Recently, I was asked to write a blog about how to help dogs lose weight. Here are my recommendations:
1) Exercise - As my professor in veterinary college wisely noted; "If the dog is overweight, the owner needs more exercise." Start out slowly with low impact activities and add five minutes every week. Before starting, check with your veterinarian to make sure it is safe for the pet.
2) Set the maximum weight loss goal at 2% per month. Cut the amount of food at meals by 10 to 25% depending upon the age, activity and existing health issues of the dog then monitor. To help with the decrease in the amount of food, add green beans or carrots to the meal. Fresh vegetables may be used as well as low salt frozen or canned ones. Remember raisins, grapes and onions are toxic. Also, some breeds of dogs are prone to developing calcium oxalate stones in the urinary system which will limit the kind of treats that can be fed. Avoid fruits and/or vegetables high in vitamin C, spinach and peanuts.
3) Measure the food carefully! Coffee cans and scoops often hold more than one cup of food. Use a measuring cup to insure accuracy. Make sure all the food is within the cup - no heaping portions.
4) Choose foods with higher concentrations of fiber and lower concentrations of fat and carbohydrates. Remember to compare foods using Metabolizable Energy, not "as fed, dry matter or guaranteed analysis". Add a pinch of rosemary to the food to make it more appetizing for picky eaters.
5) Replace high calorie treats with low calorie options. Many of my patients are receiving the correct amount of food at each meal but still gain weight. The treats are the problem. Use vegetables instead. My dog Susie loved cucumbers and carrots. Toy breeds tend to like fresh peppers both green and Italian. Although broccoli may cause gas, it is believed to decrease the occurrence of bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers. Avoid onion which is toxic because it causes anemia in dogs. Besides vegetables, many dogs enjoy frozen chicken or beef bouillon. Pour low or no salt bouillon into an ice cube tray and freeze. This is a great treat for hot summer days.
6) Use the baggie system to prevent feeding duplicate meals. Place the total amount of food for one day in a baggie. Feed one third at breakfast, one third at dinner and leave the rest for treats.
7) If feeding dry food, try the water trick. Presoak the kibble in water to increase the volume which will make the dog feel more satisfied. Humans can also use this trick when trying to lose weight. Models will often drink a large glass of water before eating to help them feel full.
One of the highlights of my trip to South America, was Iguassu Falls. This is one of our world's most spectacular sites. It is located on the borders of Brazil and Argentina and is near Paraguay too. Fortunately, the falls are located in a large park system that protects the beauty of the falls, as well as, the surrounding ecosystem. The area is home to a surprising number of plant species and animals. We saw cavies nibbling grass around the visitor's center, deer grazing along the roadways and coati mundi looking for handouts from the tourists. But what struck me most from an animal perspective was seeing toucans in their natural home. Before going to Iguassu Falls, I had only seen toucans in captivity. Watching them fly with their characteristic wing flaps then glide, was breathtaking. Especially, when you look at the size of the beak they carry.
Here is a closeup of one species of toucan, the Toco Toucan, I met at Parque de Aves. Toco's are omnivores. Their diets consist mainly of fruit and insects plus the occasional egg, lizard or even young birds. While listening to NPR on my way to work last week, they quoted a study from the journal Science. I learned that big-mouthed toucans play a vital role in preserving the rainforest. The jucara palm tree is one of the foundational plants in the rainforest eco- system. Toucans use their beaks to crack the large seeds and then disperse them through their droppings. As the number of these big-mouthed toucans decreased, the palm started producing smaller seeds that could be eaten by smaller birds. Unfortunately, these smaller seeds aren't as hearty as the larger ones leading to a reduction in the number of jucara palms and accelerating deforestation.
More information, including an audio recording of these noisy birds, is available at http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/toucan/.
-Joyce, Christopher. Big-Mouthed Toucans Key to Forest Evolution, NPR, Morning Edition,5/31/2013.
Humans derive many health benefits from interacting with animals. Unfortunately, animals carry a few diseases that can be transmitted to people. These zoonotic diseases are most common in young children who haven't learned the importance of good hygiene. I worry the most about toddlers who seem to put everything into their mouths. Here are my recommendations for dog care to minimize the risk of zoonotic disease. As the Center for Disease Control, National Center for Infectious Diseases states, "Healthy pets, healthy people."
1) Physical examinations by a licensed veterinarian twice a year to make sure the pet is free of health problems.
2) Twice a year fecal analysis to check for gastrointestinal parasites.
3) Use a monthly heartworm preventative that also kills gastrointestinal parasites. Larva from the round worm of dogs (Toxocara canis) may infect humans. Infectious eggs are ingested, mature into larva that swim through the blood stream to various parts of the body. If a few are ingested, the disease is mild and self-limiting. If a large number are ingested, the larva may cause damage to the liver, heart, lungs, brain, muscle or eyes. More info at http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxocariasis/
4) Practice good flea and tick prevention. Insects may carry diseases such as Lyme Disease or Tick Fever.
5) Bathe as often as necessary to keep the dog clean and free of debris.
6) Exercise dogs in areas away from the playground and pick up feces right away.
One last word of caution, raccoons are often infected with an internal parasite called Baylisascaris. The larva of this round worm migrate to the eyes, brain or other internal organs often killing the victim. During parasitology, the instructor told us a tragic story about a boy who was infected at the playground of his school. The raccoons defecated on the roof of the building. The rain washed their feces onto the grass of his playground. He ate grass contaminated with infectious eggs that matured into larva in his body. The larva migrated to his brain. Thanks to a quick diagnosis by his pediatrician, the child survived but has suffered severe brain damage. More info at http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/baylisascaris/.
Aloe vera has been used to treat skin conditions in humans and animals for many years. Although there are a lot of personal testimonies regarding its therapeutic effects, I have not found many controlled research studies to back up the claims - until now. Dr. Mahsa Tarameshloo and colleagues conducted a study comparing aloe vera to thyroid hormone cream and silver sulfadiazine. They compared the tensile strength of skin wounds in rats after 14 days of treatment and found that aloe vera had much better tensile strength than the other two compounds.
Unfortunately, aloe can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested. Therefore, licking must be prevented. According to Pet Poison Control, "Aloes contain anthraquinone glycosides which are purgatives. When ingested, these glycosides are metabolized by intestinal bacteria forming compounds that increase mucous production and water in the colon." Other rarely observed signs include tremors and a change in the color of urine.
-Pet Poison Helpline, 'Aloe Vera', www.petpoisonhelpline.com
-Tarameshloo, M. et al., 'A comparative study of the effects of topical application of Aloe vera, thyroid hormone and silver sulfadiazine on skin wounds in Wistar rats.' Lab Anim Res. March 2012;28(1):17-21.
When I hear the word ginger, I automatically think of gingersnaps and gingerbread houses. But there is far more to ginger that simply using it as a spice. Ginger may be used to treat nausea and promote digestion. It is thought to act by reducing stimulation within the gastrointestinal tract thereby blocking nausea signals to the brain. I recommend it for dogs who suffer from motion sickness when their owners want an alternative therapy. I know an avian veterinarian who uses it to treat motion sickness in parrots.
Beside treating nausea, ginger extract is being studied as a treatment for gastric ulcers. In the past, the effects of ginger were limited because it transverses the stomach quickly, limiting contact time with stomach ulcers. In a study conducted by Dr. Singh, ginger extract and probiotics were loaded into floating beads that attach to the mucosa of the stomach. The beads stay in the stomach for approximately ten hours to increase exposure. So far, the results look promising but more research is needed to verify this study.
Another potential use of ginger is to treat anemia. Inadequate red blood cell production is a problem in mammals of all kinds. The most common cause of chronic anemia I deal with is anemia secondary to kidney failure in cats. When the kidneys fail, they stop producing an important hormone called erythropoietin. A synthetic form of it is available but not without problems. Erythropoietin is expensive, must be injected and the patient may develop resistance over time. In 2012, Dr. Ferri-Langeau led a team of researchers who studied the effect of ginger in zebrafish embryos. Ginger and the active ingredient, 10-gingerol, stimulated maturation of red blood cells, They hope that their "results will provide the basis for future research into the effect of ginger during mammalian hematopoiesis to develop novel erythropoiesis promoting agents."
Before giving ginger or any other nutraceutical to your pet, please check with your veterinarian. High doses should not be used during pregnancy or in patients on anticoagulants.
-Ferri-Lagneau, K. F. et al, Ginger stimulates hematopoiesis via Bmp pathway in zebrafish. PLoS ONE. Jan. 2012;7(6):e39327.
-Mowrey, D. et al, Motion sickness, ginger and pyschophysics. Lancet. 1982;1(8273):655-657.
-Orosz, S. Common Herbs and Their Use in Avian Practice (670) AAV. 2006.
- Singh, P. K., et al, Synbiotic (probiotic and ginger extract) loaded floating beads: a novel therapeutic option in an experimental paradigm of gastric ulcer. J. Pharm Pharmacol. Feb. 2012; 64(2)207-17.
-Warren, A. Nutraceuticals, VIN, April 4, 2007
In April, I had the privilege of visiting Parque das Aves, a bird park located in Iguassu Falls, Brasil. This park is dedicated to four core principles: 1) Rescue and shelter 2) Reproduction of native species 3) Reforestation 4) Environmental education. While touring the facilities, I encountered an exhibit of flamingos. I was surprised to see mirrors surrounding the back of the exhibit.
The flamingos were brought to the park in the hope of breeding this endangered species and releasing their offspring back into the wild. Unfortunately, nothing happened. Even though the enclosure had everything the birds needed, they refused to mate. Flamigos in their natural habitat live in large flocks for protection from predators. The park installed the mirrors hoping to make the birds feel like they were part of a larger flock. The plan worked brilliantly. Evidently, these birds are anything but modest! More information can be found at http://www.parquedasaves.com.br/news/view.not_ing.php?id=34