Just Say No to Soy in Pet Food

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This article sums up nicely why I gave up unfermented soy years ago for my own diet, and why we have never allowed soy to be a primary ingredient in any of our foods or treats at Green Dog (we are aware it sneaks in in ingredients like lecithin, but we do what we can). We were upset to hear that Castor and Pollux was planning to use soy as one of their primary proteins in their new grain free formula (which is now on the market) and this just added to our list of why we had to get rid of that brand right away. I’ve always meant to write a blog posting about soy in pet foods, but Dr. Becker has come through again with a great article.

By Dr. Becker

As I was scanning an industry trade journal recently, a headline caught my eye.

It announced the opening of a new manufacturing plant to produce protein for animal diets.

Protein in animal diets being one of my favorite subjects, I read a little further … only to discover the company opening the new plant makes vegetable protein.

And the reason they need more manufacturing capacity is to answer the growing demand for soy protein products in North America.

Clearly, soy in all its forms is being included in an increasing number of commercial dog and cat food formulas.

I’ve discussed the problem of soy in pet food often here at Mercola Healthy Pets.

But I think it’s probably time for a closer look at what soy is, the health problems it can create, why it’s used by so many pet food manufacturers … and why you shouldn’t feed it to your dog or cat.

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To Flush or Not to Flush – disposing of pet waste

 

Not long after we first opened the store, we found a product that we thought sounded like a no-brainer for a green store – doggie poop bags that broke down quickly in water so that they could be safely flushed. It seemed quite logical that pet waste would be best disposed of in a system already in place to treat sewage, so we bought them. However, it occurred to us that we had only worried about the safety of the home sewer system before we bought them, and had not considered to ask what happens to the water supply when pet waste was flushed. We were already selling flushable cat litter and advocating the flushing of litter. Is flushing really the best way to dispose of pet waste?  We contacted the city of Portland about this issue, as we wanted to make sure that it would truly be a good idea on all sides. They vehemently opposed the idea at the time, and we ended up not reordering those bags again (and they weren’t selling that well anyway, so we left it at that).

We heard recently that a few of our distributors were probably bringing in flushable bags, which concerned us a bit, as it means  they would then be actively promoted to local retailers and therefore marketed more widely to the public. As some years had passed and I knew that Portland has made some upgrades to the system in recent years, I called again to discuss the issue. (more…)

Saying No to Poor Quality Pet Food… Even When It’s Recommended by Your Vet

By Dr. Becker

Recently the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) added a fifth ‘vital health assessment’ for veterinarians in determining the health status of their cat and dog patients.

The four existing assessments are: temperature, cardio function, respiratory health, and pain.

The new “5th Vital Assessment”1 is nutrition.

Per Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, and executor director of the AAHA:

“Incorporating nutritional assessment into the routine examination protocol for every patient is important for maintaining optimal health, as well as their response to disease and injury.

The goal of the new guidelines is to provide a framework for the veterinary practice team to help make nutritional assessments and recommendations for their patients.”

Integrative and holistically-oriented vets have always done nutritional assessments on our patients.

In fact, I view species-appropriate nutrition as the first and most influential of the three pillars of health – the other two pillars being a sound, resilient body and a balanced, functional immune system.

And while I applaud the traditional veterinary community’s addition of a nutritional assessment in determining the well-being of dogs and cats, I’m a little concerned with where this initiative could be headed.

Here is how the AAHA introduced their new “5th Vital Assessment” initiative in October 20102:

DENVER — Nutrition is integral to optimal pet care. However, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) found through its Compliance Study that only seven percent of pets that could benefit from a therapeutic food were actually on such a regimen.

The compliance discrepancy along with the many factors considered in assessing the nutritional needs of a healthy dog or cat, as well as the pet with one or more medical conditions, led to the development the AAHA Nutritional Assessment Guidelines.

The phrase ‘therapeutic food’ gives me pause, especially when I see that a major manufacturer of ‘therapeutic’ pet food has provided an educational grant to print the AAHA Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats3 in several languages.

Coming Soon to a Veterinarian Near You …

… a big push to switch your pet to a ‘therapeutic’ dog or cat food.

My discomfort with the therapeutic food angle grew when I came across a PetfoodIndustry.com article in January of this year.

According to the article, the same pet food manufacturer who provided an educational grant to the AAHA “… will make regular visits to more than 22,000 veterinary hospitals and clinics to help build support for and implement nutritional recommendations as the ’5th Vital Assessment’ in pet healthcare.”

To accomplish this the pet food company plans, among other things, to add sales staff to call more frequently on vet offices across the country in order to sell more therapeutic pet foods.

Then I came across another PetfoodIndustry.com news item, also from January, announcing that a pet health insurance provider is adding coverage for therapeutic pet food.

According to the article, “… coverage now includes half the cost of therapeutic pet foods purchased through a veterinarian to assist in care of a pet for two months.”

‘Therapeutic’ Pet Food Ingredients Revealed

The following is a list of the first five ingredients in some of the therapeutic pet foods you may hear a sales pitch for the next time you take your pet to the vet for a wellness exam.

A can of cat food marketed as capable of improving feline bladder health:

  • Pork By-Products
  • Water
  • Pork Liver
  • Chicken
  • Rice

A bag of kibble advertised as good for feline gastrointestinal health:

  • Chicken By-Product Meal
  • Brewers Rice
  • Corn Gluten Meal
  • Whole Grain Corn
  • Pork Fat

A can of dog food to improve cardiac health in senior dogs:

  • Water
  • Corn Flour
  • Pork Liver
  • Rice Flour
  • Beef By-Products

Dry dog food marketed for canine renal health:

  • Brewers Rice
  • Pork Fat
  • Dried Egg Product
  • Flaxseed
  • Corn Gluten Meal

Regular readers here will immediately recognize the remarkably inferior, species inappropriate ingredients in these pet foods.

For the uninitiated:

  • By-products are what are left after all the good stuff is harvested for the human food industry. Beaks, feet, feathers, wattles and combs are chicken by-products. There could be something beneficial thrown in, like the heart or gizzard, but because there’s such potential for undesirable pieces and parts in ‘by-products,’ it’s better to avoid them altogether.
  • Corn in any form (including corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, corn flour, etc.) is an extremely allergenic food and difficult to digest. It’s also one of the three crops most highly contaminated with aflatoxins.
  • Brewers rice is a low quality ingredient that also happens to be a by-product. In addition, it’s a grain. Grains are not species-appropriate nutrition for carnivores.

Read here for the secret to cracking the code on your dog’s (or cat’s) pet food label.

Just Say No to ‘Therapeutic’ Pet Foods

Unfortunately, veterinary students don’t learn much about nutrition in their coursework. They graduate, go into practice, and become easy targets for pet food companies eager to fill their reception areas and storage closets with inferior quality ‘prescription’ diets for dogs and cats.

Now that the AAHA has added nutrition as the 5th vital assessment of a pet’s health, I think many pet owners will be hearing more about diets during vet visits. I also suspect many of these conversations will end with a recommendation to buy a ‘prescription’ (therapeutic) pet food to take home with you.

I absolutely do not recommend the extremely low quality, species-inappropriate pet food formulas being sold through vet practices as ‘therapeutic.’

I encourage my Natural Pet clients and all of you reading here to learn everything you can about the vital importance of biologically appropriate, high quality nutrition to the health and longevity of your pet.

I believe the more informed pet parents are about the type of food dogs and cats need to thrive, the less vulnerable they’ll be to a sales pitch for low quality pet food – even when it’s recommended by a veterinarian.


References:


What the Heck is Target Training?

A Tapir learns to touch a target in a zoo

A Tapir learns to touch a target in a zoo

By Christine Mallar

We just brought in some nifty extendable target training sticks to the store, and so I thought I should write up a description of what it’s used for, as targeting is such a fun and really easy activity to do with your pets, no matter what species – I’ve even taught a fish to target. No, seriously! This isn’t an indication of what a good trainer I am, it’s just an illustration of how easy it is to teach and learn. (In fact, I have to laugh as I just Googled “Target Training a Fish” and came up with lots of results! Here’s one).

To ask an animal to target, you are asking the animal to deliberately touch an object, and you are marking the moment with a sound (like a click from a training clicker). The animal knows this sound means that a treat is coming their way, and allows them to pinpoint the exact thing the trainer wants them to do to earn that treat.  This clever concept was created by dolphin trainers. Dolphins are very smart,  but slippery. Trainers couldn’t possibly have used traditional methods of training that required physical domination of the animals (like cowboys did with horses, or dog trainers did with leashes and choke collars) – it just isn’t possible. With a whistle and a bucket of fish, dolphins participated voluntarily in their own training (and if they weren’t having fun they could easily swim away).

Picture this: a dolphin trainer wants the dolphin to jump out of the water and touch a ball that is suspended way up high. First, the trainer might toss the ball onto the water and wait until the dolphin investigates it. The trainer is watching for the moment the dolphin touches the ball with its nose, and they mark that moment exactly with a whistle. This noise means a piece of fish, which the dolphin happily goes to collect from the trainer. When the dolphin happens to touch the ball again and hears that whistle, it starts to become quite clear to the dolphindolphin that she can touch that ball on purpose to make that trainer give her another fish.  Now that the intent is clear that the behavior is to touch the ball with her nose, the trainer can introduce a hand signal or word right before she touches it, which becomes the command. The trainer might suspend the ball from a rope right at water level, and ask for and reward touches to the ball.  Then the ball can be raised a little at a time and the dolphin must now stretch to reach it, and then jump to reach it, etc. Targeting can also be used to teach her to touch other parts of he body to objects or even trainer’s hand, allowing the trainer to perhaps shake a flipper (first a “trick”) and then this trick is used to slowly shape a far more difficult behavior, like allowing a vet to take blood from a vein on that flipper – all with voluntary participation from that dolphin. It removes the fear of that procedure as it’s taught gradually, and is certainly easier and less risky for everyone involved than corralling that dolphin and herding her into some sort of restraint device that would enable them to get that blood sample forcefully, and good luck getting that done a second time! With positive reinforcement training, it became possible for trainers to get voluntary participation from the dolphins for complex behaviors.

When I first became a zookeeper, very little training was done in the zoo setting. I was lucky to be a part of some of the early pioneering – zookeepers who realized that these same things might be possible, that training could enable keepers make animals easier to manage, more easily moving from exhibits to holding areas, for example, and even to participate in their own medical care.  At Zoo Atlanta, we had heard about the amazing things that were being done with orangutans at the Brookfield Zoo. These orangutans had some sort of need for injections (perhaps diabetes? I can’t quite remember right now, which shocks me, but anyhow…). They brought in marine mammal trainers, and worked with them to set up a program to shape behaviors like approaching the mesh and hanging onto it, letting their forearms be touched, and then touched and held for a period of time, then touching the arm with an empty barrel of a syringe, then building up to little injections of sterile water. Before this time, an orangutan might have had to to be darted, or made to enter a small “squeeze cage” that would hold them in a position that would enable a vet to poke them with a needle. Stressful, and certainly not practical for something that needed to be done every day.  As soon as we heard about this, we orangutan keepers at Zoo Atlanta jumped on this idea. Of course! We could do this too! We had to battle some pretty hard preconceptions against training (we appeared to be having a good time and “playing” with our animals instead spending our time doing more scrubbing and sweeping) but as we were able to ask the orangutans to open their mouths on command so we could see their teeth, and able to take their temperature with an ear thermometer, trim toenails easily, and even to convince the vets to allow us to give them their flu shots ourselves – no muss, no fuss, no fear – we started to get people to pay attention. We set up a training committee for keepers from all areas of the zoo to come and share ideas for how positive reinforcement training could be used and work together to achieve it – otters or lemurs could easily be taught to jump into a crate and moved to another exhibit – no nets, no gloves, no risk, no stress. Just fish for the otters or bananas for the lemurs and a little bit of time and everything becomes easier! Giraffe keepers were moving them easily through a narrow hallway that they had previously been frightened of using, which happened to be the only way out onto exhibit. The rhinos were already comfortable with being touched on their heads and hand fed, but were soon able to be positioned easily to present different areas of their body to be inspected and touched, leading to keepers being able to file their toenails or even treat and bandage a serious tail wound that the keepers and vets would never have had access to otherwise. They avoided a likely tail amputation by way of a risky immobilization and were instead easily able to ask Rosie the rhino to present her tail to the vet techs and keepers at the bars of her holding area and stay still for daily cleaning and bandaging of the tail, all for the price of a few pieces of fruit.  The animals really benefited from the enriching mental stimulation, and reduction of stress in their lives, as did the vets and the keepers. With every species, this sort of training almost universally started with target training. Each species had a target that suited the situation – the orangutans started with a wooden paint stir stick and moved to clips we could move around and clip to  the wire mesh of their holding area caging. The giraffes had a long pole with a plastic ball on the end (with keepers on ladders) , and for the rhinos whose sight wasn’t their strongest point, and were a bit frightened of sticks or poles, we made a flat, square target with a handle on the back for the keeper to hold and bright yellow and black diagonal lines painted on the front for visibility. (Look at this link to see lots of zoo animals across the country learning to target – it makes my heart swell to think about that change we envisioned becoming mainstream for keepers now, developing their positive relationships, enriching the animals’ lives, reducing potential sources of stress, and reducing the need for immobilizations. Keepers are drawing blood from veins, using ultrasound to check for heart disease or monitoring a pregnancy, etc. It’s a beautiful thing)

For dogs and cats, any household item can be used – the eraser end of a pencil, a wooden spoon, or even your hand. The clicker can be “loaded” – a trainer term that means you click the clicker and give them a treat, several times until you start to see them understand that the noise means treat, and that it is a good noise. If they happen to know a few behaviors, like sit, you can ask for a sit and mark the moment their butt touches the floor with a click, following it with a treat.  Then present your hand or your target object right to them and see if they’ll investigate it. If they touch dogtargetit with their nose (or whatever you’d like them to touch things with, like their paw. The nose is generally an easy place to start though), try to click the clicker at exactly the moment their nose touches the object, and give a treat. Do that a few times, and then do the same thing but stop an inch or two short of where you had it before, so that they have to move towards it slightly to touch it. You should, in a short time (short for a dog, probably longer for a fish) you’ll see what we like to call the AHA! moment where they tentatively stretch towards it – you’ll click and treat and next they’ll really seem to “get it” and touch the target with more intention. Yippee! Now you can start adding a word like “touch” as you present the target, and since they already know what you want when you present it, they’ll quickly come to associate that word with the behavior. Congratulations! You have now trained a new behavior and put it on command! Now see if they’ll move towards the target in another way, to the left or to the right,  eventually being able to walk towards a target to touch it. I wanted to show you just how easy this is by teaching my cat Otis to target and filming it for you. I’m using a clicker, holding the treats in the palm of my clicker hand and using the handle of a wooden spoon as my target. I don’t use the word touch until I see him “getting it”. I keep my session short so as to keep his interest, I use good treats he’s willing to work for, and I end on a good note. When I was really impressed with one of his touches, I gave him two treats. Notice: the first nose touch was just because I showed him something new – essentially an accident. Then he doesn’t know what we’re doing but knows it’s something good, so he weaves around happily, and because he’s a cat and he’s happy, the next thing he does is rub his face on the spoon handle, which I catch with a click at the moment he first makes contact. The 4th click is that tentative try with intention. Now we’re in business.

So what now? Dogs can take this sort of behavior to really great levels. Perhaps start teaching your dog to touch a yogurt lid with her foot. Then the lid can be moved gradually farther away – what fun indoor exercise to run to the lid, touch it with her foot, hear the click and run back to you! The cat can hop up onto other surfaces to follow the target to touch it – up to the couch and onto his cat tree and up to the mantle and back down to the couch and then to the floor. Exercise in disguise of fun tricks! Teach your pet to target a variety of objects and use it as a way to name them: “Touch ball” “Touch Frisbee” – make your dog have to think about which one you’re asking for once they’ve learned two of them. How many can she distinguish over time? They can learn to touch a colored sticker, and you can stick that to places in the house – a sticker on a drawer that’s slightly open has a dog targeting and learning to close the drawer, or the fridge, or turn on a light, etc.Targeting is a great way to teach “Heal” as they have to be behind the target for it to work! Lots of tricks are possible, and there might even be a few that are useful to you. Just remember, whether a behavior is “useful” or not is irrelevant – the points are to challenge an animal’s mind, create fun, build your relationship, and make you a better trainer by teaching you to have good timing (clicking at the right moment) and watching for ideal moments where you can catch the behavior, or even a very small version of that behavior over time. Target training can be a great confidence builder in a shy dog, and can even face their fears by slowly targeting closer and closer to something that makes them uncomfortable. There are oodles of links out there about clicker and target training. Here’s a good video I stumbled upon that shows someone teaching a trick (“Bow”) using only the clicker and the target. They happen to be using the cool new extendable target stick we’ve brought in to the store. This video is interesting to watch, as the leaving the butt in the air while bending only the elbows is “shaped” by clicking right at the very first moment the elbows touch, which technically happened before the butt sunk to the floor for a “down” type behavior. By concentrating on that specific moment, the dog is able to really hone in on the fact that that’s really what the trainer is after, and sinking down in the back end is irrelevant to the trick.

There’s lots of good info on this site about the process as well.

No matter what your pet is, if it has a spinal chord, it can be trained using these methods. (For you local folks, ask Doug Duncan at Doggie Business about his visit to “chicken camp”  where new dog trainers have to clicker train a chicken as part of their animal training lessons.) What a fun thing to try with your dog, and how useful when it’s nasty weather outside, or when your dog needs surgery and has to stay on bed rest – they can still be learning and challenged and having a good time, right from their bed.  Keep it short, keep it fun, and if they seem frustrated, ask for something easier and end on that high note. Then think of possible smaller steps you can take towards your goal, so that they are more easily understanding what it is you’re going for. Now you’re a trainer.