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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Rescue vs breeder: which is right for you?

There are a million places to get a new dog if you’re in the market for one. Some, like petstores or huge kennels, are never a good idea. But when it comes down to the simple question of do I get a puppy from a breeder or do I get an adult dog from a shelter or rescue, there are definite pros and cons to consider so that you can make the best choice for your household. Pros and cons are not universal— some people are more flexible and have a less specific vision of what works for them while others need predictability; some people do not want to deal with puppyhood while others can’t imagine bringing home anything but a puppy.

Sometimes there is no clear-cut answer, but lets lay out some of the pros and cons.

First let’s look at breeders. There is a world of variation in quality of breeders out there, but for the purposes of this post, let’s just talk about people who are breeding with quality in mind– people who afrank081209bre health-testing their dogs before breeding them (hip certifications, eye certifications– whatever is appropriate to the breed), who are doing their research before breeding and who care where their pups are going and what happens to them.

The pros of buying a puppy from a breeder:

  • You’ll have an idea of the genetic lines behind your dog including temperament and health. If you’re looking for a mellow house-dog Golden Retriever, you probably don’t want to buy a pup from somebody breeding high-energy hunting dogs. And you always, always want to know the family of dogs that your pup is coming from are healthy.
  • While genetics are always a bit of a wildcard, you’re doing everything you can to stack the deck in your favor. If you breed a dog with good hips to a dog with good hips, chances are pretty good that you’re going to get dogs with good hips. If you’re buying a pup of a breed that is prone to seizures, knowing that none of his immediate relatives have had seizures is a big plus. Nothing is absolute, but the odds are with you.
  • You’ll get a lifetime of support. A good breeder is invaluable in the assistance and knowledge they can provide. Plus, it’s nice to have a cheerleader sometimes, especially through those teenage months.
  • You get a health guarantee. Good breeders stand behind the pups that they’re producing. But be careful to read the fine print to see what exactly the guarantee is.
  • A good breeder will have already started the oh so important process of socialization. Pups will have been exposed to different sounds, different textures, different people. Some will have already been started on crate training. They’ll be on their way to being well-adjusted, happy dogs.
  • A good breeder will take back a dog at any time, no matter what. Your pup will always have a safe place to land if something happens that you can no longer keep him, or even if he is simply not a good match for your family.

So what about the cons?puppy4

  • Good breeders don’t breed often (a litter or two a year) so you will likely have to wait.
  • It takes time and effort on your part to find and reach out to breeders to find one who is a good match for you and your family.
  • Good breeders can be hard to find, especially if you don’t have connections in The Dog World.
  • The pricetag. No getting around it. It costs money to do things right, so your pup will cost a bit more. Although the purchase price is still a drop in the bucket compared to the price of caring for a dog for his lifetime, the initial layout of cash can still feel a bit painful.

On the flip side, there are tons of good dogs out there in shelters and rescues who are there through no fault of their own. It’s a common myth that dogs in shelters are there because of behavior problems, but in this day and age, money, housing, and job changes are huge reasons for dogs not staying in their homes.

What are some benefits of adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue?

  • Adult rescues are often very “what you see is what you get”, especially if they’ve been in foster care. You can get a good idea of what kind of dog you are bringing home, which takes some of the mystery out of adopting. You’ll know simple things such as size and coat type (it can be so hard to predict what mixed-breed pups are going to turn into when they grow up), but you’ll also get a good idea of temperament– is this dog good with other dogs? cats? kids?
  • Many dogs in shelters have already lived in somebody’s home and are housebroken and come with some basic skills. Training a new dog is important regardless because it is such a huge relationship-builder, but I’m always a big fan of pre-housebroken dogs, myself.
  • Most rescues will take back dogs that they’ve placed, again, for any reason, so if something should happen, the dog has a safe place to go.
  • You’re saving a life. Whether you adopt from a shelter that does put dogs to sleep due to overpopulation or you adopt from a no-kill rescue, you’re opening up a spot for another dog in need. Plus, there are simply some great dogs in shelters, and one of them might just be The Dog for you.

But there are also cbaltoons to adopting:

  • There are a lot of unknowns. You have no idea what kind of health issues the parents and grandparents of your new dog may have had. You get no health guarantee, and there’s no accountability.
  • With a puppy, you’re bringing home a complete wildcard. You might adopt a “Chihuahua mix” puppy and have it grow into a 30 pound dog. For some people, that’s part of the fun. For others, not so much.
  • You’re not getting a blank slate. When you bring home an adult dog, you’re bringing his history home with him. While a lot of behavior issues will be readily apparent before your pooch comes home, some are not. While a dog may not show issues in a highly structured foster home, for example, he may have some issues in your more relaxed home environment.
  • It can be a lot easier to teach manners to a puppy than to an 80 pound adolescent Labrador. Bad habits can be hard to break; it depends on how much time and effort you’re willing to put into it.
  • Some rescues can be very inflexible in their screening. They want the best homes possible for the dogs in their care, and they have a very concrete vision of what that is. It can take some time to find a rescue that you mesh with. (Shelters tend to be much more flexible, but you lose the benefits of seeing what a dog is like in a foster home environment.)
  • If you have your heart set on a certain breed or type of dog, you may need to be very patient and persistent in your search. Some breeds are a dime a dozen in rescue, others are in much higher demand. It all depends on what you’re looking for.

 

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What does “holistic” mean? (And other pet food marketing gimmicks)

Includes fresh fruits.

Includes fresh fruits.

In Part One of our pet food guide series, we talked about the importance of reading labels and what different ingredients really are and some of the games that manufacturers play (such as splitting ingredients) to make you think there is more or less of something in the bag than there really is.

Unfortunately, there are lots of games that marketers can play with words that have meaning… but that meaning may not be what you think it is. My hope with this post is to give you the knowledge to know what you’re looking at when you read the back of a pet food bag, and to make your decisions based on actual information, not fancy packaging.

So, some quick definitions. AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, is in charge of monitoring pet food manufacturing. They have constructed some very specific definitions. For example, did you know that a food marketed as “beef dinner” is a very different food than one marketed as “with beef” or as “beef flavor”? Who knew, right?

A food that is labeled, for example, “Beef for dogs” must contain 95% beef not counting water for processing, and 70% beef including that water. Only the named meat counts toward the percentage. You can’t have a food labeled “Beef for dogs” that is made up of a large portion of, say, chicken.

However,

if the label reads “Beef dinner” (or entree or platter or formula, etc), then there only needs to be >25% of that ingredient. There’s an awful lot of room between 25% and 95%. And more interestingly, the named ingredient (“beef” in this case) does not even need to be at the top of the ingredients list). And if they want to make it, say, “chicken and fish entree for cats”, the chicken and fish must only add up to >25% in combination and there only need be 3% minimum of any single named ingredient. So your “chicken and fish entree” might only be 3% fish.

And there can be more and different ingredients that are not highlighted in the food’s name.

This can be a problem if your dog has a food sensitivity. Someone has suggested that you try a lamb and rice formula dog food for your pup because he seems to have a sensitive tummy. Lamb and rice can be good for some dogs with possible food sensitivities, so you scan the shelves and pull down a bag of Pro Plan Puppy Lamb and Rice. The front of the bag looks inviting. It’s Lamb and Rice formula, “Lamb is the first ingredient”. And it is, but as we learned in our previous food post, ingredients are listed by weight, and when you take the water weight out of a fresh, unprocessed meat, it tends to drop way down on the list. Where’s the real source of protein in this food coming from? Poultry by-product meal (chicken? turkey? duck? who knows!). So much for avoiding ingredients your dog might be sensitive to.

(If your dog doesn’t have issues with specific ingredients, this is much less of a concern!)

It’s frustrating. You shouldn’t need a PhD to read food labels.

In contrast, look at this food: Nature’s Variety Instinct Lamb Meal and Peas. The first ingredient? Lamb meal. Top of the list, no other hidden meats. Fairly transparent. And yes, more expensive, right?

Did you know that “with” also has a legal definition? “With” means there is between 3% and 25% of that ingredient in the food. It was designed as a way to highlight minor ingredients mostly for marketing purposes. Chicken dinner WITH cheese, for example.

And then at the bottom of the list comes “flavor”. “Bacon flavor dog biscuits” need only contain enough of that ingredient to be detectable.

(I am not sure who does the detecting.)

It seems the further you look, the more confusing it gets.

Recently the trend seems to be toward “Natural” and “Holistic” foods. The ads on television want you to believe that Holistic is better for your pet.

But what is “Holistic”? As far as pet food goes, there is no real (legal) definition.

“All Natural” is a funny one. It means that the ingredients must be “derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources” but can be put through any manufacturing process that the company wants it to as long as they don’t add anything synthetic to it… except for that which is unavoidable for processing. Clear as mud, right?

The same thing with “Human Grade”, which AAFCO considers a “false and misleading” phrase, as all ingredients would have to meet both requirements from the USDA for pet food and the FDA for human food. Technically it’s possible, but it’s unlikely that many pet food processing plants actually meet the grade.

Organic is even more confusing. There is no organic certification for pet food ingredients (and thus no official seal from the National Organic Program which certifies human organic foods), and yet AAFCO allows the word to be used on packaging and nobody’s really going to make a fuss about it. So what’s a word worth? Who knows.

I think the best we can do is look with open eyes and let our minds be reasonable. We all want what’s best for our pets, right? But does “best” have to equate with “super fancy high end organic”? Is it worth paying for labeling that uses terms that don’t really mean anything?

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2014 in Cats, Dogs, Food, Health, kittens, Puppies

 

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What dog breed is right for you?

Unfortunately for dogs (and for people!), one of the most common reasons for dogs being relinquished to shelters or rescues is not because there is anything wrong with the dog (or with the people), but simply because there is a mismatch between dog and human. A busy household that brings home a high energy breed and then doesn’t have the time to exercise it, resulting in a dog who destroys the house while everyone is away for the day is a good example. Or an elderly man whose well-intentioned child buys him a boisterous large breed puppy as a companion only to have the pup turn into a boisterous LARGE puppy, resulting in a dangerous situation for all. Or someone who depends on dog-park play as a way to exercise her dog bringing home a pit bull only to find out she doesn’t play well with other dogs.

All of these situations can end up extremely frustrating and potentially heart-breaking for the owners, and for dogs who get turned over to shelters, possibly life-threatening. And many of them can be avoided by being realistic about the type of dog who will fit into your lifestyle, as well as the traits that certain breeds are prone to.

So how do you avoid them?

1. Start with a list: What traits do you want in a dog? Do you want a couch-potato or do you want a marathon runner? Do you want a dog who is friendly with strangers or who is a one-person dog? Here’s the most important part: BE REALISTIC. Look at what your lifestyle really is. Even if the Border Collie you grew up with on the farm as a kid was the perfect dog, it doesn’t mean one will fit well into your 40-hour-work-week, small-apartment-with-no-yard adult lifestyle.

Do you legitimately have time to exercise that Labrador Retriever? Do you really want a protective dog when you have young children and their friends running through the house? When you say you want a smart dog, do you want a dog whose mind has to be occupied all the time or he’ll get into trouble occupying himself, or do you actually want a dog who is laid back and easy to train? Do you need a dog who plays well with other dogs?

Do you really want this?

Do you really want this?

Or would this be a better match?

Or would this be a better match?

2. Then make another list: What can you not live with? Again, be unflinchingly honest. Is an alarm bark when the mail drops through the slot ok but a dog who likes to announce every bird who flies past the house more than you can tolerate? How much fur are you willing to vacuum off the couch in an average week? Is it going to aggravate you having to scrub slobber off the walls? Can you afford to pay for a groomer every 6-8 weeks? Do you need a dog who is going to be good with kids and is it a deal-breaker if he is not?

Let me sing you the song of my people.

Let me sing you the song of my people.

3. Try a breed selector. There are a number of them available online, and some are better than others. Animal Planet has a nice one. So does Iams and Dogtime. The results you get are not written in stone, and you may get different results from one quiz to the next, but they can at least give you a jumping-off place and some different breeds to further explore to see if they are a good match for your lifestyle.

It is also important to keep in mind that while breed traits were developed with predictability in mind, all dogs are individuals. If you fell in love with your friend’s German Shepherd who has never met a stranger and loves everyone, keep in mind, that is not typical of the breed and that the pup you pick out may be suspicious and standoffish with strangers. It is really important to do your homework, especially if you are going to be getting a puppy.

Awww puppies!

Awww puppies!

There are some great websites out there that give you the basics on each breed. I really like the one on Vetstreet. But nothing is going to be a better educator than spending some time around dogs of that breed. This can be tricky if you’ve fallen for an unusual or rare breed (like the Cirneco D’Elletna that I’ve recently been eyeballing), so seeking them out at dog shows and talking to people in the breed might be extremely important. What looks good on paper may not translate into a good match in the house.

It might also be important to let go of preconceived notions. Not all Labs make great family dogs. In fact, many of them don’t. Dalmatians look great on the movie screen, but they were bred to run next to a carriage all day long and thus are extremely high energy. Bedlington Terriers might look like cute little lambs, but they can be very serious vermin-hunting terriers. Not all pit bulls are dog-aggressive but it needs to always be in your awareness (and it’s not all in how you raise them.

And not all Border Collies are dog-friendly.

And not all Border Collies are dog-friendly

To this end, it might be worth considering looking for an adult dog, whether a retired (or failed) show dog from a breeder or a pure or mixed-breed dog from a (breed-specific or all-breed) rescue or shelter. Adult dogs tend to be fairly “what you see is what you get”, and especially if you have a complicated, busy family (multiple dogs, kids, cats, whatever), finding the specific “right” dog for you- regardless of breed- is really what is going to make things work best in the end.

A good match makes all the difference.

A good match makes all the difference.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2014 in Dogs, Puppies

 

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How to get your kitty to drink more (and why it’s important)

Staying well hydrated is important to the health of all creatures (humans are no exception). It is essential to kidney and bladder health. Unfortunately, because cats were originally desert creatures who gleaned most of their fluids from their food, not from drinking water, which was scarce, they did not develop the same “thirst drive” that humans and dogs did. When they are not getting enough fluids, their bodies do not trigger them to go drink some water. Instead, many cats live their lives in a state of chronic mild dehydration.

Potato chips do not contribute to good hydration.

Potato chips do not contribute to good hydration.

This, unfortunately, can contribute to two common health issues in cats– chronic kidney failure and urinary tract problems (bladder stones, urinary blockages). When a cat isn’t drinking enough, it puts stress on his kidneys. Over time, this stress causes damage. It also causes his urine to become more concentrated than it should be. This can contribute to the formation of crystals, which can in turn become stones (sometimes impressively large!) in the bladder, or which can cause a blockage in the urethra, making the cat unable to urinate. This is a life-threatening (and expensive) emergency situation which we all just want to avoid.

So how do we get our finicky friends to drink more? There are lots of ways. Try several and see which ones work best for you and your cat.

Because cats have historically gotten most of their fluid intake from their food, switching from dry food to a canned diet is the very best way to keep your kitty hydrated. We recommend feeding at least some canned food, even if you do not want to feed it exclusively. To add even more fluids, you can mix some water in with the canned food to form a “soup”. Most cats love this.

Because cats have different preferences, try leaving multiple water bowls out in different places throughout your house. Some cats prefer a wide shallow bowl (that their whiskers won’t touch the sides of), so consider using a pie plate or something similar. Offer water in glass or stainless steel bowls instead of plastic, which can sometimes cause water to have a bad taste.

Be sure to clean and refill water bowls daily. Remember, cats can be so finicky! Also, consider offering filtered or distilled water– chlorinated or hard water can have a flavor that cats don’t like.

You can consider adding a few drops of tuna “juice” (the water that canned tuna is packed in) or clam juice to a bowl of water. Make sure to provide plain water as well.

Many cats are attracted to moving water, so kitty fountains are a popular choice to encourage drinking. You can also try a dripping faucet if you don’t mind your kitties on the counters.

Hopefully this post will give you some ideas to help get your kitty drinking more and staying better hydrated. Your kitty’s bladder and kidneys will thank you!

For more tips: Tips to Increase Your Cat’s Water Intake

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Cats, Food, Health, kittens

 

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