known to be the best nutrition for your pet.

Always talk to your veterinarian. We are trained and if we don’t know, we have resources to find out.

Some parting words…

“You are what you eat”.

and

“Food is medicine”.

TPLO

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TPLO stands for Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy.  This is a specific orthopedic surgery used to treat dogs with ruptured cranial cruciate ligaments. The cruciate ligament is part of the knee structure and gives stability to the joint. You may have also heard the ruptured ligament called an “ACL” tear, which is the term for a similar condition in humans – think of the athlete with an ACL tear or meniscal tear.

TPLO was first developed in the 1980s by an innovative veterinary surgeon, Dr. Slocum, and has been modified and improved ever since.  Although there are many different surgical methods to treat cranial cruciate ligament tears in dogs, TPLO has shown to be a shining star among them.

TPLO is an especially good treatment option for very active dogs and very large dogs that have torn the ligament, but it can be performed in any size or type of dog with very good results.

The procedure is all related to physics, forces, vectors and angles. So, don’t ever believe it that you don’t use what you learn in grade school!

In a nut shell, the surgery involves cutting off the top part of the tibia bone, rotating it, and then reattaching it in place with a specially designed plate and screws in order to change the angle between the tibia and femur bone.  This provides stability.

Then after weeks to months of recovery, rehabilitation, and generally taking it easy – this is a broken bone that needs to heal, after all! – your dog will return to near (but not perfect) normal function. That’s the goal – no more limping or pain and being able to run and be active again.

Studies have shown that TPLO dogs return to function faster, they develop less joint arthritis, and they tend to return to better functional levels than is seen with other techniques.

We now offer TPLO at Steeples Veterinary Clinic

 

The Importance of Online Reviews

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“Just Google it!” is such a prolific phrase that we don’t even think twice about it. 20 years ago, this was simply not the case. The internet and search engines have changed the social landscape so greatly that businesses and services are completely lost without it. Even well-established businesses can be forgotten about if they do not embrace technology and adapt to this new social landscape. At Steeples Veterinary Clinic, we pride ourselves on keeping as up-to-date as possible with technology. We have an app, an online store, and a reputable online presence in the community. There is one more thing that really helps business and services stay afloat. Online reviews!

Seeing reviews on Amazon can greatly affect your decision in choosing the right product for you. Even local services, like Veterinary care, are hugely impacted by these! Google conveniently organizes reviews to be at the forefront of business information when you are searching around for the product or service you need. These reviews provide great insight for businesses and services to serve you better. Google also chooses who to list first on their page based on various characteristics of each candidate. Affecting one’s ranking on this list is called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short. Having more reviews has a huge impact on ensuring products or services stay noticeable on search engines and the internet as a whole!

Long story short, the impact of an online review is immeasurable. Even though we have been serving the Kootenays for 20 years before Google even existed, a positive review on Google speaks louder than any of us could have imagined.

3 Common Myths about Bad Breath in Pets

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Your cat or dog has that certain odour when he gives you a kiss or when he just walks in the room.  Is this something to be concerned about? There are three common myths about halitosis.

Three Common Myths about halitosis in your pet:

  1. “It’s just doggie breath!”

Many dogs or cats do have a certain breath odour that is normal. But it shouldn’t be very unpleasant and it shouldn’t be the first thing you notice when your pet walks in the room.

  1. “My cat always smells like that”. One caution here: you’ve heard of going nose blind? Well that often happens with owners and pets.  Maybe ask a friend or neighbour what they think about your pet’s breath.

Perhaps you’ve become accustomed to that smell, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something to be concerned about.

  1. “Your breath would smell too if you ate pooh!”  Yes, what is it with dogs and eating feces?  No respectable cat would ever do such a thing. In any case, I digress from the topic here:  no matter what your dog eats, it shouldn’t be the cause of a lingering bad smell in his mouth. If the smell is there, there’s a cause.

A really bad mouth odour can be a sign of one of several things: dental disease such as gingivitis or the more serious periodontitis, an infection in another part of the mouth, like the tongue or the soft palate, something stuck in his mouth for a long time, or a disease affecting the whole body that is causing odours to come up from the stomach.

You can start by just lifting up the lips and looking. The gums shouldn’t be red: that’s not normal. The teeth should not be covered with tartar, plaque, or worse. You shouldn’t be bowled over by a bad smell.

80-85% of the patients that veterinarians see have some form of dental disease. Gingivitis is very common. That’s when the gums are swollen and red and there’s a coating of slime, called plaque, on the teeth and some tartar or calculus as well.

Gingivitis is dental disease in the early stage and it can be cured with dental cleaning and good home care. When gingivitis is long-standing it becomes periodontitis, and that’s bad news. The periodontal ligament holds the tooth in place in the socket. When it becomes infected, that signifies a deep-seated infection and eventually a loose tooth. An infection is an infection, no matter where it is. It is painful. It is a focus of bacteria that can make things worse and worse around the tooth and may have a bigger effect on the whole body.

Why ignore bad breath?  Have a look in his mouth for yourself first, then take your cat or your dog in to see your veterinarian.

The doctor will go on a search for the cause. He or she will assess the level of gum disease. They will look for other causes of bad breath.  Sometimes there’s a stick or a bone stuck in the mouth that you may not have noticed, sometimes there’s a serious problem, usually it’s dental disease.  Your veterinarian will get to the root of the problem and make recommendations to fix it.

Don’t let bad breath in your pet be acceptable. Get it checked!

February is Dental Month at Steeples Veterinary Clinic.

Well, really, it’s always dental month …all year long! But in February we want to have a special focus on your pet’s smile.

Ask one of our team members about Dental Month!

 

The Value of Veterinary Medicine

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I was thinking about how much my cat means to me. Not only is he cute, but… the smell of his fur, the look in his eyes, the way he twists his body when he sees me. These have such a positive effect on me.

Do you know that the sound frequency of a cat’s purring has a healing effect, lowers stress, and can calm you? I think I have always intuitively known that.

As a pet owner, I know how valuable an animal is to my life. In our fast-paced, concrete, digital, virtual world, we can come home to warm, furry, living beings that give us unconditional love. This is valuable beyond words.

As a veterinarian, I see people every day that know this. Maybe they don’t know they know it, but they do.  I entered the profession because it is interesting and challenging, but also because I can have a very positive and valuable effect on the lives of people.  If I help your pet, I am helping you.  Yes, I am helping the individual animal and that is extremely gratifying. Helping the people that go along with that pet – well, that’s what life is all about!

I want you, as a pet owner, to realize the importance and value of veterinary care. Why? Because pets ARE like children to us and they depend on us. There’s a slight, but not insurmountable language barrier, so our pets are unable to verbalize what’s going on. Often, they hide their issues or don’t really know that something is even wrong. As a veterinarian, I can help. I can help with quality of life and length of life and everything in between.

Veterinary medicine is very advanced and getting more so every day. A huge amount of research, money, smarts, and testing goes into research and training in the veterinary field. Times are not like they were even 10 years ago, let alone 20 years. Everything that can be done for humans can be done for pets, medically speaking

Veterinarians graduate with a big body of knowledge and the ability to really make a difference. A veterinarian is trained to notice problems with your animal and to help prevent them from starting. 

We as veterinarians understand the impact we have on your life. We want it to be as positive as possible. We want you to understand that who we are and what we do is available to you and your pet and that taking advantage of what we offer is one of the most important things you can do.

Thank-you for allowing me, as a veterinarian, to help you.

Beware the Dangers of “Anaesthetic Free Dentistry”

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You know by now the importance of dental health in our pets. Periodontal disease is common and 85% of pets have some form of gum disease at any given time.

The goal of dental cleaning is to remove plaque and calculus or tartar that harbour bacteria. These bacteria are the cause of the infection in the gingiva and the periodontal ligament. The treatment involves using water and sharp instruments beneath below the gum line in the little groove called the sulcus, or in some cases in a periodontal pocket. It is a precise technique. It is exactly the same as what you have done yourself when you go to your dental hygienist.

In veterinary dentistry, we need to use general anaesthetic. We must provide restraint and take precautions that the instruments and the pressurized water is not causing harm. There is no way to do a thorough sub-gingival scaling and polishing and careful exam with dental charting in an awake pet. If anyone tells you otherwise, then be careful.

Many people have concerns about anaesthetic. Today, with proper examination, blood tests, and other screening, we can know what to expect ahead of time and we can be very safe with general anaesthetic. Please talk to your veterinarian about your concerns.

To really treat gum disease and manage plaque and tartar in cats and dogs, there must be thorough cleaning above AND below the gum line. This treatment is specialized and should only be done by your veterinarian. Why? Veterinary dentistry is a branch of veterinary medicine and can only be legally performed by a licensed veterinarian and his or her representatives. These are highly trained professionals.

My main concern for anaesthetic free dental cleanings? I don’t want you to think that you can go and have a quick scraping done while your cat or dog is awake and that you are making a good health decision for your pet. Very little is being done for your pet’s dental health. And most important of all is that some harm may be done.
Come and talk to us about dental care. It’s a big part of what we do.

It’s Dental Month! 

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We’re focusing on dental disease in February. But really, we focus on it every day.
Why so much concern about teeth in our pets? Because gingivitis, periodontal disease, and broken teeth are very common. All dogs and cats have teeth and gums used mainly for chewing and eating, but also for playing.

Gingivitis is a gum infection that comes about because of bacteria in the mouth. Bacteria and saliva together make plaque, and then plaque becomes calculus. The infection settles in for a while and eventually gingivitis becomes periodontitis, a deeper, more serious infection around the teeth. The gums become sore. Eating can be painful and more difficult and playing is not so fun anymore either.

These changes are insidious – they come on slowly – so slowly that we may not notice a big change in our pet’s appetite or how they feel. Pet owners often say, “My pet’s still eating and isn’t in pain at all”. It’s very seldom going to be the kind of pain that stops eating all together, but maybe he or she chews differently, eats slower, or now prefers wet food to dry. Many pets just get used to the pain. It becomes a new normal.
A broken tooth may be initially painful, but then it can go quiet until the bacteria travel up into the root and eventually form a tooth root abscess. Ouch.
If your cat or dog hasn’t had a check-up for a while, why wait? Your veterinarian and the whole team are trained to notice gum disease or other dental problems.
This February, let’s keep our pets smiling!

Ticks!

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Ticks, otherwise known as wood ticks, are small little arachnids that hang out on the long grasses and branches in the spring and summer waiting to catch a ride. When your dog or cat brushes by the little bug, it jumps right on. Then the tick travels to somewhere warm on the animal’s body. Ticks like the head and neck area, as there is a lot of warmth and good blood supply. They latch on with special mouth parts and start sucking blood.

Well, other than the gross factor, what harm do ticks do?

Transmission of Disease

The most common tick in our area, the East Kootenays, is the wood tick, also called Dermacentor andersoni. This tick does not carry Lyme disease, but it can carry some toxins that cause “Tick Paralysis”. This disease causes extreme weakness and paralysis in pets and livestock, but the signs go away once the tick is removed.

The tick that carries Lyme disease, an Ixodes tick, is uncommon in this area.

Tick pics

There are other blood-borne diseases that ticks can carry, although they are quite rare. If you notice your dog or cat is ill and you know he has had a recent tick bite or still has a tick, always take your pet in to the veterinarian. If there are no signs of illness or weakness, get busy and remove that tick!

How to Remove a Tick from your pet
Removing ticks can be tricky. Try to remove the tick with tweezers, grabbing the tick as close to the head as possible and pulling with gentle pressure. If you don’t get all of the mouth parts the first time, don’t panic: get out as much as you can and your pet’s immune system will take care of the rest. You can always consult your veterinarian if you’re still concerned.

tick pics 2

tick pics 3

Don’t use a flame or a hot poker on the tick; you’ll only end up burning your pet’s fur or skin.
Ticks have very hard body shells, so if you’re trying to kill the tick sometimes just stepping on it isn’t enough. You have to squish them very hard or separate the head from the body in order to kill them.

How to prevent ticks from biting your pet
There are medications that will kill ticks once they start sucking blood. There are also treatments that repel ticks and prevent them from biting in the first place. These anti-parasite treatments are usually given topically and used once a month. There are also new flea and tick collars that are useful to prevent the ticks from settling down to bite and suck blood.

tick pics 4

Some of these treatments are very poisonous to cats, so be sure you talk to your veterinarian first and read all labels.
A chemical free way to deal with ticks is to check your cat or dog every day. Look carefully around the head and neck, part the hair, comb through and look for the un-engorged tick so you can stop it before it bites.
Avoiding long grasses and keeping your own yard mowed and free from leaves and weeds will help keep ticks at bay.

I think we all agree on how much we don’t like ticks and don’t ever want to see one latched on to our bodies. Not cats, not dogs, not people, no one. But if you find one … be brave and just deal with it!

Winter Safety for Cats and Dogs

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It’s winter! Whether we have a lot of snow or not, it’s a beautiful time of year that brings with it some potential health concerns for pets.

• Antifreeze toxicity. Antifreeze solution from vehicles is poisonous to your dog or cat. It’s sweet and tasty and VERY dangerous if ingested; life-threatening in fact.
If you have antifreeze spills of your own, be sure to clean them up very well and don’t leave open containers laying around. If you’re on a walk, don’t let your dog off the leash to run around and sniff and eat things. If you think your pet has drank or licked some antifreeze, call your veterinarian immediately. Signs of antifreeze poisoning are initially vomiting, acting drunk, urinating and drinking more, and later on extreme fatigue and a painful abdomen. Please be very careful to keep your pet from this toxin.

• Cold temperatures. It seems we haven’t been getting the brutally cold temperatures anymore, (think minus forty on the prairies), but hypothermia and frostbite can still occur. Warm sweaters or jackets and boots will help dogs with thin/sparse hair coats.
Make sure pets that live outdoors year round have shelter and bedding. Many heavy-coated winter breeds love the cold winters and the snow and would be worse off if they were inside, but they still need shelter.
It’s also important to feed enough to outdoor pets, as keeping warm burns up a lot of calories.

• Snowballs between toes! If your dog or cat has very hairy feet, he or she may have a problem with snow building up between the toes. While not serious, it can be uncomfortable and lead to red, cracked skin or pads. This snow accumulation can be prevented by having your pet wear boots or by helping to melt and remove the snow as soon as the pet comes indoors. Using petrolatum jelly on the skin and hair before an outdoor walk on a snowy day will also help to prevent the problem.

• Toxic indoor plants. Maybe your cat is bored being cooped up indoors and maybe he really wants to eat grass. More cases of plant toxicity happen in the winter. Supply cat grass for indoor cats, and make sure house plants are non-toxic. To name a few (but there are many more): Poinsettias, Dracaena, and many types of lilies are poisonous plants for your pet.

• Getting enough exercise and not overeating. It happens to all of us. It’s not as easy to move around or go out for a walk with the snow, the cold, the ice, the busy times in winter. Eating comfort food makes us warm and comfortable. So we gain weight. Remember to make time to take your dog for a walk or play with your cat. And unless your pet is living outside in the cold or working hard every day, if you cut back on his daily calories by 25%, he will come through the winter in a sleeker condition. Good advice for pets and their people!

• Winter accidents. Be careful when skiing and snowshoeing that you always know where your dog is beside you. Skiis can be very sharp.
Be extra careful when driving at night, as it may be more difficult to see animals on the streets if there are a lot of bright lights, exhaust from vehicles, and snowbanks.

Have winter fun and be safe!

 

Feline Panleukopenia

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Feline Panleukopenia

Every year we see a cat disease that is very serious, usually fatal, and always preventable. These cases are in cats that have not been vaccinated or not properly vaccinated at a young age.

Feline Panleukopenia is a life-threatening viral disease of cats.  The disease may also be known as distemper in cats, and it is caused by a parvovirus (but not the same parvovirus as in dogs). Many people have heard of this disease only because it is in the core vaccine recommendations for cats.

The panleukopenia virus is very common and can live everywhere.  It can last for a year indoors at room temperature and survives freezing and many common disinfectants. The infection is highly contagious among unvaccinated cats, especially in kittens and young adults, and virtually every cat will be exposed to this virus at some point in life. It can be carried and shed in feces, vomit, urine, saliva, and mucus of an infected cat.  You may unknowingly be carrying the virus on yourself when you come home to your cat or when your cat meets a new friend.  Indoor-only cats are still at risk!

 

The virus enters the cat through the mouth or nose and, if the cat is not vaccinated against it, eventually leads to life-threatening disease of the intestine and bone marrow. Chances of survival without aggressive treatment and hospitalization are low because of severe dehydration and secondary bacterial infections.

The good news is that the panleukopenia vaccine for cats is very effective and provides long-lasting protection. The vaccine should be given at 12 weeks old and again at 14-15 weeks, then every three years afterward.

Vaccinating your cat against the core viruses, including panleukopenia, is always the right thing to do.