Pet food companies don’t have to prove that their products contain the minimum amounts of all the nutrients that are considered essential for dogs before labeling and selling their foods as “complete and balanced” diets. In fact, in all likelihood, some of the products on the market today – perhaps your dog’s food? – may not meet some of the legal requirements of a “complete and balanced” food, even though their labels say they do. To help you understand how this is possible, I have to dive into a lot of facts, and explain some things about the pet food industry and how the whole notion of “complete and balanced diets” is legally defined and regulated.
Last month in this space, I mentioned that my son’s puppy (Cole, now 7 or 8 months old) had presumably received all the “puppy shots” a puppy his age would ordinarily receive, when a vaccine titer test revealed that he lacked circulating antibodies to distemper. Thank goodness we had asked for the test – apparently, the first one that anyone at that veterinary practice had ever ordered – because without it, we wouldn’t have known that Cole was still absolutely vulnerable to becoming seriously ill should he ever encounter the distemper virus out in the world. He was vaccinated again, and three weeks later, we ran another vaccine titer test, and this time, the results came back as quite positive; he now has circulating antibodies to the distemper virus in his blood.
We have long advised puppy owners to have their vet run a “vaccine titer test” a few weeks after the series of “puppy shots” were completed. In our view, adopted from that of the canine vaccination experts we most respect (Ron Schultz, PhD, who has been involved in the development and testing of most of the vaccines used on dogs in this country; and W. Jean Dodds, DVM, a veterinarian who has extensively studied and written about canine vaccines), only a positive vaccine titer test can tell you whether the puppy’s immune system responded to the vaccines in the manner that was intended.
For three days, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (well, 3 p.m. on the third day; the show closed early on the last day), I walked up and down the aisles, stopping briefly at booths that had products that I thought WDJ readers might be interested in: food, of course, but also gear for the training, health maintenance, and comfort of our beloved dogs. I picked up catalogs and fliers that described new products, I had ever-so-brief conversations with the company representatives in about a quarter of the booths I visited . . . and in the final minutes of the show, I discovered (to my dismay) that there were still aisles I hadn’t explored.
My sister and her husband have three dogs. Once upon a time, they had three senior dogs at once, and that was a sad time, watching all three decline in mental and physical function, and then dealing with their deaths fairly close together. Today, their dogs’ ages are staggered a bit more, with a three-year-old Jack Russell-mix, a four- or five-year-old Chihuahua-mix (one of my former fosters, actually), and then Bo, a fuzzy gray terrier-mix, about 30 pounds, who is about 15 or 16 years old.
It’s just about the hottest part of the day as I write this. In my part of the country, at this time of year, that’s between 5 and 7 p.m. My husband I don’t have air-conditioning, which strikes everyone we know as an odd choice, but it is a choice. We could afford it, but we both grew up with budget-conscious parents and have environmental concerns about everyone burning fossil fuels in order to cool themselves down all summer. We manage it “old-school,” by positioning fans in every other window to bring in cool air and blow out hot air all night long, and then shutting the house down tight all day. It preserves a cool bubble of air in the house – but this bubble heats up a tiny bit every time someone opens a door to come in or go out, or, more often, to let a dog in or out.
As you may know, because for months I’ve talked about almost nothing else, I’ve been on a puppy-fostering jag since November. My shelter has a hard time with keeping large litters of puppies clean, warm, dry, and healthy, particularly in the winter; I guess that’s true for many if not most shelters. So I’ve been taking on one litter after another, starting with my first-ever foster-fail pup Woody, who was one of nine puppies; then a litter of six Chihuahua/terrier-mixes, all boys; another litter of nine cattle dog/pit-mixes, all adorably freckled; and I’m at the tail end (no pun intended) of a litter of seven German Shepherd/hound/who-knows-what-mixes. Playing with and caring for the pups has been fun, challenging, messy, expensive, and interesting! But here is the latest thing I’ve been fascinated with: the people who come to adopt a puppy – and end up walking out, or at least trying to walk out, with two.
I suspect I’m not alone in having a childhood filled with dogs as my primary companions and emotional “security blankets” – I’ll bet that an awful lot of you experienced that, too. Or you came to love and lean on dogs for friendship and comfort at another challenging time in your life. How do I know? Because it’s been my observation that people who are committed to their dogs to a degree that inspires them to subscribe to magazines tend to be highly emotionally invested in their canine companions.
Contained in the October issue is an article I wrote about internal parasites – worms. I needed art to accompany that article, and the best thing I could think of to depict a wormy dog was a photo of a typically round-bellied wormy puppy, the kind that is surrendered to shelters all too frequently. I called my local shelter and asked whether they had any wormy puppies with bloated tummies; it turned out that they had just received such a litter two days before, and I was invited to come down and take some pictures.
There is nothing sadder than the look on my 8-year-old dog Otto’s face when he sees me loading my new puppy Woody into the car, on our way to puppy kindergarten classes. This is pretty much the only time I take Woody somewhere and don’t ask Otto to come along, too. Otto’s expression was so bereft, it got me looking around for some other activity to take up with Otto (and Otto alone).
Is it my imagination, or is a plague of ticks currently in effect? Everywhere I go with my dogs these days, they come back crawling with ticks. I use Frontline on them, though I’ve used Advantix in the past – as well as apple cider vinegar rinses and essential oil sprays and Skin-So-Soft wipedowns. For whatever reason, Frontline seems to work better than anything else on my dogs, in my area, though I hear contrary reports from other dog owners in other places. I’m seriously considering making a line of Tyvek canine coveralls, instead.
Last month, I mentioned how concerned my son was when he heard I had made the decision to adopt one of the bully-breed-mix puppies I had been fostering. He’s accustomed to me pretending that I don’t like puppies (“Ew, a puppy! Gross! Who likes puppies? Ick!”) – a stupid joke meant to soften the hard fact that unprepared people always seem to be magnetically drawn to the puppies in the shelter where I volunteer, passing right over many more suitable, calm, house-trained, non-chewing adult dogs in the process.
Is it shocking to hear the editor of a dog magazine say she doesn’t particularly like bully breeds? I could go farther: I’m not a fan of Boxers, Mastiffs, or Bull Terriers. I tend not to enjoy terriers of any kind. Yorkshire Terriers, ack! When I was a young adult, my parents had some that I honestly loathed, and they sort of ruined the breed for me.
Give the gift of love by sheltering a foster dog or volunteering at your local animal shelter this season. Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns recounts why, even in the most trying of times, there's no greater feeling than opening your home to a life in need.
When WDJ first reviewed dog food, back in 1998 , there was but a handful of companies making what we considered good foods. Seriously, I stretched to find five companies that had products that contained only good-quality ingredients – and more importantly, didn’t contain unnamed animal fats and meat by-products. And just about every question I asked a pet food company was answered with, “I’m sorry that’s proprietary information!”