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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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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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Flea and tick products: which one is best?

Ah, flea season. How we loathe it. As summer draws to an end, we are seeing the typical spike in flea infestations. Getting rid of the little suckers can be frustrating, and the wide array of products available can be overwhelming. Where to start?

Flea and tick collars available at the pet or grocery store are really not a good choice (but they work great at killing the fleas you vaccuum up if you put one in the bag or canister). They tend to not protect the whole pet, and it is not at all uncommon to see fleas walking right over the collars with no ill effects. Plus they’re not great to have around kids, because the pesticides can be easily ingested.

Cheap topical flea and tick preventatives are, well, you get what you pay for. And these can be tricky. There is actually a product on the market that is marketed as flea treatment, but unless you read the fine print, you are not going to realize that it does not kill fleas at all, just sterilizes the eggs. Toxicity is also a concern. And flea/tick medications sold for dogs should never EVER be used on cats. Cats can be very sensitive, and dog products can cause neurologic problems and in extreme cases, even death.Oakley and Dakota

So what do we recommend?

Frontline Plus is our old standby, a good workhorse that kills both fleas and ticks. It’s been around for a long time, and we see very few reactions to it. There have been concerns about its effectiveness against fleas recently, so some people have chosen different options. The biggest cause of product failure is inconsistency in use, but if you feel that Frontline is no longer working, we do have other options!

Our favorite of the new products is Nexgard, an oral flea and tick preventative that is given once a month. It is only available for dogs, but it seems to do a great job in killing fleas and ticks. Because it is an oral medication instead of a topical one, the flea or tick does need to bite your pet and feed on him, so you will find attached ticks, but they will most likely already be dead. This has become pretty popular since we started carrying it, and almost everyone has been very happy with it.

Advantage II is another topical medication choice if you only need protection from fleas. It’s a great choice for indoor cats, or for dogs who don’t venture into woods or fields where they’re likely to pick up ticks. Advantage is available for both cats and dogs, and it seems to work very well.

If Advantage isn’t seeming strong enough, we are also carrying a product called Activyl. Unlike our other flea and tick products, Activyl must be purchased as an entire sixpack, but for the really tough flea infestations, it seems to make a big difference.

catzillasunrollIf you’re looking for a product that works against more than fleas and ticks, we carry a product called Revolution. Revolution is a topical product that protects against fleas and heartworm disease in dogs (and ticks but not very well) and fleas, heartworm, and ear mites in cats. Because it’s not particularly effective against ticks, we don’t typically recommend it for dogs (who must be heartworm tested or current on oral heartworm medication), but we do have it as an option for those who are interested.

And last but not least, we carry an area treatment for the home that we really like, called Siphotrol. It is a spray rather than a bomb, so you are able to put it in the places where it needs to be, such as the corners of rooms and under the furniture. It is pet-safe once dry, and it dries pretty quickly. It is a great option if you already have fleas in your home, because only a very small portion of the flea population is the adult fleas you see on your pets. The siphotrol will take care of the various life stages of fleas that are living in your carpeting or furniture, and give you a big step up in effectively eliminating the problem.

For complete instructions on how to combat fleas in your home, check out our Dealing With the Dreaded Flea Infestation post from last year. Chock full of excellent information and recommendations on returning your home to a bug-free zone.

 

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Kitten development and orphaned kitten care

Kitten pile

Kitten pile

Every year we have a number of clients who find abandoned baby kittens and take on the project of raising them. This post is an introduction to the development of kittens (physical and social), as well as how to raise a tiny kitty successfully. Baby kitties are so delicate, and they take a lot of work and commitment, but can be a tremendously fun and fulfilling experience as well. Also: kittens are adorable!

So, first an overview of kitten development:

Kittens are born blind and deaf. They are unable to regulate their own body temperature, so if they are without a mom, supplemental heat such as a heating pad set on low is important. They must be bottle fed and stimulated to go to the bathroom (mom cats do this by licking, we recommend a warm wet washcloth).

In their second week, their eyes begin to open. All kittens’ eyes are blue at this point. They are now able to hiss, and their sense of smell begins to develop.

Week three is a big week– their ears begin to stand up and they start to be able to hear. Their teeth will be starting to come in. And now is the time to start kitten-proofing because these little babies are going to be on the move, starting to explore the world. They also begin to purr around this age.

Week four brings increasingly more active and playful kittens, now with a fully mature sense of smell.

Week five is the prime time to introduce the litterbox and “real” food. A cookie sheet or any kind of flat tray with low sides so that kittens can easily crawl in and out filled with either a pelleted litter or a non-toxic clay litter (no clumping litter!) is the best option. It is normal for kittens to try to eat the litter- they’re just trying to figure things out. When introducing kitten food, you want to either offer canned food or kitten kibble that has been soaked in warm water until soft. Remember, these guys have tiny, developing teeth and they need soft foods.kittenkl

The prime socialization time for kittens is between two and seven weeks. It is extremely important that kittens be exposed to a wide variety of people and positive experiences during this time so that they will learn to trust humans and not be afraid of the world.

Bottle feeding abandoned kittens:

From birth to three weeks, kittens should be bottle-fed every 3-4 hours. Use a small pet nursing bottle and KMR or other type of kitten milk replacer. Do not use “Catmilk” or “Cat-sip” as these are not formulated for kitten milk replacement.

Let the kitten dictate when he is full. Don’t worry about overfeeding. Many milk replacers will have feeding guidelines on the container, which is a good starting point, but trust the kitten to know when he is full.

I'm hungry feed my mouth!

I’m hungry feed my mouth!

It may take a few tries before a kitten will take to a bottle. Remember– this is very different from nursing off mom! The bottle doesn’t taste or feel anything like the warm, welcoming belly of a mother cat.

Feed your kittens in an upright position– belly down, not on his back. When kittens normally nurse, they crawl up and lay on mom– they are not cradled like human babies. Pretend your hand body of the mom cat.

Kittens must be stimulated to go to the bathroom after each feeding. Unfortunately, when they are tiny, this doesn’t just happen on its own. Use a warm wet papertowel or washcloth to gently rub the genital area until you achieve success.

Hopefully this will give you some basic groundwork when it comes to nurturing baby kittens. If you have any questions, give the office a call at 665-2338 and we will do our best to help you out!

Additional resource:
Raising Happy Kittens

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2014 in Behavior, Cats, Health, kittens

 

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