Thanksgiving Day, 2010 - from Eva Saks
Leftover Turkey

My neighbor, Suzi, a great animal and bird rescuer, told me about her friend’s recent rescue of a wild turkey. Apparently the turkey had been hit by a car. We agreed that this was a tough week to be an injured turkey.

Meanwhile, my 14-year old Sheltie, Momo, happily partook of an excellent turkey “doggy bag” from a Thanksgiving dinner party at Marie Callender’s (a restaurant chain known for its pies). Turkey has an undeserved reputation as being “bad for dogs.” This is not the case. Excessive turkey fat is certainly bad but no worse than excessive chicken/lamb/beef/pork fat. In fact, turkey has less fat on average than chicken...and MUCH less than beef, lamb and pork. (See Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats.) Many premium dog foods use turkey as a protein source. Why the turkeyphobia?

Food myths die hard. Just use common sense and don’t give your dog a hunk of turkey fat or skin. Too much fat can precipitate pancreatitis. But remember, dogs need fat. What they don’t need are simple carbs, e.g. grains. So if you feel like worrying, worry about giving your dog a Milk Bone, not a piece of lean turkey.

Finally, my 2-year old Sheltie, Hobby, is allergic to turkey but joined the gobbling spirit of Thanksgiving in his own way: after finishing his meal last night, he needed his collar let out a notch. Happy Thanksgiving!

November 17, 2010 – from Leslie Crane Rugg
Positive Whiplash

Last week, animal science news left us agog over the physics genius of a cat’s tongue. (See my November 12 blog.) This week, physics strikes again, this time for dogs. A wet dog, shaking itself dry from nose tip to tail tip, is something every dog owner and groomer has experienced both during and after a canine bath or swim. But it took mechanical engineering researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology to show just how efficient a machine and what a marvel of centripetal force a dog is. The spin-dry mechanism we’re familiar with in washers and dryers can apparently be better understood and even improved by showcasing the similar process dogs go through.

Just as with the cat tongue experiment, high-speed film allowed these researchers their first glimpses at the speed, direction, twisting, and energy generated in this doggy shakedown. Chief investigators Andrew Dickerson and David Hu confirmed that the action begins with the head and proceeds down the length of the body. What actually moves and removes fluids from the dog is the skin. Surprisingly the hairier the dog, the looser its skin and the greater capacity to then dry the surface area. We may see hair flying, but actually the undulating speed of the skin is what wicks the dog dry. Size also matters in that smaller dogs shake faster than bigger dogs. No surprise there – watching a Chihuahua cha-cha at warp speed makes sense, just as watching a Mastiff move its bulk at an elephantine march. Think of the speedier rotations of our smaller planets in contrast to the slower revolutions of the giant planets. Our dogs naturally follow cosmic principles!

With autumn rainstorms and winter snowstorms, it’s the perfect time of year to observe your own dog’s whirling dervish act. For your own protection, wear a slicker.

November 15, 2010 - from Eva Saks
What Price Glory?

People often ask how much it costs to own a dog. That’s a little bit like asking how much it costs to have a baby. In other words, it costs different amounts depending on where you live, on the health of the baby, whether the baby eventually goes to private school, wears Tiffany trinkets, needs braces, needs contacts, needs rehab…you get the picture. There will be necessary costs, such as medical expenses, and elective costs, such as feeding organic. Does your puppy eat Jimmy Choo shoes? Does your toddler break Ming vases? With dogs and babies, it will always cost more than you expect, and it will always be worth it.

If the baby metaphor is not to your taste – and I am second to none in my commitment to avoiding  “species confusion” - compare dog ownership to car ownership. You can pump your own gas or get full serve. You can get a junker off Craigslist for a hundred bucks or a drop a cool million on a Ferrari. You can spend a lot for a new piece of crap (Delorean, anyone?), or get great value on a used car – IF you know what you’re doing. (Car rescue!)

In other words, there are so many variables involved in dog ownership that you can only begin to estimate what it will cost you after you’ve done some research and made some choices about the kind of dog owner you want to be.  Once you’ve decided, you’ll still face financial challenges that you could not anticipate – that’s called “life” – but at least  you’ll know what your priorities are. And you’ll have some sense of the MINIMUM needed.

In these tough economic times, I’ve thought about this a lot. Maybe you have, too. But not until yesterday did I appreciate the direct cost of having a dog. I got home from running errands and found half a dollar bill under the dining room table. I looked up at Hobby, my 2-year old Sheltie, and he gave me a gleeful grin. The other half was sticking out of his mouth.

November 14, 2010 - from Eva Saks
Once is not Enough

That’s my dog Momo’s philosophy about eating breakfast (not to mention dinner). Right after finishing his morning meal today, he looked at me as if to say, “So when do we eat?”

I was a trifle surprised, as he’d just consumed a full cup of W/D kibble, five ounces of chicken breast, two Zuke’s peanut butter Hip Action (glucosamine) treats, a Vetri-Science (probiotic) treat, and two Luv-a-Bones turkey cookies.  This is a dog that weighs 28 pounds.

I told him that he’d had enough. He looked back at me with pleading eyes, like Oliver Twist begging for more gruel.  His look could only mean one thing:  “But Mother, I am starving!”

Now, it's always tempting to feed him another bite. It's hard to resist those melting Sheltie eyes. But I'm the mom. I'm the decider. I'm here to set boundaries.  And I'm holding firm.

He's not getting another morsel until second breakfast.

November 13, 2010 – from Leslie Crane Rugg
The Power of Green

It’s fascinating to watch traditional commercial companies jump on the Green Revolution bandwagon. Awareness of environmental and health issues (both personal and public) is the first step. Grass roots efforts such as the birth – or rebirth – of farmer’s markets are the second step. We’ve seen the change across the board in the human and pet food industries with the move toward “natural” and organic labeled foods gaining elite placement in the marketplace. We’re also seeing the change in personal care products with more and more companies touting their brands as free of those pesky toxic parabens, sulfates, and pesticides.

In case you haven’t made the correlation between personal care products YOU use – soaps, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, toothpaste, mouthwash, eye makeup, lipsticks, nail polishes, etc. – and ones sold for your PETS, here’s something new for you to investigate. If you assume that products humans use are formulated differently from products designed for your dog or cat or horse, think again. You’ll find many if not most of the same multi-syllabic, unpronounceable ingredients.

The old stand-by mantra of READ THE INGREDIENTS LABEL still pertains. But the awful truth is that industry regulations don't demand the listing of every ingredient actually used in a product, nor do companies have to come clean about the by-products and contaminants in their products. Merely reading the label turns out to be what legal eagles term "a necessary but insufficient condition." Coming to the rescue are Siobhan O’Connor and Alexandra Spunt. Their book on personal care products, No More Dirty Looks (http://nomoredirtylooks.com), provides a blacklist of almost 100 ingredients to avoid (including the hidden ones), especially when multiples appear in a single product.

Let’s just look at one example: sodium laureth sulfate/sodium lauryl sulfate found in just about every shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste on the shelf. The two functions of these chemical compounds are to create foam – to make a cleanser look like it’s doing something – and to clean – by stripping away oil (including natural protective oils). Mild visible reactions range from rashes to sores. More worrisome invisible problems range from liver penetration to potential hormone disruption. Worst of all, this ingredient can also contain 1, 4-dioxane – a known carcinogen.

So what do you do? Stop washing your and your pet’s hair? Stop brushing your and your pet’s teeth? Of course not. You pop over to the Environmental Working Group website (www.ewg.org), click on the Health/Toxics link, and then click on the subcategory of Cosmetics Database. Products and their ingredients are rated from lowest to highest hazard. (1, 4-dioxane rates a 10, the highest/worst possible.) The EWG website also has useful articles under its subcategory of Pet Health.

Thanks to my forward-thinking daughter, who suggested I read O’Connor and Spunt’s book, I’ve plowed through kitchen, bathroom, and boudoir drawers and cabinets, and purged culprit products. I feel cleaner and fresher. My Collies are enjoying the benefits of environmental friendliness. Now my husband is reading the book.

November 12, 2010 – from Leslie Crane Rugg
Faster than a Speeding Waterfall – in Reverse

Science has solved another mystery that plain sight could make neither head nor tail of. This one involves the tongue action of thirsty cats. Bless our canine friends, their maneuvers are far more obvious. Just exactly how felines get water from a bowl into their mouths is a question that took four academic researchers to decipher. Applying their knowledge of physics, math, engineering, biology, and high-speed photography, Pedro M. Reis and Roman Stocker of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sunghwan Jung of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Jeffrey M. Aristoff of Princeton combined their joint expertise to investigate both domestic and wild cats.

Their findings were worthy of Superman reversing ruptured dams, planetary spin, and time itself. In scientific terms, cats use speed and traction to oppose gravity and inertia.

Great! Another question on its way to the SAT!

What’s really going on? Apparently, only the tip of a cat’s tongue hits the tip of the water in a bowl. Then the tongue jerks upward at lightning speed, essentially creating a column of water along the length of the tongue. Before gravity can force a splashy mess, the cat’s mouth closes and the water is trapped within. Voila! Success!

Why can’t we see this artful process? The necessity of speed makes it impossible. And the actual time involved is incredible: the scientists calculate that cats virtually inhale water four times per second, and their tongues literally travel one meter per second. Talk about a flash in a pan!

Want to see the action for yourself? Find in depth information about this experiment at:



November 11, 2010 - from Eva Saks
Flavor of the Month

Experts are predicting a terrible (I resist the urge to say “devastating”) chocolate shortage in the next twenty years. Supply simply cannot keep up with demand. It is hard to imagine the human race more cranky than it is today, but just wait. Imagine a world where seven billion people crave Toblerone in vain. Our only hope is Global Warming: as heat rises, demand for hot cocoa should fall.

International chocoholism is not an accident. Apparently the worldwide Chocolate-Industrial Complex has brought chocolate addiction to new markets (Asia, Africa). Among the new market segments targeted by chocolate pushers, dogs rank high.

Now, everyone knows that dogs can’t eat chocolate. It’s poison to them. (Cocoa beans contain theobromine, which adversely affects the canine heart and nervous system.)

But in the past few months, I’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of upscale dog products made with fake chocolate – namely, carob. Carob products allow loving dog owners to anthropomorphize their pets by giving them “chocolate” birthday cakes, “chocolate” bars, “chocolate” candy, etc. And carob seems to be fine for dogs.

But is it a good idea to promote carob to dogs? Leslie rendered her opinion on this when first we met, and it still makes sense: it’s unwise to cultivate in canines a taste for chocolate-like flavors. No good can come of encouraging dogs to make a habit of eating treats flavored to mimic a substance that can kill them.

And now we know that there's another excellent reason not to put carob into dog products: in two decades, that carob is going to be sorely needed by us humans.

November 9, 2010 – from Leslie Crane Rugg
GRASias for nothing, FDA

Innocents that most American consumers are, we have trusted our government’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to carry out its mission regarding the safety of our food as well as our pets’ food. Especially after the various food-related scandals of the last few years, we would expect continued vigilance in monitoring and even narrowing the range of food ingredients that are safe to ingest. So it was with some interest that I read a newly issued public notice (as of October 19, 2010) from the FDA about the meaning and use of its flexible phrase “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS). Aha! New safeguards!

But no. Instead the notice clarified the Humpty Dumpty redefinition that the FDA chooses to apply to GRAS. In short, a food substance may be marketed as GRAS, but the FDA may not have actually evaluated or agreed that the substance is really safe. Not only does GRAS not apply to a food as a whole, but it may also apply to something that is not food at all – something that is a food substance.

What is a food substance, you may be wondering? The FDA doesn’t hesitate to convey that intriguing bit of information. According to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, food substances are food additives: if a substance becomes a component or characteristic of a food, then it is considered to be a food additive.

Okay... But wait. If the substance has been rated as GRAS, then it isn’t considered a food additive and is therefore not under FDA’s review and approval process. Here’s the great and wonderful hitch (or is that bait and switch?): the FDA states that a food substance intended for pet food use can be marketed as GRAS just because a company says so.

So I’m the President of the Free World, merely because I elect myself to the position? Is the old prep school honor system at the core of our food safety policies? I swear that I have not cheated on this test… meanwhile, half the dorm has collaborated in coming up with the results of a take-home exam… And if the lie is discovered? In prep school, at least there are consequences; you could expect anything from suspension to expulsion. In the FDA, both the substance and the marketing firm (not the manufacturer) may be subject to an unnamed action.

If marketers are good citizens in the FDA’s world, they can earn extra brownie points by participating in a GRAS notification pilot program. Early this past summer, the FDA initiated a program that follows up from a rule proposed back in 1997. Hmmm… 13 years to create a quasi-review system… Marketing firms submit their claim that a substance used in a client’s pet food is GRAS and thus exempt from the usual approval process. The FDA then assesses these notices (the assessment method is not made public) and then informs the company whether it agrees or disagrees with the marketer’s assertion. The FDA’s responses are placed on the agency’s website.

Anybody on or off the hook at this point? Of course not. If the FDA has no additional questions about a particular GRAS substance in a pet food, the company can proceed with its marketing. Lucky for the company… more so because the claims apparently don’t have to be substantiated by real data. The FDA states it neither receives nor reviews the detailed information that supports the notifier’s GRAS claim. So what’s the point?

At some later point – no doubt when a serious health hazard has become a scandal – the FDA can return to the company and the FDA website to post another letter that questions have now been raised about the particular substance’s safety. Finally, the FDA takes responsible action – after the fact – and may remove the now unapproved substance from the marketplace.

Do I feel the FDA has a stake in my pet’s best interests? I hardly need to answer my own question. Transparency alone is not accountability. Perhaps my pets and I are better off reclassifying GRAS as Generally Recognized as Scandalous or Superfluous.

(If you are curious or skeptical, read the letter at its source: www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/GuidanceComplianceEnforcement/ComplianceEnforcement/ucm229734.htm.)

(And if you want to explore the GRAS food substance inventory, check out: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/fcn/fcnNavigation.cfm?rpt=grasListing)

November 8, 2010 - from Eva Saks
Baywatch on the Jordan

I saw on the news this morning that Pamela Anderson is in Israel promoting Animal Rights.

Israel has enough problems without Pamela Anderson promoting Animal Rights.

November 6, 2010 - from Eva Saks
Members Only: The Alternative Pet POV

Everything looks different when you see the world through the eyes of animals.

Today I was driving along Venice Boulevard with my two Shelties and noticed a big sign reading “Turkey Club.” My reaction was immediate: "Wow! A whole club of turkeys! Are they having a meeting here?" I pictured a clique of turkeys sitting in deep velvet chairs, smoking cigars. Moments later, I realized the sign was advertising a sandwich, not a feathered social circle. Although crestfallen, I was amused to recognize the extent to which animals now influence my perception. It must be the effect of Alternative Pet. Or maybe it was the cause.

My shelties just wanted a nibble of whatever the sign was for.

November 3, 2010 – from Eva Saks
Goldilocks was Right
People often ask me whether I am “pro-vaccine” or “anti-vaccine.” As a matter of public health, I am pro-vaccine, but I am absolutely against OVER-vaccination. To make vaccine decisions, I consider a dog’s age, health, breed, and unique health issues; the environment’s likelihood of hosting a given disease; and the risk from the vaccine relative to the risk from the disease if contracted.
This is a much more a la carte approach than that of many veterinarians, who still give an annual prix fixe jumbo vaccine as a matter of course to all dogs, regardless of risk. I learned this the hard way when a (former) vet gave my dog Momo – at the age of eleven and against my instructions! – eight vaccines in one day. Momo almost died.

Nonetheless, the fact that a senior dog cannot tolerate excessive vaccination does not mean that most dogs cannot benefit from appropriate vaccination.

I strongly support vaccination and indeed believe it can be anti-social to elect not to vaccinate, as doing so may put not only your but also other pets (and even people) at risk. I was keenly reminded of this recently, when I looked at a house for sale and was told by the next-door neighbor that her dog had Parvo. Dog forbid my pooches should be exposed to this dread disease!
But I also worry about over-vaccination for obvious reasons. As the esteemed vet Jean Dodds has demonstrated, the old vaccine protocols were dangerously excessive and led to widespread adverse reactions (a.k.a. “vaccinosis”) in pets. Her work has led to the adoption of more moderate vaccine protocols, updated in 2010. (Google “Dodds vaccine protocol” for specifics.)

Nowadays I titer my dogs. Titers are a way of measuring whether a dog really needs an immune booster (i.e., another vaccination) or whether he still has immunity induced by a previous vaccine. Titers frequently reveal that an immune booster is completely unnecessary – that is, that the dog is still protected by his last vaccination.
When Momo was twelve, I titered him for Parvo and Distemper. My holistic friends mocked this: “He’s had eleven straight years of vaccines – of course he will have immunity to Parvo and Distemper and not need vaccines!” Meanwhile, my traditional friends mocked me even more: “He’s a senior and highly vulnerable to disease, he will
surely need booster vaccines for both Parvo and Distemper to have immunity!”
And guess what?
Everyone was wrong. He had immunity to Parvo but not to Distemper. So he got the Distemper vaccine that he needed, and not the Parvo vaccine that he didn’t need.
My conclusion? Only one thing is certain: if you do not vaccinate, you must titer. If you cannot afford to titer, you must vaccinate.
So how many vaccines does a dog need? As Goldilocks might put it: not too much...not too little...Just right!

Counterpoint P.S. from Leslie
Several years ago, I let myself be talked into revaccinating my old Collie girl, “Holiday” – also at the age of 12 – for Parvo. It prompted a seizure reaction within a matter of hours. I kicked myself every which way I could. Her other titers were fine; she never went anywhere; she had virtually no risk of exposure except for her visits to her vet. She survived, but the seizure really knocked the poor gal for a loop. Completely unnecessary. I knew better and didn’t pay attention to myself or my breed experience.

By the way, here are the contents of each of the jumbo vaccines:
* 5-Way includes Distemper, Parvovirus, Adenovirus, Hepatitis, and Parainfluenza
* 6-Way includes all the above plus Coronavirus
* 7-Way includes the 5-Way plus 2 Leptospirosis strains
* 8-Way includes the above plus Coronavirus.

In contrast, the Dodds protocol is limited to the so-called “core” vaccines and calls for titering after the initial puppy shots to determine continuing immunity:
* Distemper + Parvovirus (modified live )
* Rabies (given separately, not in the same syringe and not at the same time).

November 2, 2010 – from Eva Saks
Big Lots, Small Pets
In the movie "Casablanca," everyone goes to Rick’s. In Los Angeles, everyone goes to Big Lots. Rich folk, poor folk, families, single people, film production people looking for props, the elderly. Big Lots is a real crossroads of life. It can also be a terrific place to shop for your pet…but only if you read every single ingredient label. The quality of the pet products there is so uneven that you can’t buy anything on faith. It’s no farmer’s  market.

On a recent Big Lots junket, I saw everything from premium kibble (Rotations, reduced from $20.00 to $5.00 a box) and fancy biscuits (including Cloud Star Muttos, reduced from $6 to $2.50), to the dregs of the pet food world (formaldehyde-preserved chews made in China from by-products of unnamed meat and colored for Christmas with “Lake” dyes, which are the least safe). Now that’s diversity! Big Lots is like a restaurant with caviar and Big Macs on the same menu.

So if you go, choose wisely. Enjoy the crazy quilt, but remember the Consumer Golden Rule: Don’t be influenced by packaging, price, pictures, or brand name. Study the ingredients label. In every section, check “sell by” dates on all purchases, as things are sometimes dumped in discount stores that have expired or close to it. (Sure, these warnings apply everywhere, but with extra force at close-out stores.) And make sure to check the “people food” section for pet-appropriate products, such as canned sardines in water.

Think of Big Lots as a game: you’re not looking for the cheapest pet items, you’re looking for the treasure that only you can sniff out. Your dog will be proud of you.

November 1, 2010 - from Leslie Crane Rugg
Benefits of Decaffeinated Green Tea

I love herbal teas. I like their pure taste, so I don’t add anything to my cup. No sugar, no honey, no milk. And being something of a health nut (so relieved to know that dark chocolate has those helpful flavonoids), I bought some decaffeinated green tea when the product first exploded onto the beverage shelves of the grocery store. Yuck! I hated the taste. Mind over matter – in this case, taste buds – I tried. I really tried. Bleh. No way.

So I dismissed it from my pantry until this past week, when my holistic veterinarian, Dr. Sally Lane, told me about the value of decaffeinated green tea for pets following a tooth scaling. She recommended a soothing syringe of green tea expelled along the gums for a few days.

What’s so special about green tea? It turns out that it contains “catechins”, a form of flavonoids, that can eliminate the oral bacteria that creates the environment for tooth plaque. Well well well. Flavonoids again. In green tea, they have strong antioxidant properties that supposedly fight tooth decay and gum disease.

If eyes are the metaphorical windows to the soul, then gums are the less poetic channels to the heart. It’s been unequivocally established by dental and medical research that healthy teeth and gums decrease the risk of heart disease.

Dr. Lane’s tip for after-scaling care is one many of us should try – a sluicing syringe of green tea for your dog after teeth brushing and a nice cuppa (as the British say) for you at the end of the day. I’ll sacrifice taste in order to keep my gums in the pink of health.

One caveat: green tea (decaffeinated or not) may not be appropriate for pets and people who have bleeding disorders (Vitamin K-rich green tea interferes with coagulation) or iron absorption problems (anemia).