What is the best way to store dry pet food?

People often ask why we do not carry a huge amount of food, or those gigantic large pound bags. Simply put, freshness! We encourage folks to not buy more food than their pet(s) will consume in a few weeks. This is because from the minute you open the bag of food, the vitamin potential and taste begin to decrease.

How you store it, and what you store it in is very important. Do you buy large plastic bins from the big lot stores? These may not be the best choice as the plastic can leach into the food. Look for FDA approved “food” containers.

Dry food is susceptible to food spoilage that can make your pet sick. Listen to your pet! Sometimes food problems (mold, bacterial and fungal growth) are invisible, but your pet may alert you by refusing to eat it!

In a nutshell:

• Dry food is susceptible to TIME, HEAT, OXYGEN and MOISTURE.

• Whenever possible, keep food in its original bag placed down inside a tightly sealed container.

• Buy fresh food and don’t buy more than your pet will consume in a couple of weeks. Also, don’t pour the remnants of an older bag into the newer bag. This bad habit can transfer bacteria.

• If you do buy those large bags, and use a food container, only pour half of the bag into the container and store the rest in the freezer. Always wash your food container every time you refill it, or buy a new bag because containers can harbor molds and bacteria.

• Ideally, store food in the freezer, refrigerator or a cool, dark place. Preferably not your garage.



The 5 Reasons So Many Dogs Tear Their ACL

by Dr. James St. Clair. Posted in Joint Health And What You Can Do to Help Prevent It

Why is it that an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury in dogs is the most common orthopedic injury of all veterinary medicine? Did nature not make this ligament strong enough in dogs? Is it simply due to bad breeding, or are there other factors in play here with relation to this injury?

This question comes up a lot in discussions with my clients. They want to know why their dog got this injury, and if there was anything they could have done to prevent it. Here are the 5 most common predisposing factors to ACL injuries in dogs.

  1. Bad Breeding: We’re all familiar with the term “hip dysplasia.” It has been well documented that the 2 most common causes of this disease condition in dogs are bad breeding and over-nutrition at a young age. We will dig into this more in a future post. But how do hip problems lead to ACL injury? It’s simple: overcompensation.
    Over the years, veterinarians have discovered the direct correlation between hip dysplasia and ACL injuries: if a dog blows their right ACL, X-ray the hips and sure enough many times you will see that the left hip is not good. This makes sense, right? If your left hip hurts, you are going to overcompensate and place more weight and stress on your right leg. Over time, this added stress weakens the Cranial Cruciate Ligament in that right knee. All it takes is a certain movement or hyperextension and POW, you blow the right.
  2. Natural Load: Dogs walk with their knees bent at all times, which means that the ACL is always “loaded,” i.e. carrying weight. Humans, on the other hand, walk with our knees straight up and down. This is why in people, we mostly see ACL injuries in athletes who hyperextend the knee, such as football or basketball players.
  3. Excess Weight: It is well documented that approximately 50% of dogs today are clinically overweight, and in most cases obese. Obviously, the more weight on the ligament, the more strain over time.
  4. Weekend Warrior Syndrome: This is what I call the plague of the domestic dog. Most dogs are natural-born athletes, but in western society – due to our lifestyle and work schedules – we don’t give our dogs enough exercise on a regular basis. And then when we do allow them to be dogs and exercise, more often than not, we overdo it. Clearly, lack of exercise means weaker muscle and weaker soft tissue ligament, making them more prone to injury.
    The most common description of an ACL injury I hear from my clients goes something like this: “My dog was chasing a ball, squirrel, other dog, etc. and then I heard a yelp. When my dog came back into the house, it was holding its leg up.
  5. Lack of Recognizing Early Warning Signs: Many times dogs have joint health issues which are underlying and go undiagnosed by both pet owners and veterinarians, mostly due to lack of people’s understanding of what I call the 12 subtle signs of arthritis. Check out the video discussing these 12 signs at

What You Can Do to Prevent ACL Injury in Your Dog

In order to give your dog the best chance of avoiding an injury to their ACL, make sure that they maintain a healthy body weight, exercise them on a regular basis and don’t allow them to overdo it without proper conditioning, get a prophaltix X-ray taken of their hips and lumbar spine to ensure good body structure, and lastly, be informed about the early warning signs of arthritis. As with any preventative health measures, you’ll save yourself and your pup a lot of strife by staying ahead of the problem.

Allergies in Dogs & Cats

EXCERPT FROM “THE ROYAL TREATMENT” – by Barbara Royal, DVM, CVA, founder and owner of The Royal Treatment Veterinary Center


An itchy pet may not be a medical emergency, but it is often a mental emergency.

Allergies are a big issue in veterinary medicine. Although a sneeze can be an initial sign of allergy, a more common sigh of allergy is itching. Itchy dogs and cats chew at their skin and feet, scratching, licking, irritating, and even ulcerating skin. Itching is distressing for both pets and owners. It’s hard to live or sleep with a per that can’t stop scratching. The irritated pet can really weigh on the mind. Not to mention the extreme discomfort the pet is going through.

Not only are people allergic to animals, but animal are allergic to our world, too. I use the analogy of a cup overfilling when I explain allergies to my clients. As long as the cup isn’t brimming over with allergens and immune problems, the animal won’t show any signs of irritation. However, when the cup runneth over, the itchy signs maketh themselves known.

Note: Some of my clients have been told that their pet is allergic to meat. I believe it is highly unlikely that a carnivore is allergic to meat. Although I know it can be true, it should be the exception, not the rule. More commonly, the culprit is the chemicals in processed meats or poor-quality meats, or the grains and chemicals in the processed food irritate an animal’s GI tract, making the intestines a poor border protector. An unhealthy GI tract may allow more antigens into the bloodstream. When a food change alleviates allergies, it is more likely because the food improves the health of the GI tract by providing a good protein content, and fewer grains of chemicals. A healthy GI tract makes all the difference in resolving allergies.

Q&A: Canine Swimming

Why should pet parents consider trying aquatic exercise for their dog? What are some of the main benefits?

Swimming is beneficial for just about everyone. It provides non-weight bearing exercise that improves fitness at every level. Swimming promotes blood and lymph circulation and reduces pain globally.

If a dog doesn’t know how to swim, is that a problem? What if they have a fear of water? 

Though most dogs have an instinctive swimming response, we assume that they need to develop some swimming skills and we go through a series of small steps to promote confidence and competent swimming. Many dogs are afraid of a body of water with no bottom if they don’t have any experience – this fear can be a life-saver for the dog. If you are not a competent swimmer, going beyond where you can touch the bottom could result in drowning. Even dogs bred for the water need a supervised beginning: their enthusiasm sometimes outstrips their skill level! We start them off teaching some “here is the bottom” exercises, with supported swimming one direction toward the owner, and build on that. Very few dogs stay afraid of the water as long as their swim experience is carefully nurtured. For a few elderly dogs, a floatation vest provides buoyancy and safety for those who can’t swim fast enough to stay high in the water. For the overstimulated, a life vest can provide security and calming, but we don’t often use vests for long. Our “puppy package” is designed to allow puppies to develop confidence and learn to swim in 4 short sessions no more than a week apart. Most of the time, puppies are swimming well at the end of those 4 sessions.

How, in particular, does swimming help dogs with issues such as arthritis and joint pain? 

Our facility provides warm water assisted swimming. Formal therapy is done at medical facilities, supervised directly by a veterinarian, often with a water treadmill. We operate with veterinarian input for each dog, and provide structured swimming experiences.

The inflammation involved in arthritis and accompanying joint pain is relieved by warm water and by movement. Starting slowly, as the muscles start to be able to do their jobs better, and the joints are better able to produce joint fluid because they are moving better, the health of the joints improves. Muscles and tendons and ligaments are stronger, and pain is reduced.

Because it is non weight bearing, swimming allows compromised joints to move more normally, improving both the quantity of information and the quality of communication of all systems with the nervous system. For dogs who have any joint issues, this aspect can be the key to improved health and function of all body systems.

What are some of the exercises/movements done in the water for the dog?

Most of our swimmers swim a variation on laps in the water. For those who like toys we customize retrieving activities, and incorporate any limitations or goals into their sessions. Some dogs aren’t interested in toys so we teach them to swim with us, a version of “synchronized swimming” for dogs. Rest periods are incorporated, and these get shorter as dogs get fitter. For the very old, we often float them out to the end of the pool and they swim back 1/2 lap to their people at the edge of the pool. Balance is achieved by making sure that dogs are using both sides of their bodies equally in terms of making turns and the direction of laps. At The Puddle, swimming is very much a family activity and everyone is encouraged to cheer and help the process along (though only swim coaches are in the water) Dogs do much better when their people are involved.

On average, how long can/should a dog swim? (Be it time in the pool for a session or how many days/weeks/months certain recoveries take).

Swim sessions are 30 minutes at The Puddle. Depending on the condition of the dog, actual swimming time per session may be almost all of the 30 minutes or less than 10 minutes, with lots of floating (also very good for the body). We start dogs off on the low end if they are pre-surgical or post surgical, if they have injuries they are recovering from, if they are obese or unfit an any way. We monitor heart rate to determine when to rest. With regular swimming, dogs improve amazingly quickly, but if there is not close attention to the rate at which muscles can recover, harm may be done.

For those who have had orthopedic surgery, adherence to home care rules and exercises is a major influence on how well dogs do in our swim program. We consider 6 weeks pre- and post- surgical to be an ideal start. More swims post-surgical are beneficial in most cases. We’d like them to swim until there is no difference between the muscles on left and right sides.

For the elderly and aging, swimming for life is our recommendation. Our experience is that swimming can add years to the happy, productive life of older dogs. One of our dogs was very creaky at 1yr old, taking anti-inflammatiories and with all the medical support available including chiropractic, acupuncture and massage. His pain level would have ended his life pretty soon. He started swimming once a week and lived to be almost 17. Hard to believe.

Swimming is excellent recreation for almost any dog. There are very few “safe” places for dogs to swim, and some dogs don’t do well in a group of dogs, as at a dog park. Many dogs just don’t have a good place to let off steam. A high percentage of dogs that are “unmanageable” who are surrendered to shelters just are not getting enough exercise. Through our “Share the Care” community program we raise funds and provide services for local rescue groups pre-adoption, and some of those dogs have been transformed by weekly swimming from nervous, fearful, unstable individuals into confident, “let me at it!” swimmers with their former fears of people and new situations a thing of the past.

Are there any risks involved, for instance is the chlorine bad for them?

Every pool is different. Our pool has UV sanitation with a salt generator for the immediate disinfection issues of what comes in with dogs. It’s mild and no dogs or humans have had difficulty with it. There are a few pools with only ozone sanitation, but as with human pools, there needs to be some sanitation process for the immediate issues: UV treated water is totally clean when it comes into the pool, but dogs are not so clean!

There are indeed risks. We encourage anyone looking for a swim facility to observe carefully the way that dogs are handled, the skill and training level of the staff, the “feel” of the facility. In our opinion, staff need to be in the water doing nothing but paying attention to your dog. There needs to be an immediate “oneness” established between the swim coach and your dog in order for your dog to trust them and feel safe. The coach should be trained in how to handle the dog while in the water under all circumstances. This is not an easy task with a frightened dog in the pool for the first time. Dog owners need to be paying very close attention as well, they know their dog better than anyone. Very close observation is needed to ensure that your dog is safe. Do not compromise or make excuses – facilities should be clean, well managed and well supervised.


Beth Taylor, LMT, CVMRT

The Puddle – Pet AquaFitness & Nutrition

1948 Gyorr Ave. South Elgin, IL 60177


Pet Food 101 ~ Part 1

Many of our canines and felines weigh more than they should. There’s no argument about that! Whether our very own dogs and cats are overweight – well, downright fat – that’s a lot different. MY dog is just large boned.

We have a hard time even knowing whether our pets are fat. Owning up, and learning to see the problem, is the first step in helping your dog or cat live longer.  If we do, our pets will avoid some of the most common diseases that eventually shorten their lives.  It’s a lot easier than taking the weight off our human bodies: our pets only eat what we give them.

Do you leave food out for your dog and cat? This is one of the most common causes for obesity. Pick up that food. Another is feeding too much. That’s what this series of posts is about.

It is truly confusing to try to sort out commercial foods. What’s with all the diet food? What’s the difference? What’s best for your pet?

In the very simplest approach, your pet needs to eat the amount of food that meets his needs and no more. The chart below shows you a range of activity levels and life stages and calories needed for each, daily. If you know the amount of calories he needs, you have a place to start.

So……your 50# moderately active, medium age dog needs about 1145 calories per day. There are many ways to meet that need. You can use dry food, or canned food, or frozen food, or one of the array of dehydrated and freeze dried foods. You can make food at home, using our book, Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, as a guide.

In this first segment, we’ll look at dry foods.

Foods made for all life stages are appropriate for the overweight – they just need to eat the right amount.  Often, a real measuring cup is needed more than a new food.

Diet foods have a reduced calorie count, achieved in a number of ways. Less fat, more fiber, more grain (thus less fat) and sometimes even not-so-nice additions like a hefty amount of peanut hulls. Stay away from that one. We think that these foods are more for the humans than for the dogs and cats. The humans get to hand out more diet food – since it has fewer calories, the serving is bigger. But this bigger serving has a cost: more metabolically inappropriate starch, and less fat. The natural diet of a dog or a cat would have about 20% fat, and those would be really good fats. We prefer that you use foods for all life stages. Consult the package carefully to see what the calorie count is. If it isn’t there, check the website, or call the company. Below are examples of good quality dry foods, with the calorie count for one cup. That is an official, LEVEL


Canine Caviar Adult                                      599 kcal

Canine Caviar Venison and Split Pea        596 kcal per cup

Fromm Chicken ala Veg                               370 kcal per cup

Fromm Salmon ala Veg                               405 kcal per cup

Horizon Adult                                                415 kcal per cup

Merrick Cowboy Cookout                             359 kcal per cup

Mulligan Stew Chicken                                 480 kcal per cup

Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken                 391 kcal per cup

These “all life stages” foods range from 370-599kcal per cup. Clearly, all dry food is not alike. Some all-stages foods have 325, a few have even more than the heftiest of those above.

Your dog might get 3 cups of food a day, or a little less than 2 cups of food. If you don’t do the calculations, you may have a very chunky dog in no time. You might think that there is something wrong – when it’s just a question of too many calories.

Which food agrees with your dog or cat is another topic entirely, but if you at least take the time to figure this part out you’ll have a good idea of how much to start with.

The directions on the package may or may not reflect the way the food performs in your dog’s body. In young skinny dogs, people often feed more and more in the hope that their pet will put some weight on. Like young humans, they might just burn up the extra food – or they may poop it out (these are BIG poops) until the day comes that they start to pack it on as fat.

The dogs and cats we’re talking about here have the opposite problem. If you find that you are having to feed your dog much less than the package directs, there is a good chance the they are not getting the proper amount of nutrients. The food is planned so that the directed amount provides the appropriate nutrients.

Many obese pets (ok, a little fat) in our experience cannot handle high-grain foods and do much better on species-appropriate, real food diets, with a more appropriate balance of protein/fat/carbohydrate than can be provided by a regular pet food.

It is tempting to try one of the “grain free” dry foods, marketed to be the next best thing to real food, but they are much denser foods, with far more calories. We didn’t use any of these as examples above. The serving size is smaller and there is no water to help the body process these foods. We’re not big fans of these foods in general, though they can have a place in a rotation of dry foods.

If your pet seems to be one of those that gains on a very small amount of food, real food is probably a better choice. More exercise certainly helps, but real food AND exercise is the best choice in this situation. A frozen diet can be a good choice, or a home-made one. Canned food can provide an appropriate fat/protein/carb profile, but canned food has even more choices and a broader calorie range.


Improve Diet, Improve Life – from Beth Taylor

Roadblocks to health

We may promote faster healing, better function, and better overall health if we can encourage clients to address other possible roadblocks to health.

The lifestyle of the client (the owner) and the patient (the pet) often contribute to the presenting problem. I believe we will see the optimal results we wish for only if we integrate extensive education about how exercise, fitness and food affect the function of all systems.

A client who comes to us with an overweight, arthritic dog in a lot of pain may see a dog who feels better with drugs for pain and inflammation and an even happier dog when they begin to use the Assisi Loop – but without lifestyle changes, an anti-inflammatory device or drug competes with an inflammatory diet or sedentary life that promotes inflammation. Accomplishing this educational goal is labor-intensive and ongoing. It’s almost an added counseling segment of the practice – people don’t lose entrenched ideas and points of view in one visit. Ongoing educational support is needed – and many times it’s emotional as well.

One of the biggest roadblocks to health is a dry food diet that is pro-inflammatory and likely to include toxins that are difficult or impossible for the body to process. If we can lighten the load for the body, all systems can work more efficiently.

How best to lighten the dietary load? This is a question worth exploring in order to best serve our clients.

Many clients have no idea what they are feeding their pets. A week of journaling followed by an evaluation consultation is often an eye-opener for clients, and allows us to really show the client how what they do adds up. Do their Milk Bones add up to 300 kcal more per day than their dog needs? Do those table scraps (not all bad) add up to more than half the diet – which means that some nutrients will be deficient? To be effective, we need to develop the knowledge to be able to evaluate. It’s mostly arithmetic and internet research, but analysis  and deep label reading skills are required. It’s not enough to look at the front panel – staff need to be able to evaluate what they read and translate for the client.

For example, if a food contains glucosamine, how much does each serving contain? Probably not a therapeutic dose. If the front panel says “bison and sweet potato” but sweet potato is 14th on the ingredient list, and bison is first but beef meal is second, we need to be able to interpret this for the client. (One clue: it’s not a bison and sweet potato food.) Ongoing education sessions with clients result in clients who are willing to take charge of learning, and pets that feel better.

A short look at the various aspects of commercial and home feeding may provide a place to start in developing effective education tools for clients. At our facility (which specializes in swimming, massage, rehab, and food), clients usually come in confused. For example, they’re feeding a high-carbohydrate, plant-based prescription diet that contributes to inflammation, or they’ve read that grain-free is best, or they believe that a raw diet is the only way to go but their dog isn’t doing well on it, or they listened to the salesperson at the pet store and they’re on food advertised as  “low-glycemic index,” heavy on the beans, and their dog’s gut is rumbling. We need to simplify the issues in pet food, and this is no easy task.

pet storeSimplify!

The giant “pet food” category can be divided into dry foods, canned foods, and frozen foods. In addition, there are smaller categories, freeze-dried or dehydrated versions of frozen foods, and dehydrated diets that fall into one of the other categories.

Meat-Based Fresh Food Diets

For dogs or cats, a species-appropriate diet can be a radical step toward better health. The ancestral diet is a meat-based diet, with moderate fat and protein levels, and very low levels of carbohydrate. An appropriate meat-based diet avoids many of the toxic pitfalls of dry food because it simply doesn’t include the ingredients most likely to be toxic: corn, soy, wheat, rice, barley, oats, or any other carbohydrate sources beyond relatively small amounts of vegetables and fruits. The much lower carbohydrate level promotes normal hormonal function in many ways, interrupting the pro-inflammatory cycle.

A species-appropriate diet is a raw diet. It may be homemade or commercially produced. There are challenges in both approaches.

Homemade diets require careful monitoring. Most programs and recipe “cook” books have not been analyzed and do not meet AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) and/or NRC (National Research Council) standards. A “balance over time” philosophy is popular among raw feeders. Basically, the idea is that meals don’t need to be complete or the same every day as long as a correct balance is achieved over time. This is true, but unfortunately it only works if the basic components are correct. This is seldom the case, in my experience. Common flaws in homemade diets include too much fat, too much bone, and missing mineral components that can’t be addressed without supplementation. Supplements designed to be used for homemade raw diets often do not take into account the adjustments that must be made for lower and high fat content in the diet. To try to make homemade diets safer and easier for clients, Karen Becker and I wrote Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, which includes a framework for rotation, fatty acid guidelines, and two mineral supplement recipes.Real food book

Homemade food is a large time commitment. Commercial fresh food diets offer instant success – almost as easily as pouring kibble from a bag.

Commercial frozen foods abound. Products may or may not meet nutrition standards. Food that claims to be AAFCO-compliant may be a relatively safe choice, but knowledge about requirements and labeling is necessary to determine this. Just because the label makes that statement doesn’t mean that it’s true. Within AAFCO-compliant foods, caloric density may range from 300 to 600 kcal per cup. For those concerned about bacteria, High pressure pasteurized foods (which are sterile) and cooked versions are available. Some frozen products are ground fine enough to be cooked for those animals who need cooked food.

Freeze-dried and dehydrated versions of these foods may be useful for switching dogs with GI problems where adding water to the diet may set off an digestive issues. For switching cats away from dry food, these intensely flavorful foods are a good tool.  They’re are great for travel, they make excellent treats, and  they are an acceptable transition for those (owners or pets) who can’t quite make the leap to fresh food in its more natural, with-water state. However, they also cost much more than the frozen versions.

A raw meat-based diet may not work for all animals. Compromised systems may need diets tweaked for their specific needs, and some animals need their meat-based diet cooked.

Frozen foods vary considerably in macronutrient content, and variation concerns me. If a label says that the food is 12% protein and 6% fat, and the calorie content is listed at 600 kcal per cup, something is not right! Fat content is listed as a minimum, and if this food has 600 kcal per cup, there’s a lot more fat than 6%.

Dry Food

Should dogs and cats eat dry food? In my opinion, dry food is at best a compromise. However, issues of cost and convenience make it necessary to help clients find a balance of products that is affordable and workable for their lives.

Dry foods are mostly either “with grain” or “without grain.” This is a confusing distinction, but one that can assume that “grain” is bad and “grain-free” is better.

Foods that include “grains” include a range of starches from wheat and corn through rice, oats, barley, sorghum and so on. They usually have a combination, and they provide about 50% or more of their calories as carbohydrate. Most of these starch ingredients are prone by their nature to contaminants including pesticide residues, GMOs, and mold byproducts like aflatoxins and vomitoxins. Bacterial contamination is common. These contaminants may be present at low levels in purchased food – but some, like aflatoxins and salmonella, can increase post-production, as in the common “pet food storage” container or garbage-can-in-the-garage storage. The home storage dangers exist no matter how good the dry food is.

Digestive issues with grain include the difficulty for dogs and cats in digesting and making use of glutens and other plant proteins in bodies designed to get protein mostly from meat.

Many clients think that “grain-free” means carbohydrate-free, but “grain-free” foods actually contain roughly 40% carbohydrate – something has to hold dry food together.  Pet foods frequently contain vegetable protein isolates that boost the protein content of the food, which reduces the protein coming from meat – and makes the food cheaper to produce.

grainsA common “non-grain” category of carbohydrate in upscale foods is the relatively recent inclusion and promotion of legumes as good food for dogs. From peas and lentils through garbanzos, these “low-glycemic index” ingredients are high-profile persuaders. The inclusion of high-protein legumes always means that there is less meat protein in the food. Long term, I don’t think legumes, which are incomplete proteins, are going to contribute to the health of dogs, though these foods may be acceptable as part of a rotation program.

Rotation of proteins is a practice that many are aware of. What isn’t considered as often is that vegetables have proteins too, so we need to find products that provide actual rotation. Because the products in each brand are closely related, the same starch ingredients are often seen in every product (though the order might be switched around) while the meat changes.  It is probably necessary to go outside a chosen brand to get actual rotation. This is an excellent idea, but few know how to read a label well enough to do this. A frequently updated list/handout is needed to help people make these choices.

Canned Food

Canned foods are usually a better nutrition choice than dry foods. It’s not necessary to add starches to hold them together, so the nutrition profile is often more appropriate. The same evaluation process can be used as is used for frozen foods. In the past, I often recommended that clients begin to improve their pet’s diets with canned food, especially for those people and/or animals who find change difficult. However, it’s very difficult for clients to discern which of the countless canned foods are really better. Now, I often recommend that they use a freeze-dried meat-based food, or a frozen food. High Pressure Pasteurized products provide a sterile food if needed, and many frozen foods can be cooked lightly if necessary. Good canned foods are more expensive than frozen ones, but if it’s difficult for clients to make the conceptual leap to fresh or dehydrated diets, canned food is still a good choice.

We need to provide tools for client that they can understand

Helping clients along as fast as they can go – it’s a tricky endeavor. It would be lovely if we could just hand over written materials and know that people would read, understand, and apply. We all experience the frustration of giving people good information that they immediately forget. It’s my experience that we need to get better at how we present the information. We need to provide simplified presentations that catch the interest of clients. We need to entice them to want to understand more, and we need to spend time with them. If we’re really good, a lot of our clients will be empowered to take charge of the health of their pets in a much more proactive way, and we all win.

FOOD, FITNESS and FUN ~ Help your dog and cat live better and longer!

The same principles proven to contribute to a longer healthier life in humans also apply to our pets.
– A diet of fresh, minimally processed ingredients helps the body to function properly
– A lifestyle that includes vigorous exercise promotes the health of all systems, from muscle to heart to brain
– Mental stimulation keeps us all thinking and functioning at our peaks for much longer

Do older dogs need senior food?
Through vigorous advertising, we are often advised to start feeding our dogs “senior” food, sometimes for dogs as young as 6 years old. These foods usually have less fat, more carbohydrate, and less protein. Sometimes they contain small amounts of supplements that are supposed to help joints and mobility, but the amounts are rarely at levels that would help. These formulas are based on ideas that are dated and were not quite accurate to begin with.

Senior dog food formulas in general include less protein. Decades ago, researchers looked at diets for those in kidney failure whose kidneys could no longer process the amount of protein they once did, and made the leap that then if we feed dogs (and humans) less protein as they age, their kidneys will be spared and last longer.

This has not proven to be true in humans or dogs, and research by big pet food companies agrees. *** In fact, older bodies need better protein and more of it but, the products hang on. Why is this? Well, in the world of marketing and sales, the more shelf space your product occupies, and the more product varieties you have, the better your chances of selling something.

Senior formulas frequently have less fat than all-life-stages formulas. This allows them to have fewer calories. The idea that a low fat diet is a healthy diet has been around for a number of decades, long enough for years of research to show us that in fact, low fat diets do not make bodies healthier. The natural, ancestral diet of dogs (all life stages) provides about equal calories of fat and protein. Since fat has twice as many calories as protein, on a plate, the fat would take up half as much space as the protein.

Senior foods are also formulated to be lower in calories to help pet caretakers keep their animals at normal weights. This is an excellent goal. A four-year study compared two groups of labradors, one group was allowed to “free feed” (left dish full and available all day) and one group fed only scheduled meals. At the close of the study, conclusions were clear. Those dogs kept lean by eating scheduled meals lived two years longer, The muscle wasting associated with old age was delayed by two years compared to the group allowed to become overweight. Lean dogs did not develop arthritis until many years after the overweight dogs, who began to show arthritic changes at 2 years of age. *** These dogs were fed a standard grain based dry food.

Whatever you feed your dog, keeping him lean will promote the healthiest functioning of your dog or cat’s body. In our opinion, “senior” and “Light” foods are detrimental to the health of our pets.

If Sparky could talk, he’d tell you it’s true. When I met Sparky, a 9-year-old Brittany Spaniel, he was not feeling very good. He was on a “senior”, limited calorie dry food. He was seriously stout, with no waistline, and moving pretty slowly, had a dull coat. but his people said he was in good health and had ho problems. They wanted to try a meat-based, fresh food diet to see if a lower carbohydrate diet would help him lose weight. We got reports on Sparky regularly; he was losing weight and doing well. When I saw him next, 4 months later, he looked like a different dog. Perfect weight, glowing coat. His owners reported that these issues (which they had not mentioned – they thought it was “just Sparky”) had disappeared: flaky coat, itchy skin, frequent bladder infections, general pain and achiness, and most of the tartar on his teeth. At 9, Sparky was no longer an old dog. Senior food certainly didn’t help Sparky live a healthy, active life.

A species appropriate diet, based on meat and vegetables, provides the protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants needed to keep the immune system and the brain working well. Good fats keep inflammatory processes in balance and hormone systems working properly.

Those with achy and overweight dogs will be amazed to see the difference in how their dogs feel and act when they are fed meat and vegetable based diets. Often creaky, achy dogs are transformed by a change in diet. Dogs with common chronic medical conditions need the supervision of a veterinarian who is skilled with fresh food diets to supervise and fine-tune a fresh food diet. Many chronic conditions (diabetes, Arthritis, Irritable Bowel Disease and Syndrome, liver and kidney problems, dental disease) will improve on a commercial or home-prepared meat-based diet.

Fat cells themselves contribute to inflammation, so the benefits of helping your pet reach a proper weight are immense. Perhaps, and a proper weight, your dog would not need those NSAIDs or pain meds. This is much easier and healthier to do with meat and vegetable based diets than with starch-based diets, which tend to result in the productions of more inflammatory chemicals.

We are happy to help you tweak your diet with our nutrition software, choose a commercial food and plan diet program, or help you make your own food that meets all you pet’s nutrition needs.


Older pets might not feel much like exercising. As most of us know, we don’t feel better until we actually get moving, but it is very important to only do as much as your body is able to do. Before starting any exercise program, check with your vet about your pet’s level of fitness and ask how you can tell how much is too much. Start at a level lower than what you thing your pet can do, and work up from there. Be aware of signs like increased heart rate, curled tongue, gait change, limping – stop BEFORE you have major stress responses. Remember when you started to see that your pet was tired and don’t go that for tomorrow. Their stamina will build quickly as they become fitter, but if we push them past the level that the body can do, we will only to harm and have to wait for the damaged tissues to heal. “Not pain, no gain” is very outdated fitness advice, but many of us have it embedded in our brains.

If we stay within these parameters, starting with frequent, short exercise sessions that challenge but don’t overwhelm the body, excellent progress may be made. Many conditions we might have discounted as “just old age” diminish or disappear with good exercise. Digestion improves, elimination becomes more regular, animals are less achy, and their brains work better, which means that all systems work better Getting more oxygen circulating builds lungs and heart, improves overall muscle tone and general health immensely.

Walking is great exercise, and can be adapted to the needs of your pet easily. Take it easy, this is weight-bearing exercise and your pet might have some areas that are compromised. Creaky knees and rear ends can strengthen. Take advantage of all opportunities for appropriate walking exercise! Weather can limit what your dog can do, from days too hot to walk to weeks of snow after snow after snow.

Swimming is one of the best ways we know to build fitness and to exercise dogs. Cats not so much! At our pool, we closely monitor the progress of each dog, and chart each session for maximal progress. Older dogs often start out with 15-minute sessions, but after a few weeks, they are ready to lengthen their pool time. In winter, many older dogs lose a lot of ground, and injury is much more likely when footing is not solid. Once a week swimming can maintain and improve the condition of your older dog so he can go into the next spring in better shape than the previous spring. Swimming is also a great pain reliever.

Indoor exercise opportunities are unlimited for the creative, but don’t take the place of vigorous exercise. Sit-to-stand for a treat, cookie stretches, backward walking and many more simple exercises help lubricate and tone your dog’s body. Small dogs are easy to exercise, being small – they can charge down a hallway for a treat a few times and get pretty good exercise.
For the bigger dogs, this can be difficult. Walking up and down stairs with a treat on each stair is an excellent workout – slow is good!

Dogs often fade away from simple boredom. We start to accept Snoopy snoozing in the recliner as the way it always is. The more you include your dog and stimulate him with attention and activities the better his brain will function, and the more interest he will take in his life.

Include your dog in family activities and play with him. Small games like “catch the popcorn and “find the treat” take very little human effort, and provide fun and mental stimulation.

Modify activities your old guy is no longer able to do so he CAN do them. For example, throw the ball so it lands close to you. Help him in and out of the car and to accomplish stairs correctly. Many dogs have jobs in the household – encourage them to keep their jobs! Learning something new is great for the brain and keeps dogs (and cats) happy too. It’s a mutually beneficial activity – both human and animal brains get a workout, and your connection to your dog gets even better.


Get them moving, feed them well, engage their brains – you’ll see a dog or cat who is interested in life, who feels much better. You have perfected your relationship with your friend over many years – and you want to keep it going as long as you can.

Newburg LH, Curtis AC. Production of renal injury in the white rat by the protein of the diet. Arch Int Med. 1928; 42:801-21.
Brenner BM, Meyer TW, Hostetter TH. New England J. of Medicine. 1982; 307:652.
Finco DR. Proc the Waltham/OSU Symposium on Nephrology and Urology, Columbus, OH. Oct. 1992, p. 39.
Kronfeld DS. Aust. Vet. J. 1994; 71:328.
Churchill J, Polzin D, Osborne C, Tet. al. Proceedings ACVM. 1997:675. Kealy, R.D., Lawler, D.F., et al. 2002. Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 220(May 1):1315-1320.

When is it safe to run with your dog?

Lots of people ask us about running with their dogs. There’s plenty written about running with dogs. Are the people writing well informed? Not so much.

The basic fact is that dogs (and children) should not be subjected to repetitive impact exercise until their growth plates in their bones are closed, in order to prevent injury to bones and joints.

How much is too much?

How do you know when a dog’s growth plates have closed? This can occur at any time between 9 months to 20 months or even longer.

While checking out what’s written online about this, we found descriptions of how to look at your dog’s joints and decided if they are “knobby” or smooth, and you could decide on this basis. Maybe an experienced medical professional could make a sound guess based on many, many dogs — but this is not a safe evaluation to count on for caretakers of dogs. In fact, those “knobby” joints might not be an immature dog, but some very serious medical condition.

You can check with your dog’s breeder about when his family matures. Sometimes males mature later than females. Breeders know their dogs very well and will be thankful that you asked.

Spaying and neutering can slow closure of growth plates.

The simple, foolproof way to know: one X-ray view of one joint should give you a clear picture of where your dog is in this process. No reason to wonder or assume that he’s done growing and then find out you started competition or heavy work too soon. This is not damage that can be un-done. In this area, this X-ray costs about $95.00, and we think it would be money well spent.

Beth Taylor LMT CVMRT
The Puddle