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Food & Nutrition

Frequently Asked Pet Questions

Val Cairney July 24, 2020 63


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Hello and welcome to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  In this episode I thought I would address some of the questions I get asked on a fairly regular basis about all kinds of topics to do with pets.  Daily we give advice as best we can and hopefully educate pet owners as they look at food, treats, toys, etc.

Walking into a pet specialty store can be quite daunting if you are new to pet ownership or if it has been a while since you have had a pet.  Just like everything else, the pet industry evolves with research and innovation, so new approaches to feeding and training is to be expected, not to mention the ever mounting selection of treats and toys.  And although I’m going to go over the real concerns pet owners have, I also think you might enjoy some of the rather, shall we say, different questions we often get.  

So, let’s begin with some of the top questions in no particular order, with regards to food.

So what is the best food you have in the store? 

That sounds like a really loaded question, but in fact the answer is rather simple.  With regards to the specialty brands, none is better as opposed to different.  This is why, we start the decipher process with first finding out what kind of dog is it?  This is why as I pointed out in my podcast on getting a new pup, it is not helpful to give some kind of hybrid name that doesn’t really indicate what we are dealing with here.  The other day someone asked me about a product.  I asked what kind of dog it was and the reply was that it was a golden labradoodle.  The first thing I did was try to decipher what that meant.  So, I said, okay it is a Labrador, poodle but is it also a golden retriever or are you using that term because the lab in it is a yellow lab?  The answer was that this dog was a golden retriever, Labrador of some kind, I don’t know if it was yellow, black or chocolate and a poodle. We have three breeds in this dog, so that makes it a mixed breed.  My question however, was, what size was the poodle that is involved?  The golden and the lab make for a large breed dog, but if the poodle involved was miniature, which just sounds not right anyway, but say it were, this smaller dog with the two big dog breeds could make for a medium dog, one that will not tip over 50lbs as an adult.  This is important for me to know in order to recommend the best food.  Medium or large breed food? 

The next thing I need to know, is the age of the dog.  Am I looking to recommend a particular puppy food, or adult food or senior food?  I want to know what the dog has been eating.   Is there any intolerances being demonstrated with that food? What price point is the owner comfortable with?  All of these questions lead us to look at certain food and brands that we know will be options for what has been discussed.  Generally speaking pet food ranks as holistic, super premium, premium and commercial.  The holistic food will look at the pet as a whole providing not just protein, minerals and vitamins but also fruits and vegetables and herbs that have health benefits.  The super premiums and premiums gear to specifics with lots of scientific studies to show that the formulations for say, small breed senior, or large breed weight control is the best for those specifics.  Commercial will be the grocery store foods.  The holistics and premiums cannot be sold in grocery as they meet a different standard to be in pet speciality. So yes, we know the quality of each brand and how they manufacture and chose ingredients as well as their standards.  We can answer these questions.  This is why it is important to choose a pet specialty store that trains their employees well with regards to product knowledge.  So, what is the best food in the store?  The answer is, well that all depends. 

I want a good quality food, I don’t want any fillers.  Do you have that?  

The short answer is, of course, but the better answer or question is, which ingredients are you trying to avoid?  Some pets will have intolerances to certain grains and will itch and scratch.  If that is the case, we look to something that does not have grains or the specific grains that need to be avoided.  So, the idea of “fillers” is a difficult one.  Every company will defend their ingredient choices especially brands that are in pet specialty.  Corn is always one that people will see as a filler.  Corn is a highly digestible form of carbohydrate.  So it can be used for this purpose.  But, it is also high in sugar and maybe that isn’t the best for your dog.  Perhaps you would rather have the carbohydrate come from a different source like whole grain brown rice.  So the bottom line on this is that there really isn’t such a thing as a filler, as all of the ingredients do have some nutritional value, it’s just that the choices of the specific value will differ from brand to brand and you have to know what your pet tolerates and what you are comfortable feeding.

My dog is allergic to chicken.  What can I feed him? 

So, I listened to a pet food formulator, from a specific brand who has a PHD in nutrition.  He was not keen on the word allergic.  He felt that intolerance was a better identification.  Based on his reasoning I really understood his points behind this, so I’ll go with intolerance too.  For a dog that has an intolerance to a certain protein, there are several ways to still get food that will not trigger the symptoms.  The best way to avoid a certain protein is to look for what is called LID diets or Singles for example, which mean Limited ingredient Diet or Single protein.  This means that the formulation only uses the designated protein and no other.  Pick a protein the dog has never had in a limited ingredient.  They will not have an intolerance if they have never had that protein. 

How long do I feed puppy food to my pup? How long do I feed kitten food to my kitten? 

One year guys!  That’s the answer. And if you have a large breed dog you can stay on puppy food a little bit longer.  Kittens stay on kitten food as well until they are a year, but if you have more than one cat, sometimes you have to transition to adult food a bit sooner because feeding more than one cat different food can be quite challenging.

We have a very picky dog.  What do you have that tastes really good? 

Well…unfortunately I don’t have personal knowledge on what the pet food tastes like.  I can tell you what is popular.  These pet parents are often frustrated because they have bought so many different foods and they have gone to waste.  This is a tough one.  We can suggest toppers and other enticements for food but there really isn’t a definitive answer for this.  One of my secret weapons for picky eaters is to suggest goat’s milk.  It is super high in probiotic and sometimes that’s all it takes to get a picky eater to eat. 

And on the heels of this question we will get asked, do dogs like this? Will my dog like this?  Well…yes dogs like X but I don’t know if your dog will like it.  Sometimes we just don’t have all the answers.

Cat Questions

Interestingly we get less questions about cat food.  It seems that cat owners find out quite quickly what their cats like and dislike and pretty much stick to what they know is tried and true.  We do get asked about feeding senior cats as often senior cats will go off their regular food.  There are several senior cat foods on the market to help with senior onset issues, but not all cats like the formulations.  Cat owners will ask about hair ball support through food and also urinary support through food.  Both have options and it comes down to what someone wants to pay and if they are familiar with the brand or want to try something completely different.

But we have had this question: I’m a vegetarian and I want to feed my cat vegetarian food.  Do you have this? The answer here is no.  Cats are carnivores and need meat.   

Treats and Edibles

So let’s move on to questions about treats and edibles.

First I’ll define an edible.  An edible is a animal body part that has been processed into a chew.  This can be pizzles, esophagus, ears, tails, you get the idea.

What is a good puppy treat? 

This is a great question because there are specific puppy treats on the market that take into consideration a puppies baby teeth and add DHA for their development.   Just ask your pet specialty sales person to show you the different type of treats.

I want to get my puppy something to chew.  Can he have rawhide? 

Great question. Rawhide is controversial period so letting a puppy have rawhide is a no no.  A puppy should never have rawhide until they are at least 6 months of age and perhaps having a conversation about rawhide with your veterinarian is merited.

My dog loves pizzles but they stink, so do you have ones that don’t stink?

 Well here is the thing about pizzles. So first of all yes, they are penis from a bull or water buffalo in some brands.   You actually do want them to stink because the ones that are labelled that they don’t stink have been chemically rinsed so they lose the smell.  If giving your dog products that are more environmentally friendly and have less chemicals is important to you, then don’t get the less smelly pizzles.  If you can’t stand the smell then try a different type of edible or body part that may have less odour.

I heard that antlers are bad for dogs.  My vet says they break teeth. 

Okay, this is a tricky one.  First, if you are going to give your dog a deer antler make sure the brand is high end.  I say this because, cheeping out will get you the ones that chip or break.  Companies that harvest deer antlers by doing natural collection through shed antlers in the forest and also from venison farms where the deer are fed and cared for well as their meat goes to high end restaurants, have good quality antlers.  These antlers are individually inspected for any possible crack and are discarded if so.  They are rinsed in vinegar solutions, no chemicals and are hand sanded to smooth all ends.  Now, I’ll tell you the truth here about this idea that antlers crack teeth and break.  I have never had a customer who has personally had their dog break a tooth on an antler.  I have had customers say that their friend had a dog break a tooth or that “I read that they break teeth” or “my friend’s sister’s aunt had a dog that broke a tooth”.  So, bottom line on antlers is that if you go this route, go high end.  Yes, pay big bucks.  And if you are not comfortable, then chose something else.  My dog had an antler for 2 years before we took it away from him for being past the safe size.  He has two missing molars on one side of his mouth but he enjoyed working on his antler and we had no problem. 

Is it okay to give my kitten catnip? 

Well yes, it is.  Small amounts is just fine, but don’t expect the same reaction that you get with full grown cats.  It takes a kitten to be about 3 to 6 months before they develop the typical reactions to catnip.

I need some training treats.  What is a good training treat?

Again, great question.  The first thing I want to know with this question is, how old is the puppy?  If the puppy is only 9 or 10 weeks, I would recommend a soft chewy puppy treat.  If the puppy is older, 6 months for example, we can look at a more crunchy biscuit type training treat.  And a tried and true treat that can be broken into smaller pieces is always freeze dried liver pieces. 

Now seeing as we are on this question about training treats and treats in general, one thing to note is that there are so many dog treats on the market that one store will never carry them all.  If you find a treat that your dog really likes, keep the bag!  Or, take a photo of the bag, or at the very least write down what the treats are called and make note where you got them.  I cannot tell you how many times we get customers who say they are looking for a treat they got before that their dog really liked and want to know if we have it.  First, they have no idea where they initially bought the treat and secondly, I have no idea what the treat is by being told it is brown and shape liked a triangle.  Oh and the bag is yellow.  We are good at deciphering things but sometimes there is just no way can we figure out a description that is, you know, they are sort of brownish and kind of shaped liked a triangle.  

One of the next questions we get that falls into the rather different type of questions shall we say is this one: 

We have a 110lb lab.  How long will it take him to chew this pizzle? 

I am a sarcastic person by nature and I’ll be honest here, I would just love to answer by saying, Hmm.  110lbs?  8 inch stick.  ¼ inch per pound, he will finish it in 2.18 hours.  Or whatever the math is.  I do not know the answer to this!  I’ve had people with Chihuahua’s tell me that their little 5 pound dog is an alligator that decimates pizzles and such in 20 minutes!  My dog who is over 100 pounds can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour on a pizzle.  It just depends on how he feels and if he’s interested in something else.  So, the answer given in this case, is sorry, I have no idea, you know your dog better than I do.  How long does he usually take to chew things?

And again, the question, do dogs like these, is another question I really can’t answer.  Obviously they do or we wouldn’t keep them for sale.  But, your dog?  I do not know. 

Pet Apparel

Okay, so let’s talk about collars, leashes and apparel.  Sort of on the same track as the chew items, we often get asked this:

I have a 75 pound lab boxer mix, will this harness fit him? 

Oh my god.  I have no idea.  I know owners think that telling us the weight of the dog will tell us what size harness or even collar for that matter will fit, but it doesn’t.  Imagine a 75 pound bull dog and now imagine a 75 pound Shepherd.  The size around their chest will be very different.   We need the size measured around the chest to get a good idea for fit.  The same applies to collars.  Measure around the pet’s neck to know what you need instead of guessing.  Apparel like sweaters and jackets are also something to measure for.  If you know the pet’s chest size and length this will really help to pick out the right size.  And if you can, the best thing to do is bring your pet in to the store for a fitting. 

Now here is one of those interesting questions.   The scenario goes like this.  I have a 55 pound husky and he really pulls when I walk him.  I think I would like to try a harness, because I heard that can stop pulling.  What harness should I get?  I have to tell you this one really makes me chuckle inside.  So, the first thing I do is to ask, “are you sure you want to go with a harness?”  Considering a husky is hardwired to pull, and they wear harnesses when they are sledding, do you not think that putting a harness on your dog will just make things worse?  It’s so funny when you see the penny drop about the connection between husky, pulling and harness is made.   I get the answer, oh yeah!   So, of course in this case we have to look at alternatives.  Harnesses can work wonders with some dogs, but not all. 

Training and Bark Systems

I want to also talk about training and bark systems.  Bark collars are designed to correct your dog from incessant barking.  Remote trainers are a system to correct behaviour that you do not want, like jumping on people, running away, chasing horses, bugging the cat, digging etc. etc.

The question I get is: Do you have shock collars? 

Ouch!  I hope not!! So, let me clarify what is being asked here.  Let’s start with a bark collar.

A bark collar is a collar that has a transmitter that gives the dog a correction when barking.  This correction can be in the form of a vibration, an audio correction with beeping or a static correction where they get a zing from the posts that rest on the dog’s neck. So, these are static correction collars, not shock collars. 

The idea of a shock collar conjures up visions of some poor dog being lifted off his feet with a shock a kin to a cattle prod, yelping his way into submission.  Not the case my friends.  Good static correction collars have levels of correction and can sense when the dog will bark and issue a vibration or audio beep or both to warn the dog before issuing the static.  The beginning levels are not even as harsh as having an elastic band snapped on your wrist.  As the levels increase because a level is being ignored, the static intensity will increase.  A collar that has 10 to 15 levels of correction will give a significant snap at the higher levels.  However, having said this, I have seen a representative from one of the correction collar companies, put a remote trainer collar on his neck and have the remote hit at the highest level similar to the bark collar.  He did not pass out or fall to the ground. But yes, he did jump pretty good. 

Bark collars work very well and if it’s a matter of being kicked out of your apartment or losing your mind with continuous barking, this product can be a life saver.  There are also, collars that instead of giving a static correction, will emit a puff of citronella.  If that works, then great!  Remote trainers are also a great tool, to help with unwanted behaviour.  Usually the pet owner who is looking for this type of product has a significant issue with their dog and being able to train it to not do whatever it is, is very important. 

A friend of mine got a lovely Great Pyrenees.  He has quite a bit of property and the dog was having a great time running around right up until he found he could escape out a gate that the tractor goes through from the neighbour’s property.  My friend got a remote trainer and when the dog went off to that area he used the correction remote to the receiver collar on low level and the dog’s focus to finding the escape route was interrupted and he was able to follow through with a retrieval command.  So, remote trainers can be a very handy tool.  Personally I would much rather someone who has a dog that jumps on people use a remote trainer than repeat over and over without any success, get down!

Pet Toys

Now, I would also like to address toys for a bit. 

Toys are another one of those items where questions relate to whether a dog and it seems to always be dog owners that ask this question, never cat owners, if the dog will like this toy.  I have no idea.  Only you know what your dog likes. 

The follow up to that is usually, Do dogs like this toy?  Well again, yes, they do or else we would remove it from our inventory, but your dog I don’t know. 

But, the classic question is always this: What toy do you have that is indestructible?  Well the answer here is none!  No, toy is indestructible and I don’t care if the manufacturer actually says that on the package.  To be honest, I have never actually seen a toy with that on the package but customers like to tell me about some toy they bought in the past that said that.  Then my question is, why don’t you still have that toy then?  Again, the weight and size of your dog does not tell us whether they will destroy a certain toy. 

My dog has the very first stuffy he ever owned to this day.  We call him George and he’s a little bear wearing a tartan scarf.  When we agreed to foster our dog during his recuperating time, I thought I would get him an inexpensive toy because for all I knew he would tear the stuffing out immediately.  Well he never did. George has been in the wash quite a few times and left out in the rain a time or two, but his little scarf is still intact and he gets carried around and ceremoniously cleaned all the time.  George was followed by several toys, respectively heffelump, bunny and snoopy being the favourites.  Being over 100 lbs has nothing to do with this and I can’t tell you how many times I hear that someone has a little shih tzu that rips everything apart.  So, we can direct you to toys that we know seem to hold up a bit better but indestructible?  Not a chance. 

Okay, so let’s talk about some other type of questions we get.

My cat keeps peeing outside the box, what can I do? 

Cats can be quite quirky and sometimes they do things that just doesn’t go in their favour and one of these is peeing outside the box.  There are several reasons why a cat may pee outside its litter box and I can go more in depth with this in a future episode on cat behaviour, but check for any illness like urinary infections, older cats with arthritis, awkward placement of the box, an unpleasant litter, dirty box, stress or anxiety.  There are litters on the market specifically designed to attract the cat to it, so that may help.  But, basically we need to ask a lot of questions before we can determine a course of action with this, but we do have a few suggestions as it is a rather frequent question. 

My cat is scratching my new couch what can I do? 

First thing not to do is have them declawed. Please refer to my podcast on cats and kittens about this.  We usually recommend a repellant for this, or the double sided tape meant for this purpose.  Also, having some scratchers around can help as well.  But, this happens to all of us, so yup, deterring cats from scratching things they shouldn’t is a frequent question.

Stinky and Dirty Ears

We also get a lot of questions about stinky ears or dirty ears.  The question I like to ask first with this one is whether the ears smell yeasty and is there a discharge?  Sometimes it’s simply just dirt that needs to be flushed out and that can be easily done with many of the ear cleaners on the market.  If there is more of a yeast type infection going on and the pet parent is looking to try something alternative I always suggest colloidal silver.  Colloidal silver is a great natural type antibiotic for lack of a better term and has great results with ear issues and other cuts and scrapes as well.  If yeast is a recurring problem in the ear, I also suggest olive leaf powder.  Olive leaf powder is a great immune system booster that targets yeast in particular.  It’s definitely worth a try and it’s easily found in your health food store.   And I can say that those that have gone this route have had very good success.  And you can never go wrong with a trip to the vet.   

Pet Peeves

There is nothing wrong with questions.  But, we do not have a crystal ball. I wish I did.  If you went into the hardware store and told the plumbing guy you wanted a round thing that you think might be plastic and has ridges, he would look at you as you as if you had two heads.  It’s the same with describing things like its brown and chewy.  I actually had a man come in with kibble in a baggy and he asked me if we had this, pointing to the bag.  So, the take away from this is, make note of where you got things, take photos, measure your dog and be realistic.  A product you bought 10 years ago, more than likely has gone by the wayside.  There is nothing wrong with asking questions.  Some we can answer, some we cannot and some kind of make us giggle a bit, but you know, it’s always good to ask questions.  How else can we find out about new things or different approaches or just plain find out something we never knew?  Questions are good, because as I say, knowing is caring!

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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