Posts Tagged ‘Allergies’

Allergies – The Whole Story

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

As some of you may have noticed, I’m on a bit of a sabbatical from training and nutrition as I deal with a temporary but long term illness. This has resulted in some serious doggy withdrawal, so I’m helping out friends and family with free advice where I can. Many people have been asking me about allergies, so I thought “Hey, why not just put it all out there for everyone to learn!”. This blog will give you all the information you need to deal with allergies, without the cost of a consult! One key component to my allergy services is following the dog for one year – it’s crucial to remember that food changes need time to work, and that holistic remedies are gentle on the body, so they won’t cause symptom reduction overnight. But if you stick to the plan, I promise you’ll see results! When I adopted Toby, he add nearly 50 allergens that caused a response in him – 6 years later, he has only 7. This kind of allergy protocol will not only help eliminate the symptoms, but it will also help to heal the immune system, and teach their body not to react to the things they previously did.

Dogs can suffer from both food and environmental allergies, typically characterized by chronic ear infections, itchy and stained paws, hot spots, red staining on the face or belly, an itchy body and gastric upset. First and foremost, it’s important that your vet confirms that your dog’s chronic issues do stem from allergies, and not another, potentially more threatening health issue. When everything else is ruled out, managing allergies can be challenging, but not impossible. While environmental allergies can be difficult to avoid, food allergies can be dealt with easily by eliminating the food that the dog is having a reaction to. Pervasive allergic responses can also result in your dog developing allergies to other things; an allergy prompts an immune response, and when the immune system is constantly reacting to something, it can sometimes start to react to things it never did in the past, so food allergies can lead to environmental allergies, and vice versa.

Food Allergies
Addressing a food allergy is best done through an elimination diet. Until recently, allergy testing was unreliable and costly, often resulting in frustration for the owner when results were inconclusive. Dr. Jean Dodds, the world’s leading researcher on thyroid function, nutrigenomics, and now allergies, has developed a wonderfully easy and comprehensive testing system that will provide you with a lengthy list of foods that your dog may or may not be allergic to. By visiting her site, nutriscan.org, you can complete the online application, pay the fee ($285), and they’ll send you a simple kit to collect saliva from your dog which you’ll send back, followed by the test results within a few short weeks. So far, next to elimination diets, this has been the most reliable test for food allergies, and can reduce the time of figuring out what the food allergies are by, in some cases, years. For many, though, the cost can be prohibitive. An elimination diet is more economical as the only associated costs are the foods you choose to use, and for many, it is still the only real way to know what your dog can tolerate. We begin this process by simplifying the diet as much as possible, usually with only one protein and one carb (i.e. Fish and Sweet Potato), and then build the diet from there (for kibble feeders, the best kibble for this is the series of Limited Ingredient diets from Natural Balance, or for commercial raw feeders, a new veterinary line of whole food, lightly processed food called Rayne is also available). The most common mistake we make in elimination diets is time – an allergy can stay in the body for up to 12 weeks, and when we’re making changes after just a couple of days or weeks, we may not be seeing the true results of the food test. For example, if your dog is allergic to chicken, and you switch to a salmon based diet, you’ll need to stay on the salmon diet (unless of course the condition worsens) for 12 weeks before you’ll know if your dog is reacting to something in the new diet. Once you’ve passed the 12 week point, and your dog is showing improvements, begin adding one new ingredient (even if in the form of a topper or a treat) every two weeks, provided there are no additional allergic reactions. Remember though, if you add a food that causes a reaction, you’ll be back into that 12 week cycle. The idea being that eventually, you’ll have built a list of foods that your dog tolerates well, and be able to expand their diet options. Be sure that everyone who has access to your dog understands his strict diet limitations – one little tidbit fed from a friend can result in 12 weeks of waiting! Also be cautious of treats (staying within your approved ingredient list) and access to other dogs’ food in multi-dog households.
TIP: most dogs will react to a food that they’ve had in abundance throughout their life, and for many that begins with grains and chicken. A good starting point for those new to elimination diets is to cut out grain (not just gluten-free) and chicken first, and see how your dog improves.

Environmental (Outdoor) Allergies
Environmental allergies are typically things like pollen, grasses, trees, and other outdoor stimulants. If you believe your dog has both forms of allergy, keep in mind that an elimination diet can be very challenging to conduct when your dog may also be reacting to pollens. For those of us with dogs who have both types, elimination diets are really only reliable when done during the colder months so that you can easily differentiate between the food causing the response versus the outdoors causing the response. For many, medications like Benadryl or steroids seem to be the only option to stave off symptoms of outdoor allergies, and sometimes, they are necessary. While I’m a big fan of using as many holistic options as I can, medications have their place. If despite all your efforts, your dog’s allergy symptoms are causing secondary health issues like chronic loose stool, gastric upset, chewing of their paws or skin to the point of bleeding, or even aural hematomas from chronic ear infections, you may need to medicate your dog. Risk of skin infections, pain from self-harm, and even repeated surgery to deal with hematomas are all detrimental to your dog’s health, and often a compromise must be made to weigh the damage from medications versus the damage from these health issues. However, options are available to not only protect your dog’s body from medications, but also to reduce or eliminate the need for them. (More details available on the following supplements in the Supplements section of this article) Milk Thistle is a wonderful supplement to protect the liver, as is Turmeric, which can also help to balance the immune system. Fish oil acts to not only promote a healthy coat, but also contains anti-inflammatory properties to help manage allergy response. Probiotics are probably the most important addition to a dog’s diet when dealing with the yeast that develops in an allergy dog – and it should be provided in the form of either powder or tablet – yogurt just doesn’t have enough probiotic in it to provide the relief you’re looking for without feeding so much dairy it upsets your dog’s stomach. Raw, local honey is also a gentle way to desensitize your dog to pollens, and if used long term, can have considerable effects. Lastly, topical treatments like Apple Cider Vinegar, Colloidal Silver, Coconut Oil, and Oil of Oregano are all great products for destroying yeast build up, conditioning the skin and relieving itch.

Supplements are under less strict guidelines than pharmaceutical drugs, so the quality of the supplement can vary considerably from manufacturer to manufacturer. Always purchase supplements from a reliable source, such as an independent and integrity driven pet store, human health food store, or online from manufacturers such as the ones outlined below. Purchasing supplements in most big box stores, pharmacies, grocery stores (non-organic sections) etc. will often result in a supplement that, when tested, does not meet the levels that the label may say it does, and they, for the most part, contain entirely synthetic ingredients. This results in an ineffective supplement that can even go as far as increasing your dog’s toxin load. Supplements can be an incredible source of relief and immune support for your dog, and spending a few extra dollars on them can actually save you money in veterinary costs in the long run. If you’re concerned about dosage, function or interaction, check out www.healthypets.mercola.com, where Dr. Karen Becker has an answer to almost every popular supplement given to our animals.
Note: I will indicate below when a supplement should be purchased in the ‘human supplement’ form. Many supplements marketed to dogs are simply waste product from the supplements made for humans. If the product for humans isn’t high in quality, the waste product for our dog certainly won’t be. In many cases, there simply isn’t a company who can make both human and pet products and maintain the quality needed, with the exception of Canadian based Omega Alpha, and a handful of other very small manufacturers. I’ll indicate below for each supplement whether you should be looking for a human product or a dog product.

Milk Thistle (human): Milk Thistle is an herb with the primary function of protecting and rebuilding the liver. It should contain at least 80% Sylmarin, and my favourite brands are Omega Alpha or Naka. It’s a daily supplement that should always be given to dogs who are on pharmaceutical drugs that degrade the liver, but has a function with dogs who don’t take medication as well. In the Tips section below, I describe some of the things that can contribute to a dog’s ‘Toxic Load’, and since the liver is responsible for removing toxin from the body, keeping it healthy and functioning well is crucial for all dogs.

Turmeric (human): If you’re interested in feeding turmeric, I’d first recommend a Facebook Group known as TUG (Turmeric User Group) – it’s full of wonderful stories about the human and animal lives it has changed, cancers it has removed, and the incredible improvements it’s made in very sick individuals. It is moderated in part by one of the world’s leading veterinary researchers of turmeric, so the advice given in the Files section has considerable scientific backing. Turmeric is fat soluble, and should always be fed with some form of fat, and it’s absorption is increased by 2000% if fresh (not pre-ground) black pepper is added in a small amount. Turmeric supplements/capsules for dogs are not recommended – they contain too much of the active ingredient ‘curcumin’ which can deplete kidney function when fed in such concentrated amounts. The spice contains nature’s ideal balance of curcumin, which has huge benefits for liver function, inflammation, gastro issues, and even cardiovascular health. It improves energy, sleep function, and helps to cleanse the system. It’s another supplement that even dogs without health issues can reap the benefit of.

Probiotics (human or dog): Probiotics are groups of healthy, helpful bacteria that live in the gut. For most dogs, those probiotics have been stripped, and we need to supplements them. There are multiple strains of probiotic bacteria (such as acidophilus) and the more strains a probiotic supplement contains, the more beneficial it will be. They can also be supplemented with Digestive Enzymes, which are the enzymes responsible for breaking down proteins, carbohydrates, fats and sugars. A healthy gut is the starting point of a healthy immune system, and healthy bacteria is very helpful in fighting bad bacteria such as yeast overgrowth so common in allergy dogs. My favourite brand is Omega Alpha’s Probiotic 8 Plus, or Kazooticals. My favourite human brands to be used on dog’s are Renew Life’s Flora Smart, or Natural Factors Multi-Probiotic.

Raw/Unpasteurized Honey:
The key component to honey’s benefits is to buy local honey, from within approx. 200 kms from your home. The idea behind raw honey is that the pollens haven’t been destroyed by pasteurization, and that those pollens are the same pollens that your dog is exposed to at home. Feeding honey year round helps to desensitize your dog to very small amounts of the allergy, allowing your dog’s immune system to recognize that pollen but not react to it. Therefore, when pollen begins outside, your dog’s body has learned to tolerate it. Honey also has wonderful benefits for skin health, and immune balancing.

Topical Treatments:
As I mentioned earlier, holistic treatments take time to work, so when you first begin you may still see things like itchy ears, itchy paws and hot spots. The topical treatments I mentioned will help to address those issues. Apple Cider Vinegar is a product you can include both in your dog’s food or water, as well as topically provided there are no scratches or lesions (it can sting). It should always be purchased as an organic product ‘with mother’ (it will say on the bottle), such as Bragg’s brand, which is available in most grocery stores. Products that don’t say organic and ‘with mother’ will not be effective. Colloidal Silver is another product that can be applied topically or in food, though if given internally it will interfere with probiotic function as it acts as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal solution. I’ll often treat itchy ears or paws with Colloidal Silver followed by Coconut Oil, both internally and topically (always organic and cold pressed), as Coconut Oil can actually destroy the nucleus of yeast. Finally, a few other tinctures I love are Oil of Oregano for ear health, Vet’s Best two-part ear cleaner, and Espree Natural Spray bandage on sore and itchy paws.

Gastric Support:
If your dog experiences gastric issues, my all time favourite supplement to use is from Prescribed Animal Wellness, called Gastro Herbal Blend. It contains herbs like Slippery Elm, Burdock Root and Marshmallow Root to protect and heal the colon and bowel, and help to firm up stool and make for a healthier gastric system. It is available from www.animalwellness.weebly.com.


- Because allergies are the result of the immune system’s over reaction, limiting your dog’s exposure to toxins is a great way of preventing or reducing allergies. If the immune system is always being challenged by toxin, it never has a chance to ‘relax’ and function normally. Consider eliminating scent diffusers and plug-ins in your home, avoid fabric sprays that your dog will walk/lie on and then consume through licking themselves, and switch to natural cleaning products.
- The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) has recently changed it’s vaccination protocols for core vaccines to once every three years. Do some research on the science available about vaccines, and speak to your vet (and perhaps get a second opinion from a holistic vet) about minimal vaccine protocols. The science available to us about canine immunology and vaccinations is far different from that which is available about humans and children, and well worth the investigation on your part
- Keep a journal of what your dog eats, what changes you make, the season, and how your dog is seeming to feel. Working with allergies is a long-term commitment, and we can easily forget what works and what doesn’t. Tracking your progress (or lack thereof) can make life much easier, and avoid duplication of trial and error


Making Healthy Choices for Kibble Fed Dogs

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

The majority of us who own dogs do so because they are wonderful companions, dear friends, and members of the family. In fact, many dogs owners I know prefer their dog’s company to that of people! We love our dogs, and do our best to make choices for them that will make them happy, healthy, and to create longevity of life expectancy. But, when it comes to food, making these choices can be confusing and difficult, as we’re led down the garden path by pet food companies, sales people, and medical professionals who sell food but do not specialize in canine nutrition. People often come to me for advice because I don’t sell food – I don’t profit from the food choices that you make, but I do advocate for a dog’s wellbeing, and spend a great deal of time learning what choices truly are best for your dog. Ultimately, the choice between a kibble diet versus a balanced raw diet is the choice between feeding a 100% processed, non human grade diet versus a fresh, whole, human grade ingredient diet. Just as we try to feed ourselves fresh, whole foods more often than processed foods, I realize that is not an option for everyone, and it is my goal to help you feed the best possible diet within your means. The healthier the diet you choose, the less likely it is your dog will experience chronic (and expensive) health issues, and the more likely it is that your dog will have more balanced behaviour (food feeds the brain, after all).

A note on recalls: Any food, human or otherwise, is at risk of recall. This can be due to packaging issues, quality concerns, or the results of testing feedback. What we want to see following any recall is transparency of information (were we made aware immediately, were the parameters of the recall clear, did the company promptly and clearly answer your questions), preventative recalls (meaning the company recalled the product based on their own concerns, as opposed to a recall being forced upon the company by the FDA), regular third party testing (where the company has food tested PRIOR to distribution by an outside company, rather than by it’s own in house testers post-distribution), and most importantly, changes to the protocols to prevent future recalls. Did they change warehouses, replace ingredient suppliers, improve pre-distribution testing? Most importantly, are third party websites that are not controlled by the kibble company revealing mostly positive or negative reviews of the food when it’s fed by the average pet owner? Also consider the source of the company’s ingredients – ‘Manufactured in Canada’ does not mean the ingredients are from Canada! When asked, does the company give you information about what country supplies their ingredients, and does that country maintain the same food safety standards as we do in Canada?

Ignore the marketing!! Recently, pet food companies have begun advertising their food by showing you fresh, whole foods as a component of their product. I personally find this ironic, given that if you were to actually feed this food in it’s advertised “real food” form, as opposed to it’s kibble form, you’ll be laughed out of the vet’s office and told by the kibble companies that this is not an acceptable way of feeding your pet. The ingredients in pet food, for the most part, are NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION! Kibble is a processed food, often comprised of the parts of foods made for humans that are not considered fit to be consumed by humans – this is why so many kibble companies are actually owned by a parent company that produces human food products. Rather than pay to dispose of all the waste from this production, the waste is instead used to make dog food, which the company can profit from. In addition, the regulations for marketing dog food are different from those for marketing human food. For example, you can find a canned food that is called ‘simmered beef flavour’, which actually contains little to no beef, and whose protein sources are primarily chicken and soy. So, how you can avoid these tricks? Learn to read the ingredients!

Read the label! No matter what any sales person tells you, the benefits (or lack thereof) of any food are based in their ingredients – both content and quality. Remember, dogs are carnivores, so meat is the most important ingredient on the label. One major misconception is the term ‘meal’ – many people think that’s a terrible thing. Ingredients on a label must be listed by weight, with the heaviest product being first. Meal is simply a meat which has had it’s water content removed. Consider a chicken breast – it’s approximately 80% water. If the water has been removed, thus reducing it’s weight significantly, and chicken meal is your first ingredient, the content of meat in the diet when meal is the first ingredient is high. By-products are simply the part of the meat that are not considered part of the human diet, mainly because we find them distasteful. If we again use chicken as an example, this can include feet, beaks, gizzards, heads, and feathers. Although feathers are basically indigestible (just have a look at the stool of the wolf who raids the chicken coop), the other components mentioned are digestible, and often nutrient dense. Where we see concerns in meat products is when the food contains an unnamed meat, such as ‘meat meal’, ‘meat by-product meal’ etc. There is a reason that companies don’t name their meats, and often it’s because the meat chosen is very unsavoury to the human eye. Ann Martin’s book “Food Pets Die For” is an excellent resource for any person who feeds kibble, and she elaborates on what ‘meat’ is acceptable for use in kibble. This is often the tipping point for people who are so appalled by what is actually in dog food that they end up switching to a fresh, human grade diet such as raw.

In my opinion, the most significant ingredient issue in kibble is grain loading. Remember, ingredients are listed by weight, but kibble companies are allowed to split ingredients in the food and list them separately, often resulting in a grain loaded diet. For example, here’s an ingredient list from a major pet store brand pet food : Chicken meal, corn gluten meal, brown rice, oatmeal, barley, natural chicken flavour, chicken fat, rice, dried beet pulp (sugar removed), pork meal, pea fiber, wheat gluten meal, anchovy oil. Now, if we actually count the grains listed in this food, we’ll find that there are six sources of grain. Compare that to one meat listing at the beginning of the ingredient list, you’re now seeing that this is a grain loaded diet! If the company were required to combine it’s grain listing, the grain would most certainly outweigh the meat! Given that dogs are carnivores, and have a minimal requirement for carbohydrate in the diet, this is not an ideal diet for a dog, and it is not biologically appropriate. Because the dog’s metabolism is not designed for such high grain intake, the body can react to this food as a foreign substance, or in other words, the dog can develop allergies (symptoms are often soft stool, itchy paws, chronic ear infections, body odour, etc.). Unused grain is also converted by the body into stored fat, and reduces the body’s ability to break down dietary fat and protein – a magic combination that causes obesity in dogs! Weight loss in dogs is often best achieved, in my opinion, by a moderate protein (24-34%), moderate fat (12-18%) diet low in grain, combined with daily exercise and small, healthy treats.

Why are we avoiding wheat, corn and soy? Of late, this has also become a popular marketing tool, but is a serious consideration when choosing a kibble. These grains and the soy bean are the most heavily genetically modified ingredients in the world, meaning that the base dna of the product has been changed, often resulting in the body’s inability to recognize it as a food, resulting in allergies. Dr. Joseph Mercola states the following about soy: “Thousands of studies link soy to malnutrition, digestive distress, immune system breakdown, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders and infertility — even cancer and heart disease.
One of the primary reasons it would be wise for you to avoid soy is that more than 90 percent of soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified. Since the introduction of genetically engineered foods in 1996, we’ve had an upsurge in low birth weight babies, infertility, and other problems in the U.S., and animal studies have shown devastating effects from genetically engineered soy including allergies, sterility, birth defects, and offspring death rates up to five times higher than normal.” Based on studies such as these, along with extremely high pesticide content in these ingredients, many kibble companies have recognized the public’s concern about these foods, and eliminated them from their products, which is a wonderful move forward for kibble. Most kibble companies have also found more natural ways to preserve their foods, as opposed to some who are still choosing to use BHA and BHT, known carcinogens now banned in human food production, and ethoxyquin, which if fed in large amounts has been linked to cancer as well.

Lastly, consider what makes sense to you about what a dog can nutritionally use. Do you really think there is a lot of nutrition that can be absorbed in a peanut hull? Can a dog absorb much nutrition from a diet solely comprised of soy protein isolate, starch and vegetable oil (yes, this is a real ingredient list from a veterinary prescription diet)? If unused grain converts to fat, is a grain-only weight loss diet really healthier, or are the ingredients simply not being absorbed by the dog, causing him to lose weight (meaning, is the dog being nutritionally starved?)? These are questions I ask myself, and that I believe all dog owners should consider when deciding what their dog will consume for the foreseeable future. Humans are omnivores, meaning we are designed to eat meat, grains, vegetables etc., but we cannot remain healthy on a diet solely comprised of grains. If a dog is physiologically designed to eat mostly meat, does it make sense to feed only soy protein isolate (like soy flour), starch, vegetable oil and a multi-vitamin for every single meal for the rest of their life? Could YOU eat that, and be healthy?

Many veterinary nutritionists and homeopathic research vets have spent a great deal of time trying to educate the veterinary community and dog owners on the pitfalls of the common kibble diet. For more information about this, please watch this short 8 minute video from Dr. Karen Becker: http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2011/11/08/new-trends-in-pet-food.aspx

Please note that these are solely the opinions of The Dog’s Assistant (Erica Garven), and that I am not a veterinarian. The opinions contained herein are based on research provided by a variety of veterinary nutritionists and canine nutrition professionals. All dog owners are encouraged to consult a veterinarian who specializes in nutrition in place of, or in addition to, their regular veterinarian prior to making diet changes.


Canada AM Canine Nutrition Segment – August 20, 2013

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Thank you for watching this morning’s broadcast of Canada AM! It is my sincere hope that you enjoyed the segment, and that you learned something new about how to feed your dog for good health. Remember, nutrition is the foundation for good health, and just as a human needs fresh, whole foods to be in optimal health, so do our dogs. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my dog’s coat shine, his teeth gleaming white (at 8 years of age!), his behaviour balanced, and best of all, dealing with a lot less odor when I pick up after him! Keep an eye on my future blogs to detail more about choosing a healthier kibble, using the right supplements, allergy issues and raw food advantages! Or feel free to browse my blog history!

If you’d like to learn more about what you heard today, please consider attending one of my Sunday seminars, geared towards all dogs owners who want to better understand how to feed their dog for good health, including kibble choices, allergies and raw feeding. My next seminar is scheduled for October 6th, 2013, and you may purchase tickets from All About Dogs, located at Keele and Lawrence in Toronto, Ontario. Please contact them via their website at www.allaboutdogs.ca

The products showcased on today’s show are as follows:
(please note that this was prepared prior to the broadcast, and some items may or may not have been included in the live presentation)

PC Nutrition First Dog Food (kibble) – the segment’s sponsor


***Please note that if you live in the west end of the GTA, I have collaborated with Global Pet Foods Oakville and Port Credit locations to raise 7% of all purchases for Boxer Rescue Ontario. Just mention my name and the fundraiser when you visit the Oakville or Port Credit locations of Global Pet Foods! All purchases qualify!!

All raw meat products were provided by Ontario’s best raw food supplier:
Heronview Raw and Natural

Supplements provided by Heronview Raw and Natural include:
Feed-sentials K9 (nutritional food supplement, raw diet balancer)
Phyt’n Chance K9 (phytonutrients and anti-oxidant blend)
Carnivora Cold Water Fish Oil

Probiotic and Digestive Enzyme Blend:
Kazooticals Probiotic Complex

Omega Nutrition Apple Cider Vinegar



Fruit and vegetables were purchased at a local organic retailer. Please remember that veggies must be pureed prior to being fed, as dogs don’t have the necessary enzymes to break down plant wall the way humans do. If you break down the veggies for them by pureeing, your dog can absorb all the wonderful vitamins and minerals available. Fruits can be fed whole, or pureed. Never feed fruit pits or seeds as they are toxic to dogs, and never feed grapes, raisins, onions or garlic (the highest amount of garlic that is safe for a dog is one clove (not on entire bulb!) per 75lb dog per day, so please use sparingly). And of course, no chocolate!

The Dog’s Assistant’s Personalized Nutrition Assessments:
Please note that at this time, we are no longer providing diet design services. However, we are pleased to continue to offer Allergy Support Services via phone or email for dogs who have been diagnosed with allergy related issues. Please note that we will not provide these services for dogs who have not received an official diagnosis of allergies from their vet, as other skin or digestive issues may be at play an may require medical intervention. PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT I AM NOT A VETERINARIAN AND CANNOT OFFER YOU ANY MEDICAL ADVICE.

Allergy consults can be done as a single phone consult for $85, or a full year of support (recommended) can be provided (phone or email only) for $240. Fees must be paid in full in advance of the first consult (the first consult is always done by scheduled phone appointment) and can be paid by email transfer or cheque. Please contact me directly to set up an appointment at erica@thedogsassistant.ca, or via the Contact Us page on this website.


Nutrition Advice – is it making our dogs sick?

Monday, December 10th, 2012

I write each of my blogs with the hope that it will entertain and educate the reader, and ultimately improve the lives of dogs whose owners are so dedicated as to endeavor upon a journey of learning about their dog’s behaviour and nutritional requirements. I try not use this blog space as a spouting ground for the things in the dog world that annoy, frustrate or disappoint me. But, every once in a while, something impacts me enough that I not only need to write about it to alleviate some of my own frustration, I also need to write about it so that others in the dog community can help to bring an end to the forces that work against our dogs. It’s easy for me to say that the path of punitive and invasive training is what pains me most, and I created a Foundation wherein people can learn and begin to move toward change in that arena. Today’s topic comes a close second, and it is the misleading and quite frankly dangerous world of nutrition advice.

I recently visited a dog, a lovely 8 year old Airedale Terrier, who has been assuaged by allergies for nearly two years now. His person, an experienced and loving dog owner, has done her very best over the past two years to follow her vet’s advice, seek out information, and work to make life a little easier for her poor boy. His allergies are, and have been, so severe that his entire body is covered in a white, oily, pungent bacteria, he is incredibly itchy, and of course very uncomfortable. He’s also lost approximately 4kg, and is considerably underweight despite all her attempts to provide the best nutritional care for him, based on the information provided to her. Finally, after a recent visit to her vet where he essentially threw his hands in the air in surrender, she decided to contact me for some advice.

Before I go on, I’d like to clarify that I have a profound respect for veterinarians. They are practitioners, pharmacists, surgeons, practicing on multiple species further complicated by patients who cannot speak. Quite frankly, I think they far outperform our own medical doctors, and I am forever in the debt of a few vets who have brought my ‘kids’ back from the brink. But, in my opinion, there is a flaw in the educational system for vets, and while nutrition should be a major part of their schooling given that it is the foundation of good health, the information provided to them throughout university is lacking, and that which is provided is done so via kibble manufacturers who present biased information. Certainly, there are vets who embark on their own educational improvements in nutrition, and can offer excellent advice in this realm for both healthy and sick dogs – but sadly, for many this is not the case. Having worked in a clinic myself, I know how busy a vet’s life can become, and how easy it is to be provided information by a pet food company about a kibble designed to compliment a specific health issue and simply include that food as part of the protocol. Their focus is on no less important things, but in my opinion, not on the reality of what these diets can do (or not do) to a dog’s physical well being.

The Airedale was prescribed a veterinary vegetarian blend and was being fed this food for approximately 18 months. The intention being that if the dog was reacting to an animal protein, the food which contained no animal protein would eliminate the allergy. The food’s first three ingredients, in order, are oat flour, rice and potato protein. The food appears to contain small amounts (listed well down the ingredient list) of carrot pomace and tomato pomace – the only sign of vegetable, despite the name of the kibble. When that didn’t work, the vet then prescribed another veterinary diet in the Hypoallergenic line. The first ingredients (and only actual food-like ingredients) are starch, soy protein isolate, and vegetable oil.

How any company claiming to be promoting the better health of dogs can produce a food with these ingredients and expect a dog to glean any nutrition from it is something I cannot even fathom. This dog was expected to live on this kibble, and in the case of allergies ONLY this kibble in case of contaminating the diet with other foods, for a considerable portion of it’s life. Starch and soy are nowhere close to meeting the nutritional requirements of a carnivorous animal, not to mention the fact that these three simple ingredients are not even considered to be human grade (meaning that pet food companies use ingredients that are not fit for human consumption, often discarded waste of human food processing).

It is also astonishing to me that these companies, and those who promote them, have not seen the research supporting the idea that the most likely cause of a food intolerance or allergy in a dog is grain! Many, many dogs who suffer the symptoms of allergies improve dramatically when switched to a grain free food. This is not to say that all allergies can be attributed to grain – certainly not – but if it was very likely that your dog’s allergies may be resolved by simply removing grain from the diet, wouldn’t that be the simplest first approach? Yet most veterinary line “hypoallergenic” diets on the market are almost entirely comprised of grain!

The subject of quality and responsibility in the pet food marketplace is a subject that I expound upon for several hours in my nutrition seminars, so I’ll limit myself here. Perhaps this short blog will lead you to investigate further, to read another wonderful blog by veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker (link below), or to read Ann Martin’s powerful book about how pet food is made called Food Pets Die For.

We can do better by the animals who give us their love and trust. Much, much better. Please, do some research (that hasn’t been done by a pet food company or a group that sells food), ask questions, and READ THE LABEL.

Dr. Becker’s blog about veterinary diets:


The first food mentioned in this blog:


The second food mentioned in this blog:



Christmas – Gone to the Dogs!

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Toby’s Christmas

Published December 2009 – Boxer Rescue Ontario Newsletter
Hi! Merry Christmas wiggles! My name is Toby and I’m a four year old Boxer. My Mom rescued me last August, and we have a great time together. So far, aside from walking, eating, playing with my toys and getting treats, my most favourite thing to do with Mom is this thing she calls Christmas. Last year, she told me all about this man named Santa! I never got to see him, but he must be a pretty cool guy because he brought me MORE treats, MORE toys AND he brought stuff for my Mom too! What a nice guy – he’s never even met me and he knows exactly what I like! I can’t wait until he comes again this year! This Christmas thing was just a pain before with all the new rules and tempting things, but now that Santa comes for ME, it all pays off!
The best part about Santa is that he wraps up my new presents in this special paper – and Mom lets me tear it apart and make a huge mess! She says I can have fun with it, but only if I only do it on this special day called Christmas. Mom says Santa gets this special paper without any of the toxins or dyes that might make my tummy upset, and that he gets it at this place called the SPCA, or some of the doggy grocery stores we go to. I can have regular wrapping paper too, but Mom has to be really careful that I don’t eat it. The stuff Santa brings for Mom has this pretty string on it called ribbon, but Mom keeps her wrapping and ribbons in a bag on the table because she keeps saying it’s not a toy and that I might choke on it. Maybe one day I can have ribbons for Christmas! They look so shiny and fun to play with! But Mom still says no and hides it out of my reach. Maybe one year Santa will bring me thumbs to grab stuff off the table with….
Before Christmas, Mom gets presents from a special early Santa for all the other humans, and she hides those too in case I wreck them. She’s always telling me about this stuff that looks like snow cookies called ‘styrofoam’, and that it could make me choke or be sick. Sometimes when the humans come over, they eat and drinks lots of cookies and smelly water, and they can get kinda loud and annoying. Some of the humans feed me their cookies, but they make my tummy sick, so Mom always says “no cookies for the dog!” and makes sure that no one comes into my room. I just stay in my room and watch from there sometimes because it’s a lot quieter, no one steps on my toes and it’s not so tempting to eat those fancy treats that are everywhere. That can be hard to pass up when you’re on a special diet like me!
Some of the humans bring my dog friends over to play with me. My friend Tyson showed me these weird things that look like little snakes, and at the other end of them are these pretty little lights in lots of different colours. Tyson likes to chew on them, but Mom says they’re called ‘electrical cables’, and she tries pretty hard to hide them behind the couch and stuff so that me and Tyson don’t play with them. She says we will get ‘electrocuted’, and whenever she puts out the cables before Christmas, she doesn’t leave me alone in the same room with them and I have to stay in my room when she goes out. Tyson also showed me how to jump up on the kitchen counter and grab the good human treats. His Mom gates off the kitchen when she’s playing with the other humans so that he can’t do that, and when my Mom caught us she moved most of the treats into the fridge, put some of them into containers we couldn’t get open, and moved the rest to the very back of the counter so we couldn’t get at them. Tyson was mad, but I didn’t care. At Christmas they eat lots of this brown stuff that smells really good, but every time I eat it Mom takes me to see Dr. Smith and he says I have chocolate poisoning and then he makes me throw it back out. It’s kinda yucky that way and Mom tells me after that I spent all my allowance at Dr. Smith. Believe me, it’s not the best way to spend your allowance!
Christmas time is sort of mean though too. I have to pass this special test where Mom brings the bathroom into the living room! For weeks there’s this big tree just staring at me begging me to go pee on it, and Mom says I can’t! It must be a special kind of tree, because it’s got all these shiny balls on it, just like the ones I play with outside! But every time I come within a foot of the tree, Mom says ‘leave it’ and I have to listen so that she’ll say I‘m a good boy. If I don’t leave it alone, she’ll come and make me lie down somewhere else, and sometimes I’d really rather just wander around. Besides, Mom practices these words like ‘leave it’ with me all year, so I pretty much understand and it’s just easier to do what Mom says. Might even get a cookie for it!
Even though I can’t go near the tree and play with the toys on it, and I can’t pee on it, and I can’t eat all the good food, and all these humans come and bug me, Mom makes it better when she lets me go into my own room and get some peace and quiet, and Santa makes it WAY better ‘cause be brings me so much cool stuff! I think I’m starting to figure this out! Mom says she talked to Santa and I’m getting some really great new toys this year! Just 30 more big sleeps and 120 meals and 60 walks and 422 naps till he gets here again! Wiggle bum! Wiggle bum! Merry Christmas everyone!


Canine Allergies – Tis the Season

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Allergies in dogs can be one of the biggest frustrations for owners and dogs alike. Even the most seasoned veterinarian can have difficulty determining what a dog is allergic to. This can often be the time of year when your pup begins scratching, chewing at her paws, shaking his head or strangely jamming his face into the carpet for a full length run. Even behaviour changes can indicate an allergy. Most dogs present with simpler symptoms like rashes, bright red paws and ears, loose stool/diarrhea, and spotty hairloss. But what exactly is causing all of this is usually a mystery.

An avid reader of my blogs will be familiar with my Boxer (from Boxer Rescue Ontario) Toby, who is practically allergic to his own skin. We often refer to him as my second college education – relating to both the costs of maintaining him as well as the challenges he presents to me and his health care providers (yes, he has more than one!). Toby’s allergies include beef, lamb, wheat, soy, rice, asparagus, parsley, stainless steel, bees, grass, ragweed, most flowers and deciduous trees (those that shed their leaves). Thanks to Toby, flowers from my partner Shawn have to be either kept outside or made of plastic, which we discovered last November when a dozen roses that were lovely in the evening became a nightmare in the morning when Toby woke up with his face almost swollen shut. A quick visit to the vet soon fixed that, and a little creativity on Shawn’s part means I still get the pleasure of getting flowers without the panic of a balloon faced Toby.

As Toby is a rescue, it’s hard to say where his allergies truly began, but they were definitely apparent when he arrived at my home with what appeared to be chicken pox all over his body. The first thing I did was switch him to ceramic bowls, as stainless steel is a common allergen that is very easily resolved. His rash on his lips cleared up within days. The second thing I did was start an elimination diet. This was fairly easy as the family who surrendered him had only fed him one type of food in the 3 years that they had him, and he received limited treats and no table scraps. The fairly limited diet history was a bonus – meaning that I knew I had a lot of proteins and carbohydrates left to work with. When feeding a dog with food allergies, it’s extremely important to ‘save’ proteins so that as his life goes on, and allergies develop, there are still available proteins that he has not had before. The basis of this is in the fact that a dog is extremely unlikely to have an allergy to a protein he has never had before. Essentially, he was brought down to a diet that contained one protein and one carbohydrate, and we gauged his responses. We were quickly able to determine what foods he was tolerant of, and what he was in fact allergic to. He now receives only one protein (Salmon) and one carbohydrate, along with a healthy mix of fresh fruits and veggies.

The second component to determining his allergies was ensuring that he was otherwise healthy. Gut health is primary to resolving issues resulting from allergic reactions, and providing the dog the ability to better cope with allergies that don’t go away, such as environmental allergies. This can be done by way of a healthy diet, pro-biotics, and a regular source of fiber. Healthy blood flow and a stable immune function can also help, and can be remedied by the right mix of vegetables, herbal treatments and clean sources of food. Over vaccination is also known to contribute to an over active immune system, and the relevance of this to your dog should be reviewed with your veterinarian. Dr. Jean Dodds has done extensive research on the subject, and you may find the information found on her website very helpful. Remember that it is an over-active immune system that can be the real cause of an allergy, and the body’s intolerance of certain foods and plants causing an overreaction presenting in the form of an allergy.

If you feed a kibble diet, keep in mind that an allergy can take about 6 weeks to leave the system. A properly rationed change to a new kibble should still be done, and you may go through a bag or two before you really know if the dog is allergic. Try to choose a kibble containing a protein that the dog has never had before, and as much as possible work with the fewest ingredients possible so that you can better identify the allergy. Treating should be kept to the same protein, and most kibble companies manufacture complimenting treats. If your dog seems to only exhibit allergy in the spring and fall, you may consider that this is an environmental allergy, and consult your vet for treatment. A chronically allergic dog can develop secondary issues as a result of being itchy, such as aural hematomas of the ear, which require surgery, or even irritable bowel syndrome or clogged anal glands due to chronic loose stool.

Allergies should not be ignored, and with time and dedication, they can be managed. The key factor is patience, and the right guidance is available from professionals such as The Dog’s Assistant.


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