What’s the Best Food for My Dog?

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Let’s talk about dog food.  There is a lot of debate around what to feed your dog.  Do you feed commercial food, raw food, wet vs. dry, nutrition and safety in food, etc…?  Like much of the news today, it’s hard to tell who to listen to.

Dogs need the right combination of protein, fat, and fiber, in addition to vitamins in order to be healthy.  They also need proper hydration There are two agencies that regulate what goes into pet foods. The first one is the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).  The other is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The AAFCO determines what the proper nutrients are for various pet foods. The FDA determines the quality of the ingredients in the foods.  

The problem is that quality can be subjective.  Remember when ketchup was considered a vegetable in school lunches?  We know there are “good” fats and “bad” fats. Because your food shows it has the right amount of fat, does that mean it also has the right type? It’s important to make sure your pet is getting the best ingredients and not a lot of filler in place of nutrition.

Commercial foods, in theory, are nutritionally balanced to provide your dog with everything they need.  In reality, there are recalls almost daily for all kinds of harmful things. Many of them also use low-quality products and have food dyes and other ingredients that can be harmful over time.  

There’s also the question of wet vs. dry.  Just like us, not all dogs drink enough water and wet food actually provides a good source of hydration. Some say that wet food causes dental problems, but when dry and wet are mixed it actually helps keep their teeth and gums healthy.

The key to feeding healthy commercial food, whether wet, dry, or a mixture, is to buy the best quality food you can afford.  The most expensive brand is not necessarily the best and the cheapest is not necessarily the worst. Read the ingredients and look for words you can understand.  The first ingredient should be a protein that you recognize, such as chicken, beef, veal, etc…

I’m not endorsing or calling out any particular brands, but I want to show the difference in ingredients from a great food, an average food, and a poor one so you can see the difference in ingredients, and have a good idea of what to look for.

This first example shows an ingredient list is from a very popular dry food.  This should be considered an average food; not the best but also not the worst.  It starts out with chicken as its main ingredient, and that’s great. You want your ingredient list to begin with a pure protein.  However, they also have several types of “meal” items listed, along with by-products, artificial coloring, and list “animal digest” as an ingredient.  This is where they go wrong. “By-products” can be all kinds of things from bone, to feathers and hair, to the remains from the digestive tract of the protein source used.  The official definition of a by-product is anything remaining after the meat is removed. Animal digest is “clean” animal tissue that hasn’t undergone decomposition. This brand does have a strong list of vitamins.  

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The next example is an ingredient list of a very poor quality food. This food has no actual meat listed.  The first ingredient is ground corn and then several types of meal and fat. There are some vitamins and minerals, but there is also artificial coloring.  This type of food should be avoided.

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This last example is a top choice.  It lists chicken as its first ingredient and, although it lists meal and fat, it identifies the type of fat and has higher quality meals than the other brands.  They also have many fruits and vegetables in this recipe along with vitamins and minerals. This is a food I would recommend if I were providing brand names.

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The raw food movement has become popular with pet owners due to all the chemicals, poor ingredients, and dangerous recalls in commercial dog foods.  Some other reasons to switch to raw food can be health-related, such as food allergies, illness, old age, etc…

There are pros and cons to feeding raw just as there are to feeding different brands of commercial food.  Most people know that feeding table scraps or “people food” isn’t good for dogs and should only be done occasionally.  One of the reasons for this is because of the poor ingredients we put into our own foods and bodies. Additionally, we eat some foods that are dangerous for dogs.  

If you are going to consider feeding your dog on a raw diet, it’s important to have a good understanding of nutrition and what is required for the breed and age of your dog.  Most experts agree that if you do decide to feed raw, adding a multivitamin to your dog’s diet is a must to ensure they are getting everything they need to stay healthy.

Of course, you want to start with a good, quality meat source.  Ground beef and chicken are two good options. You will also need a variety of vegetables, fruits, and grains that are safe for your dog and provide vitamins that they need.  The American Kennel Club (AKC) offers a list on their website.  This is not an all-inclusive list, but it shows some common foods. Top Dog Tips offers a lot of great recipes to give your dog variety.  You can make these up in advance and freeze portions for easy serving.

Although I’m recommending Top Dog Tips for their recipes, I disagree with their comment about avoiding garlic. There is a lot of debate in the dog world about whether or not garlic is good or dangerous for your dog.  I agree with the belief that they are good for repelling fleas and ticks and are safe in small amounts.

A cost comparison shows that making your own food is only pennies more than buying commercial food.  However, that requires looking for sale prices, using coupons, and shopping around. There is also the prep and cooking times to consider.  Raw food requires both time and commitment. The other option is to offer your dog a combination of the two or supplement commercial food with toppers of protein and other foods.  

People have very strong opinions about using commercial foods, wet or dry, or going with the raw option.  To me, the bottom line is making sure your pet is getting all of the nutrition they are supposed to for their health in a way you can afford and feel good about.

Trimming Your Dog’s Nails

Dog Nail Care

Is trimming your dog’s nails a stressful event for you both?  It doesn’t have to be. Using the right tools and technique, along with yummy treats and lots of praise can make it fun.  Well, maybe not fun, but at least not the worst thing in the world.

Puppy’s paws should be handled as much as possible.  While your puppy is laying with you, gently hold and rub the paws and nails as much as you can.  Massage the pads and run your fingers along the nails. Give praise and treats while you do this so your puppy learns that there isn’t anything scary about having his feet and nails touched.  This will go a long way in making nail trimming a much easier event. If your puppy won’t let you, don’t give up. Touch as much you can and then try to do a little more next time. It may take time to build up enough trust to be able to give a massage and touch the nails.  It depends on the dog and how trusting they are. Don’t rush it.

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Once you feel you and your pup have enough trust that you can try to trim the nails, bring out the clippers, but don’t start cutting just yet.  Show them to your pup and let them sniff, lick, and investigate the clippers for as long as they need. They may get scared and try to avoid letting you cut their nails by running away, barking, or showing stress or fear in other ways.  Don’t try to rush them and try not to get frustrated. Your frustration will only amplify the feelings they are already experiencing and it will make things more difficult. If all you can do this time is show your dog the clippers, you’ve made progress.  Give them a treat and some love and try another day. Although the goal is to trim their nails. The more important goal is getting them to be comfortable with you and the clippers while you trim their nails.

How to trim a dog’s nails

Dogs have something called a “quick”, which is just a blood vessel, that runs through their nail.  When a nail is cut too short, it bleeds because the “quick” has been cut.

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This can be avoided by making sure not to cut the nail too short.  If a nail does bleed, simply apply Styptic powder to the tip and the bleeding will stop.  If no Styptic powder is available, cornstarch will work. Sometimes, when nails have not been cut for a long time and they are long, the “quick” grows out and makes it impossible to cut the nail down properly without cutting it.   This is one of the reasons it’s important to keep nails trimmed regularly. In these cases, it’s best to just trim the tips of the nails and then trim again in about a week. Repeat this until the nails are the proper length. As the nails are trimmed the “quick” shrinks back and that’s why the nail can be trimmed shorter the following week.  

Holding the dog’s paw firmly but not squeezing, use your fingers to separate and hold each nail as you cut it.  Never twist the dog’s nail or paw. Make sure to cut quickly and firmly. Once the nail has been cut you may want to use a nail file or dremel tool to make sure any rough edges are smoothed down.  Dremel tools can be used in place of nail clippers once the nails are short enough to maintain. Some dogs prefer them.

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How often do you trim nails?

Dog’s nails should be trimmed every 2 – 3 months.  If they make a clicking sound on the floor when the dog walks, that’s a sign that they need to be cut.  Overgrown nails can cause pain to the dog, reduce traction, injure tendons, and even cause deformed feet over time.  

What type of trimmers are the best?

There are 3 types of nail trimmers:  guillotine, scissor clippers, and grinders.  I don’t personally use or recommend the guillotine style.  I think the scissors allow you to see exactly where you are cutting and are fast and easy to use.  I also think they are a bit safer for the dog. I use the grinder to smooth away any rough edges or for dogs that aren’t comfortable with the scissors.

There are 3 types of nail trimmers:  guillotine, scissor clippers, and grinders.  I don’t personally use or recommend the guillotine style.  I think the scissors allow you to see exactly where you are cutting and are fast and easy to use.  I also think they are a bit safer for the dog. 

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I use the grinder to smooth away any rough edges or for dogs that aren’t comfortable with the scissors.

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Once the nails are trimmed nicely, make sure there are no rough or jagged edges and you’re done! You can always add some doggy polish for a special occasion.20180329_170732

Everything You Need to Know About Ticks

There is a scare here in New Jersey being caused by the Longhorned or Bush tick.  This is an exotic tick that comes from China, Japan, and Korea.  It’s not known how it made its way to New Jersey, but it’s here and it’s causing a stir.  It isn’t believed to be of harm to humans but does harm livestock and wildlife.

With this news and the start of flea and tick season, I thought it’s a good time to put out some tick information.

What is a tick?

A tick is an arachnid.  They have 4 life stages:  Egg, Larva (seed tick), Nymph, and Adult. Some ticks have hard shells and others have soft shells.  The hard shell ticks have a plate on their back called a scutum.  Soft shell ticks look wrinkled and their mouth is located underneath their body.  

There are about 90 different types of ticks that live throughout the United States, but they aren’t all active at the same times.  The Tick Encounter provides updates of current activity around the country.  They also collect data and accept tick photos and information.

How long do ticks live?

Hard ticks usually mate on their host and the female can feed, breed, and lay eggs several times before dying.  The female will drop off the host to lay anywhere from a few to several thousand eggs at a time. The entire life-cycle is between 2 and 3 months for one hard tick. Soft ticks can live up to 16 years!

Where do ticks live?

Hard shell ticks are the ones most people are familiar with because they tend to populate the same places we do; hiking trails, grassy fields, and wooded areas.  The soft shell ticks are usually found in animal burrows, caves, and sheds, and prefer hot and dry climates.

Do ticks really drink blood?

Yes.  They live by feeding off the blood of mammals, birds, and occasionally reptiles or amphibians.  Ticks tend to live near the places you would find dogs, cats, livestock, rodents, deer, and people.  Hard ticks tend to feed or look for food more during the daytime and soft ticks are active in the evening and at night.  

Do they all carry diseases and what kinds?

Hard and soft ticks carry different kinds of diseases.  Hard ticks cause more illnesses in the U.S.

Some diseases transmitted by each group of ticks are:

  • Hard ticks
    • Lyme disease
    • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
    • Tularemia
    • Colorado tick fever
    • Human tick-borne ehrlichiosis
    • American babesiosis
    • Tick paralysis
    • STARI (Southern tick-associated rash illness)
    • Anaplasmosis
  • Soft Ticks
    • Tick-borne relapsing fever

How do you remove a tick?

Ticks don’t move around like fleas and are easier to see.  They attach themselves and tend to stay in that spot until they are done feeding.  They like to find dark places on the body to hide.

When looking for ticks on yourself or someone else, start by checking where clothing and shoes meet the body.  For example, check the openings of shoes or boots, waistbands, sleeves, and collars. Check behind ears, under arms, and in creases.  When checking your dog or cat, start at the head and work your way down. Run your fingers through their fur like a comb, both looking and feeling for any dark, pea sized lumps.  A sign they might have a tick is excessive biting, licking, or scratching a particular area. If you find a tick, don’t try to just pull it off. You can hurt your pet and end up leaving the head still attached.  

Before attempting to remove a tick, get your supplies ready.  You’ll want a small cup or dish with rubbing alcohol, a few paper towels, and tweezers or a tick removal tool.  I find that tweezers work best and are the easiest to use. People suggest wearing gloves, which you can if you feel better, but I think you have better control using your bare hands.

Using the tweezers, grip the tick by the head as close to the dog’s or person’s skin as possible.  Pull the tick straight out, slowly and firmly, but not so firm that you squeeze it. DO NOT twist the tick, try to burn or squash it, or apply any chemicals to the dog’s or person’s body.  

After removing the tick, place it in the container with the rubbing alcohol, which will kill it. There may be a small wound or some irritation at the site where the tick was attached. This should be cleaned, disinfected, and then apply some triple antibiotic ointment to prevent infection to the site.

How to keep ticks away

There are a number of flea and tick medications available from your local vet and also products for people that are widely available.  

However, if you are looking for a more natural and toxin free way to go, citrus, Lavender, and Eucalyptus all work as natural tick repellents.  Do not apply essential oils directly to the skin.  Essential oil should always be diluted with water and/or mixed with an oil carrier, such as grapeseed oil.  For more information on essential oils go to Blending Essential Oils .

An easy and natural treatment can be made simply by cutting up a lemon and boiling it.  Let the water cool, remove the lemon and discard, and put the lemon water in a spray bottle to use before heading out.

My personal preference is to mix some lavender oil with water and spray that.  I’ve found it to be a fantastic flea repellent, but that’s for another time.

Some common ticks

lone star tick

Lone Star Tick

brown tick

Brown Tick

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Deer Tick

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Rocky Mountain Tick