Review Category : Tracie Korol

Horsefeathers!

By Tracie Korol

Last summer an email appeared unexpectedly in my inbox. I thought it was a hoax. No such luck. Topic: Forbes magazine published an interview with Royal Canin’s president, Keith Levy. Levy was introducing the new “anallergenic” formula kibble made with ground up chicken feathers. No, really. The title of the article was Dog Food Made From Feathers: A Win-Win for Royal Canin.

According to Mr. Levy, This “anallergenic” line was 10 years in the making, using feather meal (FM in industry parlance) as the main source of protein. It is designed for intensely allergic dogs for which even novel protein diets (buffalo, kangaroo, rabbit) don’t seem to work. There are 47 ingredients in this product. Here are the top 10: Corn starch, hydrolyzed poultry by-products aggregate [feather meal], coconut oil, soybean oil, natural flavors, potassium phosphate, powdered cellulose, calcium carbonate, sodium silico aluminate, chicory

The lead item in any list of pet food ingredients is, according to AAFCO regs. The Association of American Feed Control Officials is the organization that calls the shots for pet food and NOT a governmental entity — 70% of what’s in the bag.  So, most of this product is cornstarch. The next ingredient on the list is hydrolyzed poultry by-products aggregate, which is a technical name for feather meal. According to Levy, feather meal is “not only nutritious but can also be made very palatable to dogs.” The feathers are broken down to an amino acid level, and palatizers are added for taste so it doesn’t taste of … feathers?

Levy says one of the benefits to using feather meal is that it supports the company’s efforts in sustainability.  “Ultimately we’ll have an issue with finding protein for the human food chain. By using alternative sources of protein, we’re using something that would otherwise end up in a landfill,” says Levy. “It’s the best of both worlds: You’re not competing with the human food chain, reducing waste and providing an incredibly nutritious protein.”

Now, I’m all for recycling and all for seeking sustainable food sources, however, I cringe at the thought of my dog friends eating things that should be made into pillows or, even better, thrown out.

The question, beyond the gross-out factor, comes down to protein quality. What would you rather feed your pet — 4 ounces of real chicken meat or 4 ounces of ground chicken feathers and corn starch? All three ingredients contain protein, but they are definitely not equal. Ounce for ounce, the real chicken provides more protein, and the protein is highly digestible and usable. Pets can eat smaller quantities to receive the optimal level of protein when it is a digestible protein. In contrast, the ground feathers contain protein, but in a non-digestible form, as in they’re FEATHERS. Real meat offers highly digestible protein — protein that can be easily broken down by your pet’s body. Your pet cannot digest and cannot live on the protein contained in feathers. It simply passes through the digestive system unused.

Levy continues, “We’re looking for lots of different sources of protein for our foods: hydrolyzed soy; we are currently researching worm meal as a potential protein source for some of our foods in China,” he told the interviewer. “Few brands are more expensive than us,” Levy bragged in the interview.

And once again, we are faced with the really naive belief that just because a dog food is at the top of the price range, it is not necessarily because the quality of the food is, too. Then, there is the added concern about sourcing in China.

And the kicker? You can only purchase the food from specialty retailers with a veterinary prescription. Add another layer of authenticity. Currently, on Chewy.com, a 19.8 pound bag of RC Anallergenic Formula runs $86.99. Bonus: shipping is free.

Read More →

Eating green

By Tracie Korol

Dogs are remarkably flexible in their tastes. They’ll polish off a bowl of dried dog food, then walk over to see if there’s anything tasty in the trash. If they’re still hungry, they’ll head to the laundry room to see what’s in the cat box. Basically, they’ll eat, or at least sample, whatever they find.

There’s a good reason for their liberal tastes. Unlike cats, that evolved solely as hunters, dogs survived by scavenging. When they couldn’t catch live prey, they’d eat the ancient equivalent of road kill. They didn’t care too much if had been lying in the sun for a week or was moldering under old leaves. It was food, and they weren’t going to pass it up. When meat wasn’t on the menu, they’d rummage around for tender leafy stalks, berries, grasses, fruits, flower blossoms, seeds and even a few roots, They simply weren’t fussy, and dogs today haven’t gotten any fussier. They’re predisposed to eat just about everything.

In addition, there’s some evidence that dogs get cravings for certain foods. It’s possible that dogs occasionally get a hankering for greens, just as people sometimes go to bed dreaming about Mom’s fried chicken. It’s not as strange as it may sound. There is also a theory that dogs may not always be seeking food, but are intuitively seeking medicine. Each spring, Moses, my Bassett hound friend, would pull himself along the ground, upside down underneath the pea-vine supports, and pluck the first tiny pea pods right off the vine.  He had equally arcane methods for harvesting the first asparagus shoots, parsley, blueberries, mint, garlic and baby carrots. Moses ate a fairly clean diet but would occasionally need to visit the garden.

For example, in early spring, dogs like Moses, may be attracted to the first shoots of common quack grass (Elytrigia repens). Each blade of this “dog grass” contains silicon for strong joints and connective tissues, essential fatty acids for clear skin and shiny coat, enzymes for digestion, chlorophyll for antioxidant support and soap-like saponin constituents that combine with the stringy fibers to help cleanse the digestive tract and keep parasites at bay. After a season of low grade kibble, a dog may feel his system needs a boost.

Likewise, dogs will occasionally chew on berries, bark, pods, seeds or leaves that contain healing properties. The red or purple fruits of raspberry, rose bushes and hawthorn all contain flavonoid constituents that are good for the cardiovascular system.

The oils contained in the raw seeds of flax, currants, wheat, pumpkins and squash may be relished for an extra measure of essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals that are needed for skin and coat health.  Pumpkin seeds are also a natural and gentle vermifuge — expels intestinal parasites.

Even certain kinds of algae (“pond scum”) contain a cornucopia of nutrients and disease-fighting chemicals that wild dogs may seek in time of need. But how do we provide these things for our “suburban wolves”?  When do they need these things and in what amount?

By serving a daily helping of nutritive herbs and “green food” at mealtime your dog will be provided added measure of nutritional or systemic support. Good “greens” are flaxseed, spirulina, garlic, dandelion root, kelp, alfalfa and nettle.

Before you “go for the green” on behalf of your Best Friend and head to the store for supplements, it is important to realize that green food supplements only serve to round out a good diet. They cannot be expected to replace nutritional elements that are missing from poor quality, bargain basement, supermarket kibble.

But, if you’re a do-it-yourself type and are conscientious about what goes into your dog, adding a commercial green supplement or a combo-mix of the beneficial herbs or even providing your Best Friend with his own tray of barley or wheat grass can only increase his energy, shine up his coat, float some anti-cancer antioxidants in his system, reduce the pain and swelling of arthritis and tidy up his digestion.

Read More →

Beating the bugs, naturally

By Tracie Korol

As summer settles in and the rains come every afternoon, the biting-sucking insects seem to become more prevalent, fierce and relentless. I have never been a fan of industrial, aerosol neurotoxins for me or for my dog friends. They smell funky, taste terrible if you happen to inhale while spraying, and the warning labels give me the willies.

Instead, I mix up my own essential oil spray, the main ingredient being Neem.

Neem is all-natural, nontoxic ammunition that stops molesting mosquitoes and ticks in their tracks. It’s the single most important thing you can keep on hand all summer, for your dog’s well-being and your own.

Neem, botanical name Azadirachta indica, is a slow-growing evergreen tree in the mahogany family that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for 5,000 years. Neem is native to southern India and northern Myanmar and is cultivated worldwide. The Sanskrit word for neem is nimba, meaning good health.

Ancient Sanskrit writings mention neem as veterinary treatment to be administered in feed or applied as liniments, oils, powders or liquids, using all parts of the plant.

Western medicine and technology ignored neem until 1928, when two Indian scientists published a report of neem used as a pesticide during a locust infestation. That same year, colonial administrators introduced the neem tree to Nigeria from Ghana, where neem was planted beginning in 1917. Neem was planted in Sudan for wood, firewood, shade and oil for lamps in 1916. By the 1960s, neem plantations were thriving in Africa and neem pesticides were studied for Western agriculture. In 1992, W.R. Grace, a chemical corporation based in Florida, was granted a U.S. patent for Neemix, a neem-based pesticide stabilized by a proprietary process.

So, it’s legit. You can find neem, in it’s pure form — which is what you want for you and your dog — in those upscale grocery emporiums and locally at Terra Cotta. Through the summer months, I keep a spray bottle of my neem-based concoction on the kitchen windowsill to arm my dog friends and myself against the mosquito menace.  (My current bug juice recipe includes neem, citronella, lemon-eucalyptus and a dash of peppermint in a neutral carrier oil.) Neem is a biopesticide applied topically, it repels mosquitoes (and fleas, too), it also kills them — naturally. It has absolutely no harmful side effects. To protect my dog friends, I dab spots on top of their heads, behind their ears, on their shoulders and flanks, and on their tails. During mosquito season, I do this every two to three days. I also suggest to their owners one capsule of neem “supercritical extract” supplement, mixed with their food twice weekly, to arm them from the inside out. I take the capsules, too and also spray on exposed skin, on each wrist, behind my knees, and on my knee pits (a popular mosquito target) when I go for walks.

Now, if you are in the company of folks who prefer their dogs to smell like hyacinths or “spring rain” or any other synthetic, artificial smell, then neem’s aroma may be a bit of a challenge. To me, it smells like mild roasted garlic, not at all offensive in light of its efficacy at bug management. It’s aroma can be mitigated with other, lighter, equally insect-repelling essential oils — rose geranium, peppermint, citronella, eucalyptus, palmarosa.  You can mix up your own personal blend.  A good double-whammy mixer, Opopanax myrrh, the myrrh of ancient Egypt (also available at Terra Cotta) has been shown to repel adults of the African brown ear, deer tick, black-footed, lone star and the good old American dog tick.

If you have a green thumb, know that neem is also prized by horticulturists for its efficacy at keeping pests away from prized plantings, so there’s no need to use poison in the garden, either!

Read More →

What’s that you say?

By Tracie Korol

When Dave, our 30-pound brown dog, first joined the family we had a period of adjustment. Dave’s previous life was on a chain outside a mobile home in Mt. Gilead, Ohio.   While a very nice dog from the outset, he had no experience with things of the human world, what was off limits and what was not.  My glasses were his target.

On the third return trip to the optician with crunched frames, the technician asked if I knew why Dave was eating my glasses.  Um, sport? No… love.   Apparently, opticians see this all the time:  dog adores his person so much he wants to ingest the face oil smelling frames, the lenses just a bonus crunch.  It’s a compliment, a very expensive compliment. The solution?  Keep the glasses where the dog can’t reach.  I felt just a little stupid at the obvious.

Dogs seem to have the same fascination with hearing aids though I can only imagine, to a dog’s nose, the light coating of ear wax is even more enticing than temple sweat.  But it’s hard to appreciate a dog’s adoration when you have to replace that really, really expensive device.  Another reason for that kind of destruction, according to a local audiologist, is that hearing aids, even when turned off, emit a high-pitched whine, the classic “sound only a dog can hear”.  In that case, I can imagine a dog might smash a hearing aid simply to kill the offending noise or, alternately, make a new friend.

An additional concern beyond the cost and annoyance of replacement is the possibility of a vet bill if your Best Friend ate the battery.  While tiny, those batteries can be dangerous if punctured or crushed by little needle teeth and then swallowed.  (Those tiny batteries are also in singing greeting cards, talking books, flash light pens, key chains, novelty jewelry, digital thermometers, watches and cameras, to name a few.)

If you think your pet could have swallowed the battery a trip to the vet for an x-ray might be in order. It’s possible it could have gotten stuck on something on the way through. Certainly, if you see redness or ulcers in dog’s mouth (lips, tongue), discolored teeth (black or grey), frequent swallowing, drooling or painful or distended abdomen, it’s time to see Dr. WhiteCoat.

From a first aid angle, this is a situation where vomiting should not be induced. This could make any corrosive injury worse.  Activated charcoal should not be used, either. It will not bind the toxic components, and may increase the chances of vomiting.

When a battery is swallowed and is in contact with digestive juices, it generates a small electric current, which burns the tissue next to it.    (An experiment showed that a button battery could burn straight through deli meat after only 2 hours.)  If the battery is intact you might be advised to feed the dog something bulky—white bread, for instance—to cover and push the battery through to the end. Of course, you’ll have to examine the results to make sure the battery made it all the way out.   If the battery is damaged or stuck in a loop of tubing, surgery or removal via endoscope might be in order.

As I learned, the hard and expensive way, to put my glasses beyond Dave’s reach, when you take your hearing aids off, put them high up and in a safe place—a designated box with a grinning dog on it would be a good reminder. Most hearing aids come with comprehensive warranties that cover everything, even damage by pets and loss, so your audiologist probably will just smile and get you a new one.

Read More →

Hot feet

By Tracie Korol

Next time you take a trip to a big box store in the middle of the day, park on the far end of the parking lot. Slip off your flip-flops and walk to the store. Chances are you won’t get too far before you slip your sandals right back on, or dance quickly over to a grassy area.

Because asphalt is black it absorbs rather than reflects the heat from the sun. In fact, a study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine noted that 35 seconds of exposure, from 10 am to 5 pm, to hot asphalt pavement could result in second-degree burns to the exposed area. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that on sunny summer days, the temperature of pavement can easily reach 300 degrees.  For a dog forced to barefoot it over such a surface, the result can be painfully burned paw pads.

Or, take off your shoes and hop up into the back of your pick-up in the middle of the day. Chances are you won’t spend too much time up there, either. We prudently do not allow our toddlers to play on the metal slide at midday for fear of searing their little fannies, but we load our dogs into the bed of a pick-up to go for a ride. Can you even imagine how painful it is to stand on what is essentially a hot frying pan?

Notice, next time you attend one of the local festivals, how uncomfortable the attending dogs are as they wait patiently beside their humans. These dogs, while you may think are having a great time on an outing, are standing barefoot on hot pavement, sometimes for long periods of time. While a dog’s paws are the toughest part of his skin, they still need protection from heat, just like yours do.

A day at the beach is not much fun for your dog, either, especially if he is not inclined to get wet. Hot sand can scald paws. Even heading down the metal boat ramp for a family day at sea can fry Fido’s feet in minutes.

Unlike obvious wounds such as lacerations, foot infections (fungal, bacterial or foreign bodies—like stickers and thorns), burned pads may not be readily apparent to the eye.  That’s why pup parents need to be on the lookout for blisters or redness on the pads. Also, suspect a burn if you notice missing parts of the pads or they seem dark in color. Your dog may try to compensate for the pain of a paw pad burn by limping, refusing to walk, or licking and chewing at his bottoms of his feet.

If you suspect your dog has a pad burn it is important to keep the area cool and clean. As soon as you notice the problem (limping along on the road, lifting paws in rotation, excessive licking), flush with cool water or a cool compress if available. Sacrifice your cup of beer at the festival, if necessary. Get your dog to a grassy area or if possible, carry him.

At first chance, examine your dog for signs of deeper burns, blisters and possibility of infection. Washing the feet with a gentle cleanser and keeping them clean is important. Bandaging can be difficult to do and to maintain (monitor and change often), but licking must be kept to a minimum, easier said than done. Some dogs will tolerate a sock for a few minutes but most dogs I know would rather chew off the sock and eat it. Lick deterrents (bitter sprays) may help reduce the damage caused by licking but many of my dog friends view the spray as a condiment.

Best advice is to be mindful of hot surfaces — asphalt and metal (i.e. boat dock, car or truck surfaces). Put yourself in his place just for a few minutes; how would your bare feet feel? Walk your dog on the cool, shady side of the street or in the grass. Schedule exercise for early or late in the day or after a good rain. And while it may look silly and your human friends may razz you, lay down a wet towel for your Best Friend to stand on when grassy areas are not available. Your Best Friend deserves to be treated as a best friend.

Read More →

Canine cabin fever

By Tracie Korol

It’s another day of smothery heat. The humidity is neck and neck with the temperature and the AC runs constantly. We’re all getting a bit crabby; even a walk to the mailbox requires resolve before, and icy beverages afterward. Your dog bursts out of the house expecting his usual run but stops dead in his tracks, turns to glare at you with the dog equivalent of WTF?.

We already know the important summertime safety tips: Do not leave your dog in the car alone, even with the AC running. Save the big runs for early morning or late evening. Keep our flat-faced and heavy-coated friends indoors as they have little hope of self-cooling.  Here are a few ideas for hot-weather, boredom-relieving dog fun when it’s Too. Darn. Hot.

Bobbing for Hot Dogs: Scoring food always ranks high among favorite canine activities. With a cheap kiddie pool and a few hot dogs you can engage your dog’s brain in the lowest-key way possible.  Fill the pool in a shady spot in the yard or the garage, pull up a chair and toss hot dog pennies into the pool for Best Friend to fish out.  You could turn this game into a teaching moment with cues or command review, but it’s just too hot to think about that. Just have fun.  Remember to cut dinner rations by an equal amount of wet hot dog. And, please, hose the slimy hot dog goo out of the pool when the game is over or you’ll have to buy a new pool.

Nose Games: We have a mere five million olfactory receptors in our noses, while our dogs have upwards of 125 million. That’s why our dogs sometimes seem distracted when we think there’s nothing of interest around; they’re reading the air. Having a big smeller is also great for indoor low-energy doggy brain games. An easy one to teach is find it!  (Your dog needs to know how to stay for this game.)

Ask your BF to stay. Show her a small, high value treat — a fingernail-size piece of cheese or freeze-dried liver is perfect. Tell her, find it! and drop the treat on the ground near her. Hopefully, she’ll find it in a split second. (praise, praise, praise!) Always starting from a Stay, do several reps, tossing the treats farther away, and have her return to you and the Stay.  The challenge: Put the treat down just out of sight — around the corner of the couch, for instance, or behind a table leg. Remember to show her the treat in advance, so she knows what scent she’s hunting for and cue to find it!.

When BF’s attention begins to wander, up the ante. Park her in a Stay and hide the treat in the next room. Or put the treat in the same room but hide it under a throw pillow or a shoebox. Up the ante again: put out three empty shoe boxes with a treat under just one of them. Take the game outside when it cools off.  Hide the treat above ground level — on a chair, or windowsill. BF will keep going as long as you have snacks and as long as you praise.

The Sniffy Walk: All dogs need regular, off-leash aerobic exercise to burn off pent-up energy. But when it’s too hot to move, it’s time for the pokey, sniffy walk. Sniffy walks, an important counterpart to aerobic exercise, meet doggy behavioral needs at any age. My granddog, now an elder gent, excels at the sniffy walk, going into a trance at a rock, a can or something else seemingly uninteresting to us. His thoughtful upward gaze, the one that makes you think that dogs do understand the complexities of the world, is the pay-off. Pure satisfaction!  Half an hour of nosing around, with pauses for inspection at every bush and fire hydrant, can leave your dog refreshed and content. I think it’s comparable to how we feel after we’ve had our coffee, read the paper, and checked our email. When it’s too hot to play fetch or wrestle with other dogs, slow, sniffy walks become even more important as boredom killer.

This week I have three giant dogs with me. Normally, we’d spend hours every day on long rambling off-road walks to burn off big dog energy. But this week we’re all flattened by the heat. Today, I placed a big sheet over the carpet and everyone worked on large, frozen bones, indoors, in the AC and in front of a fan. Then, nap.  We’ll go for a short run later. Maybe.

Read More →

Salmonella: Pathogen of politics

By Tracie Korol

Any food in the commercial food stream can present a bio-hazard. Lunch meats at the deli are notorious for being Listeria vectors. We’re told not to rinse our factory chickens before cooking to reduce the risk of splashing Salmonella all over the kitchen.  My personal food-bacteria creep-out is the lemon slice in every restaurant water/iced tea glass. They’re fingered by everyone — from the folks who pick the fruit, the people in the packing plants, the back-room handlers all the way down to the waitron who slices it at the bar — and rarely, if ever, washed. (Source: my son, the chef.)

Recently, the FDA announced new guidelines for feeding our pets: Do not feed raw food because of the risk of Salmonella.  But why just raw food? Why not kibbles that are recalled every week? Salmonella lives just about everywhere and has adapted well to diverse environments, can survive for weeks in water and years in the soil.  It thrives when conditions of humidity, temperature and pH are favorable in areas like sitting water, wet soil shielded from the sun, and unclean fecal contaminated areas.

Its principal habitat is the intestinal tract of humans and animals. Dogs generally have low stomach pH and shorter GI tracts than humans meaning their stomach acid makes it harder for Salmonella to make it all the way through.  That’s why our people friends complain about having “stomach flu” for a day or so while our dog friends do not.  Most likely a dirty lemon. There has been no known reported incidence of human beings being infected with Salmonella by raw-fed cats and dogs.

Salmonella can be found in up to 36% of all healthy dogs regardless of the food they consume. Many pets harbor these bacteria as a part of their normal GI flora and naturally shed Salmonella organisms in feces and saliva regardless of what food they eat. If a body’s immune system is sound, bad bacteria are typically kept in check by the good flora of the intestines.

As you know, I am a proponent for feeding dogs real food as much as it is financially feasible. And as you know, I think kibble, even the best, is still fast food processed from creamed mysterious body parts, chemicals and unpronounceable additives in factories that may or may not have good cleaning crews that then sits in bags for undisclosed periods of time in un-refrigerated warehouses. Even more unappealing than dirty lemons.

If you are a reasonably tidy sort and you personally manage what foods go into your family — and your dog is family, too — then you can be fairly content knowing that Salmonella is probably not going to be an issue. If your food came from a reputable source (hopefully, a local farm), if you handle it properly and prepare it well, whether you choose to feed raw or choose to cook for your Best Friend, you should not be faced with the symptoms. But kibble is currently the prime culprit in pet-related Salmonella outbreaks, not real food. Check out the FDA’s own website (FDA.gov) for a list of processed pet foods currently under recall for Salmonella, among other nasties. New recalls are added every day.

So why is the FDA picking on raw foods? Because there’s no lobby for real food. Because there’s a lot of money backing commercially prepared foods. For instance, the Associated Press reported that Schering-Plough Corp. spent half a million dollars in the third quarter of 2008 to lobby on veterinary products, drug pricing and food-based issues. One lobby group spent $500,000 in three months? Just imagine how much money is spent in total by Big Ag and Big Pharm lobbyists alone.  After all, the APPA (American Pet Products Association) projects $58.51 billion will be spent on US pets in 2014.  It’s a huge and growing market.  Everyone wants a bit of that Big Money.

But what about your Best Friend?  Feed raw if you think it will make your pet happier and healthier.  Just be smart, that’s all.

• Store raw food in the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator;

• Store kibble in a sealed container out of reach of children;

• Don’t allow children to handle the dog’s food. If they do, make sure they wash their hands afterward;

• Properly wash hands, all bowls, utensils and contact surfaces after handling the dog’s food (kibble or raw);

• Limit time raw food is held at room temperature during feeding to less than 2 hours and dispose of food left out for periods longer than this;

• Pick up your dog’s poop and always wash your hands with soap and warm water afterward.

Read More →

Hoodlum in the house

By Tracie Korol

When my son turned 13, I bemoaned to a friend that a hulking stranger who ate enormous amounts of cereal at a sitting and smelled vaguely of monkeys had replaced my charming little boy.  She replied, “It’s normal. It makes it a joy when they leave.” Her son was 18 and off to college. She had survived and I settled in for the tumultuous teen years.

Of course, there are parallels in the dog world. The sweet and cuddly baby morphs into a teenage hoodlum in a New York minute. Your sweet, fuzzy puppy that stubbornly refused to walk to the end of the driveway a few days ago now adventures alone to the wonders of the neighbor’s compost pile.  The sound of the doorbell that was once ignored now elicits shrieks, mad scrambling and the inevitable crash as he bounces off the front window.  Depending on your dog’s individual personality and breed, starting at around five months, teenagerhood lasts anywhere from one year to three years. This is their experimental age. Oh, dear.

Each change you see tells you that puddles on the floor and high-pitched yaps in the pre-dawn hours are almost behind you. The future promises an adult dog, wise and compliant. Yet the present reality can be jarring.  As your pup continues to mature, you find yourself in the company of an animal you no longer understand, and one that is filled with boundless energy and the desire for all things doggy.

While many pups sail though adolescence with an angelic, cooperative attitude, most dogs frazzle their families with confusing, fluctuating behaviors.  That’s because major internal and external metamorphoses are going on, fueled by physiological changes.

Breed-specific characteristics such as a desire to herd, or adult traits such as scent marking, “turn on” or intensify.  Owners discover they are now being taken for walks, gasping for breath and hanging on for dear life. Squirrels take on a fascination as never before and new people and dogs are greeted with full body force or unfortunately sometimes, suspicion.  Responses to simple requests, such as going to crate or sitting on command, may result in a doggie version of “nuh-uh!” ranging from playful avoidance to downright refusal. A teen-beagle friend of mine expresses his willfulness for command by grabbing up the nearest fabric item — pillows, socks, his blanket — and running full-out through three levels of house. By the time he’s concluded his run, his owners have forgotten his command. Clever beagle, isn’t he?

The teen dog’s rapid changes, physically and mentally, qualify this period as a “critical” one. The socialization phase — from three to 12 weeks — is also “critical”. (Any fast organizational process in the development of a living creature is considered critical.) When behavior changes rapidly, something important is going on and owners must be just as fast to do what they can to modify pet’s behavior to their advantage.

In the first critical phase, your pup should have learned basic skills of good dog behavior — sit, come, leave it, potty outside, this is yours, this is mine and don’t jump on Grandma. Because you’ve taken your pup with you in your daily excursions and introduced him to variants of the human world, he is a congenial easy-going, “hey, what’s that?” kind of companion.  When the teen years hit, your pet will begin to test the parameters you’ve set and may attempt to create a few of his own behaviors through trial and error.

An undesirable behavior is most easily altered in the initial learning phase, before it stabilizes. And for sure, it can stabilize in a split second. An example is territorial barking, which can escalate rapidly if not checked.  The very first time sweet puppy lunges at the door, screaming hysterically at the mail carrier is the time to step in. Unchecked, you’ll have a frenzied, territorial adult dog who has taught himself a routine, difficult to modify. The best time for families to work with undesirable behavior is as it emerges otherwise the dog will gladly take on the job.

Families need to understand that teen-dogs want more freedom and will certainly test the limits. It’s up to their humans to use this period to guide development of adult behavior.  Spaying and neutering helps modify emerging territoriality, marking and wandering behaviors. Socialization must be continued to impress on the dog that the world does not end at the front door.  The world is big and wonderful but we all have to be polite about it.

Canine adolescence can’t be avoided, but the period is much more than just annoying.  It’s the time between puppy hood and adulthood during which good dog temperament stabilizes. Make the most of it.

Read More →

What is a holistic vet?

By Tracie Korol

When I came to the Lowcountry seven years ago, the word “organic” had not yet arrived. It is fairly common now though used in a fairly cavalier manner as is “natural” (a word that means nothing) and now, “holistic”, a word that has been adopted to placate a growing demand for “wellness”, and you know how I feel about that word. So, what does holistic mean now that we see it attached to local veterinary practices?  What should it mean?

Traditional veterinary practice (conventional) is much like what Western medicine is for humans. The focus is aimed at determining what the problem is and then trying to solve it. It is based primarily in pharmacological medicine. A traditional veterinarian may very well have your pet’s best interest at heart, but he or she is sometimes at a loss as to how best solve a chronic or undetermined condition. Western veterinary medicine offers all the diagnostic doo-dads — ultrasound, X-ray, MRI, chemotherapy, blood transfusions, all the way up to organ transplants and, as many of us know, tend to run up the bill. They will vaccinate pets every year and sell you all kinds of pesticides to put in or on your animal.

Holistic veterinarians practice a more Eastern thought in that the body is treated as an individual, and as a whole. While two different patients may present similar symptoms, their respective treatments may be quite dissimilar. In addition, holistic veterinarian practice is centered on keeping the pet healthy overall to prevent issues from starting. When a chronic issue surfaces, holistic veterinarians are likely to look first to whole food diets, herbal supplements,  nutraceuticals and complementary and alternative therapies such as chiropractic, homeopathy, acupuncture, essential oils and energy healing (Reiki).  They do not over-vaccinate nor do they recommend poisons oral or topical.

Diseases are seen as a natural course of life and not necessarily something to ‘solve.’ Moreover, health and disease are viewed as a natural rhythm of life and fully inter-related. Holistic medicine is about finding the root cause of a problem and treating from there, not simply treating the symptom. Often, it’s not the “quick fix” Americans have come to expect. For instance, steroids will stop your dog from itching in a few hours but why is your dog itching in the first place? For sure, you’ll be back in three weeks for another shot when Doodle begins to dig at her belly. A holistic vet works with the animals than rather than do battle against their disease symptoms. He’ll ask about food, lifestyle, reaction to stimuli (heat and cold, sound, dampness, etc.). He’ll ask about your dog’s spirit.

An integrative approach is one that combines conventional practice with holistic practice. These vets have a firm ground in traditional medicine, but recognize that holistic medicine is a valuable addition and, in some cases, be the best course of action. This type of veterinarian realizes that conventional and holistic medicine can complement one another. This is the kind of doc I look for.

I worked with and trained under many fine (and now famous) integrative vets in New England and was disheartened to learn that like “organic”, holistic hadn’t yet made it to this area. However, I recently found Charlie Timmerman, DVM, member of the AHVMA (American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association) at the Aiken Veterinary Clinic.

Seven of my dog friends are now friends of Dr. Charlie. Four of those friends were sent home to die, one had chronic itches, one has heart disease and one a rare auto-immune disorder. The dogs sent home to die from various cancers have all had a drastic reduction in tumor size, they’re healthier than they have ever been (most likely), some have had ancillary ailments vanish along the way and all are doing well.  My itchy friend is in a one-year program to forever eradicate the cause of her “allergy”, a process that involves homeopathy, auto-sanguis treatment and a recently added clinical trial. None of the treatments involve synthetic pharmaceuticals and all included a drastic change of diet — healthy fresh foods and raw proteins. The owners of the death sentence dogs are delighted they have a few more years with their Best Friends. And, it’s all pretty easy and infinitely cheaper.  It takes a little more time, but I’m willing to give time to the creatures I love.

As for Dr. Charlie, he’s in the office Mondays and Thursdays.

Read More →

The most horrible day of the year, for dogs

By Tracie Korol

For many dogs, the first “Wheee!” of a rocket they hear sends them under the bed, quivering from nose to tail. A few dogs, the hunters and police dogs, have nerves of steel and don’t mind fireworks, but most turn into panting, trembling wrecks at the first loud bang. A dog’s hearing is 10 times more sensitive than a human’s, so logically fireworks cause pain. The anxiety and stress are bonus miseries.

If you’re thinking of taking your dog to watch the fireworks with you — think again! You and your dog will have much more enjoyable evenings if you leave. the. dog. at. home. Aside from the danger associated with your dog being in the wrong place at the wrong time (dogs and fire simply don’t mix), the mass hysteria, alcohol-increased speech volume, loud noises and repeated flashes of light are likely to have a traumatic effect on your Best Friend. He is not going to have a fun time trapped in a hot car, either (and remember, that’s against the law, anyway). Leave him at home.

Best to leave him indoors where he is likely to do the least amount of harm to himself or your home, preferably a crate if he’s already used to being in a crate.  A crate draped with a sound-absorbing comforter would be especially considerate. The evening of the Fourth of July is not the time to introduce crate training, however. Imagine yourself being jammed in a stuffy confined box for the first time, AND THEN the aliens begin attacking the house. Not fun.

Flashing lights can scare your dog just as much as the loud noises. Close the curtains and blinds inside your home and turn ON all the lights in the room. This will make the bright lights from fireworks less noticeable to your dog. There’s also some small degree of soundproofing afforded by closed drapes, lowering the high-pitched sounds a tiny bit.

New research posits that standard allopathic medicines prescribed for noise phobia can actually worsen fears because while they may immobilize the dog, they do not relieve anxiety.  They can “scramble” a dog’s perception. The dog can be fully aware of the frightening stimulus (e.g. fireworks sounds) but be physically unable to move. Sounds cruel to me. Additionally, his senses may be heightened or confused by medication, upping his fear level and ultimately worsening his phobia. Studies show that sound sensitivity can broaden so poor pet can develop anxiety reactions to thunder, airplanes, truck engines or even the sound of a metal pan hitting the floor.

However, there are several natural remedies that will safely and effectively offset noise phobias and hands-on techniques to reduce stress. A ThunderShirt is a great purchase for your anxious pet, useful in all anxiety-producing situations — storms, hunting season, grabby toddlers and loud-mouthed relatives.

Theoretically, a rousing game of fetch or a very long walk earlier in the day may tire your dog so he may be less likely to over-exert himself later if/when he becomes stressed from the sound of fireworks.  I’ve found, though, that fear trumps fatigue most of the time. You can give it a try; it might work.

And most importantly, in this county with its high numbers of euthanizations, be sure your dog has over-adequate identification before the Fourth rolls around.  Shelters nationwide always have an increase in lost dogs on the Fourth — dogs have been known to dig under fences, climb over fences, break through glass windows and doors, to bolt free. If he manages to escape his confinement, the worst thing would be, well, you know what the worst thing would be.

If you look at this holiday as your dog does, then you’ll do the right thing.

Read More →