Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance in Dogs

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When our dogs are experiencing problems like itchy skin or an upset stomach, many owners will begin to suspect that their pet has a food allergy. Veterinary experts say that food allergies in dogs are not as common as people think, and that a food intolerance may be the cause of your dog’s issues. What’s the difference between an allergy and an intolerance? Read on.

While an allergy is caused by an immune system reaction, an intolerance is a sensitivity.  According to the nutritionists at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, out of all the dogs they see for suspected food allergies, only around 10% of them have an actual food allergy. What about the other 90%?

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Some of the dogs with skin issues are having allergic reactions to airborne particles in the environment like pollen, dust, and mold. For dogs with digestive problems, a food intolerance is more likely to be the culprit than a food allergy. Food intolerance can be more subtle than a sensitivity to a particular ingredient. For some dogs, it could be the amount of fat or fiber in a dog food, or even how it was cooked.

What are the most common food ingredients to cause intolerance in dogs? According to the experts at PetMD, owners should be aware of lactose, gluten, artificial additives like coloring, and table scraps containing things like spices.

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Of course, all dogs are different, so you should talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s particular food sensitivities. The standard way of identifying an intolerance or allergy is to exclude likely causes one at a time from your dog’s diet and see if the symptoms improve. Once the food is identified, avoid feeding your dog anything containing the offending ingredient, and be especially careful about people giving your dog “treats.”

 

Thanksgiving Food Safety for Pets

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Thanksgiving is coming next week, which makes it official…the holiday season is here!  We love to share the holiday festivities with our pets, and this sometimes includes a treat from the table.  Thanksgiving is always a good time to remind well-meaning pet owners to go easy on feeding our dogs and cats scraps from the table.

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While some people food is OK in moderation, there are definitely some things that need to be kept away from hungry pets. Here’s a handy guide on what foods you should avoid feeding your best friend this Thanksgiving:

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The Healthiest Fruits and Vegetables for Your Dog

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We all know it’s a good idea to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to our diet. Just don’t forget to share some of those yummy fruits and veggies with your dog, too! According to an informative article on the website One Green Planet, adding certain fruits and vegetables to your dog’s diet can help improve her overall health, including things like teeth, coat, bones, and eyesight.

Fruits and vegetable provide your dog with essential vitamins and minerals needed for optimum health. What are the best fruits and veggies to give to your dog? Here’s a list of the healthiest ones:

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Apples. A great source of vitamins A and C, as well as fiber. Crunchy apple slices can also help clean your dog’s teeth. It’s important to always remove the stem, core, and all seeds before feeding apples to your dog.

Carrots. One of the more common people food choices for your dog. They are loaded with beta carotene, potassium, fiber, and vitamins A, C, and K. Also great for cleaning teeth.

Sweet Potatoes. A popular treat for dogs, sweet potatoes are a great snack for pups who need to lose a few pounds. They are high in fiber and vitamins A, C, E, and B.

Celery. Celery is a good breath freshener and also contains many vitamins, plus other valuable nutrients like calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and sodium.

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Watermelon. Because watermelon contains a lot of water in addition to vitamins and minerals, summer is a great time to feed your dog watermelon to keep him well-hydrated.

Green beans. Another great choice for dogs on a diet because they’re filling and high in fiber. They also contain many essential nutrients.

Bok choy. This healthy green is not just for your rabbit. Feeding your dog some bok choy will provide her with vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium.

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Pumpkin. Pumpkin has long been a favorite people food for dogs. It has lots of fiber if your dog has digestive issues, plus other important vitamins and minerals.

 

Guest Blog: How Do I Choose My Pet’s Food?

We hope you enjoy this very informative article by veterinarian Dr. Kathy Boehme on choosing the right food for your pet. It was originally posted on the blog of The Drake Center for Veterinary Care, one of FACE’s valued veterinary partners. You can check out the original HERE.

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Deciding what to feed your pet is important, but can be a very confusing decision. There are a plethora of diets and even more opinions on what you should and should not feed your pet. Feeding options have become complicated by a mixture of science, hype, human diet fads, marketing and convenience. There are literally thousands of different pet foods with new ones every week. There is a lot of good information available but there is also a lot we do not know about nutrition. Just look at how the recommendations for humans have changed over the years and there is lots of research being done on human nutrition.

There are some very good pet nutrition companies who do provide information backed with feeding trials on both standard pet nutrition and more specific medical diets. These feeding trials with both normal and ill animals have provided us with immense amounts of information which has been lifesaving with many dogs and cats. These companies deserve credit for doing the research needed to further our understanding of pet nutrition.

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We are asked this question frequently, and there is rarely just one diet option. This can be disappointing, but there is no way to know the “best” diet for a particular pet. The only way to know is to break down the health concerns, see what we know about nutritional requirements with these concerns and then feed the diet and monitor what happens. Dogs and cats are individuals and what the same food does in different bodies varies highly, as many people already know. You may go through 10 diets before you find “the diet”.

If your pet is healthy and can seemingly handle any diet, then it may even be a good idea to rotate diets and see which diet seems the best for your pet. Generally, keeping your pet on a diet for 8 weeks should be an appropriate amount of time to determine if your pet does well on a particular diet. If you find a few diets that your pet likes and does well on, it is fine to rotate the diets. If your pet has a sensitive stomach, and develops diarrhea or soft stool easily, pick one manufacturer and protein type. Be consistent, unless your vet suggests otherwise.

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What You Should Consider for Healthy Pets:

  1.    There is very little standardization in the pet food industry. For example, one company’s senior diet can have completely different nutrient amounts than another senior diet. In order to know what the company has changed in order to call it “senior”, you have to ask. A senior diet basically means nothing. Some companies have great websites that explain their diets and some do not. Forget about the ones that do not. In this day and age there is no reason to have a website with pretty pictures and no information. Know what is in the diet you are feeding and why it’s in there.
  2.    The caloric density is highly variable between diets. One diet might have 300 calories per cup and another 500 calories. Diets that are high in protein and lower in carbohydrates are usually higher in calories as well because they tend to be higher in fat. This is very important depending on what the weight goals are for your pet. Know how many calories your pet is eating so it can be adjusted depending on their weight.  This information should be readily available on the website.
  3.    Pets are genetically different from one another. Pet foods are formulated for generic norms but individual micro and macro nutrients are variable between foods. Nutrient level requirements for one healthy individual can be very different from another healthy individual. This is why it can be helpful to vary the diet over time, hoping to make up for these differences. It is not enough to change flavors within the same company. Change manufacturers. Also, some manufacturers make several brands. Know the parent company so you can change to a different one as you vary the diet. For instance, Diamond, Taste of the Wild, Canidae, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lovers Soul, some Solid Gold varieties and Kirkland brands are all from the parent company Diamond Pet Foods, Inc. There are only 5-6 major parent companies for the majority of the foods at the pet store. There are some private labels as well. It is very interesting to me to learn who is making the food on the shelves. See graphic below to learn more about who owns what:

 Drake Center infographic

 

  1.    Nutritional knowledge is constantly changing. It is important that a pet food company stay current. They should have a veterinary nutritionist on staff working with them to formulate their diets and change them as knowledge and understanding change. Ideally they should perform diet trials so that they know what the food does in actual bodies. Any health claims the company makes should be substantiated by feeding trials. The diet should have AAFCO certification at a minimum. AAFCO is currently the only national standard for commercially prepared pet food. It is far from perfect but it’s all we have.
  2.     Pet food companies aren’t perfect and bad things happen including contamination and recalls. Think the melamine adulteration in 2007 which involved many companies. If you want to know how frequently a company has had their food recalled you can find it with a simple Google search. This doesn’t make a company good or bad but if there is a trend of increasing recalls be wary. There are plenty of foods available with few or no recalls. Is there clear contact information on the box/ bag so you can call someone if you have a problem or question about the food?
  3.    There are now many non-kibble options in addition to canned food and these appeal to many people. These manufacturers should be held to the same standard as the others including having the ingredients, nutrient profiles, calories and contact info readily available. I also avoid very young companies without a proven track record. This does not mean I would not use them in the future though if they consistently turn out a quality product.
  4.    Other strategies appeal to some people like local or domestic sourcing, organic ingredients, fresh ingredients, etc. If you have a particular interest, there is likely a diet available, just do your homework. Keep in mind that many terms on the label have no actual definition like natural, holistic, ancestral, wild, etc. Diets that use this type labeling might be great diets but it’s not going to be the label that tells you that. The label is simply marketing. Other marketing verbiage with little to no meaning include celebrity endorsements, veterinarian recommended and Top Breeder recommended.  It takes one veterinarian or one breeder to make this claim. I love celebrities as much as the next person but they are not nutrition experts and they have a stake in the sale of the product they are endorsing.  
  5.    Does the company support veterinary nutrition research? This is probably beyond the resources of smaller companies but not the larger ones. Do they help add knowledge to nutritional health through ethical research?
  6.    If you have a healthy pet, I would stick to “normal” ingredients like beef, chicken, fish and save the novel protein ingredients like rabbit, duck, and bison in case they need a novel diet later in life. 
  7.    Home cooking a diet is a viable option if you like to cook and probably good for your pet. Make sure you trust the recipe you are using. A balanced diet can be formulated from a veterinary nutritionist. Here are a couple resources: balanceit.com, petdiets.com.

 If you want a kibbled diet but like to add “a little something fresh” consider antioxidant and phytonutrient rich cooked or finely chopped raw vegetables. Fruit is ok if your pet is not overweight. The rule of thumb is ¼ cup of veggies per 10 pounds of body weight. Work up to this amount and start with only one new veggie a week. Avoid grapes, raisins and the onion family.

A few of my personal favorites for healthy pets (in no particular order):

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As for pets with health concerns…well that’s a whole other story and a good discussion for a veterinarian that knows your pet.

 We are excited to announce that we will now be offering a new service here at The Drake Center! For those who are confused about what to feed their pet we have designed a nutritional consultation. Let integrative medicine expert, Dr. Kathy Boehme, guide you in providing the best possible diet for your pet- based on factors including breed, age, weight, and more.

The Drake Center Team

The Drake Center Team

 Here’s to happy, healthy eating!

 

Study Shows Cats on Diets Don’t Hold Grudges against Their Owners

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Good news, cat owners! Your cats will still love you even if you put them on a diet. A recent study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior has found that cats on diets will actually show their owners more, not less, affection. Since an estimated 50% of all domestic cats are above their ideal body weight, and 35% can be classified as obese, this study provides a great incentive to get your cat to shed a few extra pounds.

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Researchers chose 58 overweight cats to participate in the study. They each went on one of three different diets. Owners were asked about their cats’ pre-feeding behaviors (begging, following, meowing, pacing) and post-feeding behaviors (lap-sitting, purring, resting, sleeping, and using the litter box) before and during the diet. They were also asked about their cats’ overall displays of affection in the same time period.

Results show that approximately 80% of all the cats lost weight while on the diets. What about their behaviors? The cats did increase the frequency of all of their pre-meal behaviors: begging, following, meowing, and pacing. But they did not begin these begging behaviors any earlier during the diet.

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Some of the post-meal behaviors (lap-sitting, purring, and using the litter box) increased in frequency during the diet. A majority of the owners in the study also reported that their cats’ general affectionate behaviors increased during the dieting period.

The bottom line? Your dieting cat might get a little more insistent around mealtimes, but you don’t have to worry about your cat being mad at you for putting him on a diet!