Review Category : Tracie Korol

Why get a dog?

By Tracie Korol

The decision to get a dog is not something to be taken lightly.  While the sweet face of a puppy can tug our heartstrings into an impulse buy, we need to know, up front, the significant investment of time and money that little charmer will require. Socializing and training a new puppy is time consuming and, occasionally, frustrating. Working to provide all that is necessary to successfully integrate a dog into a family environment can increase the amount of stress on the family and the dog,

This is especially true if the primary caregiver(s) are working outside the home and/or have young children, are themselves elderly or infirm, have an elderly parent, or other persons and pets to care for. This does not mean that it cannot be done. But, prospective dog owners often underestimate the investment of time, energy and money required. Making this decision impulsively can lead to frustration, disappointment, and possibly result in the surrender of the dog to a shelter or rescue.

The first question you should ask yourself honestly is: Why do I (we) want a dog? Is your answer:

For my children: Trust me, this will be your dog.  After the honeymoon period the kids may play with the dog, occasionally.  Guaranteed, they will whine about dog-related responsibilities, doing them grudgingly, only after significant prodding from you. As children’s interests and activities change over the years, their level of involvement with the dog will most likely be inconsistent, at best.  Additionally, your children, especially, young children, will need to be trained in how to behave with the dog and will need to be supervised when with the dog.

For protection: The only time is it a good idea to get a dog for the purpose of protection is in professional or agricultural situations and only when the owner is humane and knowledgeable of dog behavior and dominant dog handling.  In all other situations an alarm system or security fence are much more appropriate and effective.

To breed puppies: The breeding of dogs is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.  If it is not your intention to remain responsible for all of your puppies for their entire lives, including being willing to take back and care for those that may find themselves homeless, do not enter into this endeavor.  If you are planning on breeding for profit, understand that there are much easier, more profitable and more ethical ways to make a buck.  Dogs are living beings and dog breeding requires a significant investment of time, money, labor, knowledge, both academic and practical, patience, and emotional fortitude, to be done responsibly and humanely.  Visit the county shelter and witness the problem yourself.  Look at the faces of the homeless dogs and talk to the volunteers and staff who, all too often, must take that final walk with them.

Because BreedX is cool, was in a movie, is unique and exotic, is free or cheap: One of the worst reasons to get a dog is because of their physical appearance or popularity due to a movie or TV show.  Often, these venues feature exotic, rare or unique breeds that are, in the overwhelming majority of pet situations, unsuitable as companions.  Also, remember that a free dog is never free. When your friend, coworker or relative offers you one of Fluffy’s puppies think hard about the necessary investment over the next 16 years.

Dogs require significant financial, physical, time, and environmental resources.  Dogs are not the fulfillment of ANY fantasy.  The responsibilities are legion through all stages of dog-hood and continue on after you’re gone. How many dog owners, for instance, have a plan, in writing, for the dog in case of their disability or demise? Your dog should become your Best Friend, after all.  Make the right decision at the right time for the right reasons and for the best possible outcome.

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When a treat is really a treat

By Tracie Korol

To our dogs, food is love — and security, affirmation, and reinforcement. When we give our dogs what I call “high-value” treats — foods that are especially sweet, meaty, and yummy-smelly — the message we want to deliver transports to them through the treat especially loud and clear. From a trainer’s viewpoint, I am ever appreciative of the ability of yummies to “classically condition” a dog to tolerate, and then even enjoy, circumstances that he previously found unsettling, frightening or threatening. It’s good to reward our dogs for a job well done. Plus, it’s fun for us to feed our dog friends something they’re crazy about.

The down side is that treats are probably the most likely of all dog-related items that we buy impulsively because the labels are so cute and the names are so clever. We don’t even think to glance at the ingredients. I would hope by now, faithful readers, that you routinely flip over any dog product bag to read the ingredient list, ever searching for the very best for your Best Friend. It would be counter-productive to spend time and energy finding (or making) the best healthy food for your dog if you’re going to trash your own efforts at health building with low-quality, additive-filled junk food treats. Read the label.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find treats for your pet that do not contain stuff that is not good for him including artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.

Healthy treats do not contain:

Artificial colors: Dogs are somewhat aesthetically challenged: they don’t care whether their food is brown or blue. Artificial colors are absolutely unnecessary.

Artificial or low-quality palatability enhancers: Avoid treats that use salt as a flavor-enhancer as well as treats that contain corn syrup, sucrose or ammoniated glycyrrhizin (a licorice derivative) and artificial flavorings like barbecue or smoke flavor.  Dogs are not as swayed as we are by the mysteries of barbeque and hickory.

Chemical preservatives: BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin, potassium sorbate, sodium nitrate and calcium propionate are chemical antioxidants added to foods to extend shelf life and reduce fat spoilage. These chemicals are responsible for the “natural bacon-y” texture of some doggy treats and the reason why, if you left a bacon-treat on the dashboard of your car it would still be “bacon-y” pliable a year later.  BHA and BHT are also used to preserve carpet. The FDA (U.S Food and Drug Administration) regulates ethoxyquin as a pesticide and prohibits its use in human foods. However, it continues to be used in pet foods. Propylene glycol is such a uniquely nasty chemical preservative that it requires it’s own call-out. It is used in pet snacks (and some human foods) to keep them moist and chewy, and to prevent discoloration in preserved meats. It’s also used as the main ingredient in deodorant sticks, tattoo ink, and is used in newer automotive antifreezes and de-icers used at airports. An interesting use for this chemical is to create artificial smoke for theatrical productions and training exercises for firefighters.

Healthy treats contain:

Whole-food ingredients: This means whole grains rather than grain “fractions” — wheat rather than wheat flour, wheat bran or wheat starch. Look for whole, named meats or meat meals — chicken, chicken meal — rather than by-products, unnamed sources (“animal” protein) or fragments. By-products and fragments of what animal would be my first question.

Natural preservatives: Vitamins C and E (the latter is often listed as “mixed tocopherols”) are effective and safe preservatives. Some treats contain no preservatives at all.

Natural sweeteners: Applesauce, molasses or honeys are better than artificial sweeteners, by far.  While dog food should not contain added sweeteners, a treat should still be a treat. A piece of baked sweet potato should be all the sweet a dog needs.

A treat for your dog should be a treat from all angles. Tasty, occasional, a little out of the ordinary and fun.  Try this: Next time you eat an apple, bite off a chunk and hand it to your dog. Guaranteed he’ll like that better than anything that comes in a plastic container.

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A few hacks for your dog

By Tracie Korol

I love life hacks. You know, those “why didn’t I think of that!” things that provide clever solutions to mundane problems. My current faves are using a can opener to breach dreaded clamshell packaging in lieu of inviting a paring knife wound; stretching a rubber band across the top of a paint can to use as a brush wiper; and the one in play right now, a key ring threaded through the tongue of my pants zipper, looped around the button until I stop being too lazy to replace the zipper that won’t stay up.

Dogs have hacks, too! Here are a few that might make your life, and your dog’s life, easier:

1. Attach a carabiner (a metal clip that allows rock climbers to link together ropes and harnesses) to your dog’s leash or collar. Carabiners come in handy: If you need to secure your dog to any stationary object; if you need to connect multiple leashes to walk all your dogs at once; if you need to attach your leash to a belt loop to free up your hands.  And, you can attach your keys to your dog if you’re going for a run together.

2. If your dog is a manic food gobbler (and you have one of those breeds prone to bloat), feed your pet on a rimmed cookie sheet. He’ll be forced to slow down if he wants to hoover up every last morsel. Some hacks for this problem suggest placing rocks or balls in the food bowl so as to force a dog to eat around the obstacles.  Good idea, though I have dog friends smart enough to simply remove the ball, shoot the owner a “seriously?” look and continue sucking down food, and also dog friends not so smart as to eat the rocks, too.

3. Use a squeegee to remove dog hair from carpet before vacuuming.   Or, if you want to see how ineffective your vacuum is, use the squeegee after vacuuming. It’s amazing how much dog hair you’ll skim off the rugs. A damp rubber glove is useful for removing hair from furniture.

4. Don’t put your pet’s name on his ID tag. When your dog responds to his name, it only makes it easier for the thief.  Also, if you’re the only one who knows his name, it will make it easier to prove you’re the rightful owner upon recovery. A phone number on the tag is sufficient when your dog is already microchipped.

5. If your dog gets loose, do not chase him. To him, it looks like you’re coming along on his walkabout.  Yippee! Rather, lie down and pretend you’re hurt. Yelp, whimper. They’ll come back to make sure you’re all right. If that fails, run the opposite direction while making happy “come play with me” sounds.  They’ll want to get in on the game.

6. If you have a puppy or lifetime devoted chewer, wipe down exposed cords with eucalyptus oil, Vicks or Mentholatum. Dogs dislike how it smells and even more, how it tastes.  Some hacks suggest using Bitter Apple spray but I’ve found dogs tend to think of that as a condiment.

7.  If you like animal movies but are devastated if an animal is hurt, left alone with the zombies or contracts a terminal illness, go online and check the website http://doesthedogdie.com for a quick heads-up.  Saves a lot of heartache.

8. Always, always reward your dog. Every time your dog does something correctly, a simple “Good dog!” is enough for your Best Friend to know that he IS your best friend.

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With coconut oil, no more fishy burps!

By Tracie Korol

Major media has encouraged us to add fish oil to our diets and, more recently, to the diets of our Best Friends. These Omega-3 long chain (LCTs) fatty acids help dogs with osteoarthritis, improving mobility and reducing inflammation, and can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Every store has a section devoted to fish oil. My question: where is it all coming from? To be effective, fish oil should come from North Atlantic cold-water fish. What with sustainability and over-fishing in the media forefront, it might be time to change up the oil situation.

The newest, and perhaps, more reliable nutritionally loaded oil is something you’re probably been avoiding for years — either that, or you think it’s a hair care product. Yep, we’re talking about coconut oil. Coconut oil consists of more than 90% saturated fats, with traces of few unsaturated fatty acids. Most of the saturated fats in coconut oil are Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs), the main component being lauric acid, followed by capric acid, caprylic acid, myristic acid and palmitic. The benefit of lauric acid is that it has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties. Capric and caprylic acid have similar properties and are best known for their anti-fungal effects. So, if you have an itchy, smelly dog and nothing from the vet is working for more than 10 days, this might be a good addition to the snack bar.

Also, these MCTs are metabolized quickly providing an immediate source of fuel and energy.  Coconut oil can enhance athletic performance and aid weight loss. It can also help balance the thyroid, helping overweight dogs lose weight and helping sedentary dogs feel energetic.

As an important ingredient in America’s processed foods for most of the 20th century, coconut oil is one of the world’s few saturated-fat vegetable oils. That designation alone gave it a terrible reputation and by the 1990’s it had all but disappeared from our food supply. Unfortunately, the vegetable oils that replaced it (corn, rapeseed) caused more harm than coconut oil ever did and consequently, coconut oil is enjoying a revival.

The one you want to get to know is the unrefined “virgin” oil that is made from fresh coconuts. (The other, usually labeled RDB-Refined, Bleached, Deodorized-is made from copra or dried coconut meat and then treated with chlorine and hexane to remove impurities. It is inexpensive, bland and odorless, usually labeled as a skin or hair care product.) You’ll most likely find the virgin, organic oil in a glass jar at a health food store or in the better oils section of the grocery.   Depending on the temperature, coconut oil will be solid or liquid. Below 75 degrees it is solid and white; above that, it is a transparent liquid. And, it doesn’t have to be refrigerated.  If you do, be prepared to chip it out of the jar.

While there have been no clinical trials on the effects of coconut oil in a dog’s diet, anecdotal evidence is impressive. Many reports involve beneficial results with itchy skin, cuts, wounds and ear problems. Dogs with flea allergies, contact dermatitis and/or dull coats typically stop scratching after coconut oil is added to their food.  An added benefit, I noticed, was with a smelly dog friend of mine, Ramone.  You know the kind of dog I mean — the one that smells like damp carpet all the time. Bathing Ramone was a waste of time and you had to change your clothes and wash your hands immediately after playing with him.  Ramone’s owner began to routinely dribble coconut oil onto Ramone’s chow. In less than a month Ramone and his owner enjoyed a stink-free life and Ramone could receive the daily body rubs he deserved.

The best way to give coconut oil is in small amounts throughout the day — a dab here and there, depending on the dog’s weight. I will “butter” a dog cookie with a scrape through a designated dog jar of coconut oil for a special treat in addition to stirring a spoonful into a meal.  Most dogs are happy to eat a gob from a teaspoon.

Of course, as with anything new, you’ll want to start small. Introduce a little coconut oil gradually a little at a time in divided doses — 1/4 tsp for a tiny dog up to a teaspoonful for a big dog.  Because coconut oil kills harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, yeasts and fungi, the burden of removing dead organisms may trigger symptoms of detoxification. Headaches, fatigue, diarrhea and flu-like symptoms are common in humans who consume too much too fast and the same can happen with dogs.

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Be proactive with probiotics

By Tracie Korol

As any dog owner can attest, dogs are not too discriminating about what they eat.  Select garbage, poo of the wild, domestic poo from the cat box, road-toad jerky — they’re all yummy going in. Not so delightful on the way out.  We can move with lightning speed to try to extract the offending item from clenched jaws OR we can prepare our pets in a more proactive way. A good probiotic for dogs is an easy way to ward off an onslaught of bad bacteria by boosting existing good bacteria. In fact, gastrointestinal disorders are the second most common health issues for dogs after skin conditions.

All dogs (and people, too) can benefit from probiotics.  They aid digestion and modulate the immune system by producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These helpers inhibit the growth and activity of harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens, as well as providing other benefits to the intestines. Probiotics help prevent urinary tract infections, and can even reduce allergic reactions by decreasing intestinal permeability and controlling inflammation.

Given probiotics for pets is a new industry, it can be confusing when investigating the best for your Best Friend. When choosing a commercial dog probiotic, consider the following criteria:

• The list of ingredients should identify the specific bacterial species and also indicate the strain. Species with specific strains known to benefit dogs include Enterococcus faecium (strain SF68) and Bacillus coagulans. Bifidobacterium animalis (strain AHC7) has been shown to reduce the time for acute diarrhea to resolve in dogs. Certain strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus improve frequency and quality of stools in sensitive dogs. Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG (LGG) is my favorite go-to (no pun intended) for any digestive upset.  Probiotic products may contain one or several strains.

• The label should guarantee the number of CFU in millions or billions per gram. Colony-forming units (CFU) is an estimate of viable bacterial or fungal numbers that the manufacturer guarantees will exist in their product.

• The product packaging or manufacturer’s website should have a customer service number so you can contact the manufacturer with any questions.

• The probiotic should have a “best before” or expiration date. Storage time and conditions (i.e., excessive heat or cold) can reduce the viability of some bacterial strains. It is best practice to store your probiotics in a refrigerator.

Alternately, you can go the grocery store route. Following a round of antibiotics, savvy dog owners have long used tablespoonfuls of yogurt to readjust the bacteria in their dog’s intestines. (Antibiotics kill everything, the good and the bad.) Kefir, a souped up super cousin of yogurt, is easy to make if you’re so inclined or it’s available in the dairy cases of local groceries. Kefir is a cultured, enzyme-rich liquid food filled with friendly micro-organisms that help balance an “inner ecosystem”.

Kefir contains loads of minerals and essential amino acids.  Among them, tryptophan, an essential amino acid, is well-known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system. It may help a high drive or highly anxious dog chill.

Kefir also contains calcium and magnesium both of which are critical for a healthy nervous system. It is rich in vitamins B12, B1 and vitamin K, promoting healthy looking skin, boosting energy and promoting longevity.  For daily maintenance, kefir is excellent at rebalancing intestinal bacteria, boosting immunity and correcting the occasional trash-hound loose stool. If you have multiple dogs, renewable kefir is the most affordable solution.  And, it comes in flavors. I find blueberry is the most favored among my dog friends.

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Are you prepared?

By Tracie Korol

None of us, realistically, believe our dogs are going to outlive us. We’d like them to age gracefully alongside us and diminish shortly before or shortly after we do. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way, unfortunately. Tragedy will arrive in all our lives, some time or other, that’s for certain.  The best we can do is try to prepare and remember our Best Friend when we do.

The Humane Society of the US estimates there are 112 million pet dogs and cats, as well as millions of birds in this country. Some of these pets will outlive their owners and perhaps these pet owners have made informal plans with friends, neighbors or family members. But sometimes those who informally agree to take on the dog, just in case, are unable or unwilling to follow through when the time comes.

In order to avoid such circumstances, pet owners need to leave instructions for the care of pets and a short list of guardians of various ages who have been contacted in advance. If possible, people should also leave some funds to cover expenses, especially if the pet in question has health concerns. This might seem reminiscent of aging eccentric heiresses who leave millions to their cats to supply filet mignon in perpetuity.  Not quite. But it pays to be prepared.

You might designate a trusted friend, family member, neighbor, or kennel owner who knows your dog, has proper facilities (meaning space to keep an animal, a fenced yard, or an actual kennel) and who is willing to keep your dogs together (if you have more than one), should an emergency arise. I am listed as default caregiver in five wills in two states: it is a tremendous honor to be asked to care for a beloved pet.

This person should have a list of emergency phone numbers, including those of your vet and of nearby family and friends who have access to your home and are well acquainted with your dogs. Carry a wallet “alert card” that lists the names and phone numbers of your emergency pet caregivers. Tuck one in the glove box, too.

In your personal business records, include signed and dated instructions designating your wishes for the placement of your dogs in case of your incapacitation, or worse. List the name of each dog and the name, address and phone number of the person who has agreed in writing to adopt or foster that dog for the remainder of its life. Check in with your designated caregiver every year to see if the offer is still good. Update this document at least once and year, and provide a copy to your designated caregiver.

Provide the caregiver with written authorization to obtain medical treatment for your dogs, should it become necessary.  On occasion you’ll run into a vet who has esoteric HIPAA-like rules concerning the animals of other people. Also provide copies of medical history, a list of any health problems that require regular attention, and written feeding instructions (“Barney doesn’t like peas.”).  In addition, provide your veterinarian with written authorization to administer treatment in an emergency, and place copies of that document in your Pet File.  Include names and numbers of all persons you have authorized to seek treatment for your dogs.  Both the vet and caregiver should have written instructions as to how to proceed should the untimely happen to the dog — autopsy, cremation, burial.  With the copy and paste feature of most word processing programs, it takes only a few minutes to draft a simple, cover-all document.

Some pet owners make provisions for honorary trusts for their animals that dictate a portion of the principal or income be dedicated to the benefit of the animal. The trust ends when there are no living animals receiving care. The amount of money left for a pet’s care should be reasonable rather than large, so other beneficiaries will not challenge the provision.

In an emotionally charged situation (your incapacitation or demise) a relative’s’ solution may be to dump the dog at a shelter. Know that most no-kill shelters have waiting lists. It can take up to three months for a place to open through adoption.  If you happen to have one of the “dangerous” breeds — pit bulls, German shepherds, rottweilers — planning for his future takes special consideration.  Let me stress the importance of planning if you have a dog with a “special need.”

Plan ahead and put your plan in writing. Semper Paratus — always prepared.

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Is your dog a manipulator?

By Tracie Korol

People tolerate behavior in their dogs they would never tolerate in fellow human beings. You would never allow your nephew to punch visitors in the crotch to say hello, or slobber on your girlfriend because he’s happy to see her.  Dog owners make excuses like, “oh, he’s just being friendly” when the dog leaps up and rakes his nails across the neighbor’s bare legs or “she must have done something to upset him” after the dog rips a hole in the mail carrier’s sleeve.  My favorite excuse for bad dog manners is “he was abused before we got him.”

When an owner has been unsuccessful in creating clear rules and expectations for his dog and then said dog couples that with her instinctual mantra, “what’s in it for me?”, the end result is some form of chaos. For instance, Merlin, a large exuberant herding cross, does not come when he is called, ever.  Why? Because there’s nothing in it for him. However, he has learned that if he plays chicken in the front yard long enough, his exasperated owner will open the car door, cheer him in and then take him for a ride around the neighborhood.  Score! There’s something in it for him now. Merlin loves car rides. And because Merlin is a clever pet, he added door crashing to the activity. (You know, that unattractive behavior when you crack open the door and the dog muscles you out of the way and speeds out in a blur.) Now he gets his car ride on demand. What a brilliant manipulator!

June bites at her owner because it elicits a huge response, guaranteed. Biting usually does. June doesn’t get enough attention in her busy household so she has learned exactly what behavior is going to get her the biggest reward. (Dogs don’t differentiate positive from negative; attention is attention.) In both instances the manipulator is in charge. In both instances there is a lack of leadership.

A dog’s mental health depends on leadership. People will often mislabel this as dominance, but that is a simplification borne of watching too many dog-training TV shows. When living in social groups, canids will establish leadership hierarchies that dictate access to resources such as food, resting places, favored possessions, territory and mates. The social relationship is naturally extended to the human members of their household. These leadership behaviors often occur without aggression and instead, come to be about control of the outcome. In domestic canid groupings, overt aggression is rare and deference common. Owners often inadvertently reinforce a leadership outcome for the dog by deferring to the dog’s demands. Plus, some owners are pure patsies.

This sets the dog up as the one in charge, and each interaction that ends with deference to the dog reinforces that behavior. Each time Merlin hops into the car and happily rides shotgun around the block, his bad manners of not coming when called are reinforced.  The high point of Merlin’s day is the reward of watching his owner shrieking, waving her arms around, chasing him around the yard and then, taking him for a ride.  It sounds like great dog fun.

Other behavior occurs because it can. In other words, the owners do not prevent the dog from engaging in a certain behavior and that in itself can be reinforcing. For instance, counter-cruisers (usually the tall guys) will occasionally score a huge reward that only encourages them to keep cruising.  How many times have you heard the story of the rump roast taken out to thaw that was sucked down in seconds by the family lab? It happened at my house. Once.

The solution to curbing a manipulator’s creativity and enthusiasm is a three-step process. First, your dog gets a new mantra — “nothing in life is free”. The goal is for the dog to “earn” everything he desires by deferring to the owner. Deference is accomplished when the dog follows the request to do, whatever — sit, down, come, get the ball, be a dog and stay on the floor. The catch is that he has to do what you ask when you ask it, not before and not 20 minutes later. It takes a little discipline on our part to remain consistent and not give in to those big, sweet eyes, but the reward is that our pets are not a constant trial.

Then, he learns that you have opposable thumbs and are in control of his environment. Any attention he receives is at your grace. You give him attention on your initiative; you only give attention and reward his fine behavior when he is calm and quiet and acquiescent. And finally, he learns that you are center of his universe. You call the shots. He learns to focus on you and wait for instruction.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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