Spring Time Means Shedding Time!!! Groom Away Those Wintery Thoughts!

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Monk and DogSpring is upon us!!  For many of us in Canada it still means a month more snow, but for many parts of North America, we are well on our way!  Flowers are growing, bees are buzzing and FUR IS FLYING!

For us, spring time means shed time.  Our Labrador, Zoom, begin to molt out his downy fur from winter and we start to see more and more tumbleweeds of Zoom-fur blowing around signaling yet another sweeping!

Shedding is a totally natural and healthy part of a dogs life and while it can be an indicator for some underlying conditions is it happens chronically, seeing an upswing in the amount of fur your are cleaning up is totally normal! Keeping on top of it can be a real challenge, and for some of us, nearly impossible. This can especially become a problem when guests come to stay who are not necessarily “dog people” themselves and seem to have a knack for picking out outfits that not only attract the fur like flies to flypaper, but also for those guests with allergies. Here are a few easy steps that can be taken to minimize the impact for your family on a regular basis and also for those special guests:

  1. Daily Grooming: Brush your canine’s fur everyday. Especially true for those of us living in flea and tick country, make sure to groom it all: top to bottom, legs, belly, tail, neck, arm-pits, etc.  A rule of thumb for the mainstay tick-born diseases is that they require 24 hours of attachment time to transmit to the host (dog).  This will also help keep matts from occurring, and massage the skin to help remove dead skin and loose fur.  There are many products out there for general and specific breeds’ grooming needs. From rubber to metal, bristle to flea comb, there is something out there that will work for your purpose. I find certain combs and brushes work better for particular body regions (e.g. the rubber Kong brush works best for me around the head), so consider having a few different brushes on hand. Need help deciding? As part of our product review services, Canines By Design can help you pick out the right grooming tools and show you how to use them.

Pro-tip: Bring your brush to the park and do your grooming outside to avoid generating extra dander in your home’s ventilation system.

  1. For quick “tumbleweed” touchups, use an electrostaticlly charged broom (e.g. Swiffer) that will make your life oh-so-much easier when guests are arriving soon. Many options are re-useable and green as well (Save the Planet!) Electrostatic dusting cloths are also available.

Pro-tip: With a daily sweep, one static cloth can last over several days. Keep the in-use cloth on the broom wrapped in a plastic bag for easy use.

  1. For guests and family members with more serious allergy issues, I would recommend dusting and sanitizing surfaces (helps with saliva allergies), vacuuming of all chairs, couches, carpets, etc., washing any bedding and towels they will use, and also changing out the furnace filter if possible to one that offers HEPA-level filtration to decrease allergy-related particulates in the air. If you have a severe case, then renting a carpet cleaner for any bedroom carpets will be useful as well.

Pro-tip: After cleaning, keep the guestroom door closed before their arrival to avoid more hair buildup.

Part of being a proactive canine caregiver is keeping in tune with your canine’s hygiene. Regular veterinary checkups, teeth cleaning, and nail clipping are all very important aspects of care giving, but one aspect that can be neglected is regular dog bathgrooming, and dermal (a.k.a skin) inspections. Our skin is our largest organ and its function (e.g. maintaining a homeostatic balance within our bodies) is essential for life – and the same applies to our canines. Unusual and rapid onset of shedding can be an alarm bell for changes in health, or health-related issues. Stress, bacterial infections, contacts with toxins, pregnancy and even organ disease/failure can all cause rapid shedding. By being proactive caregivers, we will see these changes faster. By performing daily grooming rituals we can minimize any “surprises” hiding under our canines fur, ensuring their skin and coat remain healthy.   Dermatitis, hot spots, parasites, growths, cuts and scrapes hide under a fur coat, but can all easily be found and monitored with daily routine.

Being a canine caregiver is an active process. Balancing the needs of your canine with the demands of life can sometimes be challenging. Constantly having those furry tumbleweeds blowing around is annoying (to say the least), but your dog’s shedding shouldn’t be a deterrent or source of undue worry when welcoming allergic guests. Following the few suggestions above and taking the C.B.D. approach of “setting up for success” will help minimize both the hair and the stress, and finally nix your grandmother’s idea about knitting a sweater out of all the fur blowing around at tea time.

Dog Food Part 2: Working Through The Tips

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qualitycontrol            In our last post, we discussed four tips to help you navigate the pet food industry: (1) Do your research, (2) Price does equal quality, (3) Consider country of origin, and (4) Know your canine’s needs. I specifically wrote the post from a neutral standpoint because it is an industry needing clarification and is already filled with opinions, false statements, varying “safe standards” and even research with opposing results.

So, you have done your research… still feeling lost? Did you jump onto DogFoodAdvisor.com and see the hundreds of different food listed and think: How will I ever know what is right?

What is THAT Ingredient!?!

What is THAT Ingredient!?!

Below, we will discuss each section listed last week as a whole – using my particular viewpoint as the base for examples so that you can see the research process in action. Finding the right food isn’t too overwhelming, but it is about reading labels and making informed decisions when choosing the optimal nutrition for a new or existing canine family member. Knowledge is power and the effectiveness of our decision is based on the time we spend looking into product.

Steps:

1. Does the canine have any pre-existing medical conditions, such as allergies or gastrointestinal limitations, that require us to immediately refine our search based on key ingredients, or ease of digestion, etc.? For some, our adopted canines don’t come with this information so mediccarefully watch their eating and “business” (poop and pee) habits to give you some insight into this area. Do they already have coarse fur, dry skin and lots of dander, or maybe itchy paws? It can be as simple as a hygiene fix, but for others these are signs of an allergic reaction and are indicators that a change is necessary.

2. Then, I start with DogFoodAdvisor.com. Begin by looking through the products listed under the 5-star rating. There are lots to choose from, but you will then see what brands keep showing up and the specific products they order. This is your starting point. Why?

In general, the five star rated foods will be more expensive (large bag between $65-80 CAD), but these producers know where their individual ingredients are being sourced from; they will have higher standards for their finished product, check their quality more frequently and offer, in general, a product with “available nutrition” for the dogs being the primary driver – pushing fillers and less nutritious items much further down, or completely off, their ingredient list. There are a few outliers that have managed to produce products that are fairly nutritious and more cost effective and these will fall into the 4-star range (e.g. Kirkland Dry Food), HOWEVER, these products have ingredients sourced from multiple locations based on the size of their corporations’ reach and the cost effectiveness for them in doing so. But remember, not all countries follow the same rules and standards, etc. Unlike Petco, Costco still sells food products from China, which as we discussed last week, have been found to make dogs very sick and even kill.

3. Write a list of a few brands and specifics types (e.g. chicken, beef, fish, or lamb) that you think will suit your canine best. Now jump online and go to their individual company webpages. Look at areas such as their mission and mottos. While they will (of course) want to look as favorable to potential consumers as possible, the companies that really care about their products will tell you all about how they source their ingredients, how the food is prepared stampand why (listing benefits), and will sometimes give you a more in-depth nutritional breakdown and ingredient list. Still can’t decide? Contact your veterinarian to see what products they endorse and add that to your information gathering (NOTE: some veterinarians are sponsored by companies to promote their products so while they are a wealth of information, if they only sell one brand out front you might want to contact a variety of veterinarian offices to see what they might recommend).

4. Call your local vendors to determine availability and price point. You don’t want to necessarily pick a food that is iphonehard to find, or one that always needs to be ordered in. If they don’t carry it and instead offer you an alternative or two, write those brands down and do a little more research before committing.

5. Start with small bags, a few cans or a couple weeks of a raw food diet. Transitioning to new food takes time, so transition to new products slowly over two weeks, by gradually incorporating larger proportions of new-to-existing kibble for each meal time so that, by the end of the transition, they will just be beginning to eat only their new kibble. Then, try the new diet on its own for an additional 1-2 weeks to determine if it is working for your canine (through obvious and less obvious signs such as energy level, stool analysis, etc.).

Always consult your veterinarian or canine dietician when it comes to your canine’s nutrition. Many veterinarians have acknowledged the role nutrition plays in our canines’ lives and have kept up with the rapid changes that have occurred in the dog food industry. However, the more knowledgeable you are going into that discussion, the more specific your questions can be about your own canine’s needs, and the more confident you will feel leaving the vet’s office.

It’s a great feeling to know that the time you spent researching food for your canine will help them live a happy and healthy life, free from the impacts that a less nutritious diet can have on their mental and physical health. Have any more questions? Contact me and I’ll be glad to use my resources and colleagues within the pet food industry to answer your questions as best I can.

Happy Kibble Hunting!

Dog Food: 4 Considerations When Choosing Treats and Dinner

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Happy Hour DogsThe dog food industry has come a long way since the days of generic “dog chow” – and it continues to change all the time. It seems like everyone has an opinion these days on their preferred all-protein, no-carb, low-carb, raw-based, home-prepped, homegrown diets and which brands are best and/or should be avoided at all costs. And, even amidst all these changes and new approaches to dog nutrition, we still see ads for “old-school” products like pigs ears, bully sticks, and products imitating foods like bacon (come on… the dogs know it isn’t bacon).

What we can infer from the fluctuations of the pet food industry is just that… it is changing. Like the field of canine behaviour, we are learning new things everyday. With behavioural training, while the traditional approach to the ways we interact and “command” dogs still exists, it has given way to a softer, positive and far more educational approach (for both the canine and caregiver). The food industry is the same – it is transitioning based on academic study and knowledge. What we know about canine health is developing rapidly, and this knowledge is setting higher health standards by producers and industry regulators, contributing to nutritional guidelines and teaching us what it means to feed our dogs a balanced diet.

As caregivers, it can be overwhelming. Who do we listen to? How do we know what is right? To help, here is general guideline that I follow when I enter a store and look through the various food and treat-related products on the shelves:

  1. Do your research before you go. A good starting point is dogfoodadvisor.com. This third-party website has reviewed most dog foods on the market and can offer feedback regarding theirstudying-large ingredients, the level of quality regarding production (e.g. use of chelated minerals versus none), the nutrient breakdown of the product and even highlight controversial ingredients* if they exist. READ LABELS. Just like your mom told you to do for your own food purchases, if you are reading the ingredient list and can’t, at least, pronounce the first five ingredients, put it back on the shelf and look for a more natural, less processed option.

*Controversial Ingredients: Those ingredients that exist in the product that have yet to be tested for their nutritional value, created as a by-product of another process (e.g. tomato pumice), or are not usually found in canine food products but do exist in other animals food (e.g. sun-cured alfalfa).

  1. Price = Quality: Unfortunately for our bank accounts, the pet food industry has a direct relation between price and quality. Much like buying certified organic, free-range or pesticide free products means a larger grocery bill for our family, the same 100% Qualityapplies to canines. A finished product cannot be magically better than the parts that make it up, so in many ways you get what you pay for. Be very careful when buying “deals” at discount stores, box stores and even pet-specific retail locations. Last week I discussed costs and lifestyle changes that occur when you bring a dog into your life. If you are working through this process, budget high for food and treats just to make sure you cover off any unforeseen changes that might occur in this area inflating the monthly costs (e.g. a change from kibble food to raw food because of severe allergy issues).
  1. Country of Origin Matters: Canada and the United States have similar, but different, food standards between our countries. One comparison that always makes me chuckle is that kid-approved Kinder Surprise Eggs are completely legal here in Canada – but are very much illegal in the United States (They are not something you ever want to bring over the border!). If these differences exist within the “human” food industry, you canworldmap expect them to also be present in the pet food industry. In fact, the pet food industry is even less regulated… by a substantial degree (although this is beginning to change). It is therefore important you take this into account. If products produced in North America are not subjected to strict standards before our pets ingest it (e.g. safe bacterial load levels after the drying process in bully sticks and pig ears), you can be certain that there is even more variation when you start to look at other countries with completely different cultures and belief systems (scary, isn’t it?). While a large corporation might save money by outsourcing production, the savings passed onto us might come with some qualitycontrolvery real dangers. In fact, Petco announced January 5th, 2015 that it will no longer carry ANY Chinese-imported food products in their stores across the United States because of the canine deaths and sicknesses associated with the consumption of these products. (These products are killing dogs everywhere). Petco even went as far as to say that they will only source products from countries with similar standards (like Canada, U.S., Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and South America), even though it risks tens of millions of dollars from the changeover.

NOTE: It should be stated that even the best of the best dog foods created in North America are not immune to recalls and issues, but they are far more likely to be caught early through standard checks. Dogfoodadvisor.com also offers an e-mail service for any recalls that occur. Sign up with them through e-mail and if a recall occurs, you will receive an e-mail notification.

  1. Not All Canines Are the Same: As I stated above, not all canines are the same. Some canines have special dietary restrictions, allergies or have gone through surgeries and trauma that prevent them from partaking in particular food stuffs. What works for one, may not work for another. If you are, or think you are, one of those caregivers, then you will want to be very careful about the products you purchase and what ingredients they contain.   A new trend in the pet food industry is single food-bowl-281980_1920source protein kibbles, raw food and treats. This is a blessing for those of us that have canines with allergies as it allows us to begin to eliminate and determine what the source of the allergy is… Imagine trying to do that with a kibble that has beef, chicken and fish present in it! Start with small bags, a few cans, or a couple weeks of a raw food diet. Transitioning to new food takes time, so transition to new products slowly over two weeks, then try those products on their own for an additional 1-2 weeks to determine if it is working for your canine (through obvious and less obvious signs such as energy level, stool analysis, etc.).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Always, always, always consult your veterinarian or canine dietician when it comes to your canine’s nutrition. Nutrition’s influence on their underlying health is just as critical for canines as it is for our bodies so you need to make sure they are healthy and eating well. If you are unsure of how to achieve optimal nutrition for your dog, get a second, and even a third, opinion.

Being educated, using these three guidelines, and staying up-to-date with pet food industry changes is the best way to make sure your canine is fed right and feeling great!

Keeping a Canine Health Record

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            Canine allergies are a very real problem, a fact that was made very apparent in a recent webinar I attended. Forty percent of dogs are hypersensitive to fleabites, many suffer from seasonal allergies, and up to 10% of the population suffer from food allergies. Just like an allergic response in our human bodies, the release of histamines creates a reaction in our dogs. For us, it often causes itchy, watery eyes and a sniffly nose; for canines, the number one allergic response is itching. To complicate matters further, of those dogs with seasonal allergies, 80% will also show hypersensitivity to fleabites, and those with food allergies can also display gastrointestinal issues such as cramping, gas, diarrhea, and vomiting.

These stats only begin to cover the complexities of allergies in canines, so caregivers and veterinarians are left in a quandary… without more testing and detective work to determine root causes (and so attempt to eliminate those negative reactors from the canine’s life), treating the symptoms as they arise may seem like the only option.

So question: What if there was an easy step that we, as caregivers, could take that would allow us to track their health, follow changes in their daily lives, and even act as an early warning system and help us determine patterning? There’s a surprisingly simple answer: Keep a canine health record!

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            Taking notes about your dog’s life may sound laborious and, frankly, overkill. Before you discount the idea, you might be surprised to discover just how much habitual information you already keep track of on a daily basis. Most caregivers can, off the top of the head, tell you in great detail about the day their dog just had: the number of times they went for a walk, their quality of playtime at dog park, their, ahem, regularity of bowel movements (yes, you know it’s true!). Even being able to “interpret” particular behaviours as being part of the norm, or being unique and even strange for that day, engaged canine caregivers are more aware of their dog’s daily life than they might initially think.

Your canine health record doesn’t need to be fancy – it could a simple as a ruled notebook, or a blank 12-month calendar. Not every detail needs to be recorded. As I just mentioned, we have an amazing ability to recall normal day-to-day activities. What is important is to record the changes and variations to these activities. No difference is too small either, so these changes could be things like:

  • Being woken up in the middle of the night because your pup is itching frantically.
  • Finding a hotspot during your daily dermal inspection.
  • Coming home from work to a little present in the form of their undigested breakfast sitting on the floor.
  • Noticing your dog’s paws are red and inflamed after playing at the local park.

As you build up a record, you will be able to see trends in behaviours and health. Using the red, inflamed paws as a health-related example, if you noted this occurring more frequently during a particular month, or time of year, then you can begin to get a greater understanding of the potential impacts. Behavioural anomalies can be recorded in the same way. Canines are not one dimensional, and lead very dynamic lives. Maybe you find that there is one particular dog in the neighborhood that doesn’t get along with your canine. Recording these events will allow you to reveal a pattern, if any, and can contribute to identifying the root cause versus just “treating the symptoms” through avoidance or physical aids.

A large part of the educational experience offered at Canines By Design is learning the nuances of the dog world and canine language, and applying that understanding to you and your dog’s particular situation.  By arming yourself with a detailed record of events, you can take an active, informed role in your dog’s core mental and physical wellness. Think of it like an insurance policy: the information you have gathered can act as an early warning system for potential swings and major changes in health and mood, and will help you and your canine set up for success.