Friday, October 16, 2015

Gluten-Free, Grain-Free and Natural Diets

We all know that good nutrition is important to health.  To help you make informed purchasing decisions, we’ve written a series of articles to help answer the question: “What should I feed my pet?”  In this blog article on pet nutrition, we will continue to try to demystify pet food selection by discussing gluten-free, grain-free, and natural diets.

In order to appeal to consumers, many pet food companies use terms like “natural”, “holistic”, “organic” and “human grade” with varied meanings.  The term "human grade" does not exist in any legal capacity so any company can claim their pet food contains “human grade” ingredients.  Since there are no official rules governing the labeling or organic foods for pets, monitoring and testing whether a pet food truly is organic is a low priority for the USDA.  Likewise, “holistic” is simply a marketing term without any specific definition and, since the term is not regulated, can be used on any pet food label.  AAFCO, the pet food industry’s regulatory body, does regulate “natural” to foods where NONE of the ingredients and components of ingredients are chemically synthesized (vitamins may be added).  This regulation does not apply to the food’s name, however.

With the growing number of people diagnosed with gluten allergies, pet food companies have begun marketing foods as grain or gluten-free.  But do these diets benefit pets?  Properly cooked grains in pet foods are highly digestible and dogs and cats can digest the carbohydrates from grains with an efficiency of greater than 90%.  Grains also contain fiber, which supports gastrointestinal health, as well as essential fatty acids and other nutrients that contribute to a healthy skin and coat.  Although allergies to proteins in grains can occur, less than 1% of dogs are sensitive to grains, far less common than allergies to animal protein sources.  Gluten allergies in dogs are very rare and have been reported primarily in Irish Setters.  Just as wheat gluten is added to breads to enhance their texture, a small amount in pet food helps canned formulas, kibbles and treats hold their shape.  Especially with dogs, gluten-free and grain-free diets do not typically provide superior nutrition than diets which do contain grains.

Although pet food packaging terms may not be very helpful information when choosing a pet food, the nutritional analysis does offer consumers some factual information.  Watch for our next blog explaining pet food nutrition labeling.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

3 Halloween Pet Safety Tips

Who says Halloween is just for kids? Nowadays, more and more pet owners are involving their pets in this fun-filled holiday. If you’ll be one of them, it’s important to use caution, since Halloween can be actually be a dangerous time for a pet if you’re not prepared. Consider the following three pet safety tips by Brookfield Animal Hospital, so your four-legged friends can have a safe, happy Halloween with you and the rest of the family.

1. Choose Your Pet Costume Wisely

Dressing a pet up is one of the most popular and probably most enjoyable ways to include a pet in the Halloween festivities. Whether you’re thinking of dressing up your fur baby as an Ewok, a comic book superhero, or maybe even a piece of food, always consider the comfort level of the costume you choose before leaving it on your pet. Keep in mind that not all pets will tolerate wearing anything more than their own fur, no matter how comfortable the costume. Also, some costumes can actually be dangerous if they fit too tightly or have sharp pieces or pieces that can pose a choking hazard. If possible, try to get your pet comfortable in the costume a few days before Halloween. And if, after all your preparation, your pet still appears uncomfortable or downright irritated in the costume, don’t force them to wear it. Just hope for better luck next year.

2. Provide Pet Identification

Halloween is one of the most common times of the year that pets go missing. Sadly, this can be the result of being stolen from their own yards or from making a quick dash through the front door after seeing it continuously open for costumed trick-or-treaters. This is why it’s so important to make sure that your pet has sufficient identification that includes your current address and phone number.

A microchip is another great method of pet identification that we recommend. A microchip is a tiny device that’s about the size of a grain of rice that’s placed just under the surface of the skin, near a pet’s shoulder blades. Your pet’s microchip can contain a unique bar code that links to your contact information and can be scanned by most animal hospitals and shelters. Having both an ID tag and microchip can greatly increase the chances of  safe, happy reunion, should your pet ever become separated from you on Halloween—or any other time of the year.

3. Use Caution with Candy and Decorations

Did you know that chocolate is one of the toxic foods to pets, due to the presence of the alkaloid theobromine? Although the amount of theobromine varies in different types of chocolate, typically, the darker the chocolate, the higher the toxicity. The clinical signs of chocolate toxicity can range from vomiting to diarrhea to seizures and can take several hours to develop. The sugar substitute xylitol, which is common in many candies, is another ingredient that’s toxic to pets and can result in hypoglycemia if ingested. It’s best to keep all the sweets out of your pet’s reach.

Decorations like candles and lit jack-o-lanterns can also be dangerous to a curious pet that might accidentally knock them over, so use caution if you plan to have these around your home this Halloween.

Feel free to contact us at (203) 775-3679 if you have any questions about the tips mentioned above or if you’d like to learn more about Brookfield Animal Hospital. We hope you and your family—fur babies included—all have a safe, fun Halloween!