Saturday, February 2, 2013

When to Start?

When to Start?

The moment your new pup or adopted dog enters your home you are either training what you want the dog to learn or you are “training” something that needs to be undone down the road.

Unfortunately most people wait – and wait! – until problems are very evident before seeking help.  Sad to say the “help” they seek may result in the pup or dog being sent to a shelter or otherwise abandoned because behavior issues have gotten a bit out of control.  But, even if that is not the case it is ALWAYS more difficult to correct problems then to prevent them

Impulse acquisition is the first mistake!  Before a pet enters your life there is homework to be done.  One needs to carefully evaluate one’s lifestyle to be certain that a pet will fit in well.  And, then, just what kind of pet will be best?  For some a puppy is the only answer – puppies are so cute and so much fun to watch and play with.  But, they certainly come with issues:  housetraining, chewing, mouthing and more.  Puppies acquired from less than reliable sources very, very often have health issues that mean extra care and lots of extra vet bills.  Older dogs may fit in beautifully but all too often they come with “baggage” that can include housetraining problems, temperament issues, separation anxiety and more.  It may be that a cat is a much better answer but do not think you simply bring home a kitten or adult and you live happily every after.  Kittens and cats have very special needs and you best learn what they are.

Before a pet enters the home one needs to decide where she will spend most of her time.  Where is the feeding station?  What food is needed?  Water bowls?  Toys?  Collars and leashes?  Who is the primary care taker?  Have you planned to blank out your social calendar to give the much needed adjustment time to the newcomer?  Do you have an appointment with the vet to check on health issues and set up a vaccination schedule?   These are for starters!

Often people want to give a pup/dog time to “adjust” before asking anything of them but habits – good and not so good – form very quickly.  If the pup is not going to be allowed on the bed or furniture when she is an adult then it should not be allowed on the furniture because “she is so frightened, or lonely, or sad, or whatever.  Please do not misunderstand what I am saying:  If having your pup on the sofa or bed with you is what you enjoy then by all means do so!  Just don’t confuse the issues by one day great and the next day – no way.

Eight week old pups have almost identical brain waves to adults so they can learn just about anything they can physically do – but their concentration is limited and they are easily distracted.  Also – and this is VERY important: Punishment is NOT part of the scene.  You don’t even get to holler at the little one!

It used to be that one did not begin training until the pups were 7 or 8 months of age and many (Too many!) people still believe that to be the case.  The reason that “rule” was in effect is that punishment was the method to “train” and pups are quickly ruined when they encounter punishment.  Positive based training methods can teach pups as young as 4 WEEKS of age so your eight week old baby is a sponge just waiting to soak up all the good things you can send her way.

 It is so much easier to teach a small pup good leash manners than an unruly 8 month old adolescent.  It is much easier to prevent destruction of pillows, remote controls, toilet paper rolls and your fingers than it is to “cure” the problems.

So – please plan well ahead of time if a pup (or kitten) is to be your companion.  Seek help before you bring home this little creature that will be looking to you for safety, comfort and a long healthy, happy life.


Cats are technically “obligate” carnivores and that means that to be healthy they really need to eat meat.  If you have ever taken the time to read the labels on those packages of dry cat food you are feeding your cat you’ll easily conclude that meat is not making up the greater percentage of what is in the bag.  Typically the food is 1/3 to ½ carbohydrates from grains and starchy vegetables.  Not food for carnivores.  In fact, dry cat food presents many challenges to a cat’s health.

Commercial cat food has the advantage of being convenient and cheap – that does not make it healthy.  Producers of all the major brands of cat food have a responsibility to the stock holders and not a heck of a lot to the cats.  In order for cats to even eat the “stuff” in those bags the manufacturers have become geniuses at flavoring those cute little chunks and hunks with sprayed on fats and flavors.  Some of the worst foods are still so tasty (not nutritious, you understand) that cats overeat.

Wet food surpasses dry food in that there is far less carbohydrate in the blend so a minimal goal for your cat’s diet is at least 50% wet food.   But, be aware that fish flavors and those containing liver or giblets (often labeled at “by-products”) offers a significant risk for thyroid disease.  Easy open and “pop top” cans have been implicated as a high risk.  It is thought to have something to do with the lining of the cans or the interaction between ingredients and what is in the lining.  Avoid pop-tops and especially those with white linings.  Fish should be avoided if your cat has a urinary tract disease.

Cats evolved as desert animals and as such their main source of fluids came from the animals they ate.  Their prey animals are approximately 65% water and while cats eating dry food are likely to drink “more” water they rarely drink enough to be totally hydrated.  High – proper! – water intake keeps the kidneys happy, dilutes the urine and reduces the risk of crystals and stones.  These are such common and mostly avoidable health issues – if the cats are fed what they are meant to eat!

The BEST diet for your cat is a homemade/raw diet but beware – Yes – that does require time and understanding of just what and how much to feed your cats.  What you need to know is beyond the scope of this article but I refer you to:

Raising Cats Naturally by Michelle Bernard
Natural Cat Care by Celeste Yarnall
What Cats Should Eat by Jean Hofve,  DVM

Dr. Hofve has this to say about cats and carbohydrates:

Scientific evidence is increasing that carbohydrates are simply not metabolized well by many cats, if not all…overweight cats are at higher risk for many healthy problems.
  • joint damage
  • diabetes
  • decreased immune function
  • heart disease
  • respiratory disease
  • liver disease
  • pancreatitis
  • digestive disorders
  • skin and coat problems
  • urinary tract disease
  • increased anesthetic risk
  • impaired healing ability
  • cancer

 If you want optimal health NEVER feed dry foods!!!

Read the Label

READ THE LABEL!!!  You are in for some surprises!

Most people have learned the benefits and needs of reading the labels on cans and packages of food for humans yet never give it a thought when they purchase food and treats for their pets.  Pet food manufacturers take wonderful advantage of that customer behavior.  If the word “manufacturer” used in conjunction with food doesn’t appear as a red flag you are already lost!

If you insist on feeding processed food to your pets at least wise up to the really bad stuff in those products.  Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives are linked with causes for cancer. Large doses of propylene glycol (used to keep foods moist and chewy) are currently being linked to central nervous system depression and even kidney changes.  The products containing these cheap but damaging ingredients are usually going to also contain ingredients most likely to cause your dogs to itch, suffer from gas, have flaky skin, and more.

And, commercial treats for dogs are often the very worst of the bunch.

Of the top 15 commercial treats in The Whole Dog Journal’s current review I must admit I have never seen a single one available in this area.  Almost none of them would even be available in supermarkets in the U.S. but I’ll list them at the end of the article so you can add them to your wish list for the next trip to the store.

While we do not have the best we certainly have examples of the worst!  Beggin’ Strips tops the list.  The ingredients list starts like this:  Original bacon flavor:  ground wheat, corn gluten meal, wheat flour, ground yellow corn, water, sugar, glycerin, meat, hydrogenated starch, hydrosolate,  soybean meal…  To quote WDJ, “Also contains artificial preservatives and colors.  This sort of ‘grocery store’ treat is just sweetened glop”.  Well – they do call it the way they see it!  And whatever “Original bacon flavor” is I haven’t a clue.

I believe I have seen Snausages in our area also.  The list of ingredients includes seven instances of artificial preservatives and several artificial colors.    And, how about the old standard, Milk Bones?  Well, let’s see.  Wheat flour, wheat bran, beef and beef bone meal.  Basically a recipe composed of what is known as “food fragments” and the bottom line is there is not much that is healthy in those bone shaped biscuits.  We would want to see wheat, for example, instead of wheat flour and wheat bran if we wanted to see anything about grains in the food – and we don’t.   Maybe the worst thing about Milk Bones is that people will buy the biggest one their dogs can handle meaning it becomes part of the diet rather than “just” a treat.

While treats do not need to meet the high standards of the food people SHOULD be feeding their dogs because the treats are supposedly doled out in small portions those treats should not have harmful ingredients in them.  For example, we do not want sweeteners (often shown as corn syrup, sucrose and ammoniated glycyrrhizin) in our dog’s regular diet or treats but a bit of molasses, honey or fruit in a treat is certainly not a bad thing.

Clearly, the best thing to do is to give fresh, real food for treats such as bits of meat, chicken, cheese, fish or even fruit.  The tinier the pieces the better, especially when using treats for training purposes.  But – if you must have some cutesy shaped doggie goodie here is the list from which to choose:

Buddy Biscuits                                         Original Quinoa Dog Buscuit

Charlee Bear Dog Treats                          Simon and Huey’s Doggoned Tasty Treats

Henry and Sons Vegetarian Cookies        The Hand that Feeds You Healthy Dog Bakery

Liver Biscotti                                            Wet Noses Herbal Dog Treats

Old Mother Hubbard Dog Biscuits           Barkin’ Bits

Original Dog Biscuits                               Dry Roasted Canine Treats

Live-a-Littles                                            Solid Gold Beef Jerky

Pro Treat

When you read an ingredient list it SHOULD read ingredients in decreasing quantities but the pet food companies are very deceptive in their labeling process.  Take the following list of ingredients from a can of cat food as an example:

Water, beef, liver, meat by products, corn grits, corn flour, corn gluten meal, chicken fat, vitamins and minerals.

Looks like it has a lot of meat, right?  Well - corn grits, corn flour, corn gluten meal, are all basically the same thing – corn.  But, because the company can legally label particles of corn separately it turns out that corn is second to water in this particular recipe!  Deceptive?  You bet!

Cats should never be given any grains and the only reason to put grains in canned food is to same the precious stock holders money.  Since the extruders (the machines that make dry food) must have some form of carbohydrates to make the little dry pellets grains or starchy vegetables such as potatoes are a major part of all the dry recipes.  Cats should never be fed dry food because of the carbs.  Dogs should be treated better than they are and not be given dry foods either but at least they can digest it better (which is not saying much!) because they are not obligate carnivores as are cats.

Names of the cans are helpful because they are regulated but, of course, little is said to the buying public about how to read those labels!  If a food is called “Beef Cat Food” it must be at least 95% beef “on a dry matter basis”.**  If the label says something like Beef Feast or Beef EntrĂ©e you are now down to 25% beef – or whatever the name meat may be.  If a label says “Cat food with beef” you are now down to a maximum of 3%

This of course applies to dog food as well and you can use the same thinking process as you read the dry food labels.  A label may say Chicken, for example as a first ingredient.  Good start, right?  Well, maybe not.  It means that it is chicken meat – that part is good – but it went into the extruder raw – full of moisture – 75% or more moisture!  When it dries out it is greatly reduced in quantity and therefore in percentage.  Chicken meal means it is meat but dry when it goes into the machine.  Next check how many times you see some version of grains and grain fragments and you get an idea of how bad it really is.

Become aware of what you buy to put in your trusting feline or canine companion's food bowls.  Learn to carefully read those labels.

*There is a specific formula to determine “dry matter basis” but space prevents including it here.