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The truth about your dog’s food? Or sensationalist entertainment dressed up as “the truth”?

Feeding your pet properly is one of the most important aspects of good pet care: in an online Twitter discussion this week, there was broad agreement with the statement that "Nutrition is the single most important environmental influence on a pet’s health and well-being" . But how should an owner choose the best way to feed their pet?  The much-anticipated programme on Channel Five this week, "The Truth About Your Dog's Food"  is bound to make people reconsider how they feed their pet pooches. There are many different types of pet food available, from a variety of sources, and it can be confusing for pet owners. There are many “right” ways to feed a pet, not just “one true way”, but it’s common for people to find a way that works for their pet, and then to believe that this is the best way for every animal. I believe that this is the reason why people sometimes become fanatically passionate about certain ways of feeding pets (such as “raw meat and bones”) I know that my profession - a veterinary surgeon - has been criticised for selling pet food, and there are conspiracy theorists out there suggesting that vets are influenced by the pet food companies that offer financial support to some educational programmes. If you are a believer in such wild nonsense, then don't read any further - it'll just be a waste of your time, because you already know that you are not going to agree with what I say. But to the rest of you, I can say that as a vet, I have been trained in nutrition, and I have been observing the way that my patients and my own pets have been fed for the past thirty years, and this blog is my genuine effort to try to put some common sense down in writing. There are broadly three ways to feed a pet animal. A) ‘Human’ food or home prepared. Some people choose to feed their pet on scraps from the table, on specially prepared ‘human’ type meals or on “raw” meat and bones. This method of feeding may be fine as long as the resulting diet is balanced, with the correct combination of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. It can be difficult to ensure that the best balance is attained, which is why most people choose to feed their pet on commercial pet foods which have been custom-made to provide all of the necessary nutrients. One recent study of home-made dog food recipes (from websites, veterinary text books, and pet care books) found that 95% were deficient in at least one essential nutrient. B) Commercially prepared food It's safer to choose a commercially prepared diet: members of the Pet Food Manufacturers Association follow European nutritional guidelines for pets, reviewed by independent experts such as vets, scientists and animal nutritionists to ensure that they are correct. You may not like the sound of what they put into your pet's food, but it does provide complete nutrition. Pet food manufacturers are bound by law to produce food that is nutritionally balanced for pets. The type of ingredients used vary, and while the raw ingredients may not look appealing to humans, the final product is carefully designed to appeal to humans as well as to pets. 1.Moist pet food. Tinned pet food is the traditional way to feed dogs and cats: in recent years, packaging has improved so that sachets and cartons are now also available a) A cat may be fed on tinned food (such as ‘Whiskas’ ) with perhaps a scattering of dry biscuits. b) A dog may be fed on tinned food (such as ‘Pedigree Chum’) combined in the bowl with dry mixer biscuits. Whilst this traditional way of feeding animals is perfectly adequate, it is not necessarily the best quality, most convenient or most economical diet. 2. Complete dried pet food. High quality complete dry biscuits have been increasingly used to feed pets over the past 20 years. These are effectively a combination of meat and biscuit rolled into one. In the past, ‘muesli’ type dry diets were very popular, but technology has enabled the production of so-called ‘extruded’ biscuits, which are meaty looking pellets of various sizes. These modern dry foods are popular for a number of reasons, including convenience and economy. A wide range of products is available, with considerable differences in price and quality. A good quality dry food is often the best way for most owners to feed their pets. Comparison of the three types of feeding Home-prepared or “raw meat” diets Moist Food
  • 80% water
  • Relatively expensive
  • Inconvenient – heavy tins/containers, need to buy every week, and can be unpleasant having open containers in fridge
  • Tends to be tastier/stronger smell than dry food, so pets often prefer it
Complete Dried Food
  • 5 – 12% water
  • Price depends on quality, but generally cheaper than moist food
  • Convenient – buy a big bag once a month. Keeps fresh for a long time if stored in a cool dry place
  • Palatability depends on price – cheaper dry foods less attractive to pets than more expensive, better quality products
  • Dry biscuits can be good for dental health – chewing helps to keep teeth and gums healthy, but replacing a portion of the daily meal with a custom-designed dental chew stick is more effective (and tooth-brushing is even more effective than this)
Controversies and conclusions The latest fad in pet nutrition is “raw feeding”, using raw meat, raw bones and raw herbage. Proponents claim that is a “natural” diet that allows dogs to achieve optimum health and longevity. These claims are not backed up by data. Last year, a team of Swedish researchers compared the genomes of wolves and dogs and found that a big difference is dogs’ ability to easily digest starch. At the time that dogs became close companions to humans, they adapted to be able to digest wheat, rice, barley, corn and potatoes. There is plenty of evidence that dogs thrive, and live long healthy lives being fed on complete dry or moist food produced by commercial pet food manufacturers. Yes, of course dogs fall ill, but there is no evidence of a link to modern commercial pet foods, despite the loud claims of many proponents of other ways of feeding pets. Many manufacturers of expensive dried foods also maintain that their products are made of better quality ingredients that are therefore better for dogs. And many vet clinics stock ranges of dried pet foods that are often more expensive than grocery products. Are these foods better for pets? My conclusion Every pet is individual and has different nutritional needs. You should choose a diet that is balanced and that your pet enjoys eating. If the diet suits your pet, they will thrive with a shiny coat, bright eyes, and good health. My experience is that if the cheapest foods, with the lowest quality ingredients, are fed, pets tend to have dry, unkempt coats, with dull eyes and they are obviously not thriving. If such pets are changed to a high quality, more expensive diet, their condition will often improve – not at once, but after around 6 – 8 weeks which is the length of time that it takes for nutrition to have a visible external effect. Additionally, more expensive dried foods, with high quality ingredients, tend to be more digestible, with less indigestible bulk, so that animals produce less faeces every day (which means you have to pick up less when out on walks). A new website has been set up to compare the 1200 types of dog food that are currently available on the UK market: some of the science behind the "expert rating" of the various foods may be debatable, but the website does provide an in-depth review of the various ingredients in modern dog food, and it's a useful way of gaining a better understanding of the subject.
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Caring for the older cat (part 1) – helping your feline friend through old age

Sammy is 12 years old.  That is a respectable age for a cat, so I was very happy to hear from his owner that he was still very well in himself and she had no concerns at all.  The purpose of my visit was a routine health check and vaccination and based on Sammy’s good report, I was expecting to issue him with a clean bill of health.  However as I began to collect a thorough history, it became apparent that things were not as simple as they had first appeared.  ‘Now that you mention it, Sammy HAS been drinking more than he used to, but I thought that was normal for older cats so I didn’t think twice.’  He had also had a great appetite lately, in fact he’d been eating an extra pouch a day, and he had been more talkative lately.  All things that his owner had associated with good health but could actually be signs of illness.  On physical exam it turned out he had lost some weight and muscle mass, and that he had a lump under his neck.  A blood test was recommended and the results confirmed hyperthyroidism.  He was started on medication and is now back to his normal self, his owner couldn’t believe the difference!  She was surprised how the changes had happened so gradually that she didn’t notice them, but was very happy to have her old cat back.  And Sammy certainly agreed. The above scenario is not at all uncommon.  Cats are experts at hiding their illnesses, and sometimes they can become very poorly on the inside whilst appearing relatively normal on the outside.  And as in Sammy’s case, sometimes the changes that do happen occur so slowly that we just assume it’s a normal part of aging. He’s turned into such a ‘grumpy old man’ One of the best examples of this is an older cat’s ‘grumpiness’.  It’s easy to assume that older cats have been through enough and now just want to be left alone, but could there be a cause for their change in attitude?  Perhaps they can’t see or hear as well as they used to and are more frightened by strange sights or sounds.  Maybe they have severe dental disease that causes them to hide away or change their eating patterns.  Is arthritis the reason behind their dislike of the brush or even your previously adored petting strokes?  These conditions frequently go unnoticed except for a change in behaviour, yet if diagnosed, there are many things we can do to make them more comfortable. She just can’t seem to ‘hold it’ anymore Another common but decidedly abnormal symptom is a change in urination or defecation patterns.  ‘She just can’t seem to make it to the litter tray anymore, bless her’ is a common complaint, yet one that doesn’t always get brought to the vet’s attention.  Cats are clean, proud creatures and don’t generally wet or soil the house without good reason.  Perhaps she has kidney disease and is having to cope with large volumes of dilute urine.  Could arthritis again be the cause behind her new dislike of the litter tray?  Small, covered or high-sided litter trays can be a nightmare for cats that find it painful to position themselves to defecate.  Maybe she has diabetes and the sugar in her urine has brought on a bladder infection.  Changes in urination or defecation should always be brought to your vet’s attention as there is usually an underlying cause. All he ever does is sleep these days Now I am the first to admit that I do not have as much energy as my 3 year old.  And my grandmother frequently complains that she’s not able to get out and about as much as she used to.  The difference between my son and I is mainly the 30 year age gap.  But my grandmother’s reasons may have more to do with her failing eyesight and worsening arthritis.  It’s certainly true that kittens are more active than their more mature housemates, and that some slowing can be expected with age.  But when your previously active older cat starts to sleep 23 hours a day instead of her usual 20, what might seem like a small change to you could indicate a big problem.  High blood pressure can cause depression and lethargy and can also result in blindness, making affected cats less likely to venture from their bed.  A cat who used to love going outdoors may find the cat flap too painful now that arthritis has set in.  Anaemia (not enough red blood cells carrying oxygen around the body) and its associated decrease in energy levels is another symptom that frequently goes unnoticed. Some alarming statistics In a recent study of older cats brought to the vet for routine vaccination, one third of those described as ‘completely healthy’ by their owners were found to be suffering from significant diseases such as kidney disease, high blood pressure or hyperthyroidism.  Two thirds had abnormally dilute urine, an early warning sign for kidney disease.
  • Chronic kidney disease is estimated to affect about 30% of cats over the age of 15
  • 10% of cats over the age of 9 are thought to suffer from hyperthyroidism
  • Cognitive dysfunction (a deterioration in brain function giving cats Alzheimer’s-like changes in behaviour) is estimated to affect over 50% of cats over the age of 15
And perhaps most alarmingly, a staggering 90% of cats over the age of 12 (which is not that old really) are thought to suffer from arthritis.  Only a tiny fraction of these cats are ever brought into the vet because they appear painful, and only a small percentage of those receive regular treatment for their pain. ‘Common’ does not mean ‘normal’ I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that although some things like drinking a bit more or losing a bit of weight may be COMMON in older cats, they are not NORMAL and may in fact indicate discomfort or illness.  If diagnosed (particularly if caught early), most of the above conditions can be treated successful and for those that can’t be cured, we can at least provide care that can dramatically increase the quality of their lives.  I’ll talk about some of the things we can do to help our aging feline friends next time but in the meantime, take a good long look at your older cat and think about some of the changes that might be taking place inside that they may not be telling you about.  If you discover anything that causes concern, bring it to the attention of your vet.  Sure, your grumpy old man may not enjoy being dragged out of his bed and into the vet (don’t be afraid to ask your vet if they would be willing to make a home visit), but the possibility of a more comfortable life far outweighs the temporary inconvenience.  Your cat has nothing to lose and everything to gain! If you are worried about any aspect of your cats health, please book an appointment with your vet or use our symptom guide.
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Are you ready for the year ahead? – the pet calendar with a difference!

So, here we are, another year ahead! Are you ready? What might 2014 hold for you and your pets? January Let the dieting begin! With a third of pets in the UK carrying too much weight, many of us will have animals who could join us on the tradition post Christmas slim down! Have a chat to local vets about the different things you can do. Cutting down on meals and treats, changing the make of food you give, altering how you feed them (for example changing from a simple bowl to a puzzle feeder); are all small changes that can make a big difference! Also, encouraging your pets to exercise more will speed up their slim down, not always easy for cats but if you have dogs, more walks will be beneficial to you both! February For me, this is one of the most depressing months of the year. The long, cold nights have been going on for what seems like forever & Spring seems a long way away. It is often also the time of year snow arrives, which can cause our pets as many problems as our cars! Take care to ensure any rabbits or other pets kept outdoors are well insulated against the cold and check your dogs feet carefully for ice balls and grit after road walks, both of which can cause painful problems. However, the weather can be fun as well! Don’t forget to throw a few snowballs for the dog (and maybe the cat as well!) Also, what about Valentines day, will your pets be getting a gift?! March Spring is just around the corner! And summer ’isn't that far away! If you are planning a getaway abroad with your pets, now is the time to start thinking about rabies vaccines and getting their passport sorted, so you aren't on the last minute nearer the time. It is also a good times to book the kennels and cattery if they aren't coming with you, the good ones will get booked up quickly! April Now the days are getting longer, use it as an opportunity to go out for more walks with your dogs. I often see them a bit porkier at this time of year when the early nights and working days mean they can’t be taken out as much but most soon lose the pounds around now! Also, it’s Easter time! Which means chocolate eggs! Just remember to be careful and keep all these tasty treats out of reach of dogs. Chocolate is toxic to them, especially the dark kind, and can cause significant problems (and copious diarrhoea!) May Fireworks season may seem a long way away (and it is!) but if you have a pet who is scared of them, now is the time to start planning. One of the best ways of desensitising noise program. The best is SOUNDS SCARY, which is available as a download. It comes with full instructions, have been designed by a vet and can be very helpful! You won’t regret it! June Summer holidays are just around the corner! If your pets are not coming away with you, now is the time to check all their vaccinations are up to date, especially as if they have over-run it can take up to a month to get back on track. Also, most kennels will require dogs to have a kennel cough vaccine, which is most effective given a fortnight or more before they go in. June is also often Microchipping Month at many vet practices, so if your pets aren’t done, now is a good time! July The holidays are here! Why not use this time and the longer days to explore your local area with your dog. Websites like walkiees.co.uk and dogfriendlybritain.co.uk have lots of information on dog friendly walks, beaches and attractions on your area. Cats will also be spending more time outside (if it is sunny!) but some people worry about them wandering. Simple changes to your garden like planting cat nip, creating resting places in high positions and leaving areas over-grown for them to hide in will all encourage them to hang out in your back yard rather than doing too much exploring! August Hopefully the weather won’t let us down and we will have some sunshine! Warmer days are great for getting out and about with our pets but you do have to be careful, especially with dogs who have short noses. These breeds are particularly vulnerable to over-heating, which can be very dangerous, so should only be exercised during the cooler parts of the day. Also, make sure outdoor pets like rabbits get a chance to run about in the sun and that they have plenty of water and access to shade September Back to school - boo! As well as for kids, this can be a depressing time of year for dogs as well, who have been used to having the family around in the day and they can start acting out. Make the change less difficult by making sure they aren't suddenly left alone for long periods and use ADAPTIL collars for those who are particularly anxious. Also, why don’t they go back to school as well?! Dogs of all ages benefit from regular training classes and it is a great way of spending quality time with them. October Autumn is now well underway and the temperatures are dropping. Depressing but at least you don’t have to worry now about fleas, right? Wrong! This time of year is actually the worst for infestations because as the weather gets colder, our houses get warmer. By turning on our central heating we create tropical flea paradises for them to enjoy and reproduce at will, if we don’t keep out pets protected. So, if you haven’t treated your pets recently, now is the time to get to your vets for some spot-ons and if you do keep them covered, remember to continue, even in the winter months! November Fireworks season is upon us! Hopefully, if you started Sounds Scary in May, things will be better for scared pets but all benefit from some extra TLC when the sky lights up! Help indoor pets by drawing the curtains, preventing access to outside, creating a cosy den behind the sofa to muffle the noises and use ADAPTIL and FELIWAY plug-ins for particularly worried animals. Make sure outdoor animals are protected by ensuring their hutches are also well insulated against the noises and that they have lots of bedding to burrow in. December It’s Christmas! This can be a really fun time of year for sociable animals, with all the visiting and entertaining that goes on but others can find it very stressful, especially, if they are shy. If your pets don’t feel like greeting people, don’t make them, let them come round in their own time. Also, be careful with all the yummy food in the house! Chocolate is very tempting to dogs but can be harmful, as can anything with lots of raisins such as Christmas pud or mince pies. And if you have cats, make sure the tree is very stable! More than one kitty has been spotted peering out from between the branches or playing pat-a-cake with the baubles! Finally, don’t forget to buy your furry friends a gift for under the tree - but I don’t need to remind you about that do I! What will you get them?! My very best wishes to you and your furry families for a happy and healthy 2014! Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at www.catthevet.com
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Ask a vet online ‘vet found a soft lump underneath one of my puppies’ – what next?

Question from Eileen Murphy Hi I have a set of pups.all at 7wks old.took them for there vet check an she found a soft lump underneath one of the girls were her tummy is the vets said it is nothing to worry about! It is a hernia an won't see to it unless.she gets.spayed but I am still worrying these pups.are bitchions Answer from Shanika Winters (Online Vet) Hi Eileen and thank you for your question regarding your puppy’s hernia, I will start by explaining what a hernia is and then discuss the treatment options. When your puppy had her routine health check with your vet the soft lump that was felt underneath her tummy (abdomen) is what we call an umbilical hernia.  A hernia is a gap or opening that should not be there. You have most likely heard of people with a hernia, this will be describing a diseased disc in their back or an area of muscle separation leading to weakness. The abdomen of most animals is made up of the organs inside it, a layer of fatty tissue and then three layers of muscle. These muscle layers are joined by a white strip of strong tissue called connective tissue, which forms the Linea Alba, which runs along the mid line of your pet’s abdomen just underneath the skin. In some animals like your little puppy this strong white line is not complete and there is a gap of varying size, anything from a few millimetres up to a few centimetres.  Through this gap some of the contents of the abdomen may poke through and be felt as a soft lump around the region where your dog’s belly button (umbilicus) would be found. Umbilical hernias are often first noticed when your puppy has its first check at the vets, provided the lump that can be felt is small, soft and easily pushed back into the abdomen then your vet will tell you not to worry about it.  If however the lump is large, not readily pushed back into the abdomen, changes colour, texture or is painful then urgent action need to be taken. The small soft variety of lump is often left and the owner asked to feel at it every day at home and report any changes to their vet, as you have mentioned the other option is that the gap can be surgically closed under general anaesthesia specifically to treat the hernia or when your puppy is being spayed. It is very rare for a small umbilical hernia to become an emergency situation, I have only encountered this once where the hernia became strangulated, the small amount of abdominal fat which had pushed through the gap had twisted on its self and lost its blood supply leading to a purple firm and painful lump being felt underneath the dog.  The dog came in as an emergency appointment and had surgery to remove the diseased tissue and repair the gap, she made a full recovery. I hope that this has helped you to understand what the umbilical hernia your puppy has is and how and why we treat them.  Please remember to contact your vet immediately if there is any change to the lump that worries you, we are here to help.  Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet) If you are worried about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet or use our interactive symptom guide.
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Ask a vet online ‘How old does a pupy have to be before moving them onto adult food?’

Question from Tracie J Thorne How old does a pupy have to be before moving them onto adult food and not the PUPPY variety? Answer from Shanika Winters (Online Vet) Hi Tracie, thank you for your question regarding the age at which it is best to change a dog from puppy food over to adult dog food. I will start by discussing a little about pet food and then tie this in with each stage of a pet’s life and its nutritional requirements. Your pet dog needs a balanced diet to provide its body with all the ingredients (nutrients) to keep it functioning. The basic food components are Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat, Vitamins and Minerals. Your dog also needs to have fresh water to drink.  Pet food that you buy can provide some or in the case of complete diets all the nutrients your pet needs to maintain a healthy body. Dog food is available in many forms including: tinned, pouches, trays, semi moist and dry nuggets.  Which exact form of dog food you choose is a personal choice but may be influenced by how fussy an eater your dog is and the advice of your vet.  Some owners may choose to make a home cooked diet and there are also some people who like to feed a raw diet. If you are unsure as to what is the best diet for your dog then discuss it with your vet or veterinary nurse, they are trained to give nutritional advice and help find the diet that will suit your pet. At each life stage through from being a puppy through to an adult dog and then a mature dog your pet’s nutritional requirements will change. Puppies are still growing and require a higher protein, higher energy and specific vitamin and mineral balanced diet than an adult dog which is simply maintaining its body condition. Pregnant bitches and working dogs will also have a higher energy requirement from their diet than an elderly dog. This is one of the reasons that there are so many different dog foods available and labelled for each life stage. Different breeds of dog will finish growing at slightly different ages, larger breed dogs such as Labradors will finish growing later that smaller breed dogs such as Yorkshire terriers. As an approximate guide small breed dogs will need puppy food for the first 6-12 months, the larger breed dogs will need puppy food for approximately 18 months.  There are some puppy foods that are designed for different breeds/sizes of dog, and most bought pet foods will give you a guide as to which age to switch to adult dog food. As your dog moves from being a young adult dog through to a more mature dog then it may be advisable to change to a senior dog food which takes into account the changing nutritional needs of the older dog.  If your dog has a specific medical condition from being overweight through to joint disease there are specific diets formulated for each condition. I hope that this has helped to answer your question and that if you have any doubt then discuss your dog’s dietary needs with your veterinary surgeon. Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet) If you are worried about your puppy or dog,  please book an appointment with your vet or use our online symptom checker.
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