Category Archives: Health Resources

Pet Food: What You Need to Know

This article, originally published in 2010 by Dogs in Canada, addresses some core underlying issues in relation to commercial pet food.

Hot buttons: Pet food facts and fallacies

First published by Dogs in Canada in February 2010

What do you look for when you choose a food for your dog? If you’ve committed to a home-formulated diet, it should be one that has been created and tested by a veterinary nutritionist. For those choosing commercial foods, some of the issues most often raised by consumers are not, in fact, the most pressing considerations. Let’s take a look at pet food facts and fallacies.

Unappealing ingredients

Humans tend to have a visceral reaction to food items that are beyond the norm of their experience. The Scottish dish haggis is viewed with repulsion by almost anyone who didn’t grow up eating lamb heart and lungs stuff into a sheep’s stomach. Brains seem to be another taboo food item in much of North America, yet in his lecture on pet food myths, David Dzanis, D.V.M., Ph.D., D.A.C.V.N., showed a slide of a can of pork brains in gravy, intended for human consumption.

So ingredients we find repulsive can have a rightful and nutritious place in dog food, and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Some people readily eat liver, kidneys and intestinal casings, and it shouldn’t be a shock to find them in lists of dog food ingredients, though they may also be called simply “meat by-products”. According to the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) definitions, all such ingredients must come from the clean parts of slaughtered animals. No 4D (dead, dying, diseased or disabled) animals are allowed. And though the AAFCO has no regulatory authority in the United States or Canada, most reputatble pet food companies choose to follow their definitions and guidelines.

Wheat gluten became the champion of unappealing ingredients following the 2007 pet food recalls. But it’s important to remember, as Dzanis pointed out, that the ingredient for all the trouble was not wheat gluten at all, but wheat flour, and that it had been intentionally adulterated with melamine and related compounds to falsely raise its protein levels. There is nothing inherently wrong with wheat products, gluten products or any combination thereof.

One of the lessons we can take away from the pet food recall is to worry less about the presence of an unappealing ingredient and much more about the source and trustworthiness of all ingredients.

Controversial ingredients

Here, the issues are a little thornier, as specifics on both sides of the ingredients in question have some merit.

Flouride has long been controversial in human health, touted as preventing tooth decay and routinely added to drinking water and toothpaste, but also implicated in fluorosis and osteosarcoma. In 2008, Health Canada lowered its maximum allowable level for fluoride in water from 1.5 milligrams per litre to 0.7.

In 2009, fluoride suddenly became an issue in pet food, with the U.S. Environmental Working Group releasing a report on fluoride levels it detected in dog food. Trace amounts of fluoride are found in almost all foods, so it’s not surprising that the group detected fluoride. But the EWG claimed to have found levels 1.6 to 2.5 times greater than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum allowed concentration in drinking water.

There’s a bit of sensationalism going on here, because the EPA maximum for fluoride in drinking water is based on a safety margin 100 times lower than levels found to have an effect on people. The National Research Council 2005 publication Mineral Tolerance of Animals lists 180 milligrams per kilogram – 16 times the maximum level found by the EWG – as the lowest level necessary to produce a slight reduction in food intake. Still, if you’re on the “anti” side of the fluoridation issue, you may want to be aware of its presence in commercial dog food.

An uglier ingredient that has long been rumoured to appear in pet foods is the pets themselves. Critics of commercial pet food often point to the rendering of dogs and cats, often those euthanized at shelters, and the use of rendered products in pet foods, and consider their case made. But there are two types of renderers – an animal pick-up service (which does pick up euthanized animals from shelters) and a slaughterhouse-dedicated plant. There are many uses for rendered products other than in pet foods, and the products from the former type of renderer are of lower quality, so there is no incentive for pet food manufacturers to use them. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted an analysis of a number of commercial pet foods and found no evidence of any dog or cat materials in them. Still, disturbingly, they did find residues of pentobarbital (a euthanasia drug), and could not determine a source. So the actual concern should not be that there are dogs and cats in pet food, but that there is pentobarbital.

Substantiation of nutritional adequacy

Here, we do have something of a thorny issue. Pet food products can be tested for nutritional adequacy either by chemical analysis to determine if a formulation meets nutrient standards, or by feeding trials. Each method has some shortcomings.

With chemical analysis, the levels of nutrients in the food may be actually determined via analysis in the lab or by estimates of nutrient content based on the food’s ingredients. The results are then compared to the accepted nutritional requirements of the animal. Though this method has the advantage of being easily verifiable by regulators, it has the disadvantage of not being able to examine the actual bioavailability of the nutrients. A formulation can look good on paper but not provide the nutrients to the animal eating it.

Feeding trials are generally preferred by veterinarians and dog owners, but they also have their drawbacks. The pet food manufacturer often conducts its own feeding trials, with no oversight, so you are relying on the integrity and competence of the company. Questions have been raised about whether the trials are long enough or sensitive enough to actually reveal deficiencies in a food.

The two methods tend to counteract each other’s shortcomings. So your best assurance of adequate nutrition in a food is if it has been tested with both methods. Most products that declare having been through a feeding trial also meet the nutritional profile. That fact is even starting to appear on the labels of some foods, in response to consumer concerns.

Author info: Cheryl S. Smith is an award-winning writer and certified pet nutrition consultant who has attended and addressed many nutrition conferences. She and ‘Nestle’, a Border Collie mix, are enjoying their hobby, finding letterboxes while out on wonderful hikes.

Heat Stroke – Understanding Causes

The following reprint of an article first published in Dogs in Canada in 2004 offers excellent background on the causes of heatstroke in dogs in all kinds of weather. Dogs are very sensitive to temperature and need careful monitoring when under heat stress or in conditions that can compromise their ability to regulate their body temperature.

Hot Dogs: Warm weather is not the only cause of heat stroke

Reprinted from Dogs in Canada, March 2004 Issue

I thought I knew pretty much everything about how to prevent heat stroke in dogs. But a recent experience sent me to the library to learn more about how dogs regulate their body temperature.

I was at a dog show in a fairground’s farm building, chatting with a friend outside the obedience ring, when I hard a snorting noise approaching. I turned and saw a tall, athletic-looking young man with a matched pair of Bulldogs – a clear exception to the owners-look-like-their-dogs rule.

The noise wasn’t caused by the man blowing his nose, but by his dogs struggling to breathe as they walked. As I stepped outside, I noticed what a beautiful day it was for early fall in the mid-Atlantic – temperature about 68 degrees fahrenheit and very low humidity.

The next day at work I was asked by a colleague to look at a dog that had died at the show and been brought in for a post-mortem examination. I was shocked to see that it was one of the Bulldogs. The owner reported that he had left the dog in a wire crate in his minivan, in the shade, with the van’s back door up and all four side doors wide open. Even more amazing was the fact that the dog’s tongue was twice as long as the dog’s head from muzzle to the back of its skull. No wonder the dog was unable to pass enough air through its mouth and throat to cool itself.

Canine cooling

We all know that dogs have a lot more trouble with extreme heat than with extreme cold. As the ambient temperature rises, our canine companions initiate an escalating set of cooling mechanisms, including reducing activity, panting, stretching out on cool surfaces, sweating through the footpads, and hanging the tongue out of the mouth. When training your canine in warm weather, watch your dog’ tongue. When it gets wider at the tip (the dog uses the muscles in the tongue to enlarge the tongue to further increase evaporative surface area), that is the signal that your dog has just used his last cooling mechanism – it’s time to take a rest and get him to a cool area.

Brachycephalic dogs – those with flattened faces, like Pugs, Pekinese and Bulldogs – frequently have excess tissue in the mouth and throat, which prevents efficient passage of air. These dogs are exceedingly susceptible to heatstroke, and training outdoors in warm weather should be avoided.

One cooling mechanism that many people aren’t aware of is that dogs dilate the blood vessels in the skin to exchange the warmth of the blood with the cooler surface skin. That’s why short-coated dogs and dogs with single coats frequently suffer more in the heat – they don’t have the layer of insulating coat between the skin and air that double-coated dogs have. It is important that double-coated dogs not be shaved in the summer; although occasional bathing and frequent grooming will help remove dead hairs and thin out the coat, allowing more heat exchange.

Warm weather is not the only cause of heatstroke. Muscular activity can be dangerous as well, especially when combined with warm weather. This can be a particular problem for the canine athlete. Even when a dog is sleeping, 25 per cent of its body is provided by the muscles. But when that dog uses the muscles to exercise, the amount of heat produced by the muscles can increased by 60 times! Working dogs’ body temperatures may rise from normal (approximately 100 degrees fahrenheit) to 105F or even higher. That’s why long-distance mushing dogs become overheated at ambient temperatures as low as 0 degrees fahrenheit.

Warming ways

The same double coat that can provide insulation from the heat also insulates dogs from extremes of cold. The air trapped in a dog’s coat acts like the air in the fibreglass insulation in your walls. If the dog’s coat gets wet, however, the insulating value of the coat is rapidly lost. Add wind to the formula and a dog’s internal body temperature can drop rapidly. Dogs curl up in cold weather to reduce the amount of surface area over which cooling can occur.

The fact that dogs sweat through their feet can become a problem in cold weather. If the dog exercises and the pads begin to sweat, the warm sweat may freeze snow to the feet, forming ice balls that stick to the hair between the toes. These cause discomfort and can even cut the pads if the dog continues to exercise in spite of the ice balls. By trying to chew the ice balls off, the dogs just adds to the problem by adding saliva to the mix, which then attracts more snow, forming more ice. This is a major reason why many mushers’ dogs wear booties.

Fact: Small dogs are much more susceptible to extremes of both heat and cold. This is because they have more surface area relative to their body mass. In the summer, they have relatively more skin to absorb the heat, and in the winter they have relatively more skin to lose the heat.

Fact: One of the best ways to help your canine teammate recover from exercise and overheating is to provide antioxident supplements. Depending on their body weight, canine athletes should be supplemented with 250 to 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C and 100 to 400 IU of vitamin E per day.

Fact: When people and horses cool themselves by sweating, they lose both fluids and electrolytes – ions such as chloride and sodium. But when dogs pant, they lose water vapour only. That’s why it’s important provide cool, fresh water, not electrolytes, to replenish what your dog has lost. If you give electrolytes, you dog might actually become more dehydrated, because the excess electrolytes in the gastrointestinal tract can draw water from the body into the intestine.

Author info: Chris Zink, D.V.M., Ph.d., award-winning author of Peak Performance: Coaching the Canine Athlete, has put over 50 obedience, agility, retrieving and conformation titles on dogs from three different groups. Contact her at

Honey & Sugar for Wound Management

At Culandubh Kennels we are big fans of effective natural remedies for our dogs; using sugar and honey for managing and healing wounds is a great example of this. The following article was first published in Dogs in Canada in 2006, and provides excellent background on how to make the most of this remedy.

Managing wounds with honey and sugar

Reprinted from Dogs in Canada, August 2006 Issue

The newest revelation in canine management has ancient roots. Sugar and honey, long recognized for their cleansing and healing properties, are gaining popularity in veterinary medicine. People were using sugar as early as 1679, while honey has a 4,000 year medicinal history.

When applied to a wound, sugar lowers the water content to a level that prevents bacterial growth. However, infection control is only a small part of the beneficial effect of sugar. It also draws nutrient-rich fluid into damaged tissue, promoting regeneration of cells at the surface of the wound. As well, sugar decreases edema (fluid buildup) generated by inflammation, reduces odours from wounds, and accelerates sloughing of devitalized tissue.

Ultimately, a bed of healthy tissue – granulation tissue – forms over wounds managed with sugar. For this reason, sugar therapy is an excellent choice for wounds with large areas of skin loss (like those created when a dog is dragged or rolled along the road after being hit by a car). Ulcers and burns can also benefit from sugar therapy.

The first step in managing a wound is to clean it. Typically, the entire area is sprayed with body-temperature water (using a kitchen-type sprayer) long enough to remove surface contamination, then patted dry with sterile towels.

Next, a thick layer of granulated sugar, at least one centimetre thick, is applied to the entire wound bed. The adage “more is better” holds true in this situation. A large absorbent towel is placed on top of the sugar, then a secondary bandage, and finally adhesive material to hold it in place.

A sugar bandage is replaced as soon as all the sugar granules become wet, when it’s lost its healing properties. During the first few days, bandage changes are needed at least twice a day. The frequency is decreased over time, as dictated by the dryness of the sugar.

Like sugar, honey kills bacteria and draws water away from the wound. As well, unpasteurized honey contains enzymes and many other nutrients that nourish tissue and speed healing.

If a honey bandage is used, the wound is first cleaned (as above). The amount of honey needed varies with the size of the wound. Two tablespoons (30 millilitres) will cover a 10×10-centimetre dressing. To make it easier to spread, warm the honey to body temperature. Outer bandages are needed just as they are for sugar dressings.

Once the infection is gone and granulation tissue has formed, both honey and sugar can be discontinued. The wound is then sutured to close the defect or left to contract and close on its own.

The advantage of both sugar and honey is that both products are inexpensive and readily available. What a sweet deal!

Author info: A multi-published writer, Jeff Grognet, D.V.M., B.S.c. (Agr), runs a veterinary practice in Qualicum Beach, B.C. along with his wife, Louise Janes, D.V.M.