The Importance of Body Condition Scoring

In most cases, our furry family members are typically visiting the vet every 6-12 months. Of course, unless they get sick and need to visit more frequently. During the vet visit our pets will have a physical exam and the vet will determine their body condition score (BCS), but a lot can change in 6 months, and especially in 12 months. This is why it is important for us pet parents to know how to determine their body condition score at home.

Pet obesity is the number one nutritional disorder in pets, and it can be very easily managed and monitored. It is not the only concerning condition that BCS can help identify and monitor, but it is estimated that 59% of dogs and 63% of cats are overweight and may be struggling with the health implications that come with it. It is a big issue that we need to tackle. We all want our furry family members to be healthy, happy, and with us as long as possible. Unfortunately, a high body condition score puts them at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, joint ailments, arthritis, high blood pressure, and surgical/anesthetic complications. BCS can help with better communication with our veterinarians and a better understanding of the risks in order to come up with a treatment plan together.

Typically, owners are focused more on the number on the scale, but measuring body condition can provide more detail on their health. Weight may stay the same while fat percentage increases and lean body mass decreases with age. We can monitor their body condition and health between visits and have the ability to warn our vet team so they can provide any treatment that may be needed. This early intervention may allow for better treatment options and may prevent a disease from occurring or at least worsening.

What is BCS?

We know that people come in all different shapes and sizes and the pet world has an even bigger variety of both, especially with canines. We needed a method that not only can be used accurately for cats and Chihuahuas but also Bulldogs and Great Danes. Despite this variety, we needed a consistent system used by all veterinarians. BCS is the standardized method of predicting a patient’s body fat percentage and assess if they are carrying a healthy amount. To develop and validate the method they used a machine called DEXA, Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry. It uses low doses of radiation to assess the body condition, the proportion that is fat, lean tissue (organs, muscles, etc.) and bone. You may be thinking, “well why don’t we use DEXA machines to determine their condition?”. The machines are extremely expensive and are not available to most veterinary practices, which is why they came up with body condition scoring. BCS is not just opinion, it is a scientifically validated system, and is species specific. It relies on several visual cues as well as palpation of various regions of the body allowing the veterinarian to monitor their health, approximate their ideal body weight and make any recommendations they feel is needed in each individual case.

The System

Veterinarians may use one of two scoring systems, 1-5 or 1-9. The standard BCS is based on the 9-point system as it helps to identify the more subtle changes in condition. Now the scores are not just numbers, they represent a category of body condition and an approximate body fat percentage of our furry friends.

How to Assign a Body Condition Score

Assigning a body condition score involves both a visual assessment and physical touch component through palpation. You will want to visually examine your pet while they are standing facing forward. Having a helping hand to keep their attention and stance is a great idea if possible.

First, we will want to view them from above and we want to see that the waistline curves in between the ribcage and the hips in dogs. We may also see the last rib or two in our canines and that is okay. From above our cats, we want to see a slight inward curve at the waist, but not as defined as dogs. The cats are likely overweight if they have no inward curve or have an outward curve visible from above.

Next up, we will want to examine our furry friends shape from the side. In dogs, we want to see a defined abdominal tuck though the degree of tuck will be varied between breeds. A slight abdominal tuck will may still be visible in overweight or obese patients, but it is more likely to see an outward curve with them. Keep in mind, an abdominal tuck in cats may be a sign they are too thin.

Speaking of our purrfect friends, we want to do a visual and tactile assessment of the abdominal fat pad. There should be a minimal layer of fat, any more could be a sign they are overweight. Many cats who were previously overweight will have a pouch of loose skin.

The last visual aspect of body condition scoring are the bones beneath the skin. We will start with the ribcage. In dogs, being able to see the last 1-2 ribs is healthy and we may be able to see more if they are moving around, sniffing or have a short hair coat. If we are able to see the ribs of our beloved kitties, they are too thin. Now moving along to hip bones or pelvis, if they are visible our furry friend is most likely too thin at a score of 3/9 (2/5) or less. This is also the case if the spine is visible. If the pet has lost weight and possibly muscle mass, other bones may be evident without touch as well.

Palpation

A very important component to body condition scoring is touch, called palpation, especially of the ribcage. Fat will typically accumulate over the top 3rd of the ribcage so this is where we will assess. We want to feel for the fat covering by placing our thumbs on their spine and spreading our fingers across their ribcage and working our way from head to tail. If our pet’s ribcage is easily palpable without applying pressure, they are most likely at a score between 3/9 and 5/9 (2/5 to 3/5). With an emaciated pet with a score of 1/5 or 1/9, they will have a ribcage that is not only easy to feel without pressure but also visible. Obese pets with a score of 5/5 or 9/9 would have a thick layer of fat covering the ribcage making it very difficult and, in some cases, impossible to feel the ribcage. Feeling the ribcage is less uncomfortable for our furry friends then feeling their hips and pelvis, and many may think we are just showing them some love with extra pets. For our arthritic friends, we will want to stick to just the ribcage as they may experience pain with any pressure on their back or hips.

Now, what does a healthy fat layer feel like? There is a great trick using just our hands to demonstrate the feeling. Let’s try it out! Our left hand will represent our furry friend’s ribcage, while our right hand is our hand palpating. First, we will hold our left-hand limp and with the right, feel the bones on the back of our left hand. This is what an ideal fat layer feels like. Now, make a fist with our left hand and feel the knuckles with our right hand. This is what very little fat covering feels like, our pet would be too thin. Lastly, let’s flip our hand over, palm facing up, holding it limp. If we feel our left palm with our right hand, we have to push harder to feel the bones. This represents the ribcage of an overweight pet.

What Do We Do Next?

Now that we know the two scoring systems and how to assess their condition both visually and through palpation, we can give our beloved pets a score. If our cats are at 5/9 or 3/5 and our dogs at 4-5/9 and 3/5 they are at a healthy body condition. Congratulations! From here we know we don’t need to make any changes to their exercise routine or their diet and feeding amount. If our assessment is indicating that our pets are above or below a healthy body condition score, there are a few things we can do but first it is best to discuss with your veterinarian. We will want to ensure there is no underlying condition causing the change in weight and condition before we start switching food amounts or changing their daily activity. Having this knowledge does not replace the need for physical exams, consultations, and diagnosis performed by our veterinarians, but helps monitor health and pass along any insights since our last visit. No matter their score, we suggest monitoring both body weight and body condition every 2-4 weeks and adjusting feeding amount as needed, with the guidance of your pet health team.

If after performing our assessment we are concerned about our pet’s condition, here are a few things to keep track of and document to bring to our next appointment or relay to the veterinarian and team.

Early Identification of Conditions

Body condition scoring and monitoring weight helps to identify health issues early to provide the best care and treatment that is needed to get them back to feeling their best! Many health conditions may be the underlying cause of our pet very quicky gaining or losing weight. Below we will go over both conditions that may cause them to lose weight and those that may make them gain weight. The more we know the better chance we will have to catch these conditions early before they have a big effect on our pets’ lives.

Conditions Causing Weight Loss

Conditions Causing Weight Gain

There are many reasons a pet may gain weight, but it is typically more of a gradual progression over time such as when we are simply feeding too many calories or not getting enough exercise. We are going to go over a few conditions that can cause of furry family members to lose a lot of weight and fast.

All of these conditions and diseases can be better diagnosed, treated, and managed with early intervention thanks to pet parents monitoring body condition score at home. If you have any questions about checking your furry friend’s body condition score, feel free to reach out to your local Global Pet Foods to speak with their healthy pet care specialists or your veterinarian’s office.


Written By

Taylor Luther

Marketing Lead, Customer Engagement

Taylor completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Biology at the University of Guelph and has built up experience within the pet nutrition industry and the animal medical field. She has a passion to share all insights on pet nutrition and health for all of our furry (feathery, scaly or otherwise) friends.

Dangers of Feeding from the Table

We all love to share with our pets to show love and form that tight bond, at the same time we need to ensure we are not causing any harm with these special treats. It can be so hard to say no to those pleading puppy-dog and kitty eyes, but it may be the best answer for them to live a healthy and happy life with us. It can be confusing to all the different foods that are good or bad for them, so we have broken down three key factors to keep in mind with any type of food or treat and their common health effects. Sharing may not only lead to health problems so we will look into how they can affect behaviour as well. To wrap everything up we will touch on a few of the top toxic treats and safe alternatives for our furry loved ones.

Three Key Factors

Many pet parents may feel the table scraps they are feeding are not toxic to pets, so what is the problem? We need to keep in mind that just because it is not poisonous does not mean it is healthy for them. There are a lot of “safe” human foods that can have many adverse effects on our pets through considerable amounts of sugar, fat and/ or salt. Even feeding small amounts of our meals can go above their daily nutritional requirements, causing them to gain weight leading to poor overall health. Those at an optimal weight are less likely to suffer from joint, bone, and mobility issues. Pets that are overweight are at higher risk of developing many health conditions such as heart disease, breathing issues, and decreased liver function.

Dangers of High Fat Treats

Sharing our breakfast like bacon or letting them have a bite of your cheeseburger are seemingly innocent gifts that may lead to dangerous health conditions and possibly an emergency vet visit. A small piece of cheese for us does not make up that much of a daily fat requirement but for a 20-pound dog it is a lot for their little body. These small bites can lead to a lot of weight gain and overtime you will notice the negative effects on the body. The added burden on our pets’ bodies can be seen as joint pain, arthritis, heart disease and diabetes. Many human dishes are just too rich and fatty for a beloved pet(s) to properly digest leading to gastrointestinal issues. After a fatty treat you may see vomiting, diarrhea and this habit could lead to severe conditions like pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. It can be life threatening and may be hard to identify as symptoms are similar to many other conditions. Some symptoms they may experience are lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, reduced appetite, and hunched posture. When the pancreas is functioning normally it works with the digestive tract by releasing digestive enzymes that only become active once they are present in the small intestine, where most of digestion occurs. If the pancreas is inflamed, the enzymes can be released and activated early, leading to the digestion of the pancreas and surrounding tissues. This is extremely painful for dogs and cats as this can significantly damage the pancreas and surrounding organs in the abdomen. Without intervention it can cause internal bleeding and even death. Pancreatitis can come about for a variety of reasons, but the leading cause is a high fat diet. This may be part of their daily meals or if they suddenly consumed a large amount of fatty food in table scraps or through the garbage. The condition requires veterinary treatment and long-term management as flare ups may now occur from even the slightest trigger. Management will include a complete diet change, and possibly a change in feeding frequency and amounts as well as some physical activity and extremely limited treat options. Like many health conditions, pancreatitis is much easier and less costly to prevent than to treat and manage. The pancreas is also responsible for the production of insulin, resulting in diabetic patients being at a higher risk of pancreatitis and those with pancreatitis are more likely to get diabetes as well.

Dangers of Too Much Sugar

Speaking of diabetes, providing a lot of sugar to our pets over an extended period of time can cause numerous health issues. Along with diabetes, your pet may experience gastrointestinal upset, obesity, metabolic changes and in severe cases it can also lead to pancreatitis. Even semi-regular consumption can cause varying weight gain, impacting various organ systems and metabolic processes. Sugar treats are also a top cause of tooth decay and gum disease because the harmful mouth bacteria thrive off sugars. We do not want there to be confusion. Naturally occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables are safe in moderation. They contain water and fibre that helps slow down the body’s absorption of fruit sugars like fructose preventing the dangerous spike in blood sugar levels. They also benefit from the various micronutrients found in fruits and vegetables. It is best to stay away from all forms of added sugar including products using artificial sweeteners like xylitol found in gum, candy, and some peanut butters. Xylitol is toxic to pets and can cause liver failure and seizures.

Just like humans, it is not completely certain why some pets have developed diabetes. Some pets are genetically prone but there is evidence that being overweight increases the risk of your pet developing diabetes. Excess sugar that is not needed for energy is stored as fat as the pet becomes overweight their cells become increasingly resistant to insulin, resulting in the condition. Symptoms to watch for include excessive thirst and urination, unexplained weight loss, change in appetite, sweet smelling breath, lethargy, UTIs, and loss of eyesight. There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be managed. This may include regular insulin shots up to twice a day, regular blood glucose testing, monitoring for changes and symptoms, and changing their diet. It is especially important for these pets to stick to a healthy low sugar diet. They also need lots of water to keep hydrated and flush the sugars sitting in the bladder. Saying no to human scraps, sugary treats, butter, oils, salt, and other seasoning is crucial. It is best to go for single ingredient, dehydrated treats if you want to offer them something special.

Dangers of Too Much Salt

Everyone loves a good, seasoned fry and the salty, crunchy bite of a potato chips including our four-legged friends. A rare treat may not hurt but too much salt can lead to health concerns just like too little salt. Salt helps to replenish their electrolytes, which are essential minerals that are vital to many functions in the body. This is why most pet foods are balanced to meet their daily salt requirements. Pets can exceed this limit by sharing treats like our fast food, seasoned meat, deli meat, and salty snacks leading to many health problems down the road. There are three main health concerns with excessive salt intake. Our first concern is dehydration since the high salt content in the blood stream causes water to rapidly drain from the cells to dilute the salt content in the blood. This severe dehydration will cause confusion, lethargy, and neurological effects due to brain swelling. Our pets can experience muscle cramps and joint pain causing them to lose balance and mobility. The flow of water leads us into our next health concern, high blood pressure. This can be especially hazardous if the pet also suffers from anemia. The influx of water to offset the salt puts a lot of pressure on the walls of the circulatory system. High blood pressure can have damaging effects on many internal organs such as the kidneys, heart, and brain. If the salt levels in the blood are extremely excessive, your pet may experience salt poisoning. This is caused by an extreme sodium imbalance; it is a severe condition and if left untreated can result in death. Treatment is not as straight forward as removing the salty culprit and providing more water. Rehydrating too quickly can actually exacerbate their symptoms and can even result in brain swelling and heart attacks. The signs to watch out for include, diarrhea, vomiting, swollen abdomen, excessive thirst, excessive urination, muscle tremors, incoordination, and seizures. If you suspect your pet may have salt poisoning it is best to seek veterinary assistance.

Effects on Behaviour

Another downside of sharing with our furry family members is the potential effects on their behaviour when food is around. This can start to form bad habits like begging, and we reinforce them by giving them a piece. They may start to think begging and mooching is acceptable and beg for food all the time and from everyone they see with food. Some pet parents are unknowingly reinforcing this unwanted behaviour by providing a piece of food just to get the pet to leave them alone, if only for a brief moment. A little drool in your lap as you eat your food may not be a big issue for you, but you may reconsider if it progresses. With some pets this might encourage them to steal food from young kids or skip the middleman and steal right from the plate. This not only introduces a danger to any children but for the dog as well, as somethings we are eating or might drop are toxic or a hazard to them. It can lead to food aggression with their own and human food making it difficult to remove if it is a danger to them and it can be incredibly challenging to correct this behavior. This can also result in very picky eaters. They may not want their food if they think they can get a slice of your pizza when they hold out long enough. Many of these issues are very frustrating and time consuming to correct and may take months of training and continued commitment to limit the unwanted and potentially dangerous behaviours.

Food Products to Avoid

Many human foods are unfortunately, toxic, or unsafe for our pets to consume and it can be hard to be aware of them all. We encourage pet parents to stop and consider if the treat your about to give is a safe and healthy option before we let them have it. The following table is here to help navigate a few human treats to avoid and the reasoning behind it.

Human Food/TreatHealth Risks
AlmondsNon-toxic but is not safe. Almonds can block the esophagus and tear tissues along the digestive tract with the sharp pieces. If salted, it is a higher concern due to side effects of excessive salt.
BreadNon-toxic but is unhealthy. Bread is remarkably high in sugar, preservatives and does not provide much nutritional value.
Chocolate & CaffeineToxic. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine which can not be properly metabolized by our pets. Affects their circulation, heart, and smooth muscle control, and can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, irregular heart function and seizures.
CinnamonNon-toxic (oil is toxic) but not safe. It can lower their blood sugar too much and lead to diarrhea, vomiting, irregular heart rate and liver disease. If inhaled it can cause coughing, choking and difficulty breathing.
Cooked BonesNon-toxic but extremely dangerous. Cooked bones are likely to splinter and cause punctures or tears in the digestive tract. It can also cause a blockage within the digestive tract.
Deli MeatNon – toxic but not safe. All lunch meats are extremely high in salt and fat and can lead to obesity along with heart disease, diabetes, and pancreatitis.
Fast Food/Processed FoodsMay be toxic; is not healthy. Can contain toxic ingredients like onions, toxic herbs, and unsafe spices. They also contain excessive amounts of fat, sugar and salt leading to many health conditions.
Grapes/RaisinsToxic as it contains tartaric acid. This acid causes vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, kidney damage and even kidney failure.
Ice CreamNon – toxic but is unhealthy. Ice cream is extremely high in sugar leading to many health issues. Some pets are sensitive to dairy and could lead to vomiting and diarrhea. What is great is that they are so many pet-safe ice creams and alternatives to treat them with instead.
Macadamia NutsVery Toxic. Can induce signs of poison after ingesting only a couple nuts. Watch for signs of fever, vomiting and lethargy.
OnionsAll varieties are toxic, including chives due to disulfides. If our pets ingest a large amount, whether over time or all at once, they can damage their red blood cells, causing anemia.

Safe Alternatives

Not all human foods are bad. There are many healthy food options to treat our beloved pets without the harmful effects. With many things, it is all about moderation. Treats should only make up 10% of their daily diet and the rest should be balanced meals to ensure our pets are getting everything the need to thrive. We will go through a few examples below.

Human Food/TreatHealth Facts
CheeseSafe in moderation. Cheese is high in fat and should be given in small amounts. Some pets may have a sensitivity and experience gastrointestinal upset.
CoconutCoconut and coconut oil is a great option for a treat as it has many health benefits for the skin and coat. It is also good for bad breath.
EggsEggs are safe to eat in moderation. They are high in protein, fatty acids, and many vitamins. If feeding raw should only be given a few times a week as raw egg whites can cause a biotin deficiency. *Eggshells are an excellent source of calcium, and the shell membrane is a great joint supplement.
FishSafe and healthy treat. A fantastic source of omega-3s for skin & coat and to reduce inflammation. Remember to remove all bones that can cause GI tears, except for sardines which have very soft, digestible bones.
FruitsMany fruits and vegetables are safe for pets as long as they are seedless and have pits removed. Many fruits provide fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Berries are fantastic antioxidants.
Meat ProteinSafe in moderation. Offer them the meat they crave with many single protein options of breast, liver, and heart. Be careful in excessive treats as this can disrupt their balanced diet and lead to GI upset.
PeanutsSafe in moderation. An excellent source of protein. They are high in fat and can lead to pancreatitis if given too much too often. Stay away from salted or seasoned peanuts as it can lead to salt poisoning.
Peanut ButterSafe in moderation. Very crucial to read the ingredients and stay away from any containing salt and the toxic artificial sweetener, xylitol. Contains heart healthy fats, vitamins, and niacin.

For more safe treat suggestions please visit your local Global Pet Foods where our healthy pet care specialists are happy to help.


Written By

Taylor Luther

Marketing Lead, Customer Engagement

Taylor completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Biology at the University of Guelph and has built up experience within the pet nutrition industry and the animal medical field. She has a passion to share all insights on pet nutrition and health for all of our furry (feathery, scaly or otherwise) friends.

Urinary Tract Health

The Urinary Tract

Before we dive into all the different types of urinary tract diseases and other health concerns, I want to make sure we break down the different components of the urinary tract and understand why it is so important that it stays healthy and able to perform its duties. The urinary tract consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The ureters are tubes that connects the kidneys to the bladder. The urethra is the tube that carries the urine from the bladder to outside the body. The urinary tract can be separated into two parts to better identify a concern or describe a diagnosis. The upper urinary tract includes the kidneys and ureters. The bladder and urethra make up the lower urinary tract. An issue affecting urinary health can occur at any point, but concerns are most commonly seen in the lower urinary tract.

Urinary tracts perform several important tasks and can have big effects on health when not functioning properly. One key role it plays is filtering the blood of waste products from bodily processes such as converting food to energy. It also helps to maintain the correct balance of water and electrolytes and helps process vitamin D. The urinary tract has a role in the production of hormones that maintain healthy blood pressure, blood cell production and ensures our bodies are absorbing salt correctly.

Common Urinary Tract Issues & Symptoms

We are going to go through the common urinary issues and a few that are not too frequently seen but can be quite serious. One of the most common urinary issues, also well known for humans, is the UTI. It stands for urinary tract infection, but it is used to describe infection of the lower region of the urinary tract, the bladder and urethra.

Another term you may frequently hear if your pet suffers with a urinary issue, is Lower Urinary Tract Disease. This is a general term to describe multiple health problems of both the bladder and urethra. This could include infection, sterile cystitis (inflammation without infection), and the presence or signs of crystal formation.

Specifically for cats, the term FLUTD is used, meaning Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease. It is not a specific condition but a general term to cover a variety of lower urinary tract issues like infections, crystal & stones, and FIC (feline idiopathic cystitis/inflammation). FIC is a very common condition where there is inflammation of the bladder from an unknown cause. This can lead into secondary infections, but the infection is not what causes FIC.

A urinary issue that can go unnoticed for quite some time is bladder stones, though these can be very serious when left untreated. This is when crystals have formed into stones in the bladder. These stones can build up and are more likely to block the opening from the bladder to the urethra. Some stones may even travel down the urethra and get stuck at a narrower opening, completely blocking the flow of urine. This results in the bladder filling up which causes a lot of pain and discomfort for our pets. This is called an obstruction and is an emergency situation as urine cannot exit the body. Since the urine has no where to go it can back up to the kidneys, causing permanent damage or it can rupture the bladder and release toxins into the abdomen, causing the patient to become septic. This helps explain why prevention is so crucial; it can go from completely unnoticed to an emergency situation within a day or two that could possibly result in death. We will get to treatment and prevention information, but identifying the type of stones comes first. The two most common minerals that make up the stones are calcium oxalate and struvite. Now slightly less common but still a concern is ammonium urate crystals and stones.

Sadly, some urinary issues can be explained by bladder cancer, though this is not nearly as common as the above lower urinary tract issues. The most common type is transitional cell carcinoma. It typically develops in the trigone area of the bladder which is where the urine exits into the urethra, and it is very painful. Its placement is what causes the similar symptoms to UTIs and lower urinary tract disease.

The last lower urinary tract issue we will discuss is urinary incontinence. It is most often seen in females, but it can also occur in males as well. It is the leaking or spotting of urine, in large or small volumes and our beloved pets are unaware it is happening. It is the loss of control that can happen while they are asleep/relaxed and may also dribble while standing or walking.

It is very hard to diagnose specifically between these issues just based on symptoms as they share many of the same, apart from incontinence signs. This includes frequent urination, small urine volume, blood in urine, straining to urinate, fever, and urinating in inappropriate places. You may see your pet frequently licking their genital area, hiding, or you may notice subtle, unusual behavioural changes. It is very important to take your pet in to be seen to ensure the correct treatment plan is administered for this specific concern.

Upper Urinary Tract Disease such as infections are much less common but can be very serious and painful for our beloved pets. This is the infection of the kidney or ureters. Kidney issues are not as common and not as high up on the list of concerns for urinary health, but it is still important knowledge to know. This includes issues like kidney failure, kidney infections and kidney stones. If they are experiencing a kidney issue it may be confused with a Lower Urinary Tract Disease because they show the same initial signs. Those experiencing kidney issues, such as kidney failure, may also experience decreased appetite, urinating in large volumes, weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea.

Causes & Predispositions

For many pet owners, the big question is “why did this happen?” Some pet parents will have cats and/or dogs with no history of urinary issues and then they have one pet that experiences reoccurring urinary issues with no obvious explanation. There are many factors that can affect our beloved pets’ urinary tract health, and it may be more than one depending on their circumstances. Age, breed, activity level, stress, diet, drinking habits, injury and underlying conditions can all play a role in the development of urinary tract issues.

Urinary Tract Disease/ConcernPotential CausesThose at Increased Risk
Lower Urinary Tract Disease & Feline Lower Urinary Tract Diseaseo Genetics
o Cystitis (inflammation)
o Diet
o Dehydration
o Imbalance of bacteria
o Poor hygiene
o Stress (FIC)
o Sometimes unknown
o Age – our older pets have a decreased immune system performance and/or grooming issues due to mobility.
·  More likely for bacterial imbalance or inflammation to occur.
o Those suffering from underlying conditions such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and immunocompromising disease
o Those with diabetes mellitus
·  Increased glucose in the urine making the perfect environment for bad bacteria to thrive.
o Poor body condition
·  Are not able to groom themselves thoroughly and may result in bacterial imbalance
UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections)o Abundance of bad bacteria
· From outside the body to urethra and bladder
· Most commonly E. coli
o Can occur secondary to another underlying urinary problem (crystals, stones, or cancers)
o Genetics
o Diet
o Dehydration
o Cystitis (inflammation)
o Poor Hygiene
o Stress 
o Females
· More likely to experience UTIs as the vulva and anus are so close in proximity.
o Pets experiencing gastrointestinal issues.
· More likely to experience diarrhea or loose stools, leading to increased chance of bacteria entering the urethra.
o Age – our older pets have a decreased immune system performance and/or grooming issues due to mobility.
· More likely for bacterial imbalance or inflammation to occur.
o Those suffering from bladder stones/crystals
· Irritation of the bladder and urethral lining can lead to UTIs.
o Those suffering from underlying conditions such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and immunocompromising disease
o Those with diabetes mellitus
· Increased glucose in the urine making the perfect environment for bad bacteria to thrive.
o Poor body condition
· Are not able to groom themselves thoroughly and may result in bacterial imbalance.  
Urinary Incontinenceo Weak Sphincter muscle control (at the bladder exit to urethra) due to:
· Genetics
· Injury
· Cystitis (inflammation)
· Stress
· Cancer
· Hormone imbalance
· Sometimes unknown
o Age – Our older pets have decreased sphincter control.
o High anxiety pets
o Females – more likely to have/develop weak sphincter muscle control.
o Urinary Tract Issue History
· Damage from past urinary tract diseases/concerns
o Urine retention
· Holding urine from stress or fear
Calcium Oxalate Crystals/Stoneso Genetics
o Cystitis (inflammation)
o Diet
o Dehydration
o Imbalance of bacteria
o Poor hygiene
o Stress
o Sometimes unknown
o Age
· Our older pets have a decreased immune system performance.
· Increased levels of calcium in the blood and urine
o Those suffering from underlying conditions such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and immunocompromising disease
o Those with diabetes mellitus
· Increased glucose in the urine
o Urinary Tract Issue History
· Damage from past urinary tract diseases/concerns
o Miniature Schnauzer, Bichon Frise, Lhasa Apsos, Yorkshire Terriers, and Shih Tzus are genetically predisposed.
Struvite Crystals/Stoneso Genetics
o Cystitis (inflammation)
o Diet
o Dehydration
o Imbalance of bacteria
o Poor hygiene
o Stress
o Sometimes unknown
o Age
· Our older pets have a decreased immune system performance.
· Increased risk of infection leads to struvite formation.
o Is the most common stone found in younger pets as well due to hygiene and immune performance.
o Those suffering from underlying conditions such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and immunocompromising disease
o Those with diabetes mellitus
· Increased glucose in the urine
o Urinary Tract Issue History
· Struvite formation is commonly due to a UTI, bacteria produce urease (increases mineral concentration)
· Damage from past urinary tract diseases/concerns
o Miniature Poodles, Pekingese and Dachshunds are genetically predisposed.  
Ammonium Urate Crystals/Stoneso Genetics
o Cystitis (inflammation)
o Diet
o Dehydration
o Imbalance of bacteria
o Poor hygiene
o Stress
o Sometimes unknown
o Age
· Our older pets have a decreased immune system performance.
o Those suffering from underlying conditions such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and immunocompromising disease
o Those with diabetes mellitus
· Increased glucose in the urine
o Urinary Tract Issue History
· Damage from past urinary tract diseases/concerns
o Yorkshire Terrier, Maltese, Pugs, and Miniature Schnauzers are more likely to have a congenital liver condition that increases ammonia in the blood, leading them to be more likely to experience ammonium urate stones.
o They may also be more predisposed if they have inherited a defect in uric acid metabolism, seen in English Bulldogs and Dalmatians.  
Obstructiono Build up of crystals and/or stones blocking the flow of urineo Those with a history of bladder stones and UTIs
o Male cats
· Urethra is long and narrower than females

How Do We Diagnose & Treat

As many of the symptoms and potential causes overlap across different urinary tract diseases and concerns, diagnostic testing is key to pinpoint the problem and offer the most effective treatment. The minimum diagnostics performed for urinary issues is a physical exam and urinalysis. A basic urinalysis checks for specific gravity (ability to concentrate urine), pH levels, presence of bacteria, blood, protein, inflammatory cells, crystals, glucose, and other indicators or urinary tract health and abnormalities.

Your veterinarian may also suggest further testing such as bloodwork, x-rays, or ultrasound to get a better idea of any underlying conditions or structural abnormalities that may be contributing to urinary tract symptoms and concerns. For UTI suspicions they may also recommend a urine culture and sensitivity. This helps to guide antibiotic usage to ensure the treatment is effective and decrease the chance of developing antibiotic resistance.

While waiting for diagnostic results, they may prescribe a pain medication and/or anti-inflammatory, as these conditions can be very painful and stressful for our pets. These help to provide relief and decrease the inflammation of the bladder to aid in healing and discomfort during urination. If your pet is prescribed antibiotics, it is crucial to give the entire course! Do not stop the medication because your fluffy friend is feeling better and back to their normal selves. The infection can return very easily if not taken care of properly and can lead to antibiotic resistance and tougher treatment route down the road.

Treatment for urinary incontinence may be a combination of a few medications as well. The treatment plan can consist of medications for sphincter tone, hormone replacements, and anti-anxiety medications. For severe cases, surgical intervention is sometimes a suitable option too.

If your pet is experiencing or suspected of experiencing an obstruction, confirming with an exam and possibly x-ray will be the first priority before jumping right into treatment. Obstructions will require sedation, flushing, and placement of a catheter to relieve the blockage and pressure on the bladder. This is followed by a few days of hospitalization as the stones shifting and blocking the flow again is possible. This is then followed by treatment to dissolve the stones. If the stones are too large to dissolve, surgical intervention to physically remove the bladder stones may be required.

Many of the urinary tract diseases will include a recheck exam or repeat urinalysis within the treatment plan. This may seem like your veterinarian is over doing it, but it is to ensure any infection, inflammation or signs of stones are truly gone or to ensure there are no negative/unexpected side effects occurring. Severe UTIs may require a longer course of medication. If the symptoms are not improving, your veterinarian may request an additional urinalysis or further testing to ensure there is no underlying condition that is causing the persistent infections. We do not want to leave any underlying condition untreated as the pet is bound to suffer from another secondary health condition.

Prevention

Now you may be saying, “We have identified and treated the problem, but how do we stop it from happening again?” Now prevention is not guaranteed, as some causes are not fully understood, and some pets are prone due to their breed & genetics. About 50% of pets with bladder stones experience a reoccurrence within 2 years. With this said, many researchers have found preventative methods that can be used in combination to decrease the likelihood of a persistent urinary issue or developing a urinary issue to begin with. There are a few areas that we can implement changes to help boost urinary tract health. This includes their diet, hydration, grooming practices, bathroom practices, stress management, and supplements/medications.

Preventative MethodDetails
Dieto High moisture content
o High in protein, low in carbohydrates
· Quality ingredients help limit inflammation.
· High carbohydrate diet is linked with stone formation.
o Helps to prevent the formation of stones and flush out the crystals.
o Foods low in phosphorus  
Hydrationo Adequate water intake dilutes the minerals, toxins and irritants building up in the bladder.
· Flush crystals before they can form.
o Constant access to fresh, clean water
o Entice them with running water or flavour with bone broth.
o Cat water is a great option to help maintain the correct pH balance of the urinary tract.
· Minimizing stone formation and bacterial imbalance.
Grooming & Body Conditiono Maintaining a healthy weight helps to ensure proper grooming practices and a healthy skin & coat.
o Mats keep bacteria from urine and feces close to the urethral opening and leads to increased infections and possibly stone formation.
o Regular brushing and/or bathing can help reduce matting and debris accumulation.
o Pets who are overweight or suffer from arthritis are more likely to need assistance with grooming as they cannot reach the crucial areas.
Bathroomo Dogs may benefit from more frequent bathroom breaks.
o Provide an area to do their business that is a quiet and low traffic area.
o Cleaning litter boxes more frequently
· Helps to monitor any changes and catch the problem early.
o Have an adequate number of boxes/cats.  
Stress Managemento Stress can occur from anxiety over a recent change or addition in the house, boredom, or the inability to perform their natural tasks.
o Work on anxiety coping training methods or medications.
o Ensure cats have high places to relax in.
o Toys, scratching posts, safe space and playtime can help limit their stress levels.
o Feliway, Adaptil pheromone sprays and other calming products can help minimize stress when unavoidable circumstances occur
Supplements & Medicationso Your veterinarian may be able to prescribe calming medications to help ease their stress & anxiety levels.
o They may also be able to provide medication to keep the urethra more open to allow for better urine flow.
o Supplement antioxidants into their diet to support their natural defenses.
· They protect against free-radicals that damage the tissues and can cause chronic urinary issues.
· Free-radicals are produced as a product of inflammation, which occurs from irritants in the bladder.
· Cranberries, blueberries, kale
o Supplement anti-inflammatories into their diet to slow the effects of aging and boost the immune system.
· Reduces pain & discomfort caused by inflammation of the urinary tract.
· It blocks the production of prostaglandins which causes inflammation.
· Turmeric, omega 3s, spirulina

Prevention may seem like extra research, work, and cost, but it helps to avoid the pain & discomfort our pets will experience, making it all worth while. Not to mention it helps to avoid those big vet bills.

If you have any further questions on urinary health and what you can do to boost their health, please see our Healthy Pet Care Specialists that are happy to discuss tips and tricks to maintain a healthy urinary tract.

Pre & Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes

Many of us pet parents have heard of maybe one or all three of these digestive aid supplements, but do we really know what each are and what they do? In order to really understand each of their functions and how they can help, it is important to know a few things about the digestive tract. Normally, there are millions of bacteria that live in the small and large intestines of healthy animals. We call this population of bacteria, microflora. This would be a mix of good and bad bacteria, like pathogens.

The beneficial bacteria help to digest food, maintain intestinal mucosal integrity, participate in metabolism, and stimulate systemic immune function. The mucosal barrier in the intestines they must maintain is responsible for blocking the entry of pathogenic bacteria (the bad bacteria), while also allowing nutrients through to be absorbed. The pathogens enter the body orally and travel through the digestive tract, to avoid getting sick, the intestinal defenses must be in tip top shape to handle the constant exposure of pathogens and foreign substances.

As our pets eat, their pancreas must produce enough digestive enzymes to begin the digestive process in order for the body to absorb the nutrients. The better the food components are broken down the better the absorption and benefits to the pet. Due to many health issues, use of medication, and just aging, the production of the enzymes may be reduced, resulting in decreased digestion, and therefore decreased absorption.

Now that we are a bit more familiar with the roles of enzymes and the microflora on digestion and the digestive tract, we will touch on the three digestive aid supplements.

Let’s dive into more detail of each of these digestive supports.

Prebiotics

Many people are confused about the actions of prebiotics and probiotics and cannot define them separately as they are rarely talked about individually. As we briefly stated before prebiotics are a source of nutrition for the beneficial bacteria, and it is also a fibre source for our companions and have beneficial affects on the body. They can be easily added as a supplement or as a whole food component of their diet.

Prebiotics are normally carbohydrates called oligosaccharides, but noncarbohydrates have also been used as a prebiotic source. Researchers say that there are two carbohydrates that fully meet all the criteria in order to define them as prebiotics, those are oligofructose and inulin.

Oligofructose

Inulin

When using an oral supplement of prebiotics, the ingredient panel should list fibre sources, but it may not specify whether it is inulin or another fructo-oligosaccharides.

We have gone over that prebiotics are the food source for bacteria, but what are the other benefits to the body? Dogs and cats lack the enzyme that is needed to break down prebiotics while passing through the small intestines. This is why it reaches the microflora that help break it down through fermentation, creating their energy source. This process also releases compounds that results in a lower colonic pH and stimulates normal sodium and water absorption from feces. The lower pH inhibits the growth of the pathogenic bacteria. The prebiotics encourage further production of normal cells while preventing pathogenic or transformed cells from multiplying.

If you are using probiotics it is recommended to supplement with prebiotics as well as they do enhance the benefits of probiotics and together, they maintain the balance of healthy bacteria. Many food manufacturers include prebiotics in their food formulations and are listed in the ingredients. Many probiotics include prebiotics, which can be found in the label along with dosing instructions. Each manufacturer may have slightly different directions, so it is always best to contact them with any specific questions. There are no detrimental effects of long-term use of prebiotics, though if too high a level was to be administered, it may result in reduced protein digestibility. In other words, digestive upset such as diarrhea.

Probiotics

They are the beneficial bacteria that help rebuild or maintain a healthy gut biome within our beloved pets. They are known to protect against pathogens, strengthen the immune system, aid in digestion, and help maintain a healthy weight. The gastrointestinal tract is so important for the immune system because 70% of immune cells are located in the gut. Improving gut health is crucial for overall health and longevity. It is key to fighting off infections and resisting disease.

The use of probiotics may vary from pet owner to pet owner. Some may use it every day to ward of side effects of medications or to simply aid in digestion, or only after a bout of diarrhea or antibiotics to help rebuild the healthy microflora in the gut. Probiotic usage ranges from chronic health issues to general maintenance. Here are a few health concerns that probiotics are proven to help with.

Research is still being done on the effects of probiotics in the following conditions, but many pet parents have experienced the following:

The most common reasons for probiotic supplementation are:

There are two main ways the probiotics benefit our pet’s health. Probiotics help control symptoms, like diarrhea, that are caused by a bacterial imbalance or parasitic infection through competitive exclusion. The probiotics out-compete the pathogenic bacteria for nutrients and binding sites on intestinal/immune cells, resulting in an improved immune response. Probiotics also benefit the body by releasing antimicrobial compounds known as bacteriocins which improve the functionality of the epithelial barrier. The epithelial barrier is a protective layer of the intestinal wall that controls what passes through and what is absorbed. This results in better control of the immune response from the mucosal tissue in the gastrointestinal tract.

To truly function as a probiotic, there are a few things the bacterial strain must be able to do:

There are three primary bacterial populations included in supplements that have a proven benefit, and they are lactic acid bacteria. Lactobacilli, bifidobacterial, and enterococci have been shown to be especially beneficial. It is always a good idea to check the label of your probiotic source to ensure it has the correct bacterial populations for dog and cats. It is not recommended to give probiotic supplements made for humans; it may cause you more trouble. You may find probiotics and prebiotics together as mentioned above, as well as in many forms including, powder, capsule, treat, and whole food sources. There are no detrimental effects of long-term use of probiotics, though it is always best to read and follow the directions on the label.

Digestive Enzymes

Though it is not a requirement to add digestive enzymes to your pet’s diet, they are known to aid in digestion, improve immune system performance and their overall health. They help breakdown and process the food molecules for better digestion and absorption to be utilized by the body. Digestive enzymes are present in the body by one of two ways: produced by the body and found in the digestive tract or those found in the food making its way through the digestive tract.

The body produces the most important digestive enzymes in the pancreas. A relatively small organ that is located near the stomach and small intestine. Whether it is through a health condition, medication side effects, or just old age, the pancreas’ ability to produce these enzymes can be diminished and it could use a little extra help.

The most common enzymes included in supplements and produced naturally by the body are:

They can also include other digestive enzymes such as:

Researchers find that if the pet is not suffering from pancreatic or digestive issues, you may not experience any difference in digestion with or without digestive enzyme supplementation. On the other hand, it can be very beneficial for pets with pancreatitis or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) as the pancreas cannot function as well as is needed. Pancreatitis is described as inflammation of the pancreas; it can be chronic or acute. The symptoms you may see in your pet if they are experiencing pancreatitis are lethargy, painful abdomen, restlessness, lack of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea (blood may be present). EPI is a disease where the pancreas does not produce enzymes as efficiently or possibly not at all. It is more common in German Shepherds but has been seen in other breeds and can be confirmed by a blood test. Symptoms our beloved pets would experience are being underweight but always hungry and constant, smelly diarrhea. A few other symptoms or conditions they may help with are diarrhea, weight loss, flatulence, bad breath, irritable bowel syndrome (IBD), coprophagia (eating their own poop), leaky gut syndrome, acid reflex, and indigested food in their poop.

There are many areas where your pets may experience some benefits after providing digestive enzymes. Since they aid in digestion, they also improve absorption and nutrient utilization and therefore increased energy. They also provide immune system support and can improve joint comfort and motion. It has shown to help maintain normal cholesterol levels and a healthy weight. Lastly, its ability to reduce digestive upsets like constipation, bloating, heartburn, gas, and skin reactions.

Just like pre & probiotics, digestive enzymes can come in many forms and directions may vary between products and manufacturers. Always ready the label for directions and storage or contact the manufacturer with any questions. Though effects typically wear off within 24 hours, always follow dosage instructions and do not double dose. High doses can result in ulcers in the mouth, vomiting and diarrhea. If your pet suffers from food allergies, always check the enzyme source to know which to avoid as they can cause an allergic reaction. Many digestive enzymes are sourced from animals, and you may see facial swelling, hives or difficulty breathing if they have an allergy to that protein.

For some pets it may be best to wait and discuss with their veterinarian prior to supplementing with digestive enzymes. If they fit under the following description, please seek veterinarian advice:

There are some worries in the Veterinarian world that continuous supplementation may result in dependency, the pancreas will reduce production and not meet requirements on its own. Since there are so little studies done on the topic in pets so far, this has not been studied or proven but it is always best to take caution and do your research before deciding to use digestive enzymes.

Whole Food Sources

Many of you may be thinking that your beloved furry family members could really benefit from prebiotics, probiotics, and/or digestive enzymes but how should you add them? We are all individuals, including our pets, and some may not have any troubles administering a powder or capsule format, others really enjoy the convenience of a treat format that fools them. Many enjoy incorporating whole food options into their pet’s diet to include a digestive aid. Below are a few examples on how you can include prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive enzymes into your pets’ diet.

Digestive AidFood Source
PrebioticsKelp
Chicory Root
Green Tripe
Beet Pulp
Flaxseed
Oats
Pumpkin
Yucca Extract
Wheat Grass
Fermented Vegetables (Leafy Greens and Root Vegetables)  
ProbioticsGreen Tripe
Kefir
Raw Goat’s Milk
Fermented Vegetables  
Digestive EnzymesGreen Tripe
Kefir Raw
Goat’s Milk
Papaya (no seeds or skin)
Raw Honey/Bee Pollen
Spinach
Tomatoes
Apple Cider Vinegar

As always, if you have any questions about the use of digestive supplements or how to get started, our Healthy Pet Care Specialists are always happy to help.

Dangerous Plants for Pets

Plants can be a wonderful addition to the home and garden. Not only do they help enhance the beauty of the home, but they can improve air quality, boost moods, and limit feelings of stress. Some of these beneficial plants can also affect our pet’s health in negative ways and in some situations may even be fatal.

Us humans typically don’t think about eating our plants and the consequences but unfortunately, licking, smelling, and tasting their surroundings is how our companions get familiar with new additions to their home. Even though some poisonous plants give off a pungent smell that deters our curious critters, we cannot rely on our pets to know what is dangerous and stay away from them, many are just too investigative to resist.

We don’t want you to worry! We are going over the common indoor and outdoor plants that are toxic to our pets, some safe and gorgeous alternatives, and what you should do if your beloved furry family members show signs of toxicity.

Poisonous Plants for Pets

We will go through different types of plants, flowers and bulbs, shrubs, trees, herbs, fruit & vegetables, and succulents, their identifiers, and their toxicity symptoms.

Garden Flowers & Bulbs

PlantPhotoToxic ComponentDetails
Amaryllis Lycorineo   Like the above examples, they resemble lilies but are not close relatives.
o   They have large trumpet-shaped flowers that come in a variety of colours and can be two-toned and striped as well.
o   If consumed, it can result in excessive drooling, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, and decreased appetite.
Autumn Crocus/ Colchicum Colchicineo   They have cup-like blossoms that are pink or purple, typically white inside.
o   If ingested they can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, severe vomiting, kidney and liver damage, respiratory failure, bone marrow suppression, and shock.
BegoniaCalcium oxalate crystalso   Dark green or bronze leaves with single or double flowers of white, pink, red and bicolour.
o   If ingested they can cause intense burning of the mouth, throat lips and tongue. It comes with excessive drooling, swelling of the throat and difficulty swallowing.
Chrysanthemum Lactones, sesquiterpene, pyrethrins, and other potential irritants.o   The flowers have varying petal arrangements from daisy-like to pompoms and can range in colour from white and yellow to deep burgundies and purples.
o   When consumed you may see vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drooling, loss of coordination and dermatitis may develop with skin contact.
CyclamenSaponinso   They have dark green leaves with white veins or blotches and solitary flowers of pink, white, red, and purple.
o   If ingested, it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drooling, abnormal heart rhythms, seizures and even death.
DaffodilLycorine and other alkaloids.o   They are identified as a single flower on a green stalk, usually yellow or white petals surrounding a trumpet.
o   The petals, bulbs, and even the water in the vase is toxic.
o   They may experience excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory distress, low blood pressure, convulsions, and irregular heart rhythms.
FoxgloveDigitalis and other cardiac glycosideso   It is a pinkish purple, funnel-shaped flowers that can grow up to 2m tall.
o   All parts of the plant or toxic from the seeds to the petals.
o   You may see frequent urination, excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, cardiac failure and may even result in death.
GeraniumGeraniol and linaloolo   It’s identified by its fragrance, green leaves, and rose-coloured flowers. Flowers may be bicoloured.
o   Ingestion can cause lethargy, low blood pressure, loss of appetite and skin contact can result in skin rashes.
HyacinthLactones and other alkaloidso   A plant with a lot of small flowers grouped together closely around the stem. Usually blue, white, or pink.
o   The whole plant is toxic, but the bulbs are the most concentrated.
o   It can cause irritation of the mouth and esophagus, intense vomiting and diarrhea, difficulty breathing, increased heart rate and tremors.
IrisIrisino   Has radiant, upright six-pedaled flowers. Traditionally purple but can be seen in a variety of vibrant colours.
o   Ingesting any part of the plant can cause excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. Direct contact with skin can result in skin rashes.
Lenten RoseSaponins and glycosideso   Most known for rich green foliage and cup like flowers with light yellow-green to red petals.
o   When ingested it can cause colic, depression, diarrhea, vomiting, breathing difficulties, seizures, heart arrhythmia, and even death.
LilyCalcium oxalate crystalso   Normally feature six petal-like segments that can appear on a variety of shapes and colours.
o   The petals, stems, and even the water in the vase is toxic.
o   Toxicity symptoms can become quite serious from excessive drooling, loss of appetite and vomiting to lethargy, and kidney failure.
o   There are so many different varieties with some being much more toxic than others, but it is best to stay away from them all.
Day LiliesCalcium oxalate crystalso   They are similar to lilies, but stems are shorter, and flowers normally grow from a grass-like foliage at ground level.
o   These are extremely toxic for cats with similar symptoms to lilies, and it typically only causes gastrointestinal upset in dogs.
Calla LiliesCalcium oxalate crystalso   The plant has tall stems and tubular shaped flowers with pointed tips and finger-like spadix at the center.
o   Symptoms are like lily poisoning and can range from mild to severe. They also release a substance that burns and irritates the mouth and stomach.
Lily of the ValleyCardiac glycosideso   Identified by its nodding white bell-shaped flowers that cluster on a leafless stalk.
o   They may experience diarrhea, vomiting, a drop-in heart rate, and cardiac arrhythmia.
TulipsTulipalin A and Bo   Best known for long, broad, parallel leaves and cup shaped flowers that can be found in a wide range of colours.
o   The whole plant is poisonous, but it is most concentrated in the bulbs.
o   They can cause irritation of the mouth and esophagus, vomiting, excessive drooling, diarrhea, depression, and in severe cases, increased heart rate and irregular breathing.

Shrubs

PlantPhotoToxic ComponentDetails
Azaleas & Rhododendrons Grayanotoxin o   Azaleas have funnel-liked flowers, one flower per stem. The plant is so filled with stems it appears to be covered in the flowers.
o   Rhododendrons have bell-shaped flowers that grow in clusters and have fewer stout stems.
o   Entire genus is extremely dangerous, just a few leaves can cause serious issues.
o   When eaten, both can cause vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, paralysis, cardiac failure and even death.
Castor Beanricino   Toxic component: ricin.
o   It can have glossy green leaves, black and purple, or a metallic red with white veins. Flowers are bright red with feathery branches.
o   When consumed it can cause severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, seizures, coma, and even death.
DahliaPhototoxic polyacetyleneo   They are bushy plants with big, gorgeous flowers that come in every colour of the rainbow.
o   They can cause skin irritation, sensitivity to the sun, vomiting, and diarrhea.
HollySaponino   The varieties range in toxicity, though it is best to avoid them all.
o   The have dark green leaves, spikes, and bright red berries.
o   They may experience excessive drooling, head shaking, irritation of the mouth, vomiting, diarrhea, and the spikey leaves can cause gastrointestinal injury.
HydrangeaCyanogenic glycosideso   They are shrubs with flowers in round or umbrella-shaped clusters which colours range from white, pink, blue and purple based on the acidity of the soil.
o   All parts of the plant are toxic, but it is most concentrated in the leaves and flowers.
o   If eaten, pets may experience excessive drooling, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea.
IvySaponins and calcium oxalate crystalso   It is a vine rather than a shrub but is used frequently in landscaping.
o   Can cause irritation and burning of mouth, throat, tongue, and lips. Excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing and swallowing may also occur.
OleanderCardiac glycosideso   They have long, narrow, dark green leaves. Their showy flowers are funnel-shaped and appear in clusters that range from white and peach to deep burgundy.
o   All parts of the plant are toxic.
o   Ingestion can cause extreme vomiting, abnormal heart rate, seizures, hypothermia and even death.
PeonyPaeonolo   They have green leaves and flowers with fluffy petals that creates a full sphere in a variety of colours.
o   If ingested in large amounts it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and lethargy.
Umbrella PlantCalcium oxalate crystalso   They have long, green, oval-shaped leaves that droop down resembling an umbrella.
o   If our pets were to consume it, it can result is burning and irritation of the mouth, lips and tongue, drooling, vomiting, and difficulty swallowing.
Verbena ShrubTriterpenoido   The leaves are simple while the five-petaled flowers are small and clustered into a spike.
o   The berries are the most concentrated, but the whole plant is toxic.
o   Ingestion can cause vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, excessive urination, jaundice, and liver damage.
WisteriaLectin, wisterin glycosideso   It is a climbing shrub with pendants of scented flowers, typically blue or violet.
o   If eaten it can cause a burning mouth sensation, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and depression.

Trees

PlantPhotoToxic ComponentDetails
Cherry, Plum, Apricot,
Peach, Apple,
and Avocado
Tree
Cyanogenic glycosideso   The pits and seeds are a choking hazard.
o   Our pets are finding the fruit once already fallen to the ground.
o   Ingestion can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, trouble breathing, seizures, and cardiac arrest.
Chinaberry
Tree
Melia toxins A and Bo   It is a multibranched tree with dark brown bark and lacy, dark green leaves.
o   Bark, leaves, berries, and flowers are all toxic.
o   It may cause vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, lowered heart rate, shock, and seizures.
Buckeye (Horse Chestnut)
Tree
Saponin and glycosideso   It has a rounded canopy and dark grey, thick bark and they have shiny, mahogany nuts with an eye at one end.
o   Ingestion can result in vomiting, diarrhea, dilated pupils, seizures, and even a coma.
EucalyptusEucalyptolo   Many varieties and can be classified as a tree or shrub.
o   It is popular for its mind-soothing fragrance.
o   If enough leaves are ingested, the pet may experience excessive drooling, vomiting, decreased appetite and diarrhea.
Walnut, Pecan, Hickory & Macadamia Nut TreeJugloneo   The tree itself is not dangerous, but the nuts that fall to the ground are.
o   The nuts also decay very quickly and produce mold.
o   Eating the nuts can cause our pets to experience vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and seizures.
Yew TreeTaxineso   All varieties are toxic.
o   They are best known as a popular holiday decoration with bright green leaves and red berries.
o   They can cause vomiting, tremors, difficulty breathing and seizures.

Herbs, Fruit & Vegetables

PlantPhotoToxic ComponentDetails
MarijuanaTetrahydrocannabinol (THC)o   Their stems are thin with thin green leaves and usually have five to seven branches. Their flowers are small, green and grow in clusters.
o   Ingestion by our pets can cause depression of the central nervous system resulting in loss of coordination, vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate and seizures.
Onion Disulfideso   All varieties are toxic, including chives.
o   If our pets ingest a large amount, whether over time or all at once, they can damage their red blood cells, causing anemia.
ParsleyFuranocoumarinso   An herb grown for its flavourful and has dark green leaves.
o   If consumed in large quantities, or consistently over a longer period, it can cause photosensitization, making them more susceptible to sun damage and sun burns.
TomatoSolanineo   Their green vine and unripen fruit can cause toxicity symptoms.
o   When eaten it can cause drooling, loss of appetite, dilated pupils, vomiting, diarrhea, and a slowed heart rate.

Succulents & Other Houseplants

PlantPhotoToxic ComponentDetails
Aloe Vera Saponins and anthraquinoneso   The gel itself is safe but the thick, spikey, plant material surrounding it can cause toxicity symptoms.
o   Ingestion of the plant can cause swelling of the throat, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe abdominal pain.
Birds of ParadiseTannins and hydrocyanic acido   Leaves are paddle-shaped attached to an upright stalk, and they have boldly coloured blooms that resemble birds in flight.
o   Ingestion can cause eye discharge, vomiting, diarrhea, and laboured breathing.
Chandelier PlantCardiac glycosideso   They have grey-green foliage with brown-red spots and dangling orange flowers in clusters.
o   If eaten it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, drooling and abnormal heart rate.
DumbcaneCalcium oxalate crystals and proteolytic enzymeso   All varieties are toxic.
o   They are resilient and easy to care for, can grow up to 6 feet tall and have big bushy leaves that are yellow at the vein and turn to darker green as it spreads outward.
o   It will cause irritation and intense burning of the mouth, tongue and lips, excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing, and vomiting.
Elephant’s EarCalcium oxalate crystalso   These house plants are well liked as they are easy to care for and have big leaves with bold vein patterns.
o   When eaten it can lead to excessive drooling, swollen tongue, eyes and lips, vomiting, diarrhea, and kidney failure.
FicusFicino   The toxin is incorporated in the sap, all parts of the plant are toxic.
o   Ingestion of the plant will cause mouth pain, drooling, diarrhea, vomiting and loss of appetite.
o   Contact with the skin can cause irritation and sensitivity to the sun.
JadeSaponinso   Their fleshy leaves can be round or oval and can be dark green, grey-blue or edged in red. Mature plants will flower in the winter.
o   If ingested it can cause vomiting, loss of coordination, difficulty breathing, depression, and seizures.
Moss RoseCalcium oxalate crystalso   Its green leaves are fleshy and narrow while its five-petaled flowers come in red, orange, yellow, white, and other pastel colours.
o   If ingested it can lead to drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, kidney failure and even death.
PoinsettiaSaponinso   Usually seen around the holidays with dark green leaves with coloured bracts ranging in red, pink, and white.
o   It can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drooling, eye irritation and skin irritation.
Sago PalmCycasino   Every part is extremely toxic especially the seeds.
o   They have dark green feather-like leaves resembling a miniature palm tree, with red and orange oval-shaped seeds.
o   They may experience vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, nosebleeds, liver damage and may even lead to death.
Snake PlantSaponinso   They have sharply pointed, sword-like leaves that are dark green with light grey-green stripes.
o   If chewed on or ingested it can cause vomiting and diarrhea, swollen mouth and throat, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
ZZ PlantCalcium oxalate crystalso   They have rich green, wand-shaped stems with fleshy, oval-shaped leaves.
o   It can cause swelling of the eyes, irritation of the skin and mucous membranes, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Safe Plants for Pets

PlantDetails
African Daisy o   A great alternative to moss rose.
o   They prefer lots of sun and weekly watering.
o   Flower consists of showy outer petals in bright colours and a compact eye in the center.
African Violeto   A great alternative for chrysanthemums.
o   Bloom beautifully when in indirect sunlight.
o   They are compact plants with dark green, thick leaves and violet-like flowers.
Baby Tearso   Needs plenty of water and filtered light.
o   A dense, delicate mat of fine round, or bean-shaped leaves.
Basil, Rosemary, Cilantro & Thymeo   Love direct light and lots of water.
o   Basil has rounded, slightly cupped, green leaves. Has a sweet, pungent, slightly spicy flavour.
o   Rosemary repels mosquitoes like eucalyptus. Is a fragrant shrub with needle-like leaves. Has notes of evergreen, citrus, lavender, pine, sage, pepper, and mint.
o   Cilantro is a great substitute for parsley. Looks like parsley with its delicate, bright green leaves.
o   Thyme is a shrub with slender, wiry, spreading leaves. Has an earthy, minty, and slightly lemony flavour.
Bird’s Nest Ferno   Thrive in low light and varying humidity, like in bathrooms.
o   Known for its unique squiggly, green fronds.
Boston Ferno   They like cool spots with indirect sunlight and high humidity.
o   Has tight clumped, arching, feather-like fronds that are typically pale green.
Bromeliado   Require plenty of air flow and indirect sunlight.
o   They have multicoloured leave sin red, green, purple, orange, and yellow.
Calathea Orbifoliao   Fantastic replacement for elephant’s ear.
o   Requires partial shade and regular watering.
o   It has beautiful, large, round leaves striped with pale silver-green.
Camelliaso   A colourful replacement for azaleas and tulips.
o   Plant in an area that has sun in the morning, shade at night.
o   They are small shrubs with glossy green leaves and large flowers with many overlapping petals of white, yellow, pink, or red.
Chinese Money Planto   A great replacement for Devil’s Ivy.
o   Prefer indirect sunlight in a warm spot, with regular watering.
o   Green shoots grow up ending in a single saucer-shaped leaf.
Date Palmo   Do not over water and keep in bright, indirect sunlight.
o   Has a crown of graceful green pinnate leaves.
Freesiao   A fantastic replacement for daffodils.
o   They prefer full sun and regular watering.
o   They have a sweet-spicy fragrance and can come in a variety of colours and bicolour patterns. Their funnel-shaped flowers grow in dense clusters on the slender stems.
Friendship Planto   Prefers moderate to bright, indirect sunlight and thorough watering.
o   They have deeply textured, rich green leaves with bronze-silver veins.
Gloxiniao   They thrive in bright rooms with indirect sunlight.
o   Flowers come in bright shades of purple, pink, red, or blue.
Haworthia Retusao   Great alternative for a jade plant.
o   Forms star-shaped rosettes with its fleshy leaves.
o   Prefers indirect sunlight and little watering.
Orchido   Great alternative to lilies and amaryllis.
o   Do best in indirect light and warmer, more humid rooms.
o   They have wide-spreading, broad, flat petals that can come in a variety of colours.
Parlor Palmo   Great alternative for sago palm.
o   Slow growers that prefer indirect sunlight.
o   A single-trunk palm with arching green leaves comprised of narrow leaflets.
Petuniaso   Terrific replacement for Wisteria.
o   Require regular watering and to be in full sun.
o   They have funnel-shaped flowers of five petals, come in a variety of colours and patterns.
Polka Dot Planto   They need bright, indirect sunlight and moderate amount of watering,
o   Normally oval-shaped leaves with pink base colour and green spots but can be seen in a variety of spotted patterns.
Ponytail Palmo   Easy to care for and do not need much water.
o   Long green, feathery leaves drape down from the stem, resembling a ponytail.
Prayer Planto   Great replacement for dumbcane.
o   Prefers bright, indirect sunlight and little watering.
o   Leaves are pale green to purple-green and fold at night to resemble praying hands.
Rattlesnake Planto   Large, green, oval-shaped leaves with a plum-purple underside.
o   Best if placed away from direct light.
Snapdragono   A great alternative to hyacinths.
o   They prefer full sun but will tolerate partial shade.
o   They have tubular flowers that come in a variety of colours from pastels to brights.
Spider Planto   Fantastic replacement for a snake plant.
o   Incredibly resilient and are great air purifiers.
o   Long leaves that are either solid green or have a lengthwise stipe of white or yellow.
Staghorn Ferno   Can thrive in both direct and indirect sunlight with little watering.
o   Its fronds are meant to resemble split antlers from a deer or elk.
Venus Flytrapo   Considered low maintenance, needs a few hours of direct sunlight.
o   Each leaf has a flat stalk that ends with a trap, the trap has a reddish centre lined with teeth.
Watermelon Peperomiao   Like to be kept out of direct sunlight and do not need much watering.
o   Named due to the shape and colour of its leaves resembling a watermelon rind.
Zebra Planto   Fantastic alternative for aloe vera.
o   They like direct sunlight and light watering.
o   They have dark green leaves with distinctive zebra-like stripes.
Zinniaso   A fantastic replacement for hydrangeas.
o   They prefer full sun exposure and regular watering.
o   They have stiff green stems and bountiful flowers, can be in any colour but blue.

My Pet Ate a Toxic Plant – What do I do?

The most common mistake pet parents make is waiting to see if the pet becomes ill before contacting their veterinarian. It is always better to be safe rather than sorry. If you believe your pet has eaten a possibly poisonous plant, please follow the below steps.

  1. Try to identify the plant as best you can. Take photos, a sample or sample of any vomit from the pet.
  2. Contact your veterinarian.
  3. Contact Pet Poison Helpline. (Veterinarian may call on your behalf)
  4. Do not induce vomiting unless instructed to do so by the veterinarian. Specific poisons require specific treatment, vomiting can make some cases worse.

We hope with this list, pet parents can feel more confident and comfortable with the plants they bring into the home and garden. We can still enjoy plants and their benefits while also making sure our pets can enjoy them too. We all love our curious critters and do all we can to keep them happy and healthy. Keep up the great work!


Marketing Lead, Customer Engagement

Taylor completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Biology at the University of Guelph and has built up experience within the pet nutrition industry and the animal medical field. She has a passion to share all insights on pet nutrition and health for all of our furry (feathery, scaly or otherwise) friends.

Environmental Allergies and Food Sensitivities

Is your pet constantly licking or biting at its paws? Do you feel like your pet always has an ear infection? Are they relentlessly scratching all over their body? Your pet may be dealing with an allergy. Now, since these symptoms can also be seen with many other health issues, it makes allergies one of the hardest ailments to diagnose in our furry friends. We are going to breakdown all we need to know about allergies and food sensitivities and what we can do to give our beloved family members some relief.

When the immune system enters a state of hypersensitivity after coming across a specific substance, the allergen, this would be classified as an allergic reaction. Now many pet parents think “my furry friend has been on the same food it’s entire life and never had a problem before, how can it be an allergy?”, which makes sense. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The immune system becomes sensitive to an allergen after being exposed on multiple occasions. It may take a couple months, or even years, to become sensitive, and over time it leads to the over-reaction of the immune system, the allergic reaction.

Allergies are complex immune reactions involving protein molecules from the allergen attaching to antibodies in the blood stream. Those antibodies attach themselves and the allergen molecule to a mast cell. The mast cell then releases compounds such as histamines, which cause the typical inflammation, swelling, and itchiness you see. The constant itching, no matter what the allergen is, always poses a risk of a secondary bacterial infection. You may also see symptoms like reoccurring ear infections, loose stool, vomiting, bloating along with the skin issues we typically associate with allergic reactions in dogs and cats. Allergies usually do not appear the first 6 months of age and seem to develop more often once the pet is over 2 years old.

Allergies can be classified in many ways, but we are going to group them based on the allergen. The types of allergies we will be covering are environmental & food allergies. The easiest way to treat an allergy is to remove the allergen from the environment or diet. Your pet may not be suffering from just one type of allergy, it may be a combination and therefore may require a combination approach to treatment as well.

Environmental Allergies

Environmental allergies are unfortunately not always easily avoidable, due to the allergens being a part of everyday life, such as grass, dust, or mold. They are commonly referred to as atopic dermatitis. Many are seasonal allergens, and you may only see symptoms in the spring and summer while others can be year long. The most common environmental allergens are tree pollens, grass pollens, ragweed, molds, mildew, and dust mites. These allergic reactions are commonly seen with itchy skin, so they may be licking their paws, rubbing their face, and scratching areas like the underarms. Since many of these allergens are hard to avoid, treatment may be necessary to ease the symptoms your pets are feeling. There are four common types of treatments for atopic dermatitis.

  1. Anti-inflammatory therapy – Helps to ease symptoms through corticosteroids or antihistamines that are meant to block the allergic reaction. Medications your veterinarian may suggest includes Apoquel, a daily oral medication and Cytopoint which is a long-acting injection.
  2. Shampoo therapy – This is frequent bathing with hypoallergenic shampoos. It helps to soothe itchy inflamed skin and rinses off any allergens on the coat that could be absorbed by the skin. It is a great idea to pair it with a hypoallergenic conditioner to avoid over drying the skin and coat.
  3. Desensitization therapy – An “allergy shot” is administered weekly, which contains small amounts of the antigen (molecule of the allergen). This approach is restricted to those that have identified the allergen through allergy testing. The repeated dosing is meant to reprogram or desensitize the pet’s immune system. Success can vary, though approximately 50% of patients see a significant improvement and out of the remaining 50%, half see a decrease in the need for other therapies.
  4. Nutritional therapy – You may be thinking, “this is not a food allergy so what does nutrition have to do with it?” Some diets have been formulated to reduce the itchy sensation caused by atopic dermatitis. It includes ingredients that improve skin and coat and reduces the inflammatory response.

Some pet parents see significant results with just one approach, but many find their solution by combining multiple of the above therapies. Just like humans, each pet is different and will respond differently to the treatments. Try not to feel defeated as it may take some trial and error.

Food Allergies and Sensitivities

A food allergy or hypersensitivity can develop to any protein or carbohydrate. Most reactions commonly develop in response to proteins: beef, chicken, lamb, eggs, dairy products, and soy are commonly associated with food allergies in pets. They can develop at anytime in a pet’s life; it is not related to their first exposure to the ingredient.

A food allergy involves the immune system having a reaction meanwhile a food sensitivity does not involve an immune system response, but more so the digestive tract’s ability to digest the ingredient. Typically, the food allergy symptoms are very similar to those of environmental allergies, while a food sensitivity commonly shows more gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, loose stools, vomiting, and bloating.

Food allergies normally do not respond to corticosteroids or other medical treatments like atopic dermatitis. Many pet parents are very focused on differentiating food allergies and food sensitivities but when it comes to the best treatment, they are the same, you want to eliminate the reaction-causing-ingredient from the diet. How do we figure out what to exclude from the diet?

Diagnosing Allergies

Since allergy symptoms overlap with many other illnesses, your veterinarian may want to rule out other conditions before focusing on allergies. They may recommend allergy testing to confirm the diagnosis and identify the allergen. It is important to remember not all types of allergy testing are the same and it is not always possible to determine the allergen accurately. The use of blood samples for allergy testing is proven to be highly accurate with insect or environmental allergies but studies have shown it is not reliable for food reactions in dogs and cats. Allergy testing through a blood sample at your veterinarian office can be quite pricey and seeing a veterinary dermatologist for skin testing under mild sedation may not fit in everyone’s budget either. This has led to the growth of allergy testing through saliva or hair follicle testing. This can provide some accuracy in identifying environmental allergens, but recent studies have shown it not to be the most accurate in diagnosing a food allergen. So, keep in mind when using these methods to diagnose a food allergy to take the results with a grain of salt, as false positives and false negatives are possible.

Elimination Diets

Now the best way to identify a food allergy or sensitivity is an elimination diet. We can’t lie, these are not known to be convenient and takes a commitment from the pet parent. Those who have gone through an elimination diet will tell you the results are well worth any possible frustration it may cause you. Your pet(s) will be thanking you and will be so much happier. It can be broken down into a few steps:

  1. Find a protein they have never been exposed to before. Start with making a food history, listing all the different proteins they have come across in their diet and treats. This includes anything they may have only received once, even if a small amount and it could have been years ago that they were exposed. This can be fresh or raw but should be pure with no other protein sources, spices, or any other additives. Many brands have made it easy with “pure” or “basic” formulas for this purpose.

  2. Find a carbohydrate they have never been exposed to before. Again, it is best to write a food history to keep track of what they have been exposed to and therefore, should not be included in the elimination diet. The source must be fresh, not pre-cooked and not seasoned. It should be boiled with nothing else added to the water and can be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge.

  3. Proportion of the diet should be 50/50. Once you have made the mix of equal parts meat and carbohydrate, you want to start with feeding 2 cups of the mixture per 20lbs body weight per day. The fresh food has a high moisture content, and you may notice them drinking less water as a result, depending on their previous diet. This mix is also highly digestible compared to more processed diets and you will notice that your pet is not defecating as frequently as before nor the same quantity. It is recommended to start “cold turkey” and start feeding the elimination diet without any of the past food included though some pets are pickier and may require a gradual switch over a week’s time. Remember that the elimination diet only starts once completely switched over.

  4. Exclusively feed the diet. It is very important that they only consume water and the elimination diet, or you may invalidate the trial. That means no treats, no human food, and no supplements. You may need to switch your heartworm/flea/tick prevention if using a flavoured oral form over to a topical form until the diet is finished. Speak with your veterinarian if your pet is on any other flavoured medications. It is best to feed the diet for at least 12 weeks, documenting any symptoms and their severity each day, before moving onto the next step.

  5. Reintroducing ingredients one by one. If the symptoms have significantly improved or even cleared up entirely, we can start reintroducing foods, one every 2 weeks. Keep an eye out for any reactions and document them and stop feeding the ingredient and give the body a chance to recover before adding the next food item.  It may take multiple days or a couple weeks for symptoms to appear. If there is not a reaction you can add the food item to the list of approved ingredients. Finding one ingredient that causes a reaction does not mean the trial is over, they may be allergic to many ingredients. It is best to only do an elimination diet once and find all the culprits.

If the symptoms have improved some but not completely it is in your best interest to select a new carbohydrate and protein source and start again as the pet may have an allergy to the selected ingredients. Keep in mind that the symptoms may not completely resolve if the pet is also suffering from environmental allergies, and combination treatment may be needed.

If there are other pets in the household, it is important to ensure that the symptomatic pet does not have access to their food.

Natural Remedies and Supplements

What is great about the pet industry is that you always have options. You can go the medication route from you veterinarian or with the natural remedies or a combination of both. It’s about what works for you and your furry family members. We have talked about medical treatments you can receive at the veterinarian, but now we will dive into some product types we can provide to help ease any symptoms as the allergens are not always avoidable.

A great supplement for pets with allergies as well as many other skin issues is an Omega 3 and 6 supplement, aka fatty acid supplement. It can be found in many forms with the most popular being fish oils and tripe. Not only do they help boost the effectiveness of antihistamines and steroids, but it also helps improve the health of the skin and coat. The skin and coat are the first layer of defense of the immune system and keeping it healthy results in better overall health and protection. In addition, it helps soothe the common skin reactions such as the itchy sensation.

It may be surprising to some that a digestive aid like probiotics can help immensely when it comes to allergies. Not only does it help keep the balance of good and bad bacteria, but it is said that 70% of the immune system is in the gut. The immune cells in the gut interact with the diverse bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract which in turn can have an influence on how the immune system responds.

Another option to help boost the immune system is including antioxidants in their diet whether by whole foods or an allergy supplement. Some whole food examples include blueberries, cranberries, broccoli, spinach, and kale. Another antioxidant supplement is bee pollen, as with many of the other examples it has high amounts of Vitamin E and Quercetin compound which acts as a neutral antihistamine. They can be quite beneficial for minimizing skin reactions and other allergy symptoms.

An additional ingredient to look for in an allergy supplement is Turmeric. It is best known for the vibrant colour it provides for curries. The main component of turmeric is curcumin which has several health benefits. One benefit is its use as a very powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, which can help with reactions of the skin and gastrointestinal tract reactions that can result from allergies.

If you feel lost, you can ask one of our Healthy Pet Care Specialist to suggest one of the many allergy support supplements where they have done all the work for you.  Each takes careful thought in incorporating their perfect mix of anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, and antioxidants to offer your pet some relief from their symptoms. When it comes to cats it is always a good idea to confirm all ingredients are safe for them as well as their dog friends.

In all scenarios, it is hard for there to be an immediate fix for allergies. It may take some trial and error on what works for your pet and their type of allergies. It can be a big commitment to stick with it and be consistent, but it is well worth the effort. The relief your pet(s) will feel will be a reward for all.

Flea and Tick Prevention

As the snow thaws and we start to see the grass it is also flea and tick season. While fleas can be around year long, we start to see more ticks once the temperatures are around 4°C. Ticks can typically be found in tall grass and wooded areas, whereas fleas are in shady leafy debris piles and underneath decks, but also inside homes in the carpet and under furniture. When either insect bites it can lead to infection or the transmission of diseases. Fleas commonly cause tapeworm infections and skin infections referred to as flea dermatitis. There are many tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis and more. These diseases and infections are zoonotic and can transfer to humans.

Showing the Flea life cycle. From fleas laying eggs, the eggs becoming flea larvae and then into flea pupae before becoming an adult flea, completing the cycle.

Prevention Methods & Treatment

Collars

When it comes to flea collars, make sure to read the package as some only kill fleas or adult fleas and ticks while others also kill flea eggs. The duration of effectiveness may vary between product as well, while some protect against fleas for 5 months and ticks for 4 months, some repel both for up to 7 months. It can be kept on during bath or swimming, but this may result in you having to replace it sooner. Never replace more often than 3 or 4 months, dependent on product. The collar must be applied tight enough to have skin contact or it may not be as effective.

Topical Treatments

Some topical treatments for pets only offer protection against fleas and/or flea eggs but not ticks, so keep that in mind if you need tick protection as well. These types of treatments usually last four weeks.

Straightforward application: part the hair between the shoulder blades as they are unable to lick off the product here, squeeze contents directly onto the skin. Topical treatments should be left to dry for at least 2 days before bathing or swimming. They should not be applied to already irritated, inflamed or broken skin.

These topical treatments are based on the pets’ weight so also make sure you get the correct product for the current weight of your pet. These products are also available specifically for cat and dog, never give a cat a product meant for a dog and vice versa. Be extra careful in multiple pet households as they may be able to lick the product off each other or transfer the product which may be a concern for overdosing. Some side effects that can be much worse with overdosing are anxiousness, itchiness, gastrointestinal upset, and redness or irritation to the skin.

Shampoos

The benefit of the shampoo is that the fastest way to kill fleas and ticks is to expose them directly to a wet insecticide. The product is applied directly to the coat, massaging in to reach the skin to cover all areas the fleas or ticks would be. This will take care of adult fleas, flea eggs, and ticks for up to 4 weeks. The products usually include soothing ingredients like oatmeal, coconut oil, lanolin, and aloe to help with the sensitive or dry skin that sometimes results. The shampoo should not be used on broken or already irritated skin. Treatment once a month is the general suggestion, but always read the labels and directions.

Sprays

There are more natural products like repellent sprays that do not include the harsh chemicals or smells that may appear in some of the previous options. Many sprays use essential oils such as citronella and tea tree oil, which can be harmful for cats, so always check the label to ensure it is safe to use for both cats and dogs if applicable. Typically, these are not safe for pets under 12 weeks of age. This option is meant to provide protection without the skin irritation. Some repellant sprays protect against adult fleas, flea eggs and ticks while some only protect against one or the other. These range from needing application each time they can potentially be exposed, to needing application every 2 weeks.

Ultrasonic Repeller

Tickless is an excellent product for repelling fleas and ticks as well. It uses ultrasonic pulses that are imperceptible to humans and pets. The pulses disorient the parasites, which makes them stay away from your pet. The device is designed for preventive purposes and does not remove ticks or fleas that are already present on an infected pet. They have done tests showing a 94% efficiency against ticks. Of course, effectiveness does depend on the condition of the animal’s coat and how heavily populated with ticks that area is. It is odour free with no chemicals, so it is safe for all ages, sizes, and health conditions, as well as pregnant and nursing pets. Keeps pests away for at least 6 months after activation. It comes in two sizes and an assortment of colours for you to choose from. The device is not waterproof, but moisture resistant. If the device gets wet, dry it off immediately to avoid any water damage. Due to its small size, it may be a choking hazard, always have it clipped to the collar or out of pets’ and children’s reach.

Diatomaceous Earth

Another more natural option is diatomaceous earth. It is an odourless, non staining powder made from the sediment of fossilized algae. The microscopic sharp edges pierce the exoskeleton of the pests and dehydrates them; it also kills them by absorbing all the oils and fats within. It is important to only use food grade instead of the filtered grade as this can be harmful. To help with fleas and ticks, sprinkle liberally over pet’s body, focusing on problem areas like around the ears as well as the stomach and hind end. Work it through their coat to reach their skin. You can wash it off after 8 hours with a gentle shampoo and conditioner to rehydrate the skin and coat. The powder can be applied once a day for seven days in severe cases, repeat if needed. They do not recommend giving to pets who already struggle with dry skin or respiratory issues. Always take care to not get in in the eyes or around mouth or nose. Can be harmful if ingested in substantial amounts as it can accumulate in the lungs. It is known to help with other external pests like ants, bed bugs, and cockroaches.

Is it necessary to treat the home and yard?

Since fleas and ticks can move around, they can fall off the effected animal onto the furniture or carpets infesting the house. The fleas you see on your pet are only 5% of what the total flea population would be in their environment. Ninety-five percent of the fleas are found in the home and yard in the form of eggs, larvae, and pupae. This means that treating just the pet does not rid your home of the pests. To treat the home and yard there are a few options. There is what is a “premise spray” which is only meant to be used in the environment, spraying beds, curtains, carpets etc., but never spray on the pet. It is designed to be used in conjunction with on-animal treatments. Treatment kills fleas and ticks, providing typically 7 months of protection. If pest infestation persists, treatment may need to be repeated 2-3 weeks after initial treatment. Diatomaceous earth can also be used in the home and outside. For inside, sprinkle all over floor, carpet, bedding, and furniture. After 3-4 days you can vacuum it up from all surfaces and mop or wipe them down. For outside, it is recommended to apply across the whole yard, though make sure to not do it on a day that it is raining, can be reapplied each month as needed.

How to safely remove a tick

The longer a tick is attached, the more likely it will transmit bacteria which may lead to infections and/or diseases. To contract Lyme disease, the tick must be attached for 1-2 days. You want to avoid tearing or squishing the tick as you may be spreading more bacteria into the bite area. You want to spread the fur, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull straight upward in a slow motion. This prevents the tick’s mouth from remaining in the skin. It is never recommended to use your fingers to remove a tick as you don’t want to risk squeezing more bacteria into the bite site. There are many products specially made for safe tick removal, otherwise a fine tipped pair of tweezers would be best.

Image is showing the proper steps to removing a tick.

As a reminder, always make sure the product you are using is safe for your pet whether cat or dog, as well as their age and health. Ensure you are picking a product that protects against all the pests you are concerned about, as protection does vary. Most products are not safe for pregnant or nursing pets. If ever unsure, you can always ask our healthy pet care specialists in store for advice.

The Importance of Dental Care

We all love our pets and want to do what we can to keep them healthy and happy and a part of that care is their dental health! Did you know that most pets have a form of periodontal disease by the age of three?

Are your pets experiencing any of the following symptoms?

If yes, your cat or dog may be showing  signs of periodontal disease. We will touch on what the disease is, what it can lead to, and how we as pet parents can help them work off the plaque and tartar. There are many options to choose from to find what works for you and your furry family.

Why is preventing periodontal disease so important?

After consuming a meal, it takes only a few hours for the bacteria, saliva, and food particles in the mouth to become plaque. It may surprise you to know that it only takes around 24 hours after eating to form tartar on their teeth. Tartar is the result of hardened plaque if it has not removed. This tartar not only builds in clear sight but also below the gum line causing inflammation and reeking havoc on our loved ones’ dental structures and can lead to infection.

If your pet is experiencing the symptoms of the disease along with a fever and weight loss, this can be signs that it is affecting multiple organs instead of just one part of the body, a systemic infection. This is due to the incredible ease of bacteria, from the plaque and tartar in the mouth, entering the bloodstream affecting the heart, liver, and kidneys. The bacteria in the heart leads to infection and inflammation in the interior (endocarditis) as well as damaging the valves. Unfortunately, there is an increased chance of our little friends getting heart disease when periodontal disease is present. The kidneys and liver run into the bacteria as their function is to filter the blood and remove harmful components like toxins and bacteria. The resulting infection leads to the poor performance of the filtering function causing systemic infection and this is when we may see our pets quite sick, not acting themselves, and even lashing out in pain.

Five ways to fight back against tartar!

As part of their ongoing oral care, us pet parents have so many choices these days and something to fit everyone’s schedules day or night and what each of us are comfortable with. Some processes may work for one pet, but not for another and some pets may need multiple interventions to get the job done.

The Traditional Toothbrushing

Brushing is always the recommended technique to try first for dental care and there are a variety of different brushes and toothpastes, available in different sizes and flavours to find your pets’ favourite. When first starting out, it is best to take it slow, introducing them to each different product and giving lots of praise and rewards, while trying to have them remain calm and happy as possible. You can start by introducing just your finger to their gums and teeth and then put toothpaste on your finger, and finally once comfortable the toothpaste and the toothbrush combined. A newer product out there is dental wipes, though the method and function is the same. Sometimes its best to do in quadrants to give them (and you) a break.  This is especially a good idea with puppies and kittens and this will help get them acclimated to it. The best time to do the brushing is after their last meal to prevent as much bacterial growth overnight, though for many of us just getting it done regularly is an accomplishment to be proud of.

Water Additives

Water additives are a great option to add on to your dental care routine, especially those with a busy schedule who may not be able to fit in a toothbrushing regularly. This option takes very minimal time or energy but still helps the teeth and gums daily, as recommend by health professionals. The products are typically odourless, colourless, and tasteless so your pets do not even realise they are taking care of their teeth and it will not decrease water consumption, keeping them hydrated. The specially formulated ingredients help break up existing plaque and tartar while also helping to prevent new plaque from forming. An added benefit with clean teeth is much better smelling breath. This results in improved dental health overall by simply adding the recommended amount to your pets’ water.

Oral Supplements

Oral supplements for dental health, similar to water additives, is a relatively new dental care option. Just like water additives you simply add the recommended amount either directly in the mouth or to the food. The two most common forms are an oral spray or a powder. Most spray forms would be used either before or after a meal and normally twice a day. The powder form is a food additive, may be given once or twice a day (always follow the directions on label). The ingredients in the products will interact with the saliva to clean the teeth, keep plaque and tartar at bay, and maintain balance within the oral bacteria resulting in fresh breath. This is another alternative if brushing cannot fit in your schedule, though some picky eaters may not like the addition to their food and some may not cooperate with the oral spray. It is best, just like introducing toothbrushes, to take it slow with a lot of praise and rewards and know that not every method is going to work for every pet. That is what’s so great about the growth in dental care options.

Dental Toys and Chews

Chews and dental toys are great at utilizing the natural way cats and dogs chew to help alleviate the plaque and tartar. Since many see these as as special treat or toy, they are seen as high rewards and pets will really enjoy working on these options and clean their teeth at the same time. Many toys have “nubs” or “points” that help massage the gums and work off plaque, teething toys also fall under this group because they love the feeling of the toy against their gums, keeping them comfortable and clean at the same time. As always, when introducing a new chew its best to supervise to ensure this type of dental care is suitable for your furry friend. If they are able to work pieces off the toy, this may not be the option for them as we never want to risk choking or gastrointestinal blockage. Always follow the products’ guidelines as many have options for puppies, seniors, and extreme chewers to keep everyone safe and healthy. If unsure, speak with one of our healthy pet care specialists to pick out the right one.

Bones

Feeding bones is a great way to help work the plaque and tartar off teeth, massaging the gums and the pets absolutely love it. Many people have their fears and reservations, but that’s why we are here to help you navigate. Once again, this method uses the natural mechanics of dogs and cats chewing to help their teeth. To avoid injuring teeth, choking hazards, gastrointestinal issues there are a few basic guidelines to follow:

Bones are typically recommended to feed twice a week to keep up with dental care, but each pet is different. Always keep an eye on their stool and its consistency; their stools should be firm but not too hard and they should not struggle or strain to defecate. If they are showing signs of constipation decrease the amount of bone you’re feeding.

 

With so many options out there to keep our pets’ teeth shining you’re bound to find the right product(s) for you and your pets and as always, our healthy pet care specialists are here and happy to help guide you or answer any questions!

Looking for ways to give your pet The Best of Both?

There are many great reasons to feeding both wet and dry formulas. While pets don’t require both, offering flavors, toppers and textures adds variety to your pet’s diet which can help foster the human-animal bond.  If you think about the ways that we as humans eat, we find variety enjoyable, and it can be fun to share that experience with our pets.

Wet food contains higher moisture content and provides your pet with an additional source of hydration. While crunchy kibble can help to provide oral health benefits.

It is important dogs and cats recognize all forms of food throughout their lives and find them desirable in the event they require a specific medically managed diet.  You should try to ensure that your pet doesn’t find a certain texture unappealing.  When feeding both wet and dry, make sure that you discuss how much of each you should be feeding with your veterinarian to ensure that you don’t overfeed. Additionally, when feeding both wet and dry it’s important to ensure that your pet is getting their daily dose of nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Natural Balance® wet and dry formulas are nutritionally complete which allows you to mix and match. If you are looking to add wet food into your pet’s diet, we recommend pairing your dry formula with the matching wet formula.

Genetics and nutrition play a role in canine DCM but we don’t know the whole story

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease characterized by an enlarged heart as a result of compromised function of the heart muscles. The etiology (manner of causation) of the disease is not fully understood yet and, in many cases, the cause of the disease phenotype cannot be identified. A number of studies have been conducted in which a variety of etiologies have been noted. The most commonly attributed cause of DCM is genetics, with specific genetic mutations being identified in Doberman Pinschers, German Shorthaired Pointers and Boxers. Other breeds in which inherited DCM has been recognized are Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards, Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Bulldogs, Airedale Terriers and Scottish Deerhounds. More research is required to identify specific genetic mutations associated with DCM in these breeds.

Peer reviewed, published scientific studies have identified non-genetic causes of DCM including myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle due to infection), hypothyroid disease, tachycardia (rapid heart rate) and nutrient deficiencies or nutrient imbalances.

Diet-Associated DCM

An attempt has been made to associate certain categories of diets and diets with certain characteristics to canine dilated cardiomyopathy. The fact is that there is a much more complicated relationship between food and DCM. A broad category like grain free or boutique cannot be linked specifically to any health condition simply because there is so much variety within categories like this. Even characteristics of a food such as containing legumes or exotic proteins is much too broad of a characteristic to be able to make causative conclusions.

Nutrient imbalance and deficiency

Taurine and carnitine have both been linked specifically to dilated cardiomyopathy. These are both non-essential nutrients for dogs because they can be manufactured endogenously in the liver. The synthesis processes can be disrupted when dogs are fed diets that are low in total protein content or low in essential amino acids. Diets high in fiber can limit protein digestion and absorption which in turn can lead to deficiencies of essential amino acids, which affects production of taurine and carnitine. Other nutrients involved in the synthesis include iron, selenium, zinc and niacin; these nutrients have yet to be investigated for potential links to disease development.

Nutrients that could potentially affect development of canine DCM, but require further investigation, include vitamin E, potassium, choline, thiamine and copper.

Recent Research

In some studies, improvement was observed after a diet change, but other treatments were also administered, including taurine and/or carnitine supplementation and drugs such as inotropic agents, diuretics, ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers. It is impossible to determine causation or even correlation with so many confounding variables.

One of the only research projects done in a controlled environment with proper experimental methods is a peer-reviewed, published study done by the university of Illinois. Dogs were fed either a diet containing 45% legumes, or a diet composed mostly of animal protein. Over 90 days, there was no significant difference when comparing amino acid and taurine status of the two groups. More detailed investigation is still required in order to make concrete conclusions.

FDA Investigation

Current FDA reports include sampling bias, small sample size, incomplete information about the sample population, confounding variables, lack of standardized measurements and conflicting information. It is not a scientific study, rather a collection of information submitted by pet owners.

The FDA sample population includes an over-representation of specific breeds such as Golden Retrievers representing 19% of all dogs in the report. Of all the dogs included with breeds named, 40% are breeds with a known genetic predisposition to developing DCM so it is not likely these cases are related to nutritional deficiencies, at least not exclusively.

Many of the reports were incomplete, missing the dog’s breed, age, weight, and not including complete diet history and medical records. The majority of reports included no analysis for taurine deficiency or any other nutritional deficiency. Some reports did not even include a diagnosis of DCM.

There was no control for confounding variables like treats, medication, supplements or other health conditions. In fact, the FDA Vet-LIRN report stated that 44% of the 202 dogs who were diagnosed with DCM via echocardiogram, also had documented concurrent medical conditions.

The FDA report states that boutique foods made by small manufacturers increase risk, but nearly half of the dogs in the report were consuming foods from the 6 largest pet food manufacturers in North America. It is also suggested that diets containing exotic proteins could be contributing, yet 76% of the diets named included typical pet food proteins such as chicken, lamb, salmon, whitefish, turkey, beef and pork. It is stated that grain free diets and diets containing legumes are related to DCM because the majority of the dogs in the report were eating this type of food, but this is what was specifically asked for, and no control data was collected to compare it to.

Conclusion

Based on the current scientific evidence available, there does not appear to be a link between “BEG” diets and dilated cardiomyopathy. More controlled research is required in order to obtain a better understanding of the disease and how it is related to genetics, metabolism and nutrition.

Recommendations

Without definitive conclusions from research, the best recommendation we can make is to provide variety in the diet of dogs. Any potential negative effect of a diet is compounded when the same diet is fed every day for every meal for an extended period of time. Rotational and combination feeding can mitigate the risk of continuous nutrient deficiency or adverse effects of specific nutrients or nutrient balances.

Click the link below to read a previous blog about combination feeding.

https://globalpetfoods.com/combination-feeding/

 

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