At least 10% of all cats develop elimination problems. Some stop using the box altogether. Some only use their boxes for urination or defecation but not for both. Still others eliminate both in and out of their boxes. Elimination problems can develop as a result of conflict between multiple cats in a home, as a result of a dislike for the litter-box type or the litter itself, as a result of a past medical condition, or as a result of the cat deciding she doesn’t like the location or placement of the litter box.
Once a cat avoids her litter box for whatever reason, her avoidance can become a chronic problem because the cat can develop a surface or location preference for elimination—and this preference might be to your living room rug or your favorite easy chair. The best approach to dealing with these problems is to prevent them before they happen by making your cat’s litter boxes as cat-friendly as possible. See our common litter-box management issues below, and our ways to make litter boxes cat-friendly. It is also important that you pay close attention to your cat’s elimination habits so that you can identify problems in the making. If your cat does eliminate outside her box, you must act quickly to resolve the problem before she develops a strong preference for eliminating on an unacceptable surface or in an unacceptable area.
Litter box use problems in cats can be diverse and complex. Behavioral treatments are often effective, but the treatments must be tailored to the cat’s specific problem. Be certain to read the entire article to help you identify your particular cat’s problem and to familiarize yourself with the different resolution approaches to ensure success with your cat.
Why Do Some Cats Eliminate Outside the Litter Box?Litter-Box Management Problems
If your cat isn’t comfortable with her litter box or can’t easily access it, she probably won’t use it. The following common litter-box problems might cause her to eliminate outside of her box:
Some cats develop preferences for eliminating on certain surfaces or textures like carpet, potting soil or bedding.
Litter Preference or Aversion
As predators who hunt at night, cats have sensitive senses of smell and touch to help them navigate through their environment. These sensitivities can also influence a cat’s reaction to her litter. Cats who have grown accustomed to a certain litter might decide that they dislike the smell or feel of a different litter.
Location Preference or Aversion
Like people and dogs, cats develop preferences for where they like to eliminate and may avoid locations they don’t like. This means they might avoid their litter box if it’s in a location they dislike.
Inability to Use the Litter Box
Geriatric cats or cats with physical limitations may have a difficult time using certain types of litter boxes such as top-entry boxes, or litter boxes with high sides.
Negative Litter-Box Association
There are many reasons why a cat who has reliably used her litter box in the past starts to eliminate outside of the box. One common reason is that something happened to upset her while she was using the litter box. If this is the case with your cat, you might notice that she seems hesitant to return to the box. She may enter the box, but then leave very quickly—sometimes before even using the box.
One common cause for this is painful elimination. If your cat had a medical condition that caused her pain when she eliminated, she may have learned to associate the discomfort with using her litter box. Even if your cat’s health has returned to normal, that association may still cause her to avoid her litter box.
Stress can cause litter-box problems. Cats can be stressed by events that their owners may not think of as traumatic. Changes in things that even indirectly affect the cat, like moving, adding new animals or family members to your household—even changing your daily routine—can make your cat feel anxious.
Multi-Cat Household Conflict
Sometimes one or more cats in a household control access to litter boxes and prevent the other cats from using them. Even if one of the cats isn’t actually confronting the other cats in the litter box, any conflict between cats in a household can create enough stress to cause litter-box problems.
Medical Problems That Can Cause Inappropriate EliminationUrinary Tract Infection (UTI)
If your cat frequently enters her litter box and seems to produce only small amounts of urine, she may have a urinary tract infection. See a veterinarian to rule out this possible medical problem.
Feline Interstitial Cystitis
Feline interstitial cystitis is a neurological disease that affects a cat’s bladder (“cystitis” means inflamed bladder). Cats with cystitis will attempt to urinate frequently and may look as if they are straining, but with little success. They may lick themselves where they urinate, and they may have blood in their urine. Feline interstitial cystitis can cause a cat to eliminate outside of her box, but this is only because of the increased urgency to urinate and because there is pain involved in urination. Feline interstitial cystitis is very serious and can be life-threatening to the cat. It must be treated immediately by a veterinarian.
Kidney Stones or Blockage
If your cat has kidney stones or a blockage, she may frequently enter her litter box. She may also experience pain and meow or cry when she tries to eliminate. Her abdomen may be tender to the touch.
Other Behavior Problems to Rule OutUrine Marking
Urine marking is a problem that most pet owners consider a litter box problem since it involves elimination outside the box, but the cause and treatment are entirely different from other litter-box problems and therefore it is considered a rule out. A cat who urine marks will regularly eliminate in her litter box, but will also deposit urine in other locations, usually on vertical surfaces. When marking, she’ll usually back up to a vertical object like a chair side, wall or speaker, stand with her body erect and her tail extended straight up in the air, and spray urine onto the surface. Often her tail will twitch while she’s spraying. The amount of urine a cat sprays when she’s urine marking is usually less than the amount she would void during regular elimination in her box. For more information about this problem, please see our article, Urine Marking in Cats.
What to Do If Your Cat Eliminates Outside the Litter BoxBasic Tips for Making Cats Feel Better About Using Their Litter Boxes
The first step in resolving elimination outside the litter box is to rule out urine marking and medical problems. Have your cat checked thoroughly by a veterinarian. Once your veterinarian determines that your cat doesn’t have a medical condition or issue, try following these guidelines:
If your cat seems to prefer eliminating on a certain kind of surface or in a certain location, you’ll need to make that surface or its location less appealing. If the preference is in a dark area, try putting a bright light or, even better, a motion-activated light in the area. You can also make surfaces less pleasant to stand on by placing upside-down carpet runners, tin foil or double-sided sticky tape where your cat has eliminated in the past. At the same time, provide your cat with extra litter boxes in acceptable places in case part of her problem is the location of her usual litter box, and be sure to give her multiple kinds of litter to choose from so that she can show you which one she prefers. Put the boxes side-by-side for a while, each with a different type of litter, and check to see which one your cat decides to use.
Clean accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleanser designed to neutralize pet odors. You can find this kind of cleaner at most pet stores.
If Your Cat Has Developed a Litter Preference or Aversion
Cats usually develop a preference for litter type and scent as kittens. Some cats adapt to a change of litter without any problem at all, while other cats may feel uncomfortable using a type of litter that they didn’t use when they were young.
If you think your cat may dislike her litter type, texture or smell, try offering her different types of litter to use. Cats generally prefer clumping litter with a medium to fine texture. They also usually prefer unscented litter. To help your cat pick her preferred litter, put a few boxes side-by-side with different types of litter in them. She’ll use the one the she likes best.
Clean accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleanser designed to neutralize pet odors. You can find this kind of cleaner at most pet stores.
If Your Cat Is Unable to Use Her Litter Box
Special-needs cats such as those who are older, arthritic or still very young might have trouble with certain types of litter boxes. Boxes that have sides that are too high or have a top-side opening might make it difficult for your cat to enter or leave the box. Try switching to a litter box with low sides.
As in any situation where the cat may have eliminated outside her box, clean accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleanser designed to neutralize pet odors. You can find this kind of cleaner at most pet stores.
Treatment for Negative Litter Box Association
If your cat has experienced some kind of frightening or upsetting event while using her litter box, she could associate that event with the litter box and avoid going near it. Things that might upset your cat while she’s eliminating in her box include being cornered or trapped by a dog, cat or person, hearing a loud noise or commotion, or seeing something frightening or startling. These experiences—or any other disturbing experience—could make your cat very reluctant to enter her litter box. If your cat is afraid of her litter box, you may notice her running into the box and then leaving again very quickly, sometimes before she’s finished eliminating. You may also notice her eliminating nearby, but not inside her box. This means that your cat is worried about using her box, especially if she has reliably used litter box in the past.
Changing the Way Your Cat FeelsIf your cat associates her litter box with unpleasant things, you can work to help her develop new and pleasant associations. Cats can’t be forced to enjoy something, and trying to show your cat that her litter box is safe by placing her in the box will likely backfire and increase her dislike of the box. It’s usually not a good idea to try to train your cat to use her litter box by offering her treats like you would a dog, because many cats do not like attention while they’re eliminating. However, a professional animal behavior consultant, such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) may be able to help you design a successful retraining or counterconditioning program. Please see our article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, for information about locating an applied animal behavior professional.
Sometimes retraining to overcome litter-box fears or aversions may not be necessary. Here are some steps that you can try to help your cat learn new pleasant associations:
Cats sometimes stop using their litter boxes when they feel stressed. Identify and, if possible, eliminate any sources of stress or frustration in your cat’s environment. For instance, keep her food bowls full and in the same place, keep her routine as predictable as possible, prevent the dog from chasing her, close blinds on windows and doors so she isn’t upset by cats outside. If you can’t eliminate sources of stress, try to reduce them. Incorporate the use of sprays or diffusers that deliver a synthetic pheromone that has been shown to have some effect in relieving stress in cats.
Treatment for Multi-Cat Household Conflict
Sometimes an elimination problem can develop as a result of conflict between cats who live together. If you have multiple cats and aren’t sure which cat is soiling, speak with your veterinarian about giving fluorescein, a harmless dye, to one of your cats. Although the dye does not usually stain carpeting, it causes urine to glow blue under ultraviolet light for about 24 hours. If you can’t get or use fluorescein, you can temporarily confine your cats, one at a time, to determine which one is eliminating outside of the litter boxes in your home.
If there is a conflict between your cats and one of them seems stressed, provide additional litter boxes in locations where the anxious cat spends the majority of her time. Also be sure to provide adequate resting areas for each cat. It can very useful in multi-cat households to create vertical resting spots on shelves or window sills or by buying multi-perch cat trees. It may help to distribute resources such as food, water, cat posts or trees, and litter boxes so that each individual cat can make use of them without coming into contact or having a conflict with one of the other cats. Using synthetic pheromone sprays or diffusers can reduce general social stress in your household.
Always consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist before giving your cat any type of medication for a behavior problem.
Medications can provide additional help in treating inappropriate elimination when the behavior is in response to stress or anxiety. It’s unlikely to be helpful if your cat eliminates outside her litter box because of litter-management problems, an aversion to a particular kind of litter or location, a preference for a particular surface or location, or a physical inability to use the box. If you’d like to explore this option, speak with your veterinarian, a veterinary behaviorist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who can work closely with your vet. Please see our article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, to locate one of these professionals in your area
What NOT to DoRegardless of what you do so solve your cat’s elimination problems, here are a few things to avoid:
Dr. Ernie Ward, DVM
I recently received a letter from a reader about her grief-stricken dog. Her senior pooch had lived an entire life with a recently departed mother and wasn’t handling the loss well. She shared that her dog was becoming increasingly depressed and despondent. The writer didn’t know what to do and wanted to know if there was anything that might ease her pet’s pain.
This is a sadly familiar scenario for most seasoned veterinarians. I’ve had to hospitalize dogs that refused to eat or drink following the loss of a human pet parent. I’ve treated many pets for depression and witnessed many more that die shortly after their human, the result of a quite-literally broken heart. Grief is real for dogs and cats and I personally suspect it exists in horses and other species, as well. Unfortunately, there is no treatment to instantly take away a grieving pet’s ache, but there are a few steps a pet parent can take to comfort a crying soul.
The power of time for grieving dogs
Without a doubt, time helps heal a wounded heart. Ask anyone who has lost a close family member (including me) and they’ll likely tell you that while you may never fully recover, the passage of time makes the loss more bearable. In my clinical experience, the same is true for our pets. The first two weeks seem to be the worst. Searching and sniffing the house and yard for the recently departed is common. Many dogs will pant, pace, drool, and whine almost incessantly or without provocation. Some pets will refuse food and water for several days following death of a human or animal family member. They may sleep more, hide in unusual places, and refuse to play. It’s agonizing to watch a pet go through this normal phase of healing.
Stress-relieving activities and exercise for grieving dogs
The best thing you can do is be there. Take extra walks, spend additional time cuddling on the couch, snuggle a little longer in the bed. Offer favored treats and food, visit a different park or hike a new trail. Exercise is the best antidepressant and stress reliever for both humans and animals. If the symptoms persist beyond two weeks or fail to lessen, your pet is probably becoming clinically depressed and needs veterinary assistance.
Treating depression in grieving dogs
Dogs and cats may develop a form of depression following any loss. My best advice is don’t wait too long before seeking professional help. If you’re increasingly uncomfortable with your pet’s attitude and behavior after two weeks, see your veterinarian. Veterinarians have many medications that can help your dog cope with loss. I’ve prescribed various anti-depressants along with plenty of exercise with successful outcomes. I also recommend pheromones, L-theanine, colostrum calming complex, melatonin, and Bach flower essences for grieving dogs. Most pets can be successfully treated with a combination of natural remedies, prescription medications, and plenty of low-impact aerobic exercise. I’ve found that after one to two months of therapy, the majority of patients can begin resuming normal activities. I think they still long for their lost loved one, but they’re better able to cope with daily life.
It might be more than grief
My biggest concern for grieving pets is something called decompensation. Many pets with intense human-animal bonds are older, placing them at risk for undiagnosed, underlying age-related disorders. The stress and anxiety associated with depression can push a borderline failing organ system over the edge and into life-threatening crisis. I’ve diagnosed too many older pets with heart failure, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and more a month or two after experiencing a loss. I attribute it to the effects of chronic stress. Even if your dog isn’t showing severe signs of grief and depression, if he’s not back to (nearly) normal within a couple of weeks, have your veterinarian check things out. A few simple blood and urine tests and a thorough physical exam can uncover any emerging condition before it’s too late.
Adopting a New Pet?
This may be controversial and it’s a highly personal decision, but I don’t typically advise replacing a deceased human pet parent with a new pet, particularly for a grieving dog or cat. The reason is I believe the bond between human and animal is different than between two animals. If adopting a new pet will help ease the grief of the human family member, I say go for it. If you’re asking me if I think a new dog will ease the grief of an existing pet, I’m not so sure. In my clinical experience, once the family has overcome the initial stages of grief and is healing, that’s a better time to consider pet adoption. Of course, you know your family better than me or any veterinarian, so the decision is up to you. I’ll support you no matter what.
Grief Hurts Everybody
Grief affects the entire human and animal family. Healing takes time and effort, and some pets (and people) may benefit from medical treatment. Overcoming grief isn’t something you “tough out;” it’s something you try to survive. It’s not weak or abnormal if you or your pet needs help. Grieving is natural, normal, and it hurts. Don’t delay talking to your veterinarian after losing a human family member. Ultimately, our shared goal is to restore health and happiness to our animal companions. And take solace from someone who’s been there: It gets better. Maybe not as quickly as you’d like, but it does.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Robert M. DuFort, DVM, DACVIM
Monday, October 10, 2016
Almost everyone's pooch can now enjoy this subscription channel, which is taking over cable like some sort of doggone HBO.
Seymour, a 2-year-old Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., is crouched on all fours on the floor, watching King Charles Spaniel puppies frolic alongside a baby. It's a cute and cuddly scene, all right, and one worth a dog's time, Seymour might tell you, if he had something to say about the matter.
But it turns out those puppies aren't frolicking in real time. They're in a video, streaming on a computer screen. And Seymour is watching that video. Yes, he’s a dog, and he’s watching a video on demand.S
Welcome -- if you’re not yet acquainted -- to DogTV, a subscription cable channel created specifically for canines, and one whose origin story reflects the highs and lows of any entrepreneur who ever had a crazy idea and wouldn't give it up.
In fact, the $4.99-a-month subscription channel's beginnings, says co-founder and chief of content Ron Levi, were hardly auspicious. “They said the idea was crazy, that dogs don’t watch TV,'” says the entrepreneur, remembering how the first investors he approached beat a hasty retreat.
Chances are, those money-makers are now eating their no's: Two weeks ago, DogTV announced a deal with Xfinity on Demand, a division of the global telecomm and internet access provider, Comcast. Xfinity's decision to distribute DogTV more than doubled the dog channel’s reach. Before, we were on one major operator [DirecTV], which has 20 or 21 million households, which was amazing to us,” Levi says during an interview from his Sunnydale, Calif., headquarters. “This [Comcast deal] takes us to 40 or 45 million households around the U.S., and 48 percent of their households have dogs.
“It brings us to a point where we’re very comfortable with the numbers we’re starting to have in the U.S. because it’s the most important market for us, in a market that is $60 billion a year -- the whole pet market."
Today, DogTV is a global presence -- it's now in 14 countries -- and a far cry from the company’s humble startup days, when Levi was just a guy with a crazy idea. Born in Fresh Meadows, N.Y., Levi grew up in Israel, where he became a veteran television broadcaster, but one with zero experience in the pet industry.
Still, he did have a cat named Charlie who gave him the idea for DogTV. That's right: A cat was DogTV's inspiration.
“He just gave me the saddest eyes one day,” Levi says of the beloved pet he would leave alone for hours in a Tel Aviv apartment. Those cat eyes sent the guilt-stricken pet owner to the internet to download videos about birds, squirrels, fish and other objects of feline fascination.
It worked: Charlie dug the footage. “I thought, ‘There’s a startup here!’” Levi says. That was 2006. Eventually, he found a seed investor, Jasmine Group, which gave him $200,000, plus the services of its CEO, Gilad Neumann -- DogTV’s co-founder and now its full-time CEO.
“We only spent it on research,” Levi says of the first investment. “We didn’t come from the world of pets, so we didn’t know what was the right thing to do. We needed to do it right; people could treat this as a gimmick, a joke, and we didn’t want that. We wanted to do something serious that could really help dogs feel more comfortable in their home.”
Any pet parent can tell you how dogs left for hours can become lonely, stressed and prone to aggressive behavior -- targeting the family couch, for instance, But Levi’s review of 86 existing studies, and DogTV’s own research with Tufts University, helped confirm that dogs actually do respond to screen content (though there remain naysayers). Those four-legged test subjects, Levi says, actively watched TV 16 percent of the time. As to what they watched, the channel’s researchers developed custom canine content, including specially colored videos, since dogs can’t see reds and greens and have far poorer vision than humans. Also created were "psychoacoustic" sound frequencies dogs like.
“After finishing three years [of research], we felt confident that we knew what dogs need, what they like, that we could create content,” Levi says. DogTV was launched in January 2010.
What that content has grown into is a 24/7 schedule of offerings in easily digestible, three- and four-minute videos. The dog day was divided into zones. The first zone aims to relax dogs stressed from separation anxiety, with classical music and positive affirmations -- lots of kids exclaiming, “Good dog!”
Next comes “stimulation” time, with dog running scenes and happy, playful pooches. Finally, there’s “exposure” time, designed to desensitize dog viewers to frightening factors such as fireworks and thunderstorms. Human subscribers can program constantly changing material for up to 12 hours a day, upload videos of their own dogs and watch videos made for humans.
When that initial $200,000 seed grant ran out, Levi says, Neumann went out to beat the bushes, eventually bringing in more than $10 million (Levi won't be specific) in startup funding. But still, the co-founders were growing the project slowly, cautiously, hiring just a handful of tech employees and creative types. Then came 2012 and their first big break.
That year, Cox Communications picked up the channel locally in San Diego, a city Levi and Neumann considered a test market only. “We tried to keep it as a local secret,” Levi says. Fat chance: "The day after [it debuted], it was already on Good Morning America, David Letterman and Conan and Ellen and Leno.”
That opened the floodgates, leading to those deals with DirecTV, Roku, AmazonFireTV and other providers. And now ... there’s Comcast.
Reflecting back this Small Business Week on his entrepreneurial adventures, Levi talks about the highs and lows, calling these past seven years “a rollercoaster."
“Every time you raise more money, and the future is not secure, that’s kind of a low," he says. "You’re not sure you’re going to make it. Or, every time you hear a ‘no,’ and people are laughing about this idea: That's a low too.
“All around the world, there are so many platforms, and we’re hoping to launch on all of them, but platforms say no all the time and that’s a bummer. It’s all about patience, and it’s all about relationships. The Xfinity launch didn’t happen overnight, trust me; we’ve been around for years, spending all this time and money to make these things happen. When they do happen, that’s a high."
And, finally, the obvious question: When to expect CatTV? Levi reveals there's a baby on the way in his family, so time is limited. But CatTV is not out of the question. “The whole channel was inspired by my cat,” Levi points out. “I can’t wait to do it.”
Go ahead and sleep with your dog—it’s perfectly safe, as long as you are both healthy.
In fact, sharing your bedroom with your canine companion—as long as he isn't under the covers—may actually improve your sleep, according to recent research published by Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Although researchers didn’t study the impact of felines sleeping with their pet parents, anecdotally, veterinarians suggest the results are mostly positive (though the nocturnal cat may be a bit more disruptive).
“Today, many pet owners are away from their pets for much of the day, so they want to maximize their time with them when they are home,” stated Lois Krahn, M.D., study coauthor and a sleep medicine specialist at the Center for Sleep Medicine on Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus in a press release. “Having them in the bedroom at night is an easy way to do that. And, now, pet owners can find comfort knowing it won’t negatively impact their sleep.”
The report left many pet owners puzzled, though.
Pet experts have long advised pet parents not to sleep with their dogs or cats for at least two main reasons: it will promote poor behavior in the animal and could lead to serious illness in humans.
Many vets now believe concerns over such issues are overstated or just incorrect. The resultant behavior can negatively impact both pet parents and their four-legged friends, says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a staff doctor at the Animal Medical Center in New York City, who specializes in small animal internal medicine and oncology. “Sleeping with your pet is an important ritual for many people,” she says. “It doesn’t need to be avoided if both pet and owner are healthy.”
Behavior Issues Related to Pets Sleeping on Beds
Despite what you’ve heard, allowing a dog or cat on the bed doesn’t cause behavioral problems. There are aggressive animals that you may not want to allow on a bed. Their aggression is often rooted in fear and is not caused by allowing them on beds or furniture, says certified dog behavior consultant and professional trainer Russell Hartstein.
“There is chronic confusion over this issue. It is completely fine to have them on the bed,” says Hartstein, CEO of FunPawCare, based in Los Angeles and Miami. “It’s actually funny this question even exists. These dominance theories were debunked (long ago). One reason people believe some of this is that some animal TV show hosts don’t follow evidence-based science.”
The bigger issue, Hartstein says, is the pet owner’s lifestyle. Do they mind pet hair on furniture? Are they comfortable sleeping with a pet by their feet? Will a cat’s decision to leave in the middle of night disrupt the person’s sleep? If owners don’t mind these inconveniences, the pet will enjoy the bed as much as the owner.
“Pets love their parents and are drawn to their scents,” he says. “They also prefer sleeping on elevated spaces.”
If sleeping on the bed isn’t comfortable for the pet parent, Hartstein suggests installing a comfortable, clean pet bed in or near the bedroom. Put a piece of your clothing—such as a T-shirt—in the bed so the pet can enjoy your scent.
Can Children Share a Bed with Pets?
Like adult pet parents, young children often want to sleep with the family dog or cat. All cases differ, of course, but it’s generally unwise to have a child of 6 or younger sleep alone with a pet.
“Before a child should sleep alone with a pet, it’s my opinion they should show that they can handle the responsibility,” says Dr. Carol Osborne, a veterinarian who practices at Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center & Pet Clinic in Ohio. “A parent should monitor a child to make sure they use good judgment when they feed, water, or walk it. That’s very important.”
Pulling a pet’s tail, rough play, or neglecting his needs are all indications that the child is not yet mature enough to sleep with a pet. Dogs and cats may tolerate some childhood mischief but become fearful and will eventually strike out. Wait until the child has a record of maturity with the pet before allowing them to sleep together.
One point you needn’t worry about, though, is a cat smothering a sleeping infant. That’s an old wives’ tale, says Osborne and others. A tale of such an incident was told more than 300 years ago and has not faded from the public consciousness. “Most cats are not interested in babies,” she says. “They make random motions and they smell bad.”
It’s still a good idea to keep pets away from babies, though. Babies, especially those younger than 3 months, are more susceptible to certain kinds of infections because of undeveloped immune systems.
Health Concerns of Sleeping with a Pet
Perhaps the greatest concern pet parents have about sleeping with a dog or cat is that they will catch a disease from him. It would be “very rare” for something like that to occur if the pet and person are both in good health, our experts agree.
Good health for a pet means no fleas, ticks, or other parasites, no illnesses, up-to-date vaccinations, and regular vet checkups.
“There’s a reason your vet wants to see your pet every year,” Hohenhaus says. “A vet wants to keep the pet healthy and identify risks so you don’t get sick, too...But with the average, healthy pet, there is a very low risk they will spread an illness to a person.”
And for people, good health in these cases is basically defined as those who are not immunosuppressed. Cancer patients, transplant recipients, and H.I.V.-positive people are among those who should not sleep with pets.
Although there was a recent report of a dog infecting a human with the plague,such transmission is extremely rare, our experts agree. The Centers for Disease Control reports that the majority of the approximately eight annual cases of plague in the United States occur in rural parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and California and are transmitted by rodents.
“Keep in mind that the CDC reports that contracting a disease from a family pet is ‘rare,’”Osborne says. “And sleeping with a pet has its benefits. A dog’s body temperature is higher than ours, so particularly on a cold night, it’s nice to snuggle with a dog. And dogs help us relax and allow some people with insomnia to sleep without [medications].”
Dogs Are Even More Like Us Than We Thought by MAYA WEI-HAAS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, PUBLISHED JULY 20, 2015
For one, canines shun people who are mean to their owners, a new study says.
IT'S LIKELY NO surprise to dog owners, but growing research suggests that man's best friend often acts more human than canine.
Dogs can read facial expressions, communicate jealousy, display empathy, and even watch TV, studies have shown. They've picked up these people-like traits during their evolution from wolves to domesticated pets, which occurred between 11,000 and 16,000 years ago, experts say.
In particular, "paying attention to us, getting along with us, [and] tolerating us" has led to particular characteristics that often mirror ours, says Laurie Santos, director of the Yale Comparative Cognition Laboratory. (Read more about how dogs evolved in National Geographic magazine.)
Here are a few of the latest studies showing the human side of our canine companions.
A pug watches humans in Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park in Alaska. Dogs are very observant of their owners' interactions with other people, new research suggests.
Social eavesdropping—or people-watching—is central to human social interactions, since it allows us to figure out who's nice and who's mean.
According to a study published in August in the journal Animal Behaviour, our dogs listen in too. (Read "Animal Minds" in National Geographicmagazine.)
In a new study, scientists tested 54 dogs that each watched their owners struggle to retrieve a roll of tape from a container. The dogs were divided into three groups: helper, non-helper, and control.
In the helper group, the owner requested help from another person, who held the container. In the non-helper group, the owner asked for help from a person, who then turned their back without helping. In the control group, the additional person turned his or her back without being asked for help. In all experiments, a third, "neutral" person sat in the room.
After the first round of experiments, the neutral person and the helper or non-helper both offered treats to the dog.
In the non-helper group, canines most frequently favored the neutral person's treat, shunning the non-helper. However, in the helper group, the dogs did not favor either the helper or the neutral person over the other. Scientists have previously observed similar results in human infants and tufted capuchin monkeys. (See "Can Dogs Feel Our Emotions? Yawn Study Suggests Yes.")
So are dogs taking sides by ignoring the people who are mean to their owners? Only future research will tell.
Made You Look
Gaze following is instinctual for many animals—including humans, chimps, goats, dolphins, and even the red-footed tortoise—because it alerts animals to everything from immediate threats to "a particularly tasty berry bush," says Lisa Wallis, a doctoral student at the Messerli Research Institute in Vienna, Austria.
Dogs were previously thought to follow human gazes only when food or toys were involved. Now, a new study suggests dogs also follow human gazes into blank space—but only if they're untrained. (See "5 Amazing Stories of Devoted Dogs.")
"We know they should be able to do it," says Wallis, leader of the research published in August in the journal Animal Behaviour, but training was the "missing piece of the puzzle."
In recent experiments, Wallis and her colleagues recruited 145 pet border collies with a range of training levels and ages. The researchers wanted to see if age, habituation, or training influenced the dog's tendency to follow a human's gaze.
Wallis then observed the dogs' reactions as she gazed toward a door. Surprisingly, only the untrained border collies followed her gaze—the trained animals ignored it. That may be because trained dogs learn to focus on a person's face, and not where the person is looking.
When Wallis and colleagues spent just five minutes teaching the untrained dogs to look at her face, they began ignoring the instinct to follow her gaze.
Even more surprising is that the untrained dogs often glanced back and forth between her and the door, baffled at what she was looking at. The behavior, only seen before in humans and chimps, is called "check backs" or "double looking," she said. (Read about war dogs in National Geographic magazine.)
"It's a lesson for us all that we should always examine whether training has an effect in these types of studies," says Wallis.
Next Steps in Dog Research
In humans, aging hastens declines in short-term memory and logical reasoning skills, making it more difficult to learn new tasks. Previous research has found similar declines in dogs, but long-term memory is a little-known aspect of dog biology. (See "Many Animals—Including Your Dog—May Have Horrible Short-Term Memories.")
That's why Wallis and colleagues are studying how dogs both young and old memorize tasks, and whether the animals can remember them months later.
The results are still in the works, but Wallis expects to discover that it's tough—but not impossible—to teach old dogs new tricks.
Every home contains a variety of everyday items and substances that can be dangerous or even fatal if ingested by dogs and cats. You can protect your pet’s health by becoming aware of the most common health hazards found in many pet-owning households.
Hazards in the KitchenFoods
Many foods are perfectly safe for humans, but could be harmful or potentially deadly to pets. To be safe, keep the following food items out of your pet’s menu:
Many household cleaners can be used safely around pets. However, the key to safe use lies in reading and following product directions for proper use and storage.
For instance, if the label states “keep pets and children away from area until dry”, follow those directions to prevent possible health risks. Products containing bleach can safely disinfect many household surfaces when used properly, but can cause stomach upset, drooling, vomiting or diarrhea, severe burns if swallowed, and respiratory tract irritation if inhaled in a high enough concentration. In addition, skin contact with concentrated solutions may produce serious chemical burns. Some detergents can produce a similar reaction and cats can be particularly sensitive to certain ingredients such as phenols.
As a general rule, store all cleaning products in a secure cabinet out of the reach of pets and keep them in their original packaging, or in a clearly labeled and tightly sealed container.
As with household cleaners, read and follow label instructions before using any type of pesticide in your pet’s environment. For example, flea and tick products labeled “for use on dogs only” should never be used on cats or other species, as serious or even life-threatening problems could result. Always consult with your veterinarian about the safe use of these products for your pet.
If a pet ingests rat or mouse poison, potentially serious or even life-threatening illness can result; therefore, when using any rodenticide, it is important to place the poison in areas completely inaccessible to pets. Some of the newer rodenticides have no known antidote, and can pose significant safety risks to animals and people.
Hazards in the BathroomAll medicines should be tightly closed and stored securely and away from pets.Medications
Medications that treat human medical conditions can make pets very sick. Never give your pet any medication, including over-the-counter medications, unless directed by your veterinarian. As a rule, all medicines should be tightly closed and stored securely and away from pets.
Medications that pose higher risk include:
Bath and hand soaps, toothpaste and sun screens should also be kept away from your pets. They can cause stomach upset, vomiting or diarrhea. Keep toilet lids closed to prevent your pets from consuming treated toilet bowl water that could irritate their digestive tract.
Hazards in the Bedroom & Living RoomWhile they may smell good, many liquid potpourri products contain ingredients that can cause oral ulcerations and other problems, so keep them out of the reach of your pets.
Just one mothball has the potential to sicken a dog or cat; mothballs that contain naphthalene can cause serious illness, including digestive tract irritation, liver, kidney and blood cell damage, swelling of the brain tissues, seizures, coma, respiratory tract damage (if inhaled) and even death (if ingested). Tobacco products, pennies (those minted after 1982 contain zinc) and alkaline batteries (like those in your remote controls) can also be hazardous when ingested.
Hazards in the Garage & YardAntifreeze, Herbicides and Insecticides
Ethylene glycol-containing antifreeze and coolants, even in small quantities, can be fatal to pets. While antifreeze products containing propylene glycol are less toxic than those containing ethylene glycol, they can still be dangerous. In addition to antifreeze, other substances routinely stored in the garage including insecticides, plant/lawn fertilizers, weed killers, ice-melting products, and gasoline also pose a threat to your pet’s health if ingested.
When chemical treatments are applied to grassy areas, be sure and keep your pet off the lawn for the manufacturer’s recommended time. If pets are exposed to wet chemicals or granules that adhere to their legs or body, they may lick it off later; stomach upset or more serious problems could result.
Polyurethane adhesives are found in a large number of household products, and some can be very dangerous if ingested by pets. In particular, several brands of expanding wood glues – those containing diphenylmethane diisocyanate (often abbreviated as MDI) – have the potential to form obstructive gastrointestinal masses if ingested. The ingested adhesive can form an expanding ball of glue in your pet’s esophagus and/or stomach, creating a firm mass that can be 4-8 times the glue’s original volume. This effect has been reported from as little as 2 oz. of glue, with the obstructive mass forming within minutes of the pet ingesting the adhesive.
Paints and Solvents
Paint thinners, mineral spirits, and other solvents are dangerous and can cause severe irritation or chemical burns if swallowed or if they come in contact with your pet’s skin.
While most latex house paints typically produce a minor stomach upset, some types of artist’s or other specialty paints may contain heavy metals or volatile substances that could become harmful if inhaled or ingested.
Plants - Inside or Around the House
There are many household and yard plants that can sicken your pet.There are many household and yard plants that can sicken your pet. Some of the most commonly grown greenery that should be kept away from pets includes:
Other Household HazardsSmall items that fall on the floor can be easily swallowed by a curious pet. Such items include coins, buttons, small children’s toys, medicine bottles, jewelry, nails and screws. The result may be damage to your pet’s digestive tract and the need for surgical removal of the object.
While electrical cords are especially tempting to puppies, ferrets and pet rodents who like to chew on almost anything, even an adult dog or cat could find them of interest; burns or electrocution could result from chewing on live cords. Prevent this by using cord covers and blocking access to wires.
A note about narcotics
Narcotics, including marijuana, can pose life-threatening risks to your pets if ingested. If you suspect your pet has ingested any narcotics, please notify your veterinarian immediately so your pet can receive the life-saving treatment they need.
Holiday HazardsHolidays and visitors can pose a special challenge to your pets. Discourage well-meaning guests from spoiling pets with extra treats and scraps from the dinner table. Fatty, rich, or spicy foods can cause vomiting and diarrhea and lead to inflammation of the pancreas, which can be life-threatening. Poultry or other soft bones can splinter and damage your pet’s mouth or esophagus.
While trick-or-treating is fun for children, it can be hazardous to pets. Halloween treats such as chocolate or candy sweetened with xylitol can make a harmful snack. Certain holiday decorations (especially tinsel, ribbons and ornaments) also pose a hazard to pets, so make sure nothing is left on the floor or on tables within reach.
String-like items can damage your pet’s intestine and could prove fatal if not surgically removed. While poinsettia is not deadly as popular legend would have it, it could still cause an upset stomach if consumed. Holly and mistletoe are more toxic than poinsettias and can cause intestinal upset. Christmas tree water treated with preservatives (including fertilizers) can also cause an upset stomach. Water that is allowed to stagnate in tree stands contains bacteria that, if ingested, could lead to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
A Special Note of Caution to Bird OwnersMost hazards listed here also apply to your pet bird, particularly if it is allowed to roam freely outside of its cage. In addition, birds are especially vulnerable to inhaled particles and fumes from aerosol products, tobacco products, certain glues, paints and air fresheners. Birds should never be allowed in areas where such products are being used. As a rule, birds should never be kept in kitchens because cooking fumes, smoke and odors can present a potentially fatal hazard.
What to do if your pet is poisonedDon’t wait! Time is critical for successfully treating accidental poisoning. Pick up the phone and call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435; a consultation fee may apply). Be prepared to provide your pet’s breed, age, weight and any symptoms. Keep the product container or plant sample with you to assist in identification so the appropriate treatment recommendations can be made.
Why Do Dogs Scratch the Ground After They Pee? By Emma Bryce, Live Science Contributor | August 4, 2018 08:36 am ET
If you're a dog owner, chances are, you're accustomed to having bits of grass and soil flung into your face — a phenomenon that can usually be traced to your canine's peculiar habit of scooping up chunks of earth with its paws and propelling them energetically into the air.
Veterinary experts call this behavior "ground scratching." It's usually dismissed as a nuisance — an odd and unexplained quirk of canine behavior. But research suggests that it can also tell us a lot about dogs.
First, not all dogs perform the bizarre ritual of vaulting dirt into the air. In fact, it seems to be a fairly uncommon behavior. [20 Weird Dog and Cat Behaviors Explained by Science]
"It appears to occur equally in males and females, but only around 10 percent of dogs do it," said Rosie Bescoby, a clinical animal behaviorist with the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors in the United Kingdom. The behavior is also triggered by a precise set of circumstances: Typically, dogs put on this enthusiastic performance just after they urinate or defecate, when they enter a new area with unfamiliar smells or after they smell another dog's poop, Bescoby told Live Science.
And ground scratching isn't exclusive to dogs; wolves, coyotes and other mammals, like lions, do it, too. In fact, several observational studies on the ground-scratching habits of these other animals — especially coyotes and wolves — have given researchers some of the most helpful clues about why dogs might be doing it, said Carlo Siracusa, a veterinary behaviorist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
"In wolves, for example, they live in packs, and so it's related to their social natures," Siracusa told Live Science, explaining the findings of previous studies. "The dominant animals in the pack tend to show this behavior to delimit their territory. So, what they're presumably doing is, trying to send messages to other wolves that, if they cross this line, they might be attacked. It's directed to strangers, not to animals of the same pack."
This territorial marking process has two main features, Siracusa said. First, there's a visual mark — the scratches that the animal leaves behind on the ground. Second, there's the scent mark left behind by urine, or by fluids secreted by glands in the wolves' paws as they scrape up soil and shower it across the ground. "So, this is the theory behind it: Either you see me doing it, you see the dirt that has been moved or you smell my scent," Siracusa said.
How does this compare to what we see in dogs? First, ground scratching in domestic dogs is often accompanied by urine marking on a nearby tree or clump of grass, which mirrors the territorial marking behavior seen in coyotes and wolves. Moreover, dogs also appear to secrete special marking fluids from their paws.
"It's unclear whether [other] dogs are picking up a scent from the scratch marks, but we do know dogs have sweat glands on their pads and/or sebaceous glands in the fur between their toes," Bescoby said.
Siracusa added that these glands in the feet also produce pheromones, meaning that dogs may be leaving these smelly substances in the soil and then widely dispersing them through their vigorous kicking. This could provide a powerful chemical signal to other dogs that they've been there, Siracusa said. It's unclear precisely what function these pheromones have, so it's difficult to draw conclusions about what message they could send to other dogs, he cautioned. But as with wolves, it's likely that these pheromones provide some notification to other animals that they're nearby. [Why Do Dogs Walk in Circles Before Lying Down?]
Is this behavior aggressive?Although it's tempting to draw the conclusion that ground-scratching behavior is aggressive — a way of actively threatening other dogs with a fight if they encroach on demarcated territory — Siracusa thinks it's more nuanced than that. Domesticated animals don't own and manage "territories" the same way wild animals do.
So, he believes that, instead of aggressively warning other dogs to stay away, ground scratching may simply be a dog's way of notifying others of their own presence — possibly to reduce the likelihood that they'll encounter one another in a confined area. As in, "I'm leaving a messagejust to let you know I'm around," Siracusa said. "So, if you know me, and we're on good terms, it's OK for you to be around here. But if we don't get on so well, you may want to stay away."
In his clinical work with dogs, Siracusa has also noticed (although only anecdotally) that ground scratching tends to be more common in nervous, insecure pets. But this doesn't mean all ground scratchers are anxious, he emphasized; it's an entirely natural behavior and not anything to be concerned about.
But for edgier animals especially, it might be "an attempt to control the space and make it safer," because "they're actually not a big fan of meeting other dogs," Siracusa told Live Science. That may also explain why dogs tend to scratch the ground more when they're in unfamiliar territory and why female dogs who are spayed do it more than ones who aren't, according to Bescoby.
So, what does all this mean for the owners of ground-scratching pets? According to Siracusa, the best way to deal with this behavior is simply to let dogs get on with it, instead of trying to quash their mud-flinging instincts.
"In general, we recommend that people give the dog the possibility to show this behavior," he said. Stopping them from exchanging these secret messages with other animals — albeit through the medium of sand showers — "just makes them feel more vulnerable’," Siracusa said.
And does ground scratching ever become a real problem for dogs? Bescoby said no. "Only for owners who complain of grass and mud being kicked into their faces!" she said.
Original article on Live Science.
Dogs are capable of understanding the emotions behind an expression on a human face. For example, if a dog turns its head to the left, it could be picking up that someone is angry, fearful or happy. If there is a look of surprise on a person's face, dogs tend to turn their head to the right. The heart rates of dogs also go up when they see someone who is having a bad day, say Marcello Siniscalchi, Serenella d'Ingeo and Angelo Quaranta of the University of Bari Aldo Moro in Italy. The study in Springer's journal Learning & Behavior is the latest to reveal just how connected dogs are with people. The research also provides evidence that dogs use different parts of their brains to process human emotions.
By living in close contact with humans, dogs have developed specific skills that enable them to interact and communicate efficiently with people. Recent studies have shown that the canine brain can pick up on emotional cues contained in a person's voice, body odour and posture, and read their faces.
In this study, the authors watched what happened when they presented photographs of the same two adults' faces (a man and a woman) to 26 feeding dogs. The images were placed strategically to the sides of the animals' line of sight and the photos showed a human face expressing one of the six basic human emotions: anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust or being neutral.
The dogs showed greater response and cardiac activity when shown photographs that expressed arousing emotional states such as anger, fear and happiness. They also took longer to resume feeding after seeing these images. The dogs' increased heart rate indicated that in these cases they experienced higher levels of stress.
In addition, dogs tended to turn their heads to the left when they saw human faces expressing anger, fear or happiness. The reverse happened when the faces looked surprised, possibly because dogs view it as a non-threatening, relaxed expression. These findings therefore support the existence of an asymmetrical emotional modulation of dogs' brains to process basic human emotions.
"Clearly arousing, negative emotions seem to be processed by the right hemisphere of a dog's brain, and more positive emotions by the left side," says Siniscalchi.
The results support that of other studies done on dogs and other mammals. These show that the right side of the brain plays a more important part in regulating the sympathetic outflow to the heart. This is a fundamental organ for the control of the 'fight or flight' behavioural response necessary for survival.
Materials provided by Springer. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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Bison and chickpeas. Wild boar and sweet potatoes. Kangaroo and lentils.
These are just a few of the spectacularly popular selections of “grain-free” dog food that have deluged the pet food market in recent years. Dense with exotic proteins, teeming with legumes favored by health-conscious humans, they are promoted as delicious as well as nutritious — better for gluten-sensitive bellies, closer to the ancestral, protein-rich diets of the Yorkie’s savage forebears.
But earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it is investigating a link between these diets and a common type of canine heart disease.
The condition is dilated cardiomyopathy, or D.C.M., in which the heart weakens and becomes enlarged. Symptoms include fatigue, difficulty breathing, coughing and fainting. Some dogs can abruptly go into heart failure.
D.C.M. is typically seen in large breed dogs that have a genetic predisposition for it, like Doberman pinschers, Irish wolfhounds, boxers and Great Danes. But CVCA, a practice of 19 veterinary cardiologists in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area, alerted the F.D.A. that it has been seeing D.C.M. among other breeds, including golden retrievers, doodle mixes, Labrador retrievers and Shih Tzus.
The common factor was a diet heavy in peas, lentils, chickpeas and potatoes — carbohydrates typically intended to replace grains.
Other veterinary cardiologists have also noticed the phenomenon. “The first clue for us was when we saw a household with two unrelated miniature Schnauzers with D.C.M.,” said Darcy Adin, a veterinary cardiologist who teaches at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “They were both eating the same boutique, exotic protein, grain-free diet.”
Her team has documented 36 dogs with suspected nutritional D.C.M., including poodles and dachshunds.
The possibility that expensive food, lovingly chosen, could make one’s adored pet devastatingly ill is sending shudders through dog owners.
“Don’t panic,” said Martine Hartogensis, a veterinarian who is deputy director for the Office of Surveillance and Compliance in the F.D.A.’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
There are no recalls yet, she said. Millions of dogs happily and safely vacuum up these diets. The number of patients so far is small.
Grain-free products in a pet store in Lutherville, Md. Sales of grain-free dog food rose to nearly $2.8 billion by the end of 2017, 44 percent of the market.
CreditAndrew Mangum for The New York TimesCVCA, the group that contacted the F.D.A., did a survey of 150 recent cases of D.C.M. Most of the dogs had been on grain-free diets. Steven L. Rosenthal, a partner, noted that they could not rule out other influences, but said that the group now sees eight to 12 new D.C.M. cases a month that are not associated with genetics.
The F.D.A. has recently received reports of some two dozen additional cases. Three dogs died.
“We don’t want to be alarmist,” Dr. Hartogensis said. “But,” she added, “this is a real signal.”
Researchers do not know why these diets may be problematic — whether it’s the absence of grains, the presence of legumes or something else.
But Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist and researcher with the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, sees this moment as an opportunity to view grain-free diets skeptically. “Contrary to advertising and popular belief, there is no research to demonstrate that grain-free diets offer any health benefits over diets that contain grains,” she said.
Grains are an important source of protein and other nutrients in many meat-based pet foods, she continued. “Grains have not been linked to any health problems except in the very rare situation when a pet has an allergy to a specific grain.”
Grain-free canine diets began to gain traction in the wake of the 2007 recalls of pet foods contaminated with melamine from China, industry analysts said. By 2011, grain-free dog food accounted for 15 percent of sales in American pet specialty stores or, nearly $1 billion. By the end of 2017, it had exploded to 44 percent of the market, or nearly $2.8 billion in sales, and continues to grow, said Maria Lange, an analyst on the pet specialty industry for GfK, the global market research firm.“Most pets are seen as fur babies,” she said, “so owners say, ‘Maybe my dog is allergic to grains, so just to be safe, I’ll feed him grain-free.’ But in some ways it’s a marketing ploy to catch the consumer’s eye.”
Bentley, a broad-shouldered, 95-pound golden retriever, had been wolfing down his grain-free pork and squash for years, for which his owners, Tracy and Chris Meyer of Phoenix, Md., paid about $80 a month.
“You look at the ingredients: peas, red lentils, green lentils,” Mrs. Meyer said. “They were near the top of the list. It looked like something I would eat, so I thought it would be all right.”
When Bentley started backing off his food, she thought it was because they had just moved to a new house. She switched flavors, added treats.
“Whether I was up at 5 a.m. or 8 a.m., he was already awake at the bottom of the bed, panting,” Mrs. Meyer recalled. “He started a honking cough. Then his stomach became distended. I took him out one time before going to the vet’s and he just stopped, had a bowel movement, and fainted, foaming at the mouth.”
The Meyers with Bentley, who is mostly back to normal after a year and a half, though he must take supplements and two heart drugs.CreditAndrew Mangum for The New York TimesAt the veterinary emergency room, she was told that Bentley had gone into heart failure. Dr. Rosenthal was on duty. He ran Bentley’s levels of taurine, an amino acid essential to a healthy heart that dogs can make on their own. A normal taurine level is over 200. Bentley’s was 58.
A year and a half later, Bentley is back to his happy-go-lucky, goofy self. He has come off a heart medication that can affect kidney function. His appointments have been pared back. He still takes supplements and two other heart drugs. His new diet has plenty of grains.
Dr. Adin noted that some dogs have improved with diet change, medication and taurine supplements. Unlike D.C.M. in dogs with a genetic predisposition, she said, D.C.M. in diet-associated cases can sometimes even be reversed.
The F.D.A. said research has just begun on these uncharacteristic cases of D.C.M. One group, cocker spaniels and golden retrievers, do reveal low taurine levels. Investigators speculate that legumes may interfere with the dog’s ability to make taurine or perhaps absorb it. Joshua Stern, a veterinary cardiologist at the University of California, Davis, is tracking 24 golden retrievers with low taurine levels who had been on grain-free diets.
But taurine levels in other affected dogs, including mixed breeds, are normal, which puzzles researchers. The F.D.A. requested that owners and veterinarians take blood and urine samples from affected dogs for comparative analysis.
For now, the pet food industry is holding its breath. Dana Brooks, chief executive of the Pet Food Institute, which represents most pet food manufacturers, said in an emailed statement: “While the exact cause of the reported illnesses has not yet been identified, P.F.I. shares the belief that any pet illness should be taken seriously, and we remind pet owners to consult their trusted veterinarians with any questions about their pet’s health and well-being.”
Some veterinary experts recommend that owners with dogs on such diets review the reasons for doing so with their veterinarians. Dr. Freeman also suggested that owners watch for early signs of heart disease, including weakness and fainting.
“I know that owners want the very best for their pets, but instead of avoiding grains based on myth,” she said. “I recommend selecting a pet food that contains high-quality ingredients, is made by a manufacturer with strong nutritional expertise and rigorous quality control, and has the right nutritional profile for the individual pet.”
Both Dr. Rosenthal and Dr. Adin suggested that owners also peruse recommendations by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. It does not have regulatory authority, but does promulgate widely recognized standards.
Dr. Adin also said that owners might move away from exotic proteins like alligator and kangaroo, whose benefits, compared to tried-and-true chicken and beef, have not been scrupulously evaluated.
Dr. Rosenthal feeds his own American bulldog, Eddie, a diet from a mainstream commercial pet food maker that includes grains.
“A lot of people would have qualms because it uses less expensive or non-organic ingredients,” he said. “But we’ve seen dogs thrive on these diets.”
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