How to Handle the Loss of a Pet

Tips to Help You and Your Family Deal with the Loss of a Pet

Pets become an important part of our lives, and losing them can be devastating. Every loss is different, and how a person responds is unique. Below we will share some ways people respond to the loss of a pet, provide some tips on how to better deal with the loss of a pet, and share some tips on how to best help support children and help them understand the loss of a pet.

Dealing with the Loss of a Pet – Children vs. Adults

As adults, our understanding of death is very different from a child’s. The understanding and comprehension a child has about death depend largely on their age. Death may or may not be permanent in the mind of a child. Read this article for a good understanding of what children understand about death at different ages. Go to How to Tell Your Child About Putting a Dog Down: Dos and Don’ts. If you have pets and children, this article is a must-read.

As adults, our ability to deal with the loss of a pet can depend on many factors. These can include our prior experience with loss and death, other stressors in our lives, our individual relationship with a particular pet, and our family or social support network. There are many different ways a person can respond to the loss of a pet.

How People Deal with the Loss of a Pet

As a veterinarian, I’ve seen just about every reaction to the loss of a pet you can imagine. For some, the pet was their child or family member. They grieve deeply. Others have verbally told me “it was just a dog,” and that is that. No tears. No emotion. And I’ve seen every emotion in between.

Below are some reactions to the loss of a pet that stand out in my mind:

  • Hard being strong. Some individuals get their first pet as young adults, start a family, and find themselves losing a pet with their children. As they work through their own grief, they have to be strong for their family. Sometimes there is concurrent guilt as they reflect how their pet was number one for many years, then became a lower priority as life changed.
  • Suicidal thoughts. I’ve had clients tell me they didn’t want to live after the loss of a pet. This is just about the hardest thing to deal with. Anyone that considers self-harm or contemplates suicide must seek help from a professional. An excellent article that walks you through the stages of grief and support options was written by Bonnie Mader, who was the co-founder of a Pet Loss Support Hotline at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. Read her full article here (which includes support phone numbers): Pet Loss Support: Helping You Cope After Your Dog’s Death. There are pet loss counselors — read this interview at Pet Grief Support: Talking with a Pet Loss Counselor.
  • Guilt. A number of clients focus on guilt with the loss of a pet. Guilt can originate from thoughts that they were busy and believe they neglected their pet’s signs of illness until it was advanced. Or, it can have to do with limited financial resources to provide possible life-saving medical care. Some find it difficult to grieve properly due to their guilt.
  • Memorial. Many pet lovers place some of their grief and emotional energy in creating a memorial or tribute to their beloved friend. I’ve seen this in the form of a funeral (some quite elaborate), a photo album, and/or artistic creations such as a painting. Some find a special urn for the ashes and place it in a particular area in their homes and lives.
  • Save the ashes. Some clients find comfort in having their pets cremated and saving their ashes to be later buried with them or mixed with their own ashes. Several believe that this allows them to be together forever and provides comfort.
  • Silence. Some pet owners cope by not talking about their loss and trying to put it out of their mind. If I see them in the clinic, their pet never comes up and if it is mentioned for any reason, they shut that conversation down with a quick topic change.
  • Lost. Some clients become somewhat lost and want to be alone. They avoid social activities and family functions. I’ve actually had clients not want to come back to a hospital because of their profound memories of dealing with a pet’s loss.
  • Rituals. Over the years, I’ve had clients perform quite simple to elaborate rituals to mourn the passing of a pet. For years, I had a client come to the hospital and request to light a candle in a room where she euthanized her 20-year-old pet that had cancer. She felt closer to her pet and believed she felt its spirit present. Another client celebrates her dog’s birthday every year with a glass of wine, close friends, and a stroll through memory lane with a photo album.
  • Sadness. My first pet was named Kali. She died unexpectedly when I was in college and to say I was devastated is an understatement. I still cry when I think of her and become sad. I’ve learned to box off those emotions, at least most of the time. Occasionally I see a cat that reminds me of her and an involuntary tear is shed. Feelings of loss and sadness are common and can continue for years.
  • Jewelry. Another way clients take comfort in this difficult time is to have jewelry made from their pet’s ashes. I frequently have clients show their special pieces of jewelry for pets that I have cared for. They have truly found comfort in knowing their pet is with them all the time when they wear their jewelry.
  • Fake strength. Some try to be strong, they may even say the wrong things, they may even be inappropriate with a joke or laughter, while being devastated by the loss of their special friend. Some find comfort in physically carrying their pet out of the clinic and going home to dig a burial hole. Sometimes the physical act of digging a hole allows them some personal time to say goodbye and provides closure.

Many of these responses described can be categorized into the stages of grief that include anger, denial, depression, acceptance, and bargaining. Learn more about these stages — go to Pet Loss Support: Helping You Cope After Your Dog’s Death.

The Ultimate How-To Guide for Grooming a Dog at Home

Along with their daily walks and mental stimulation, there is another important part of being a pet parent; maintaining a regular grooming schedule at home.

Even if you attend appointments at your local grooming salon, there are still jobs that need to be done at home, this is especially true for large or high maintenance dogs.

We have put together 5 top tails for grooming your pooch at home.

Start Young

Socializing your puppy means he experiences everything the world has to offer. The more he is exposed to something, the more he learns it’s nothing to be feared and potentially, that when certain things happen, good things happen too!

When I walk past the neighbor’s yappy dog and ignore him, I get a treat, for example. Grooming should be a part of this process. As a puppy, start handling him, touching all the parts of his body, his paws, his tail, his tummy and his ears. Reward him and praise him as you go. You want him to learn that being handled is nothing to be worried about. Start in short sessions, a couple of minutes here and there. Slowly increase the time spent handling him. You may find that giving him a chew to distract him will help or putting a dollop of peanut butter on the kitchen cupboard helps encourage him to stand whilst you handle him.

Introduce The Tools

Once you are confident he can tolerate being handled, now you need to introduce the tools of your trade. These will vary depending on the breed of dog you have. For double coated breeds, a rake and metal comb will be your life saver. For tight, curly coated breeds a slicker brush and metal comb should be the top of your tool list! For any breeds who suffer with knots or matts, so again those curly coated breeds, you may want to invest in a de-matting knife. Not as brutal as it sounds, it simply cuts through knots and matts to make it as pain free as possible to remove them. For soft, sleek coated breeds you may want to invest in a rubber paddle brush. These have rubber nobbles which grips loose hair, removing it as you brush.

Get Into A Routine

It’s easy to let life get in the way, you’re running late home from work, or family issues have taken over. But if you get into the routine of grooming, you’re less likely to forget. Maybe you will groom your faithful friend before work, maybe just before bed. Dog’s like routine too, they will soon get into the swing of things if you are consistent.

Grooming Isn’t Just Brushing

Whilst the tools we’ve mentioned only really look at brushing your pooch, when we say grooming, we mean the whole caboodle. Fido needs his ears and eyes checked regularly and cleaned. You can clean their eyes by simply dampening some cotton pads and wiping around the area. You may find a specific dog safe ear cleaner keeps their ears grime free. Pay attention if your dog is a poodle or poodle cross. They regularly need their ears plucking due to the hair growing inside their ear canal. Failure to keep on top of this often results in ear infections!

Brush Their Teeth Too

Just like humans, dogs get plaque and tartar build up. The best way to prevent this is to brush their teeth. Again, introduce it as early as possible. Start by just letting them sniff and explore the toothbrush and toothpaste. Introduce short sessions, it may only be 20-30 seconds for the first time. Praise throughout and reward when you have finished. You want Fido to learn that tooth brushing isn’t that bad, especially if there’s a treat at the end of it! Studies have shown that brushing your dog’s teeth only once a week shows no improvement in plaque and tartar build up, so several sessions throughout the week are necessary to keep those pearly whites strong and healthy! Not only that, but bacteria growth in the mouth has been known to move around the body, causing other health issues too.

Grooming at home is a huge part of being a pet parent, by starting young you stand the best chance of making it as stress-free as possible, for both of you. Choose the right tools for the job and regularly praise and reward throughout. Getting into a regular routine gives you the best chance of staying on top of it but seek the advice of a qualified groomer if there is ever a time you are unsure of grooming your faithful friend!

The Truth About Your Dog’s Droppings and the Effect on Your Lawn

We all have a special place in our hearts for our pooches. However, most dog owners would tell you their daily droppings aren’t the most fun thing to deal with. In fact, picking up Fido’s mess is a top annoyance for many Americans. But picking up dog poop is an essential part of keeping both your lawn and yourself healthy. Learn more of the truth about your dog’s droppings and the effect on your lawn with these common myths:

Myth #1: It’s Just Poop, It Can’t Make Me Sick

Truth: Dog waste contains millions of bacteria that could lead to some severe health problems. Allowing dog poop to stay on your lawn creates a higher risk of getting sick. Dogs and other animals (including yourself!) could step in the poop and transit tiny particles to other areas of the home. Carpets, furniture, and other spots where your dog walks can contain harmful bacteria. Common problems associated with dog feces include intestinal issues, diarrhea, and kidney disorders.

Dog poop can also pose problems for your dog and other pets. Roundworms and tapeworms are often found in dog poop which can spread to other animals. This intestinal issue can make your pets and you sick.

Myth #2: Dog Waste Fertilizes My Lawn

Truth: While you may see more growth in certain areas of the lawn where your dog likes to relieve himself, dog poop does more damage than good. Dog urine is high in nitrogen and can cause dead patches of grass. Dog poop also creates an unsightly “landmine” situation where you and your family can’t enjoy the lawn that you’ve worked so hard to maintain.

Dog waste isn’t a good fertilizer like cow manure. Spreading dog waste onto a garden can contaminate the produce.

Myth #3: Heartworm Spreads Through Dog Poop

Truth: Heartworm is a horrible disease that has become a significant problem for many pet owners. Although it would be easy to blame dog poop for spreading the parasite, heartworm actually spreads through mosquito bites.

Myth #4: My Neighbors Don’t Really Care

Truth: Your neighbors do care! Many homeowners associations will fine an owner who doesn’t pick up after Fido since the poop creates an eyesore for the neighborhood. Dog poop also produces an unpleasant smell which can cause a big stink with your neighbors. About 10 million tons of dog poop is not picked up each year creating a germy, unsightly damper on the environment. It’s one of the biggest contributors to urban watershed pollution in the country. The feces gets swept away by stormwater and contaminates creeks, rivers, and ponds. This issue has created division among many neighbors who find dog poop in their yard… especially if they don’t own a dog.

Myth #5: It’s Not A Big Deal

Truth: The fact is that dog poop left on the lawn can become an eyesore for your home. Those who pass by may think that the inside of your home is also not cared for. If you’re trying to sell your home, allowing dog poop to pile up in the backyard is a major turn off and can significantly reduce the value of your home.

Now that we have debunked the common myths about dog poop and your lawn, what can you do to keep your lawn healthy?

Pick It Up On A Regular Basis

We’re all busy so you may not have time to pick up dog poop every day. So set a goal of picking up poop every three days to keep the lawn clean. This will help keep the smell down in the yard as well as allow the grass to have a chance to bounce back. This is an excellent job for older kids, like teenagers, who understand good hygiene after coming in contact with fecal matter.

Take Bags Along

Walking your dog is a significant part of owning a pet. Daily walks help the dog get exercise and can cut down on hyperactivity while inside the home. Make sure you always have a bag with you on walks in case your pup relieves himself on someone else’s lawn. If you forgot your bag, make a note of the mess and make sure to come back after the walk to clean up after your pet.

Where to Discard Poop

Many homeowners end up gathering the poop and throwing it in the trash. This can lead to a stinky home if forgotten or left in a trash can indoors. Of course, you could always flush the poop when you get home. Some pet care companies have introduced new biodegradable pet waste bags that will slowly decompose.

Create A Designated Spot

When bringing home a new dog or puppy, consider training them to only poop in one area of the yard. This can cut down on your need to hunt for poop all over the yard and make it easier to care for your lawn and your pet. Pet proofing your yard and garden is also a good way to keep your dog safe when left outdoors unsupervised.

Properly Care for Your Lawn

For those areas of the lawn that your dog visits often, diluting the spots with water. This will help break up the concentration of nitrogen and allow your grass a chance to recover. Other options include spreading lime over the lawn to help neutralize the acidic parts. Reseed bare spots where the grass has died and consider adding fertilizer to help lawn growth.

Can Dogs Eat Strawberries?

Dog owners commonly ponder about the toxicity of foods. The questions about the safety of different foods increased after learning that certain foods were toxic that led to a lot of press coverage.

The most important toxic foods are Chocolate, Grapes and Raisins, and Peanut Butter. Exposure to the dangers of these foods have encouraged pet owners to ask about other human foods such as can dogs eat strawberries. Learn more about what dogs can and can’t eat in this article: The Ultimate Guide to What Dogs Can’t Eat.

Can Dogs Eat Strawberries?

A strawberry is a a round, oblong, spherical, or heart shaped sweet soft red fruit with a seed-studded surface grown from a strawberry plant. The world production of strawberries is estimated to be nearly 10 million ton/year.
The strawberry plant is a low growing green plant that produces white flowers that yield the strawberry fruit. They are grown worldwide. Strawberries are commonly eaten by themselves or prepared in foods such as pies, ice cream, milk shakes, energy drinks, salad dressings, preserves, fruit smoothies, fruit bars, candy, or enjoyed covered in chocolate. The flavor and aromas are common in candy, perfume, cosmetics, candles, and many more products.

It is believed that the first strawberry was bred in France and came to North American in the mid 1700’s. The strawberry has received recent press discussing that it is not a classified as a traditional “berry” based on the biology of the plant and that it is technically an “accessory fruit”.

The answer to the question, “can dogs eat Strawberries”… the answer is yes. Dogs can eat strawberries but in moderation. Dogs often love the soft moist texture and many enjoy this as a healthy snack. Strawberries are a good source of antioxidants, fiber, and Vitamin C.

The Dangers of Strawberries to Dogs

Ingestion of large amounts of strawberries can cause gastrointestinal upset such as diarrhea. Although uncommon, ingestion of strawberry stems and plants can cause gastrointestinal obstruction. The leaves and plant, while not toxic, are very difficult to digest. Signs of problems include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, abdominal pain, straining to defecate, and/or a decreased appetite.

The other danger of strawberries to dogs is the danger of choking – especially when eating a large whole strawberry. Some dogs are not good at “chewing” their food and the danger of choking can occur. This is more common in small dogs.

Please be careful if your dog eats anything strawberry flavored that contains the sweetener xylitol. This can be an ingredient in diet or low calorie pastries and drinks, especially those created for people with diabetes. Learn more about Xylitol Toxicity in Dogs.

Do Dogs Need Strawberries?

There is nothing in strawberries that dogs require on a regular basis. What dogs do need is a high quality AAFCO approved dog food. Learn more about Nutrition in Dogs.

The Safest Way to Give Strawberries to Dogs

The safest way to give some strawberry to your dog is to give small pieces of clean fresh strawberry. Dogs should never be feed the strawberry stem or leaves.

How Much Strawberry Can You Give a Dog?

One medium-sized strawberry cut up is plenty to give a small dog, two to three for a medium-sized dog, and three or four medium sized strawberries for a large sized dog.

Can Dogs Be Allergic to Strawberries?

While it is possible for a dog to be allergic to anything, dog allergies to strawberries are uncommon.

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Can Dogs Eat Shrimp?

Dog owners commonly ponder about the safety of feeding human foods. The question of food safety increased after learning that specific human foods are toxic to dogs that led to a lot of press coverage. The most important foods toxic to dogs are Peanut Butter, Grapes and Raisins, and Chocolate. This encouraged pet owners to ask about the safety of other foods such as shrimp.

Learn more about what dogs can and can’t eat in this article: The Ultimate Guide to What Dogs Can’t Eat.

Can Dogs Eat Shrimp?

A shrimp, commonly referred to as a prawn, is an animal classified as decapod crustaceans that live in the water. There are thousands of species that serve as an important food source to various ocean animals including various species of fish. Shrimp have an elongated body, strong tails, and most commonly move by swimming. The tails of shrimp are a common delicacy for human consumption and the commercial shrimp industry is estimated to be over a 50 billion dollar a year business.

The answer to can dogs eat cooked shrimp is yes they can. Shrimp can be prepared plain, streamed, grilled, sautéed, baked, boiled, or broiled. Dogs love the soft firm texture, flavor and smell of the shrimp and can enjoy it as a healthy snack. Shrimp are a good source of protein, phosphorous, selenium, choline, copper, iodine and vitamin B12.

The Dangers of Shrimp to Dogs

When researching the safety of shrimp for dogs, there are five considerations that impact the danger.

  1. Pancreatitis or gastrointestinal upset can occur in dogs that aren’t use to shrimp or after ingestion of shrimp cooked with seasonings and butter. Too much oil, fat, or seasoning can lead to gastrointestinal upset or pancreatitis.
  2. There is a risk of choking or esophageal foreign bodies from the tails (shell). This is more common in small dogs but can occur in any dog.
  3. Ingestion of large amounts if fish tails can cause gastrointestinal upset and constipation.
  4. Raw shrimp can contain a bacterium that infects dogs (and you) such as E.Coli, salmonella and/or listeria which can cause symptoms of infection in dogs.
  5. Some dogs may be allergic to shrimp.

The answer to the question, “can dogs eat shrimp” …the answer is yes.

If your dog ingested shrimp and is showing symptoms such as trouble swallowing, vomiting, diarrhea, not eating or lethargy, please call your veterinarian or closest emergency clinic.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Any food can cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs. What may not cause illness in one dog may create sickness in another dog. The same can happen in people. Some foods that bother some people may not affect others.

Do Dogs Need Shrimp?

There is nothing in shrimp that dogs require however shrimp is a very good source of protein and nutrients. Learn more about the nutritional needs of dogs. Go to Nutrition in Dogs.

The Safest Way to Give Shrimp to Dogs

The safest way to give shrimp to your dog is to offer a small amount of unseasoned or lightly seasoned deveined cooked shrimp. If feeding shrimp, ½ of a shrimp is plenty for a small dog, 1 shrimp for a medium-sized dog, and 2 or 3 for a large sized dog.

Can Dogs Be Allergic to Shrimp?

Dogs can have food allergies including to shrimp. The most common food allergens in dogs are beef, chicken, and dairy. Symptoms of allergies in dogs can include skin infections, ear infections, scaly dry skin, and persistent itching.

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Can Dogs Eat Oranges?

Can Dogs Eat Oranges?

Dog owners commonly ponder about the toxicity of foods. The questions about the safety of different foods increased after learning that certain foods were toxic that led to a lot of press coverage. The most important toxic foods are Grapes and Raisins, Chocolate, and Peanut Butter.

Exposure to the dangers of these foods have encouraged pet owners to ask about other human foods such as can dogs eat oranges. Learn more about what dogs can and can’t eat in this article: The Ultimate Guide to What Dogs Can’t Eat.

Can Dogs Eat Oranges?

An orange is a round, oblong or spherical shaped fruit grown from an orange tree which is a kind of evergreen tree. It is not considered a wild fruit but a domesticated cross between a pomelo and a mandarin orange. The orange has a thick green skin (when not ripe) or orange skin (when ripe). The inner fruit has a white tissue that encapsulates inner segments called carpels. Each carpel is segmented by a membrane with each containing the sweet fruit and seeds.

There are many types of orange with the most common orange being the sweet orange, also known as Citrus sinensis. Oranges originated from China and are now grown in many tropical and subtropical climates with Brazil, China and India being the biggest orange producers.

The answer to the question, “can dogs eat Oranges”… the answer is yes. They can also eat tangerines and clementines. Dogs can eat oranges but in moderation. Dogs frequently love the soft moist texture and many enjoy this as a healthy snack. Oranges are a good source of Vitamin C, potassium, thiamine, and folate.

Oranges are very high in sugar and as with any food can cause gastrointestinal upset in some dogs. What may not bother one dog may cause problems in a different dog. The same can happen in people. Some foods can bother one person but not another.

The Dangers of Oranges to Dogs

Ingestion of large amounts of oranges can cause gastrointestinal upset. Ingestion of orange peels can cause gastrointestinal obstruction. The peels are very difficult to ingest. Signs of problems include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, abdominal pain, straining to defecate, and/or a decreased appetite.

The other danger of oranges to dogs is the danger of choking – especially when a small dog eats a large section of orange or when any dog tries to eat the peel. Some dogs are not good at “chewing” their food and the danger of choking can occur.

SPECIAL ALERT: Please be careful if your dog eats anything orange flavored that contains the sweetener xylitol. This can be an ingredient in diet or low calorie pastries, especially those created for people with diabetes. Learn more about Xylitol Toxicity in Dogs.

Do Dogs Need Oranges?

There is nothing in oranges that dogs require on a regular basis. What dogs do need is a high quality AAFCO approved dog food. Learn more about Nutrition in Dogs.

The Safest Way to Give Oranges to Dogs

The safest way to give some orange to your dog is to give small pieces of peeled fresh orange without the seeds. Dogs should never be fed the orange peel.

How Much Orange Can You Give a Dog?

Approximately 1/3 of an orange is plenty to give a small dog, a half for a medium-sized dog and an entire orange for a large dog.

Can Dogs Have Orange Juice?

Dogs can have orange juice in small amounts but it can cause gastrointestinal upset in some dogs. The acidity can bother some dogs more than others.

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Can Dogs Eat Carrots?

Can Dogs Eat Carrots?

Dog owners commonly ponder about the toxicity of foods. The questions about the safety of different foods increased after learning that certain foods were toxic and have received a lot of press coverage. The most important foods are chocolate, grapes and raisins, and peanut butter. Exposure to the dangers of these foods have encouraged pet owners ask about other foods such as carrots.

Learn more about what dogs can and can’t eat in this article: The Ultimate Guide to What Dogs Can’t Eat.
Dogs often love the crunchy texture of carrots and can enjoy this as a healthy snack. Carrots are low in calories and have approximately 85 to 95% water and is a good source of vitamin K, potassium, beta-carotene, fiber and antioxidants.

Carrots (Daucus carota) are root vegetables, most commonly orange in color, domesticated from a wild carrot native to Europe and southwestern Asia. There are multiple varieties that can vary in color from the classic orange to purple, red, white, yellow and even black.

The answer to the question, can dogs eat carrots …the answer is yes. Carrots make a very good low-calorie treat for overweight dogs.

Please note: Any food can cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs. What may not bother one dog may bother another dog. The same can happen in people. Some foods can bother some people and not others.

The Dangers of Carrots to Dogs

When researching the safety of carrots for dogs, there are two considerations that impact the danger.

Pancreatitis or gastrointestinal upset in dogs that aren’t used to carrots or carrots cooked with seasonings and butter. Too much oil, fat, or seasoning can lead to gastrointestinal upset or pancreatitis.

  1. Risk of choking from eating large prices of carrots. This is more common in small dogs but can occur in any dog. Some dogs are not good at “chewing” their food and the danger of choking can occur.
  2. However, be aware that just because your dog can eat an occasional small piece of carrots, doesn’t suggest it is safe to give him your leftover salad. Salads often include additional ingredients, such as onions, garlic or even raisins, which can be toxic. However, it is generally okay to give your dog a piece of carrot.

Do Dogs Need Carrots

There is nothing in carrots that dogs require. What dogs do need is a high-quality AAFCO approved dog food. Learn more about what dogs require in their diet with this article: Nutrition in Dogs.

The Safest Way to Give Carrots to Dogs

The safest and healthiest way to give carrots to your dog is to give small pieces or amount of fresh cut carrot. Make sure the carrots are washed thoroughly to remove pesticides, fertilizers and potential contaminate such as E. coli or listeria. Cooked carrots are also a healthy option and best when unseasoned and steamed. Excess butter or seasoning can cause gastrointestinal upset in some dogs.

If your dog shows any sign of illness after eating carrots, please call your veterinarian or closest veterinary emergency clinic immediately.

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Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy in Dogs and Cats

Gluten-sensitive enteropathy, also known as celiac disease in humans, GSE, gluten allergy, and wheat-sensitive enteropathy, is a disease caused by an allergy or sensitivity to gluten that causes small intestinal disease that can occur in dogs and cats. Glutens are proteins found in grains such as wheat but also related to proteins in barley and rye.

In normal dogs and cats, ingested food is chewed, swallowed and broken down by digestive enzymes in the stomach. This ingesta then moves to the intestine where microscopic hair-like villa in the intestinal lining function to absorb nutrients. Thousands of hairline villa increase the absorptive surface allowing for a large surface area for absorption.

In dogs and cats with gluten-sensitive enteropathy, ingestion of gluten triggers an immune response that assaults the intestinal villa and causes them to atrophy (erode and flatten). This results in lack of absorption of vitamins and minerals leading to signs of failure to thrive, and weight loss or failure to gain weight. Lack of absorption also causes diarrhea.

The cause of gluten-sensitive enteropathy is due to a genetic defect. Gluten-sensitive enteropathy is an uncommon disorder in dogs and is believed to occur in cats but is not well documented. When it occurs, it can affect any sex, age, or breed of dogs however the Irish setter, soft-coated wheaten terrier, and the Samoyed are more commonly affected. By far the most common breed affected is the Irish setter and most commonly diagnosed when puppies or young to middle-aged.

What to Watch For

Dogs and cats with gluten sensitivity or intolerance may have the following clinical signs:

  • Failure to thrive
  • Poor weight gain or weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea which can be intermittent or persistent
  • Underweight thin body condition
  • Dull haircoat

Diagnosis of Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy in Dogs and Cats

The diagnosis of gluten-sensitive enteropathy is based on the following:

  • A physical examination generally reveals an underweight patient with a dull hair coat, history of diarrhea, and general failure to thrive.
  • Blood work and urinalysis is recommended to rule out other possible diagnoses and concurrent disease. A complete blood count, biochemical profile, and urinalysis are generally unremarkable.
  • Fecal examination is recommended to rule out concurrent parasitic infections.
  • Trypsin-like immunoreactivity (TLI) testing is recommended to determine if exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) is a cause for the gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Abdominal radiographs are recommended to evaluate for evidence for other causes of the clinical signs. Results are generally unremarkable.
  • Abdominal ultrasound is recommended to evaluate for evidence for other causes of the clinical signs. Results are generally unremarkable.
  • Serum folate and cobalamin levels may be normal or decreased. This can reflect malabsorption of nutrients.
  • The most accurate diagnostic test is a biopsy of the intestine that reveals abnormalities in the intestinal villi.
  • The final diagnosis of gluten-sensitive enteropathy is based on a dietary trial of a gluten free diet that leads to resolution of clinical signs.

Treatment of Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy in Dogs and Cats

Treatment options focus on dietary modification and elimination of all glutens from the diet. All grains that contain gluten are eliminated from the diet that includes wheat, barley, rye, oats and buckwheat.

Folate may be supplemented depending on blood values.

Prognosis for Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy in Dogs and Cats

The prognosis for dogs and cats with GSE is good with proper dietary modifications. Most symptomatic patients will respond medical therapy within one to two months.

It is important that pets with GSE not be given any grains in their core diets as well as treats or table scraps.

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Grain Free Dog Food Warning: What You Should Know

There are commonly dog food safety warnings and recalls for all dog foods including grain free dog food warnings. Recalls may be as a result of bacterial contaminations, abnormal concentrations of vitamins or nutrients making the formulation either deficient or toxic, or due to abnormal or toxic chemicals.

Overview Of The FDA’s Grain Free Dog Food Warning

There are several common causes for FDA recalls and warnings. Some of the common ones are due to various contaminations. For example, Salmonella and Listeria are bacterial contaminants that lead to dog food recalls.

In 2019, Hills Science Diet issued a Vitamin D toxicity warning for several formulations of canned dog foods. In 2018, a recall for grain free food was suggested based on potential taurine deficiency causing heart disease in dogs (more below). In 2007, a toxic contaminant with melamine caused kidney failure in dogs and cats. There are multiple recalls every year. Some of the foods recalled were grain free and some are not.

Below is an overview of 2019 and 2018 FDA warnings and recalls:

  • 01/31/2019 – Recall of Hill’s Science Diet Canned Dog Food due to Elevated Vitamin D levels. Hill’s Pet Nutrition.
  • 12/21/2018 – Recall of Columbia River Natural Pet Foods Dog and Cat fresh frozen meats due to potential to be contaminated with Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. Columbia River Natural Pet Foods.
  • 12/07/2018 – Recall for 9Lives Cat food due to low levels of Thiamine. J.M Smuckers Company.
  • 12/05/2018- Recall for Abound Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe dog food due to Elevated level of Vitamin D. The Kroger Company.
  • 12/05/2018- Recall for Columbia River Natural Pet Foods Frozen meat product for dogs and cats due to contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. Columbia River Natural Pet Foods.
  • 11/29/2018 – Recall for Elm Pet Foods Pet Food due to Elevated levels of Vitamin D. ELM Pet Foods.
  • 11/28/2018 Recall for ANF Lamb and Rice Dry Dog Food due to Elevated Levels of Vitamin D. ANF, Inc.
  • 11/27/2018 – Recall for Evolve, Sportsman’s Pride, and Triumph Dry Dog Food due to potentially elevated levels of Vitamin D. Sunshine Mills Inc.

Check out the full list of pet food recalls here.

The 2018 Grain Free Dog Food Warning and Recall

In 2018, an article was published about the risk of grain free foods as a possible cause of heart disease in dogs. The article “A Broken Heart: Risk of Heart Disease in Boutique or Grain-free Diets and Exotic Ingredients” was published June 4th 2018, by Dr. Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist at Tufts University, suggested that some grain free dog foods might cause Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM).

This article inflamed readers and dog owners. Since that time, it appeared that more research is needed and nothing was conclusive. This possible heart issue was due to a possible deficiency in the nutrient “taurine” and not caused by a lack of grains in the food. Based on updates, there are still more questions than answers.

Marketing has a big influence on people and the media has promoted this article to great extremes. In my experience as a practicing veterinarian in a community that is very sensitive to good canine nutrition and where grain free foods are commonly fed, there has not been any increased incidence of heart disease diagnoses in dogs. In fact, we recognize the positive results and benefits of good quality and grain free foods every day.

What It Could Mean for Your Dog

It is important to monitor the media and websites for dog food recalls. Purchasing your food from a local pet food store or online stores that track your purchases will often provide you with immediate information about pet food recalls based on your purchases. These notifications can come by text, mail, or email.

Check this link to look for recalls.

If you read about or receive notification of a dog food recall for a food or treat that you are feeding your dog, immediately stop feeding the product. Contact your veterinarian to help you determine the impact of the warning. Some recalls are very minor and others pose significant health risks.

What Questions You Should Ask Your Vet

Questions to ask your vet about feeding grain free foods, dog food safety, and your dog’s food individual needs may include:

  • Which company do they believe produces the best quality food?
  • Which companies have had little or no recalls?
  • Which food do they recommend for your dog?
  • What is your dog’s body condition? Is your dog overweight, underweight, or just right?
  • How much should you feed your dog based on your dogs body condition and the food being fed?

What Are Health Risks or Benefits of Grain Free Dog Food

There are essentially no health risks associated with feeding a high quality grain free high quality dog food balanced to meet the needs of your dog.

What Are the Benefits of Grain Free Dog Food?

Various types of dog foods have developed over the years in parallel with human food trends. In our supermarket, there are aisles of foods that are “sugar-free”, “gluten-free”, “dairy-free”, “organic”, and/or “low carb” to meet the perceived needs of human consumers. The goal is to eat a “healthier” food.

As people have looked for these various food features for themselves, many express interests in providing the same attributes they use for their own nutrition to their dogs’ foods. Dog food companies have created many types of dog foods with one of the most popular being grain free foods. Pet owners commonly want to know about the benefits of grain free dog food.

What is Grain Free Dog Food?

A grain is defined by Wikipedia as “a small, hard, dry seed, with or without an attached hull or fruit layer, harvested for human or animal consumption.” Most grains are grown in crops.

A grain free dog food is defined as a food with fewer grains or ideally with absolutely no grains. Learn about Do Dogs Need Grains in Their Diet?

Some pet owners confuse grain with gluten or low carbohydrate dog foods. A grain free food is not a low-carbohydrate food. Many “grain-free” foods contain other carbohydrates such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca, apples, or green peas.

A gluten free diet is not grain free. Glutens are contained in many grains.

There have been grain free dog food recalls – learn more Grain Free Dog Food Warning: What You Should Know.

Food Allergies in Dogs

Allergies in dogs are very common and they make dogs miserable. Food allergies are thought to be a fairly uncommon cause for canine allergies but when present are easier to treat than other types of allergies. Dogs that are allergic to weeds, tree pollens, molds, and dust mites (just to name a few) are very difficult to treat because you can’t eliminate them from your dog’s environment. However you can change what you feed.

When a food allergy is suspected, many veterinarians recommend a “food trial” which consists of feeding a very specific food or ingredients for a period of time which may be a couple of months. There are to be no other treats, table foods or anything else fed during this time other than the grain free food or treats approved by your veterinarian. This is the best way to diagnose a food allergy. Eliminate the food and see how your dog responds.

Some dogs need more than one food trial as you figure out what works for your dog. Your vet may recommend a fish based grain free food trial and if that doesn’t work change to a different protein such as a lamb based grain free food. Some veterinarians may recommend food with categorized as “limited ingredient” foods. These diets include uncommon protein sources that are unlikely to cause reactions in a dog. For example, Zignature® makes a Kangaroo Limited Ingredient Formula Grain-Free Dry Dog Food. Other proteins that may be recommended include Bison, Trout, Venison, and many more.

Symptoms of Grain and Food Allergies in Dogs

Signs of allergies in dogs may include any or all of the following:

  • Itchy skin, especially around the face, paws and feet, and ears
  • Foul skin odor
  • Flaky dry skin or scaling skin
  • Hair loss, hot spots
  • Red bumps, rashes, or papules
  • Ear infections
  • Self-inflicted skin trauma resulting from severe itching
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, and/or flatulence (although most dogs with food allergy only develop skin problems
  • Some dogs will create wounds from severe itching such as lick lesions or scratches.

How to Tell if Your Dog is Sensitive to Grains or Glutens

It can be very difficult to determine if a dog has a grain allergy or “sensitivity”. Blood tests are available but are considered unreliable and inaccurate. An allergen saliva test is available but not commonly used nor considered reliable.

A very common way for pet parents and veterinarians to determine if a dog has a food allergy such as one to grain is to feed an “elimination diet”. For a dog suspected of having an allergy to grains, a grain free food is recommended. It is important to work with your vet to select a pet food company that produces a consistent high quality product. It is essential to ensure that no other foods with possible grains are fed to your dog during a food elimination trial. This means no table food, no treats, and no snacks unless expressly approved by your veterinarian.

By eliminating the grains from the diet, you can evaluate your dog to determine if the symptoms resolve. Itchy skin, skin infections, ear problems may gradually resolve.