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canine nutrition

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Canine Body Language - it's a real thing

When you spend a lot of time with many different dogs, reading body language becomes instinctive. Before a dog trainer friend officially educated me on the topic seven years ago, I thought I was some sort of psychic: “I just knew that fight was going to happen.” But of course dogs communicate with each other and us though body language. How else are they going to do it? Remember that video of Cesar Millan taunting Holly, the food aggressive Labrador? After she bites him he says, “I didn’t see that coming.” That line reverberated around the dog world. How could a man who is surrounded by dogs all of the time, not have seen that coming? The rest of us certainly did.

Knowing how to read your dog is fairly simple and by doing so, you can save them a lot stress, prevent fights and bites, and create a feeling of safety for them. And better communication with your dog only leads to a better relationship.

Great reading material and visual aids:

Canine Body Language in the Dog Park

Stress Signals

Calming Signals

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A Difficult Lesson for Pet Sitters and Owners

twomI’ve been a professional pet sitter for ten years. I take my job very seriously, put safety first and always err on the side of caution. The story I’m about to tell is not only seemingly unreal, it’s pretty surprising that it happened to someone so diligent. A few weeks ago, one of my original clients from 2003, dropped his dog off to stay for a week, just as he had done many times before. We sat and talked for about 20 minutes, catching up and discussing their US/Canada road trip upon which they were about to embark. We also talked about Ginger’s decrease in appetite over the previous weeks, and I promised I would get her to eat. She loved eating at my house because I always made a special pot of stew (organic beef, sweet potato and carrots) just for her and served it atop her kibble. That evening, I sent them a photo of her devouring it. The next morning she did the same thing.

Two hours later, however, she threw it up and went back to her bed. That would be the last time Ginger ever stood up on her own. It wasn’t unusual for her to remain lying down for long periods of time because of her arthritis – especially if she could see you without having to change rooms. But a couple of hours later when I returned from walking dogs, I found it a little strange that she didn’t get up to greet me. An hour after that, Ginger wasn’t wagging her tail very much when we said her name. This was particularly unusual for this gleeful, bouncy lab. Once her breathing changed a little, I was concerned and wanted to bring her to the vet, or speak with her owners. Several text messages went unanswered and so off to the vet we went.

She was assessed by one of her own doctors and we were told to take her to the Veterinary Emergency Clinic and advised that we “must reach her owners.” Several more phones calls went straight to voicemail.

At the VEC we were told that Ginger had internal bleeding, likely caused by a type of tumour called Hemangiosarcoma. Four hours later and we still had not been able to reach her people. The vet was not optimistic but since she wasn’t my dog, we agreed that she should receive a blood transfusion in an attempt to keep her stable until we got word from the owners. On our way out of the clinic, I told the vet that if her condition got any worse, he must call me so that I would come and be with her.

That call came at 3 AM. Ginger was crashing and the decision was now out of our hands. We raced back to the clinic, where I signed a “permission to euthanize” agreement for a dog that wasn’t even mine. We sat with her, petted her, and kissed her face as he slipped away.

We continued to sit with her for a while longer. Before we left, I took her collar off. It was the same, and only collar she’d had for at least a decade. I held it in my lap on the way home – thoughts bouncing between grief and disbelief and wondering how I would find the words to tell her owners.

Hours turned into days, and still no phone call came from them. For five days I didn’t go anywhere without my phone, and didn’t really go anywhere at all. I even slept with it turned on. I was worried they would hear all the urgent messages we’d left, and call me back only to reach voicemail. They were scheduled to arrive home Saturday evening, so that morning, I knew that would be the day.

Those five days, and in particular, that Saturday, were gut-wrenching. The waiting was pretty unbearable; I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I just did pretty much nothing. Just sat and waited with a pit in my stomach that could stop a train.

It was not an easy conversation; no one wants to deliver this type of news. But even more difficult, was the uncertainly for Ginger and not being able to reach her owners when the problem began. I kicked myself. I always ask clients if they will be reachable, but in this case, I made assumptions. Ginger’s owners were long-time clients and things had become very casual between us.

The difficult lesson? Always have a plan and a back up plan. Clients and pet sitters should always be able to reach one another, and in the event that isn’t possible, there needs to be an emergency contact. Someone who can make a decision on behalf of the dog and feel 100% confident that it’s the right one. Fellow pet sitters, it's difficult to ask the questions, but find out what your clients wishes are. The lesson to owners is obvious; although she was with her second favourite family, her own family would have like to be with her in the end.

Ginger was like family and we miss her so much.

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Prevent Door Darting

One of the questions on my new-client questionnaire is "Does your dog attempt to dart though an open door?" I’m always careful when entering a client's home, but if the answer to that question is "yes," then careful doesn't cut it. I need to be vigilant. It’s stressful; especially since the same dogs usually try to do the same thing when the door to the Element opens. This is the first thing I teach every single new dog - they must wait until I tell them it's ok to jump out. Otherwise they would be jumping out at every new pick up and drop off spot. But what happens when it's not me or the client coming through the front door, but rather a cleaning service or a contractor? Their job isn't to mind the dog. I arrived at client's home one day, a couple of years ago and the contractor told me the dog ran out as soon as he arrived, and that he had to chase him 3 blocks to the park. This story ended "well," but they don't all, sadly.

So, read this article by Pat Miller in the Whole Dog Journal, follow the protocol and keep your dog safe.

 

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The Liver Cleansing Diet

Receiving abnormal blood test results can be very unsettling for dog owners. Be thorough in your research and seek out experts, and remember: the internet can be your best friend and your worst enemy. Gather as much information as you can and discuss with reliable sources. Dr. Jean Dodds, an expert in thyroid disease, immunology and nutrition, formulated a liver cleansing diet for dogs that has helped save and prolong many dogs’ lives. If your vet has handed you a diagnosis of liver disease, try this diet before you panic. Dogs with numbers though the roof and on the brink of complete liver failure, have bounced back from switching to this diet alone.

You can feed this home made formulation for for up to three months before you have to worry about balancing it out with out with additional ingredients and supplements. Before rebalancing, have your dog’s blood rechecked.

Ingredients: 

1.5 cups white potatoes 1.5 cups sweet potatoes 1.5 cups of zucchini 1.5 cups string beans or celery *2 cups cod fillet (or pollock)

*Cod is ideal but some dogs will not eat it. In this case, you can use chicken breast (skinless)

Preparation: 

Peel the potatoes, chop and simmer until thoroughly cooked. Drain and mash. While the potatoes are cooking, wash and chop the zucchini and string beans or celery and cook until very tender. Poach the cod in a pan with some water. Mix all ingredients together until it is well blended.

If your dog is a picky eater it might help to cook the fish first, then use the water to steam veggies or cook potatoes.

Feed three (or four) equal meals per day; breakfast, dinner and before bed. It is especially important for dogs with impaired liver function to eat before bed.

I recommend preparing the recipe in double sized batches, and freezing what you won’t use within a couple of days.

How much to feed depends on the dog, but this a low fat diet and you will need to use considerably more of this food than you would kibble. The measurements above will feed a 10-pound dog for 2 – 3 days. If your dog is bigger, then double or triple this recipe. Once cooked, it will keep for 3 days in the fridge so freeze any excess.

The only downside to feeding this diet is the smell. If you don’t cook fish often, it may bother you. But it’s only temporary, and your dog’s health is more important, right?

Please keep in mind that artificial air fresheners and fabric sprays are toxic, so please don’t try to cover up cooking odors with them. Here are some safe alternatives.

It is worth noting that beneficial supplements for the liver include Milk Thistle Powder and SamE (see dosages below). You may include them with this diet, but I recommend first letting your dog get used to the food, and then adding supplements later. Continue them long term even after your dog’s numbers improve.

Milk Thistle (powder or capsules) dosage: 70 – 200 mg per 5 kg of body weight SAMe  Dosage: 100 mg per 5 kg of body weight – empty stomach

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Canine Obesity Epidemic. How to tell when your dog is overweight, and what to do about it

Today I want to discuss a few things in relation to your dog’s weight. What’s healthy? What causes weight gain? How can you safely shed excess pounds? I’ve come to the conclusion that many people are unclear about what a healthy body weight looks like on a dog. “Dogs who eat raw/home-cooked always look too skinny …” is something I’ve heard three times just in the past week. I've also witnessed people point to a particular dog and say "That dog is too skinny." Only to look over at the dog and see that it's in perfect condition. Here’s what I think: for many people’s pups, a little excess has become the norm. But whether it’s an inch to pinch, or several inches, it’s harming your dog’s health and quality of life.

Below you will find a Body Scoring Chart. Every veterinary office has one - not for their reference, for yours. I asked a former veterinary clinic employee why it is that so many owners have no idea their dog is overweight. Her answer: “Many people take the insinuation that a pet is overweight as a personal accusation. The truth is most owners don't know what an appropriately sized pet looks like, or when their pet's weight gain has gone too far, as they see them every day and may not notice there’s an issue. A vet has to sensitively bring the matter up, and many times clients will become agitated, as they often perceive that they are being blamed for the problem. It's sometimes easier for vets to not bring up the issue at all.” So like many aspects of your pet’s healthcare, you need to take matters into your own hands. Knowledge is power. Take a good look, and be honest with yourself.

Keep in mind that just like humans, each dog is different. Some of us have trouble gaining weight, and some of us have to work to keep it off. Be sure to rule out problems like thyroid disease before putting your dog on a diet. Other contributing factors could include age (older dogs require more protein but fewer calories), being over fed/over weight during puppyhood, poor feeding guidelines on commercial products (there’s is actually no one size fits all measurement), and excess treat consumption - especially things like dental chews, many of which actually contain sugar (really, who comes up with this stuff?). Why is weight so important? If your dog is overweight and remains so, his life span shrinks. Truly it's that simple. Excess weight in dogs increases the likelihood of injuries, it stresses their joints, increases pain associated with arthritis, and increases the likelihood of osteoarthritis (and at an earlier age). It can also lead to cardiovascular, pancreatic and liver disease and diabetes mellitus.

Why are dogs who eat real food generally better proportioned than the ones who eat kibble? Well, I think the answer is obvious, but I’ll explain. Firstly, kibble is extremely calorie-dense. Factor in that processed foods (which kibble is) have an adverse reaction on the body’s natural digestive process, and actually slow down metabolism. Metabolism is the process that creates energy from food, and keeping it stable maintains energy level and body weight. If your dog is overweight and you’re having trouble taking it off, “diet” kibble is not the answer. Essentially you’re trying to fix a problem with kibble that was caused by a different kibble.

In my opinion, weigh loss kibbles are nothing more than starvation diets. I know that might sound extreme. But take Purina OM for example: its primary ingredient is corn in two forms (a common allergen, not easy to digest). Next up, two forms of soy, another common allergen. Fifth ingredient, “beef and bone meal” (only those at Purina know where that bone meal comes from). OM also contains defluorinated phosphate, a commercial feed ingredient also used in agriculture for pigs and chickens.

Why do these kibbles contain so much corn? Because it’s a cheap source of protein. Not a nutritious, bioavailable source of protein, but a cheap one. And in all likelihood it’s the same GMO corn that’s widely used in many processed foods - a product that causes a host of health problems. The ingredients list goes on to mention animal by-products, vitamins, minerals and amino acids, all of which, after heating and extrusion, your dog’s body would struggle to utilize. In fact, “processing exposes more antigenic sites on the foods’ molecules, which alter the body’s immune surveillance and recognition responses. In other words, our pets’ bodies view much of the “wholesome nutrition” we are feeding them like foreign invaders.” –Jean Dodds, DVM

How does this cheap, processed food create a feeling of fullness when it’s lacking in quality nutrients and protein? I soaked a piece in water and watched it grow. All kibble expands when moistened, but this one grew the most of all the products I tested.

This kibble may help your dog lose weight, but I promise you his body doesn’t recognize it as food. And in the long run, it might be doing just as much damage to his organs and lifespan that being overweight does.

So how can you safely help your dog lose weight? Easy: feed real food. For starters, you control the ingredients in the diet. The best part of a customized, home made diet is that all the nutrients your dog needs are present, but you can easily avoid excess calories and fat. Feeding three smaller meals throughout the day and providing mental stimulation and regular exercise (as long as the dog is otherwise healthy) will complete the protocol. All the while your dog will feel satisfied because he’s consuming high quality, digestible nutrient sources. In cases of obesity, we taper the calories down slowly by calculating the ideal/healthy amount of weight to be lost each week. Also note that high-quality, bioavailable protein promotes muscle development; muscles help burn fat.

If your dog is underweight, it works the same way. You can control every aspect of his diet and increase the caloric content without feeding dangerous amounts of fat or excess minerals. On the other hand, if you were to simply feed more kibble to put weight on your dog, he’d just be consuming more processed food. Also, too much kibble can create a feeling of discomfort once it starts mixing with gastric juices and expands. Real food, prepared and portion controlled by you is the better way to a healthier, happier dog.

My story? It creeps up every fall, and somehow I still let it happen. My own gal, Millie, is fat. Most dogs eat less in the summer, my other dog certainly does. Millie, not so much. She finishes every meal, plus she munches on the pears that fall from the tree in our back yard. Oh, and sometimes we let her finish what Joey leaves behind, justifying it with “it’s just a teaspoon of food.” Couple the extra snacking with a slower pace due to the heat, and there you have it - an extra kilo. My beagleXdachshund, who had spinal surgery at the age of 2 (before she was my dog), is overweight.

So what to do? Millie’s ideal weight is 7.5 kg but currently she’s currently weighing in at a hefty 8.6 kg. I designed a diet that contains the proper amount of calories and fat for a 7.5 kg dog, and made sure it’s complete and balanced with all the right nutrients. All at once I made enough food for two weeks and weighed the entire batch. To be sure I’m not tempted to give in to that sad little, hungry, beagley face, I gathered 14 containers and put one day’s worth of food in each one. I’ll split it up each day as breakfast, a small snack and dinner. And I’m certain that in about 8 weeks, I’ll have my slim and trim girl back. Updates to come.

If you’re battling canine weight-gain (or loss), there are safe ways to help naturally, though the use of a wholesome, balanced, real food diet, which will also help your dog to feel less hungry. Do it for health and longevity.

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The Connection Between Diet and Behaviour

By now most of us know that the food we eat directly affects our mind. Studies have proven that kids who consume a lot of “convenience foods” as opposed to fresh, whole foods, have greater difficulty concentrating, learning and managing conflict. It’s down to the second brain - you know, those neurons in the small intestine that send messages to the main brain. This gut-brain is responsible for a large portion of our emotional state. It’s true. Think about how diet affects people with Autism. The first part of treatment is to remove all food colouring, chemicals, preservatives, etc from the diet. In every case the result is a decrease in symptoms. What does this have to do with dogs? Everything. They have the same neurons in their guts, and I’ve personally witnessed positive behaviour changes that have coincided with a change in diet. Possibly, so have you.

I often use Boxers a prime example since so many on them seem to have “sensitive stomachs.” They also happen to be a relatively high-strung breed who often end up on veterinary “prescription” diets to curb diarrhea. The diarrhea might go away, but the anxious state remains. I believe this is down to their body’s need for, and drastic lack of bioavailable nutrients in the kibble (such as B vitamins) which are crucial in times of stress and anxious episodes.

Consider also, the fact that 50 to 90 percent of people with IBS suffer from a psychiatric disorder such as anxiety or depression, even when the disease is not active. Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada is funding an investigation to examine the link between depression and changes in the bacterial composition of the gut. This will determine what, if any, are the physiological responses to a person’s emotional state. I’m not betting on the “if any.”

If you have a dog who suffers from anxiety or exhibits behavioral problems that you can’t seem to correct, it might be worth considering that it might be due to digestive issues - chronic loose stool or mucousy stool can be a sign. A diet change might be the answer. After all, if your dog doesn’t maintain a healthy-gut-brain connection, all the training and behaviour modification in the world will be in vain – kind of like teaching a dog with a broken leg how to fetch. If you would like to provide a fresh home-cooked diet for your dog, I would be happy to help. Your holistic veterinarian can also offer guidance on home cooking, raw feeding, and supplementation. If you don’t have holistic vet, here’s how to find one.

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"Wholesome and Complete for Canines"

Ten years ago, I got a puppy. I brought him home, and about a week or so later, thought, as I scopped kibble into a bowl, "this can't be right." It made no sense to me that something so "convenient" could be healthy and balanced. Within another week, I was cooking for my dog. I was probably doing it wrong, but I believed then and I still believe that a dog needs fresh food. That was just the start. I began to study and read every good resource on the subject of home-cooking. Believe me, the information (although we don't have nearly enough) is overwhelming, because so much of it is conflicting and based on small studies and anecdotes. For now though, I'm ok with this, because common sense dictates that real food is better than processed. The more I learned on the subject, the more I realized what a huge responsibility it would be (not to mention how difficult) to instruct other dog owners how to home-cook. So naturally, I delved even deeper.

The scientific part of my education came from my studies through CASI, where I've earned a certificate and in both Canine Nutrition and Advanced Canine Nutrition. The holistic component came from reading materials by Dr. Strombeck, Dr. Pitcairn, Dr. Dodds, etc. I also attend seminars on nutrition whenever I can. Seminars are great because I learn the latest, both opinions and facts. I have a working relationship with a highly respected veterinarian who assists on some of my cases. She is at the forefront of nutrition research and it's an honour to have her reviewing and approving many of my diets.

It has taken me years to get here, but I'm finally ready to officially assume that resposiblity. Using the requirements of the National Research Council, I'm now formutlating balanced, home cooked meals for individual dogs. This means your dog's new diet will be tailor made to meet the nutrient requirements for a dog his age and size. But beyond that I'll use ingredients your dog enjoys and is known to tolerate. We'll work together to ensure the plan is working, making necessary adjustments along the way.

Commercial dog food, with a few notable exceptions, is making our pets sick. The number of dogs I meet with skin diseases, supressed immunity, kidney and liver problems, diabetes, heart issues, etc, is staggering. Yes, more dogs, poor breeding practices and over-vaccination all carry some of the blame, but we are what we eat. Like humans, what your dog eats plays an integral role in their health and behaviour. Think of food as the foundation. We need to start there to build healthy canines. I don't believe we can truly achieve the greatest potential for health by feeding kibble. How would that be possible? It's no secret how kibble is made, and that most manufaturers add flavour enhancers and scents to entice your dog. I encourage everyone to learn as much as they can about labels and laws and ingredients so that you can make a conscious choice on behalf of your pet. You cannot trust large corporations to do this for you. They've proven that.

Many people wait until their dog is sick to make the transition, which tells me they do believe in the power of food. But it's often marketing and pressure from some vets that won't allow the lightbulb to go off before that. Picture the commercials, or bags of food with images of fresh cuts of meat, whole grains and vegetables. Why not just feed those things to your dog instead of what's left over after processing, extruding and rendering? Ok, I'm over-siplifying a little; of course you do want to ensure balance, but we're lead to believe that's only achievable though processed, commercial products. I promise you, that's not the case.

My goal is to make cooking for your dog fun, easy, economical and fast. I've always said it, and I'll continue to say it, even if you cannot commit completely to feeding fresh food, every bit helps. It may feel overwhelming in the beginning, but once it becomes a part of your life, you won't look back, and the rewards are incredible. Let's Do This!

Click here to read my testimonials so far and follow along on Twitter @wholesomecanine

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Commercial Dog Food: "Recommended" Products

As you may know, I'm certified in canine nutrition and completely obsessed with the subject. Because this is common knowledge among those who know me, friends and clients often ask me which commercial pet foods I would recommend. The truth is, if I had it my way, every single dog in the world would be consuming a fresh food diet; either cooked or raw. Alas, I know this simply isn't possible for everybody. Not yet, anyway. So now I'm writing this all down once and for all. If you're feeding commercial food, please consider canned food, or at least some portion of canned. Your dog's intestines and kidneys need the moisture, and generally, they contain higher quality, more bioavailable proteins than dry food. Canned food is a bit more expensive than kibble, so if you have a large dog, you'll likely prefer a combination. But do whatever you can to provide moist food.

My recommended canned foods are:

Go! by Petcurean  Organix by Castor and Pollux  Shredded and Gold Recipies by Fromm

Mulligan Stew

Ziwipeak

My recommended dry foods are:

Holisic Blend by Holistic Blend Carna4 by Carna4 Go! by Petcurean Orijen and Acanca by Champion Pet Foods

And that's really it folks. Please keep in mind I'm not saying each of these foods is suitable for every single dog. They're each different, just like each dog is unique. You'll need to figure out which one or combination works for you. (Don't be shy to ask for 'sample' or 'trial' packs at your friendly, local pet store.) Remember, unless you know your dog to have an "iron gut," transition very slowly when switching food.

I chose the above products based on quality and where they're made, also because they're readily available in Toronto. Specifically, you can find these in our neighbourhood at Helmutt's Pet SupplyTimmie Dog Outfitters and The Dog Bowl.

I should also mention these shops also offer freeze-dried diets made by Orijen and The Honest Kitchen and ready-made raw diets such as Tollden Farms.

I hope you find this information helpful.

My real, true recommendation is real, fresh food. If you're ready to switch to a home-prepared diet, I would love to help!

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