Cognitive Dysfunction in Dogs

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CDS)

This is the term we use for senile change that we see in dogs. The changes that are seen in these canine patients are very similar to what we observe in people. If your pet has been diagnosed with CCD, they still can have a good quality of life for a long time.

Sophisticated testing (MRI) has revealed that this change can begin as early as 8 years of age. Approximately 15% of dogs have signs at 8 while 68% of the dogs at 15 years of age will have some signs of CCD. There is no preventative action known.

The signs of CDS vary from dog to dog. There may be one or more of the following:
1. Disorientation – loss of spatial awareness in familiar places.
2. Interactions – altered social interaction with people or other pets. This can include aggression.
3. Sleep-wake cycle changes. Pets may sleep more during the day and then be up at night.
4. House soiling
5. Activity and Anxiety – may see a decrease in activity and often anxiety signs e.g. increase in vocalization, pacing, or repetitive behavior like licking


Max working at 13.

How do we help these dogs have a good quality of life? Some treatments have been shown to help including:
1. Exercise has been shown to help in both dogs and people. So- get out the leash and walk. You may need to do short walks more frequently to avoid stressing your pet. Establish a regular schedule.
2. Diet – there are foods now specifically designed to help these patients. We can discuss this with you.
a. Hill’s prescription food b/d
b. Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind.
3. Nutritional supplements are available to help with some of the problems that occur with CCD.
a. SAMe – canine form Denosyl. Antioxidant.
b. Omega 3 fatty acids – antioxidant.
c. Neutriks – memory supplement
d. Solliquin – can be used for agitation problems
e. Melatonin – can be used to regulate sleep patterns.
4. Specific medications have been shown to help some of these dogs. We can discuss your options.
5. Behavior conditioning is thought to be very helpful. The old motto “use it or lose it” applies. Have your dog do the tricks he has been taught on a regular basis. Try to add some new tasks. Consider getting a food dish that requires your pet to solve getting into it. There is much more information on interacting with your dog on the website –

Enjoy your time with your senior pet. It is very important that we make them as comfortable and active as possible. If you have questions or concerns do not hesitate to contact us.

Most of the information gathered here was presented to the New Haven County Veterinary Medical Association by JP McCue, DVM DACVIM chief of neurology at Animal Medical Center in Manhattan.

Choosing a Pet

Selecting a Pet for the family

I am not usually asked about selecting a pet, but many times people make mistakes at the beginning that they regret for a long time. Seriously thinking about your home situation is important in making a decision.

The first consideration is where do you live? Do you live in an apartment or a house? Do you live on some land? Do you live on the 3rd floor? Large breed dogs or active breeds (e.g. Jack Russell Terriers) are generally not suited for apartment life. If you live several floors up remember that as your large dog gets older, it may be difficult for them to get up stairs.


Are you a cat person or a dog person? (Or are you a goldfish person?)


Cats are fairly self sufficient, so if you go away for weekends you can just leave food and water for them. Dogs obviously need more direct attention. Are you prepared to walk your dog  2 – 3 times per day regardless of the weather? Do you have a friend that can watch your pets when you go away?

Does anyone in the house have allergies? Some pets are less antigenic than others, but be sure to consider this factor if allergies or asthma run in the family. Does hair around the house drive you crazy? Some dog breeds shed very little. The problem with these dogs is that they need to be groomed much more frequently. Consider the expense of grooming when planning to own one of these breeds. Long haired cats need frequent brushing or combing.

Time is a major factor in owning a dog or cat. Social time is very important for both dogs and cats. As much as possible they need a job to do. This is especially important with active dogs. If they don’t get enough exercise and activity they may be destructive in the house. Many dog breeds were bred to do certain jobs, and they get frustrated if they are not doing what they were bred to do. Herding breeds like Border Collies are a perfect example. These dogs are very intelligent, but they do not do well in a sedentary environment.  Give them a herd of sheep and they are very happy.

What age pet are you considering? Shelters and rescue groups often have older animals up for adoption. These older pets can work out well if you are not up to a puppy or kitten. It is always best to have them have a veterinary exam before you take an older pet home. Some of these animals have major medical problems that you may not be willing to take on (e.g. severe dental disease). Many times humane organizations under estimate a pet’s age to give them a better chance of adoption.  There are several groups that transport stray dogs from the south where kill shelters are more common. Be aware that these dogs often have intestinal parasites and heartworm. Rescuing a dog or cat can be a wonderful experience.

Do you want a puppy or kitten? Ready for the work? I think we all forget how much work there is with puppies. The big advantage of adopting a young animal is that you help form its personality. Any behavior issues can be attended to promptly when they are young. I strongly encourage puppy training classes to my clients because as a trainer once told me “we all get the dog we deserve.”


One last consideration is whether you want a pure breed pet. The advantage is that you have a good idea of the animals physical and mental characteristics when you buy them. I chose a Labrador retriever because the personality of the breed is perfect for therapy dog work. If you are interested in a pure breed, it is important to do some homework on the breeds characteristics. It is also important to find a good breeder. There are certainly many wonderful breeders, who only want to improve the breed they work with.  It is also very true that there are “puppy mills” that sell dogs to pet stores that are unhealthy and poor examples of their breed. When we see these pups, many have parasites and respiratory infections. A good number of them develop pneumonia. The latest fad with the puppy mills is to breed designer dogs. These are mix breed dogs that have cute names and cost a lot of money. I would discourage you from buying from a pet store.

One last thought. When you get a new pet, get it checked by your veterinarian. Bring any records you may have so a health plan can be designed for your animal. Consider how you will pay for health costs as time goes on. I wrote a blog about veterinary fees that has more information on this subject.


Most pets become an integral part of our families. Enjoy your pet – none of them live as long as we would wish.


Veterinary Fees


Clients come in all shapes and sizes. What I mean is that some people will do absolutely everything possible for their pet, while others have to be talked into a rabies vaccine.  It is important to remember that my job as a veterinarian  is to be an advocate for your pet’s best health care. Good veterinary medicine is expensive. When you decide to get a pet you should think how you are going to pay for its care.

There are 2 major methods of paying for care. Obviously you can pay as you go with either cash, check, or credit card. This can be made easier by having a savings account for your pet – put something away monthly to be prepared when expenses do come up. A second method of payment is health insurance for your pet. There are many companies offering good policies now.  You must do home work to decide what type of coverage you want. It is important to realize you will not be able to get coverage after your pet is diagnosed with a chronic condition such as diabetes.

Insurance companies:

  1. Trupanion
  2. ASPCA Pet Health Insurance
  3. Embrace Pet Insurance
  4. Nationwide

When our pet friends are young ,generally the cost for their care is fairly minimal. Trauma is the major exception to this rule. If your dog or cats gets hit by a car, expenses can be several thousand dollars. This is especially  true if multiple surgeries have to be done. It is important  to have a plan if an emergency comes up. In some cases people attain a special credit card for animal expenses. We work with a company called Carecredit. They often offer 3 months no interest, but you need to pay this card off promptly as the interest rates can be steep after the grace period.

Young pets should come in at least once yearly for a physical exam. Normally at that time your pet is updated on any needed vaccinations and a stool sample is done to check for intestinal parasites. Dogs in our area are also checked for heartworms and the tick borne diseases. So yearly expenses for a young pet can range from $150 to $500.00 depending on circumstances. This is actually less than a daily cup of coffee at Starbuck’s.

Why do pets need a yearly physical exam? The main two reasons are to discuss any signs you have noticed and to check for hidden problems. Probably at least 30-40% of the pets we see have some degree of dental disease. These animals may be in constant pain. This problem also leads to other issues in the animal e.g. heart disease, liver problems, and kidney problems. This is just one example of what we are looking for in your pet. We also like to discuss if there are any behavior problems. The main reason that owned pets are given up to shelters is behavior issues e.g. separation anxiety, inappropriate urination, or intractable barking. Many times we can help with these issues before they reach the breaking point.

Older pets usually require more frequent veterinary visits. Besides a physical exam and history taking, we usually need to do some blood screening. Often chronic problems are seen in the geriatric population, and the sooner we identify the issues the better the outcome we are likely to have. Expenses are likely to be higher as your pet ages. Plan on $250 to $ ???? per year. Expenses can add up fast if your pet is diagnosed with a chronic condition e.g. diabetes. These animals require twice daily insulin injections plus frequent monitoring.


Lantus insulin costs approximately $170.00 per bottle.

If your pet is older, but does not have chronic problems yet, it might be an excellent time to think about health insurance.

A very delicate subject is the issue of clients that cannot afford the services their pet needs. As veterinarians we try to offer alternatives if possible. Sometimes we treat problems symptomatically to try to help the pet.  Sometimes there is no alternative except euthanasia.  This is very unsatisfying to both the client and the veterinarian (and the staff). Occasionally people act as though they are entitled to free care.  The problem is that medicaid is not going to pay the bill. Either I have to charge all the other clients extra fees, or I under-pay my staff, or not buy new equipment, etc.

 Plan ahead for your pets needs. Having a pet is both a joy and a responsibility. Be an informed client. Ask questions if you do not understand. Good communication is the cornerstone of a good relationship with your veterinary team.

Note: I am not endorsing any particular companies. The companies listed are ones we have dealt with in the past. Please do your homework.





Pain Medicines in Dogs and Cats

As we mentioned last month, many pain medicines designed for people are not appropriate for dogs and cats. Do not ever give Tylenol (acetaminophen) to a cat. It is very toxic to them. Other OTC drugs can be harmful to both dogs and cats.


Do Not Use in Cats

In the past 10-15 years there have become many new options for pain control in animals. Our understanding of multi-modal therapies is also helping keep pets more comfortable. The first steps in helping your own personal pet are to observe for problems and to get a diagnosis established by working with your veterinarian.

If your pet is diagnosed with chronic osteoarthritis there are a number of treatment options available. We often initiate therapy with a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement. I recommend one of the brand name veterinary products as the bioavailability can vary with these supplements. Some dogs and cats do remarkably better with this treatment, but others do not seem to show much response. It is definitely worth a trial as the side effects of glucosamine/chondroitin are minimal.

A second option is NSAIDS. The newer generation of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is much safer for dogs than the older drugs. The new generation includes such drugs as: Rimadyl, Metacam, Deramaxx, and Previcox. These drugs can be used long term as long as the patient is monitored. Your veterinarian probably uses one or two of these medications. We all seem to find what works best in our hands. Some of the results with these medications can be dramatic. People have told me their old dog seems more like a puppy.

NSAID medicines in cats are problematic. There are none approved for long term use by the FDA. Metacam and Onsior have been used off label for longer periods of time, but all of us in the profession hope for a FDA approved drug soon. There is some hope that Onsior will be that drug.There are other prescription medications we can use for cats.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs do have side effects. The classic problem can be gastro-intestinal upsets such as vomiting and/or diarrhea. Occasional liver and kidney problems are encountered, and this is why we like to periodically check blood tests on these dogs. Fortunately most patients tolerate these drugs well.

There are other medications that can be utilized for these patients. One of the common drugs used is tramadol which is a human medicine that we use off label. It is often used as adjunctive therapy to the other modalities. My 14 year old Labrador was on Deramaxx. Glucosamine/chondroitin, and tramadol . Some patients respond well to an injectible drug Adequan.

Besides drugs, we need to remember other approaches that can help. Patients with arthritis need to exercise. The best therapy is swimming although some dogs (and all cats) are not “willing” participants. Walking can be very beneficial. I stress to my dog owners that several short walks help keep the muscles toned. Very active exercise e.g. ball chasing, can cause more harm than good.

Other options available include surgery (e.g. joint replacement), acupuncture, physical therapy, and laser treatments. Consult with your personal veterinarian on what approach may be appropriate for your pet.


Pain in Dogs and Cats

Of Dogs and Cats

Many clients who bring their pet to the office do not realize that their companion is in pain. It is very important to note that our pets do not show pain like we do. This is largely a result of the evolutionary disadvantage of displaying pain if you are living in the wild. Just imagine a flock of ducks is migrating south for the winter. If one of the ducks stops for a sore shoulder do you think the others are going to wait? I have seen dogs and cats with broken limbs that hardly vocalize at all. When we palpate the limb they do let us know in a hurry to leave it alone. (That is one reason veterinarians develop very fast reflexes).


So it is important to observe your pet for subtle changes. Living with our companions gives us the advantage in seeing their everyday attitude and actions. As you go about day to day care note the following. First, what is your pet’s general attitude? Are they alert and outgoing? or are they becoming less social and withdrawn? Second are they able to get up and down comfortably? Does your dog go up and down stairs normally, or is there some reluctance? Does your cat jump up and down normally, or are they going to lower heights? Third, is your companion eating normally? Of course any lameness should be checked out by a veterinarian immediately.

It is our job as veterinarians to listen to your observations, and then to do a thorough physical exam. Remember animals do not act “normal” in the office. They are excited and their epinephrine and cortisol levels are elevated. This may mask their symptoms, so we do depend on your history to supplement our exam. Do not discount your own observations just because your pet seems active at the veterinarian’s office.

Pain control in pets is different than in people. Many drugs used for us, including over the counter drugs, are toxic to animals. Tylenol (acetaminophen) should never be given to cats. It can cause a fatal reaction. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) medicines can also be toxic to dogs and cats. Dogs easily develop ulcers; so many OTC NSAIDS cannot be used. A recent case in a veterinary journal described a greyhound given 1 naprosyn who was hospitalized for a bleeding ulcer.

So what do you do? First observe your companion closely, especially as they age. Second, get a yearly physical exam for your pet at your veterinarian’s office. An exam twice yearly is recommended for older pets – remember pets age much more rapidly than we do. Third consult your veterinarian before giving any medication. A good working relationship with a professional is key to helping your pet be comfortable and safe.

There are several types of prescription pain medicines that we utilize in veterinary medicine. Often a combination of drugs and neutroceuticals are prescribed. Next column we’ll discuss treatment options that can help those pets in pain.



Worms – ugh! Few things disgust us more than intestinal worms in our companion animals. There are several types of parasites that we see in dogs and cats. The most frequent problem is roundworms in puppies and kittens. They can be very dramatic – when a 10 pound puppy vomits a 4 inch roundworm it gets your attention. This is the reason your veterinarian has you bring a sample of your pet’s stool to the office. Since the adult worms only pass occasionally the sample is checked under the microscope for worm eggs.

If your puppy or kitten has roundworms (very common) there are very effective safe medicines to treat them. One very important note is to clean up any stools so that the eggs are removed from the environment. Children can actually ingest the eggs inadvertently, and this can cause serious problems. If you have a sandbox outside for your kids it is best to cover it when not in use so that stray cats do not use it as a litter box.

There are 3 other types of worms that are commonly seen in domestic pets. These include whipworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. Whips and hooks are transmitted from 1 pet to another through the eggs in the stool. You rarely see the adult parasites, but both can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and other signs. We see the eggs in the stool samples. There are very effective oral medicines to treat these problems.



Tapeworms are spread in a different manner. The most common tapeworm is spread by fleas. You often see a segment of the adult worm on the stool or stuck to the pet’s anal area. You must control the fleas to ultimately control this type of tapeworm. There is both oral medicine and an injection to kill the parasites. There are other tapeworms that pets can contract by hunting. This is most common in outdoor cats that hunt rodents. Tapeworms do not always show on a fecal exam since the segments pass periodically. If you see something suspicious talk to your veterinarian or their staff.

When we check  stool samples we also check for microscopic parasites such as giardia and coccidia. Giardia is common in wild animals, and the cysts are often present in puddles, ponds, and streams.. Campers often get giardia from drinking from rivers or streams that look clean otherwise. It is not fun to have the parasite – so use caution if you are in the wild.

Preventing many parasites is now highly recommended. Most heartworm preventive medicines also prevent some of the intestinal parasites. This not only helps keep your pet safe, but it also greatly reduces the chance of roundworm eggs getting in the environment. One of our duties as veterinarians is to protect the human population from diseases that can be spread from animals to people (zoonotic diseases). Take your companion in to see your veterinarian yearly, and have a stool sample checked at that time.

Sniffing at the world


            Conventional wisdom is that dogs are color blind, and  that they can smell and hear better than we can. While we can’t ask my dog “Finn” if that is true , there are many facts we do know. Dogs are not color blind, but they see colors differently than we do.  How do we know that? As you may remember from biology there are two main receptor cells in the retina – the rods and the cones. Dogs have a greater percentage of rod cells which are the black and white receptors. These cells are much more sensitive in low light.  Dogs cannot see in total darkness, but they are much more sensitive than we are in dim conditions. They also have a reflective layer behind the retina which helps in low light. That layer is why their eyes seem to glow when light bounces off of them. (Like when the flash of the camera hits them).

            What about color vision? Dogs do have cone cells to pick up color. There are different types of cones, however, that are sensitive to different colors. By studying these cells we know that dogs see blue and green the best. Colors look different to them than to us.

            Can dogs hear better than we do? Certainly they can hear higher frequencies than we do. This is why dog whistles work, and it may be a reason they sense things like thunder storms before we do.  We hear about as well as dogs do in the frequency range where our hearing overlaps with theirs. Who listens better I will leave up to you.

            If we turn our attention to olfaction (sense of smell), dogs leave us in the dust. We have no conception of their sense of smell. In fact, a dog like a Labrador Retriever has more than 200 million olfactory receptors in its nose while humans have only 5 million.(I don’t know who counted them!)  This is a factor of 40 times more cells! No wonder they have to sniff every bush, fire hydrant, and other dog. I have seen different estimates of how faint an odor a dog can sense, but if you put a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic size swimming pool – they know it is there.

            For generations man has taken advantage of the dog’s keen sense of smell for tracking and for hunting. Now dogs are routinely used to smell for drugs, bombs, and in search and rescue situations. One of the newer advances is to use the dog’s sense of smell to detect or monitor diseases of people. Dogs are being trained to monitor the blood sugar of diabetics, as well as to monitor epileptics for seizures. Researchers are even working to teach dogs to detect some cancers by smell. (pretty soon you may have a dog scan instead of a CAT scan).

             To learn more on dogs and their senses check the book Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz for much more detailed information.

Vaccinations for your dog


Dr. Bob’s Of Dogs and Cats

Vaccinations for your dog

                There has been much controversy about vaccinating children in the last few years. Much of the issue came about due to an article published in a British medical journal concerning vaccination and a link to autism. A thorough review of this hypothesis has been done, and the supposed link has been discounted. Many children have not been vaccinated due to these fears, and also due to the fact that their parents have no experience with these diseases. Vaccination is a modern miracle that we take for granted. Just like any medical procedure benefit vs. risk needs to be weighed.

                This brings up the points of when should we vaccinate our pets, how often should we vaccinate, and what vaccines are necessary. It is really best to consider pets on an individual basis in making recommendations.

                Looking at dogs, the American Animal Hospital Association considers two vaccines as core vaccinations for all dogs. These are the combination vaccine for distemper, parvo virus, hepatitis, and parainfluenza plus rabies vaccination. Rabies is required by law to not only protect your dog, but also to protect anyone around the dog. The virus is present in the wildlife population, especially raccoons and bats. Pups are vaccinated at 3-4 months of age, boostered 1 year later, and then every 3 years. The vaccines are very safe and effective.

                Distemper is a viral disease of dogs that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia, and neurologic symptoms. Many dogs die or are euthanized if they have the disease. Vaccination is very effective, and the number of distemper infected dogs has gone down dramatically since I have been in practice. Parvo virus is a very serious disease causing severe gastrointestinal signs. It is a major problem in puppies, and many have to be hospitalized in ICU to save their lives. Again vaccination is safe and very effective. Infectious canine hepatitis is rare in our area, but it has made a comeback in Canada. Until the disease is eliminated in North America it is prudent to vaccinate. Parainfluenza is one of the factors that causes kennel cough, and this inactivated virus is part of the combination vaccine. This combination vaccine is frequently abbreviated DA2PP or DHPP. Puppies are given a series of vaccines usually at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age. The vaccine is boostered 1 year later, and then every 3 years.

Some people argue that the combination vaccine lasts longer than 3 years. The truth is we really do not know. A titer test can be taken on your dog to check to see if immunity is still adequate, if follow up vaccination is an issue for you.

                I have recently added leptospirosis as a recommended core vaccine in our practice. In the last few years the number of dogs testing positive for this bacteria has sky rocketed. The disease is spread through the urine of wild animals. For years I have recommended the vaccine for dogs that swim or are in the woods. Recently we have seen several cases in small dogs living in the city. The disease can cause acute kidney or liver failure, and is also communicable to people through the urine. Dogs are vaccinated twice when they are young, and then they are boostered yearly.

                If dogs go to a boarding kennel or day care facility, they will require a specific vaccine for kennel cough. This is an optional vaccine depending on your dog’s situation. Some kennels also require vaccination for canine influenza. This is a relatively new disease in dogs, but some kennels have had severe outbreaks that required them to close and disinfect the premises. Both of these vaccinations we administer based on circumstances.

                This brings us to Lyme vaccination. This vaccine is controversial in the profession, but most of us in the north-east United States believe it is needed to reduce the disease incidence. Tick prevention is the best method of control of this disease, but the problem becomes preventing all of the ticks. Spot-on products and tick prevention collars can be used, but I recommend the vaccine as another layer of prevention.

                I do not vaccinate dogs for corona virus or giardia. There is also a vaccine for periodontal disease which I do not use at this point. The opinions in this article are mine alone.

Vaccinations for your cat


Vaccinations for your cat

                There has been much controversy about vaccinating children in the last few years. Much of the issue came about due to an article published in a British medical journal concerning vaccination and a link to autism. A thorough review of this hypothesis has been done, and the supposed link has been discounted. Many children have not been vaccinated due to these fears, and also due to the fact that their parents have no experience with these diseases. Vaccination is a modern miracle that we take for granted. Just like any medical procedure benefit vs. risk needs to be weighed.

                This brings up the points of when should we vaccinate our pets, how often should we vaccinate, and what vaccines are necessary. It is really best to consider pets on an individual basis in making recommendations.

                Looking at cats, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) considers two vaccines as core vaccinations for all cats. These are the combination vaccine for feline distemper, rhinotracheitis and calici virus plus rabies vaccination. Rabies is required by law to not only protect your cat, but also to protect anyone around the cat. The virus is present in the wildlife population, especially raccoons and bats. Kittens are vaccinated at 3-4 months of age, boostered 1 year later, and then every year. The vaccines are very safe and effective.

                Distemper is a viral disease of cats that can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Many cats die or are euthanized if they have the disease. Vaccination is very effective, and the number of distemper infected cats has gone down dramatically since I have been in practice. Rhinotracheitis and calici virus are both severe respiratory infections. Kitens are given a series of vaccines usually at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age. The vaccine is boostered 1 year later, and then every 3 years. Some people argue that the combination vaccine lasts longer than 3 years. The truth is we really do not know. A titer test can be taken on your cat to check to see if immunity is still adequate, if follow up vaccination is an issue for you.

                The AAFP recommends that all kittens be vaccinated for Feline Leukemia Virus. This vaccine is certainly prudent if your cat goes outside at all. The disease is contagious through secretions from an infected cat. The disease can cause several syndromes including immune suppression, certain lymphoid cancers, anemia, and leukemia. There is no specific treatment for feline leukemia, and it is eventually fatal. I do not vaccinate cats that are totally indoors in a closed population. (No new additions unless tested negative for the disease). Cats that spend any time outdoors should be vaccinate twice as a kitten, and then boostered yearly.

                I have had many clients question whether indoor cats need any vaccines. In the last few years I have had 3 totally indoor cats get exposed to rabies. In two instances bats got in the house, and the cat s were trying to catch them. In both cases the bats were captured, and they tested positive for rabies. In one instance a couple had a raccoon break into their porch and fight with the household cat. That animal also tested positive.

                Discuss with your veterinarian a protocol for your pet. The opinions in this article are mine alone.

Feeding your dog


There are few things in the dog world that stimulate more controversy than what dog food to feed. The internet is full of advice by “experts” that in reality are just their personal opinions. One popular site is run by a dentist. The following is information gathered through talks with veterinary nutrition specialists. This group, the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, has their own web site where you can get additional facts.

The first step is to learn to read pet food labels. There is important information on the label to get you started in the right direction. Check the following:

  1. The manufacturer’s name. Is the company large enough to employ a veterinary nutritionist? It is very important that the people formulating the food be knowledgeable.
  2. Is the food complete and balanced? Some foods are supplements that are not a complete and balanced diet. It will state this on the label.
  3. For what life stage is the diet designed? Some diets are complete and balanced for all life stages. These foods can be fed to puppies and adults, but because pups have a higher calorie requirement they may contain too many calories for a house dog. It is better to feed most mature dogs a maintenance food for adults. On the other hand, field trial or very active dogs may need the higher calorie formulations.
  4. Also look at how was the food tested to be sure it is complete and balanced? The best test is feeding trials where dogs are fed the diet over time and evaluated. The other method is comparing the nutrient list to the list compiled by AAFCO (the American Association of Feed Control Officials). This method is far inferior to feeding trials where you prove, in the dog, that the food works.
  5. The ingredient list is on the label, and this may be the area with the most confusion. The ingredients are listed in the order of the quantity of each (by weight). Some manufacturers add trace amounts of nutrients to make you think the diet is of increased quality. If these ingredients are listed after the trace vitamins they are essentially worthless. (maybe 1 blueberry in a batch of food!).

There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about the ingredients in dog foods. Many foods contain by-products. Are they inferior foods? What are by-products? These are the parts of the slaughtered animal that we Americans do not eat much. They include the heart, lungs, stomach, intestines (cleaned of feces), and organs e.g. the liver. In many areas of the world these are delicacies. There is nothing wrong with good quality by-products. I must admit, however, the term is off-putting. Some foods do contain the muscle meats that you may prefer. The ingredient list will start with beef, chicken, lamb, etc. These foods may cost more, but it may be worth it to you.

Some terms on pet food labels have no official meaning. These include “organic”, “human grade”, “premium”, and “holistic”. Natural foods should comply with the AAFCO guide for natural foods.

What about grains? Many people tell me now that they feed grain free foods. There really is no scientific reason that your dog cannot have some grain in their food. Dogs are omnivores – in other words they can digest both animal and plant proteins. Many people attribute food allergies to feeding grains. Again this is not scientifically born out. Food allergies do occur in dogs, but they are fairly rare. They are usually due to animal proteins. If you have a question, speak to your veterinarian.

What about gluten free foods? What is gluten? Gluten is the main protein in wheat after washing out the starch. It is a popular human food in Asia as a meat substitute. Some people cannot digest wheat gluten (e.g. people with celiac disease), and so these individuals are on gluten free diets. In dogs there is not generally a problem with gluten in the food except for a colony of Irish Setters.

Should you feed dry or canned food? Either type can be fed according to your personal preference. Dry food may help some with reducing tartar on the teeth depending on how the food is manufactured. Many people feed dry with a treat of some canned food. Many dogs do best on a consistent diet, and they may get diarrhea if the diet is altered too much. I do not recommend semi-moist foods as they contain too many carbohydrates.

What about raw foods? Raw foods can be complete and balanced. I do not personally recommend these foods due to the increased risk of bacterial contamination. Bacterial contamination can affect your dog and possibly your family. If you choose raw, use strict hygiene procedures.

What about table scraps?  I think the vast majority of dog owners give their dog some scraps. Somehow they train us to do this! Two words of advice: 1) do not feed your dog when you are at the table. You will create a dog that begs while you try to eat. 2) Avoid scraps that are very high in fat. Many mature dogs cannot digest these foods, and it may predispose them to pancreatitis (a very serious and painful condition).


Probably not the best choice!

Can you make your own diet? I definitely do not recommend you formulate your own food. It is very easy to feed an imbalanced diet that will create problems over time. If your pet needs a home cooked diet consult with a veterinary nutritionist for a plan (

 The internet can be a great source of both information and misinformation. Remember that many sites are just personal opinion. Many of the larger manufacturers are almost demonized with statements e.g. “they are only in it for the money.” Purina, Hills (Science Diet), and Iams all have large research facilities to advance canine nutrition. All three companies also produce prescription diets that we use for specific medical conditions (e.g. kidney failure). I am not endorsing a specific product, but I just want you to be an educated consumer