Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Flatulence in dogs is normal, usually harmless -- but sometimes needs a clinician's help

'Are there any specific issues that I need to be aware of with regard to your pet?', is a question that I ask with regard to any new-to-me animal that will be in my care.

One of the most common replies elicits a giggle or two on my part, and a word of reassurance which usually sets an embarrassed pet owner at ease.

'Well... they have really bad gas. I hope that's not a problem.'

I'm definitely no stranger to the effluvious side of caring for pets.

Flatulence in dogs is common. In some dogs, it seems to be more odorous than others. In any case, gas can occur for a lot of reasons which are mostly simple and harmless.

Gas occurs either when an excessive amount of air is swallowed due to being a brachycephalic dog (as in the case of bulldogs or pugs), having a respiratory condition or in those dogs that gulp down their food – but gas is most commonly produced in the intestine. In the latter case, stomach contents, which are acidic, meet the more alkaline small intestine, and then fluid and carbon dioxide result. Most of the carbon dioxide is distributed into the vascular system, but some is left in the intestines.

The unpleasant smell associated with gas is caused by bacteria in the intestine that reduce sulfur in amino acids, as well as nuts and other plant-based foods.

Diet can increase the incidence of gas. Commercial diets can contain some things that prove to be hard to digest, like some proteins and carbohydrates, and ingredients that are used to improve texture, like carrageenan. Of course, cruciferious vegetables like broccoli can contribute.

Lack of activity can exacerbate flatulence in dogs, and it's thought that consuming too much fat can be a contributing factor.

In working with your clinician, any food sensitivities can be identified to help mitigate the occurrence of troublesome gas. Aside from feeding the right food, smaller but more frequent meals may help, as well as exercise.

Should any dietary changes not yield any favorable results, your vet can rule out any underlying medical issues that could be at the root.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

New project aims to shed light on cat and human disease by mapping out the feline genome

We know so much less about cats than their canine counterparts when it comes to their behavior, habits — and in some respects, their health.

There's been a lot of interest garnered in knowing more. Perhaps because of the strides that have been made in the area of genetic sequencing of dogs and other mammals, the goal of one project getting underway at UC Davis, in Davis, Calif., called the 99 Lives Cat Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative, is to put together a genetic portrait of felines.

Leslie Lyons, a former professor at UC Davis (now with the University of Missouri), knows that as technology grows to help foster a better understanding of disease and how to treat it in cats, getting to the root of things by way of mapping out the feline genome could be helpful.

Nine cats were originally slated for the study, however Lyon and her colleagues decided that  number was too small to build a comprehensive genetic portrait. So instead, they went with ninety-nine.

Mapping out the over 20,000 genes that exist in the feline genome wouldn't just clue researchers in on how a cat gets their eye color, fur length, type and coloration, but health issues that are found in humans and cats.

The findings could prove to be helpful for humans who suffer from illnesses like polycystic kidney disease and spinal muscular atrophy, since these diseases that also affect cats.

The canine genome has also been mapped to help better understand human health, due in part because it is less complex than the human genome.

To conduct the study, genetic code will be extracted from the reproductive organs of spayed and neutered cats.

All breeds of cat are sought to be included, including the long-haired Maine Coon to the domestic shorthair, and everything in between.

The team is seeking samples from cats the world over, since diversity is the key. Cats in North America and the United Kingdom have similar genetic backgrounds, as their lineage by and large hails from Western Europe. Those from Asia, the Middle East and the rest of the world all differ as well.

The team is working on the project with Maverix Biomics.

The isn't the first foray into learning more about feline genetics. In 2007, an Abyssinian cat's genetic code was sequenced, but the technology that was available then was far less advanced than today.

Will cat owners shell out the money for the DNA tests that could result from this research? Judging from the amount that people already spend on their pets, that could happen.

"It might give us clues very quickly as to what genes to focus on" says Lyons, with regard to specific cat's health.

"We want to bring the health care standards of our pets to a comparable standard for humans."

Read more about the project by clicking here.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Walking multiple dogs at once can prove to be a dangerous prospect, even for professionals

Admittedly, being a professional dog walker is a lot of fun: You are greeted by your charges with a lot of enthusiasm, the premise of your time together is all about fun and positivity and you never know what to expect.

The latter statement is probably the most important. Not knowing what to expect can be an exhilarating thing — but it's also something that needs to be taken quite seriously.

The need for dogs to get out and about and experience the world is something that myself and fellow dog professionals stress is necessary, and for good reason. Exercise is important, sure, just as the socialization with people, other dogs, and their environment.

It's the socialization part that can throw a wrench into the best intentions when it comes to taking some pets out for some fun, especially if one or more of them have trouble handling themselves with regard to their behavior.

In households with multiple dogs, I often hear about the struggles that are encountered when trying to walk their four-legged friends as a group. To do so seems to make a lot of sense, right? Time is saved, there are certainly enough contraptions out there to facilitate the task and after all, people like my most famous predecessor, Jim Buck, have made it look

I have no problem with the idea of walking one or two family dogs together, providing they are able to both handle themselves confidently. But beyond that, I never walk more than one pet at a time.

The truth is, walking a group of dogs is not wise, nor is it safe, for a lot of reasons. It's especially true if there are one or more dogs at the other end of the leash who simply lack the skills and sophistication to successfully navigate a challenging social situation that they find themselves facing. It could be a squirrel that pops into view, or a small child that tries to approach — or perhaps another dog that triggers an unwanted response.

Further, the level of arousal easily becomes heightened in the presence of the other dogs in the group. Those reactions boomerang right back to the dog who is having difficulty, or worse, that dog could redirect their unwanted response onto another dog in the group — or even toward the human that's on the other end of the leash.

Let's not forget about encountering a reactive dog and their ill-prepared handler, or those canines that are allowed to go off-leash. (I see this frequently.)

A situation like any of those are nothing short of disastrous.

That said, it's wise to attune oneself to the specific needs of each dog in the household and proceed accordingly, rather than putting everyone together in a group — tethered — with the expectation that they'll all be on the same page.

A reactive dog deserves to have the time out on a walk all to themselves, so that their human has the opportunity to work with them one-on-one, or simply to just get the most out of the walk that they are able to. Every good experience sets the stage for long-term success and confidence.

Mitigating any probable angst with the other pets in the group while you are out with another is easy: before the leash is grabbed and the shoes are put on, give the other pets their own stuffed Kongs or safe chew toys to stay occupied, in or out of the crate, while you're away.

Walking several canine friends may seem like an ultimate goal to attain in households with multiple dogs, but I assure you that it's a misguided one. Even as Buck, a pioneer in my field, acknowledged in a 1964 interview, there are dogs that simply require solo treatment.

Here's to keeping your adventures from becoming misadventures.

For more practical tips that will save your sanity on walks, even if your pooch has a ways to go in their training, click here.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Research indicates link between early neutering and health issues in dogs — so should pet owners be concerned?

The idea of having spay and neuter procedures done early in a pet's life has become the rule with the uptick in pets being adopted from shelters and rescues, and one main reason behind it is certainly compelling: Addressing the overpopulation problem.
There are other reasons that support the idea of having pets spayed and neutered early on. The reduction of the rates of some cancers in both species and sexes is touted, like mammary cancer in female cats. Longer life spans due to decreased risk of death from infectious diseases and trauma are also benefits.

Early spay and neuter procedures – in the case of shelters, very early — have seen their share of controversy in recent years as well, and the reasons why are frequently discussed in hushed tones in my midst at least a couple of times per month. I think that the fact that the topic getting attention at all is important.

One study conducted at UC Davis and published in February of 2013, included over 700 Golden Retrievers and found that males neutered before the age of 12 months were twice as likely to suffer from hip dysplasia, and that three times as many males who were neutered early had suffered from lymphosarcoma than their intact counterparts.

Female Rottweilers, according to research published in the 2009 issue of Aging Cell, who underwent spay procedures after the age of four were more likely to attain a longer life span, as opposed to females who were spayed at an earlier age.

Another study — this one by the Departments of Genetics and Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, University of Georgia, Athens – found that neutering (the more common, blanket term when referring to surgical sterilization of both sexes) was connected with an increased risk of death from cancer.

Most frequently, I'm hearing concerns about the uptick in orthopedic problems in many breeds of dog — mostly cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) tears – and the correlation between those and early neuter procedures.

Pet owners are not alone: Joint disorders are of particular interest to researchers as well.

We know that in mammals, puberty and sexual maturation is crucial in the development of the brain, bones and organs. Canines are of course, specific interest here.

Neutering removes the male dog’s testes and the female’s ovaries, which interrupts production of some hormones that play key, often multiple, roles in important physiological processes –  with the closure of bone growth plates being one of them.

The UC study showed that there was an increase in CCL cases in both male and female dogs who had been surgically sterilized. (There were no cases of CCL injuries in dogs who were intact.)

To be practical, the uptick in joint diseases among these dogs is likely due to a combination of things, like the effect of neutering on the young dog’s growth plates, but also the additional weight on the joints that is associated with neutered dogs.

Chris Zink, DVM, a noted canine sports expert has asserted that we might consider the repercussions of neuter procedures that are done before a pet has a chance to fully develop.

With all of this information and ongoing discussion, it seems prudent to remember that we need to be careful how we extrapolate, examine and use this kind of data when it comes to the health and behavior of pets – and how we make decisions about when and why to neuter them, not to mention what has fueled the practice.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Pet rabbits can be trained to use the litter box, but they need special consideration

"Rabbits can be taught to use a litter box?"

Those not familiar with bunnies often respond with that question if the topic of these cute, furry creatures enters a conversation that I'm engaged in. Many people that I meet think of dogs and cats when they envision what I do in my day-to-day, and they're surprised to learn that I'm a caregiver for other species, like rabbits and exotic birds.

Bunnies are a popular pet with families with school-age children, and they're actually a lot of fun and easy to care for, so long as they are given the diligence and attention that they need.

People are generally intrigued when they think of a rabbit having the capacity to go to a litter box to do their business. After all, when a lot of us envision a rabbit, we think of those brown-flecked, skittish creatures that we see in our backyards early in the morning.

But in using our long-eared friends' wild instincts when it comes to elimination, training them to have indoor manners is easy. In the wild, rabbits prefer to set aside specific areas — referred to as scrapes — to do their business in. It might be a scraped out area in the ground, and often, more than one rabbit might use it.

Location, location, location

By applying this concept, and answering the question, 'Where do they like to go?', litter training pet rabbits is made easier. It makes sense to place the litter box (preferably one that's triangular in shape and with high sides; these fit easily into corners to maximize space and mitigate the incidence of eliminating over the side of the litter box) where the animal has a tendency to eliminate, and then keep it there.

Some bunnies have a penchant for moving their litter box around, so choosing a litter box that has hooks that can be clipped to the side of the enclosure might be a wise consideration. Clamps can also be used for the purpose of anchoring the litter box securely.

Unique habits

Rabbits, unlike most of their feline counterparts, do not bury their waste. They leave their stool pellets lying on top of the litter, while the urine just soaks to the bottom of the box. Bunnies also like to hang out inside their litter boxes, which is normal, but they are fond of snacking on their litter, so choosing the right type is important.

Litter, litter everywhere

There are more choices when it comes litter box filler these days, but sticking with those derived from recycled paper products, or components like aspen bark, compressed sawdust or things like straw, alfalfa, or hay are safe choices. You can even use pelleted food. Steer clear of litter types (usually clay) that clump, those with deodorizers, or are comprised of pine or cedar.

Inappropriate elimination

Rabbits, like any other animal, thrive on consistency in their day-to-day life. There are instances that can disrupt your furry friend's litter box habits, like an injury or illness, a change in the family dynamic (like the arrival or passing of a human family member or another pet) or even construction noise in the house.

Should your bunny start exhibiting a change in their good habits, you might consider moving their enclosure to a quiet, private area of the house (or if you're one of those folks who allow their pet to roam freely, confine them to a small area in the house) for a brief period. This will allow them time and space to settle down and regroup. It seems prudent to mention that scheduling an exam with their vet to rule out any health or pain-related issue, such as dentition, is in order as well.

The change in good habits could be because your pet had developed an aversion to the box altogether. A new box, along with a different type of litter, can prove helpful in getting back on track.

For more rabbit care tips, click here.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Pro Pet, LLC voluntarily recalls dry pet food because of possible Salmonella risk

Flickr photo by marioanima

Ohio-based Pro-Pet, LLC has initiated a voluntary recall of a limited number of their dry dog and cat food formulas citing a possible Salmonella contamination.

According to an FDA press release, a single field test indicated that products manufactured on a single production line, and during a window of two days may have the potential for Salmonella contamination.

There have been no reported illnesses related to the product.

These types of recalls reiterate two important points when handling pet consumables: the need for safe handling and handwashing techniques, and saving the UPC code information from product packaging.

Salmonella, also referred to as salmonellosis, causes digestive problems, and dogs will typically present with fever, diarrhea, vomiting and weakness. Other symptoms can occur.

Salmonella can affect other animals —  not just the dogs who consume the treats. There is risk to humans just the same, from handling contaminated pet products. People handling dry pet food and/or treats can become infected with salmonella, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the food or any surfaces exposed to any contaminated product.

The product was manufactured by a third party for the company and distributed in Michigan, Ohio and several other states.

The following products are included, and are marked with the following "best by" dates, lot codes and UPC numbers:
  • 40 lb Hubbard Life Happy Hound Dog Food   05 06 14   096 13 SM L2 2A   1219033878
  • 40 lb Hubbard Life Happy Hound Dog Food   05 06 14   096 13 SM L2 1A   1219033878
  • 18 lb Hubbard Life Cat Stars Cat Food   05 06 14   096 13 SM L2 1A   1219033873
  • 40 lb Hubbard Life Maintenance Dog Food   05 06 14    096 13 SM L2 2A    1219033875
  • 15 lb Joy Combo Cat Food   05 06 14    096 13 SM L2 1A    7065407721
  • 40 lb Joy Combo Cat Food   05 06 14    096 13 SM L2 1A    7065407713
  • 40 lb Joy Combo Cat Food   05 06 14    096 13 SM L2 2A    7065407713
  • 20 lb QC Plus Adult Dog Food   05 07 14    097 13 SM L2 2A    2351780103
  • 40 lb QC Plus Adult Dog Food   05 07 14    097 13 SM L2 2A    2351780104
  • 40 lb QC Plus Adult Dog Food   05 07 14    097 13 SM L2 1A    2351780104

Consumers that purchased a recalled packages are urged to stop feeding the product and are asked to contact the Pro Pet at 1-888-765-4190 for more information. Customer service representatives are on hand Monday through Friday 8am - 5pm (CST).

Click here for more on the recall.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wearable technology for dogs? Researchers are working on big things

Flickr photo by Bob Haarmans

Wearable technology is a hot topic right now, and for good reason: It's designed to make life easier and more productive. It's a boon to many, and though it's not a topic that I ever thought that I would be writing about when it comes to dogs, here I am.

When you think of wearable technology, what comes to mind? Google Glass? FitBit?

The advances that are here are pretty interesting to say the least, and the current trends were debated as far as usefulness and safety on a recent segment of the Diane Rehm Show. 

Where this technology is going is exciting, and it goes beyond the FitBit-like Whistle, now available for dogs. 

One application of wearable technology that's piqued my interest for obvious reasons, was with the use of dogs with jobs: those certified as service dogs, sniffing out bombs, cadavers and live victims of catastrophes. 

Thad Starner, technical lead/manager of Google's Project Glass and director of the Contextual Computing Group at Georgia Tech expanded on just one idea during the show that can help with the process of search and recovery efforts.  

Starner discussed his part in 'facilitating interactions for dogs with occupations', or FIDO during the show.

FIDO's purpose is to develop wearable technology to help dogs with jobs convey information more effectively with their handlers. 

What else do they have in store?  

FIDO's others teammates — also with Georgia Tech — associate professor and director of BrainLab Melody Jackson and Clint Zeagler, a research scientist focused on textiles are equally teeming with ideas. 

The team is working to fine tune search and rescue efforts, for example.

"We're making basically vests for these dogs with textiles and sensors in them where, you know, if you have, say, a dog who's out on a search and rescue mission, say, in the mountains in the Sierra Nevadas and you're looking for a lost child," noted Starner. 

(Click here for a transcript of the show.)

Jackson saw that wearable technology could be very useful in this field. 

Currently, search and rescue dogs need to work an area that's within the line of sight of their handler, recognizing hand and voice signals – and using a unit called a bringsel (a device that hangs from the dog's collar). When the canine locates a person, for example, they put the bringsel into their mouth and run to the handler to signal to them. 

"But what if that bringsel was electronic? And if the dog hit it, it would geolocate to a GPS satellite and tell the whole team, the rescue team, the handler, everybody exactly where that person was at that moment," said Jackson in an interview with BusinessInsider.com.

"And then the dog could stay with the person and do whatever needs to happen with that person until the team got there."

Other applications bring explored include fine-tuning the abilities of assistance dogs to communicate with their handlers. 

Jackson, who has also trained canines for assistance dog work since 1995, sees many enhanced possibilities in this area, and canines trained in assisting the hearing impaired is just one.

"You can train the dogs to differentiate the sounds, in fact we’re doing that right now with one of our demo dogs, and then they could press a different button the vest for different sounds so you’d know that it’s the tornado siren," continued Jackson.

"So the dog could say, 'That’s the tornado siren,' and the owner could make a much better decision on how to react."

Click here for more on wearable technology and dogs, including where it might go in helping bomb-sniffing dogs do their jobs. 

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.