By Dr. Louise Murray, Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Hospital
Pet owners want to provide their furry friends with a healthy diet, but all the available pet food options can be overwhelming at times. Here are some tips to help you select the right food for your pet.
It’s helpful to read pet food labels before making a purchase. Here’s what to look for:
Make sure the food meets the standards of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
Review food ingredients and the order in which they’re listed, since ingredients are listed in order of relative amounts. Feeding cats carbohydrates such as corn may lead to health issues including obesity and diabetes. Dogs are omnivores, like us, and as such are more nutritionally flexible.
Foods labeled as gourmet, premium, or super or ultra premium are not required to contain higher quality ingredients, and are not held to higher nutritional standards; the term natural also does not have an official definition.
When the label lists meat by-products, this refers to animal parts that we may not choose to eat but are not intrinsically unhealthy for pets. The term by-productmeal refers to animal tissue that has been rendered, an industrial process converting slaughterhouse offal and deceased animals from various sources into a more stable material; some owners prefer to avoid foods containing meat meal.
If you prefer to make homemade food for your pet, read these helpful tips:
You can prepare healthy meals at home if you ensure that the diet is balanced for your pet’s species, stage of life, and any health conditions. An unbalanced diet can lead to serious problems, such as bone fragility, heart disease, and blindness. Homemade diets must be balanced by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. Pet Diets and Balance It provide helpful guides for at-home pet food preparation.
If you prepare food for your pet, ensure all meats are cooked properly. Raw meat can be contaminated with harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella, presenting a health hazard not only to your pet but to your family as well, and can be found in the stool of pets who consume uncooked meat.
Ever wondered why dogs and cats need different foods?
The nutritional needs of dogs and cats are very different. Dogs are omnivores and can do well on either meat-containing or vegetarian diets, while cats are strict carnivores with very precise nutritional needs.
Because their ancestors lived in desert environments, cats often don’t drink enough and they produce urine with relatively little water in it. Therefore, it’s a good idea to include moist foods in your cat’s diet to help prevent the formation of crystals and stones in the urinary tract. Another characteristic of cats is that they can become seriously ill if they resent a food change or go on a hunger strike so any diet change must be made slowly and carefully. When switching foods, watch your cat’s appetite closely, and never try to starve a cat into eating a new food!
Always be sure to check with your pet’s veterinarian regarding the best diet for your companion, and discuss any special dietary needs your pet may have.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Here at the ASPCA, we’re excited to spend the day with our loved ones—with two or four legs! By now, most pet parents have heard that chocolate treats pose dangers to dogs, but we wanted to point out a few other tips to keep your pets happy and safe this Valentine’s Day.
Precautionary Petals: While flowers are a Valentine’s Day staple, there are a few types to be wary of. First, all species of lily are potentially fatal to cats. Check out our plant library to learn more about plants that are toxic to pets. Also, be mindful of rose stems with thorns attached—when pets bite step on or swallow them, they could develop an infection.
Careful with Cocktails: If you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a bottle of wine or champagne, make sure your pet doesn’t try to join in. Even a small amount of alcohol can cause serious illnesses in pets, including vomiting, diarrhea, lack of coordination and other problems.
Don’t Share Your Sweets: In addition to chocolate, candies and gums that are sweetened with xylitol are unsafe for pets to consume. It’s important to keep sweet treats out of your pet’s reach.
Charesse W. calls her five-month old pit bull mix, Petey, her “miracle dog” for good reason. On Christmas Day, Charesse left her Brooklyn apartment to spend time with family. Petey stayed behind, and when Charesse returned a few hours later, nothing seemed amiss. In the days that followed, however, Petey grew very sick. He stopped eating and drinking, and his weight declined rapidly.
Charesse rushed Petey to the ASPCA Animal Hospital, where he received care through the ASPCA’s Trooper Fund—a program in place to cover medical costs for animals whose guardians need assistance with veterinary expenses.
Veterinarian Dr. Juline Holland noted that Petey was severely dehydrated and thin, and she could feel a tubular object extending the length of his abdomen. She stabilized Petey before sending him to radiology, where she was shocked by his radiographs. This small pup had swallowed something strange. Doctors and nurses gathered around the X-ray, studying a long, thin object that extended almost the entire length of Petey’s body.
Petey needed emergency surgery—foreign objects, especially one so large, can cause severe damage to the throat, stomach or intestines if swallowed. The resulting complications can be fatal.
Dr. Yvonne Kline, along with Dr. Marisa Altieri, performed surgery on Petey, and what they found in his the abdominal cavity was astounding. It turned out to be a toilet brush, approximately 15 inches long! The brush end was stuck in Petey’s esophagus, while the handle stretched his stomach to several times its normal length.
ASPCA Veterinarian Dr. Yvonne Kline (left) with Petey and Charesse (right)
The doctors considered pushing the brush from Petey’s stomach, but it was lodged tightly in his throat. The only other option was to make a small incision into the stomach and extract it. They did so, and gently removed the brush.
“It was the one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen in veterinary medicine and the strangest surgery I have ever performed,” Dr. Kline says.
The next day, Petey was eating again, and staff noticed how affectionate he was. Petey is taking medicine to relieve gagging symptoms and eating multiple meals a day to gain weight.
After days and sleepless nights spent worrying about Petey, Charesse was immensely relieved. Her “miracle dog” is working on one important New Year’s resolution: not to swallow anything larger than dog kibble, or maybe the occasional treat!
Marcus Graham, ASPCA senior animal care technician (left) with veterinarian Dr. Yvonne Kline (right)
While winter weather poses many threats to animals, perhaps one of the most serious dangers occurs when cats and other small animals seek warmth from the engines of parked cars. One such unlucky cat was Flapjack, a tiny kitten found on the side of the road in New York City last December. Fortunately, a Good Samaritan spotted Flapjack and brought him to the ASPCA Animal Hospital.
It was clear that Flapjack had been caught in a car’s engine. He was suffering from multiple serious injuries, including a fractured lower jaw, a severe tongue laceration and other wounds.
ASPCA Veterinarian Dr. Maren Krafchik says the hospital staff performed the first of three surgeries on Flapjack that same day, including using wire to repair his jaw and inserting a feeding tube to help him eat.
This brave little kitten is now happy and healthy with his foster parent, an ASPCA veterinary technician. He had his feeding tube removed and can now eat normally, and the swelling he experienced as a result of his injuries has gone down a great deal.
We’re so relieved that Flapjack has recovered, but his story provides a valuable lesson to anyone who drives during the winter months. According to Dr. Krafchik, there are multiple ways to prevent such injuries, including:
knocking on the hood of your car
honking your car’s horn
checking under your car’s hood to ensure that a small animal is not inside. If you start your car and hear something unusual, turn off your engine immediately.
At the ASPCA Animal Hospital, our veterinarians provide world-class care to each one of our patients. But there is another group of clinical staff members whose day-to-day work is crucial to the well-being of each pet being treated—veterinary technicians, commonly known as “vet techs.” Although each patient that comes to the ASPCA Animal hospital is special and unique, it is also true that our vet techs repeatedly see the same— sometimes preventable—medical conditions. Since ASPCA vet techs are the front line of our clinical team, we asked a group of them, “What would you like pet parents to know and do to keep their pets in tip-top shape?”
Here’s some pet care advice from ASPCA vet techs:
Geniene: When a cat is having trouble urinating, it is a medical emergency. Urinary obstructions can be fatal. If you see your cat going in and out of the litter box, posturing or only producing a small amount of urine—possibly while crying—bring your cat to the vet right away! Feeding your cat a diet that consists primarily of wet food will reduce the risk of urinary obstructions.
Mary: Spaying your pet is not just about preventing unwanted litters. Animals that have not been spayed are at risk of developing pyometra, an infected uterus. Pyometra is potentially life-threatening, but the risk of developing pyometra is zero when an animal has been spayed. Additionally, the cost of treating a pyometra is many times the cost of spaying an animal. There are many benefits to spaying or neutering your pet.
Temetrias: Cat’s don’t normally cough— if your cat is coughing, you should take her to the vet. A coughing cat may have developed asthma or fluid on its lungs and needs medical attention. A common misconception is that cats cough up hairballs, but when a cat “coughs” up a hairball it is actually vomiting.
Erica: Many people believe that cats are agile, and therefore won’t fall out of windows. Cats can lose their balance, get spooked or react to birds with a strong prey drive. Cats don’t always land on their feet, and a serious fall can be devastating. Cat owners should always have screens on their windows.
Rena: All dogs should be vaccinated against parvovirus. The virus is common, life-threatening and expensive to treat. Puppies and young dogs are at particularly high risk. Have your dog vaccinated, and don’t let puppies’ paws touch the ground outside their homes until they have completed their parvo vaccine series. Dogs can contract parvo from walking in the grass, then licking their paws; from nose-to-nose or nose-to-rear contact; or from smelling feces or drinking out of puddles.
Manny: It’s very important that pet parents walk their dogs on a leash. The majority of cases where dogs are brought to our hospital after having been hit by cars results from dogs being allowed to walk off leash. Having your dog on a leash also helps protect it from aggressive animals. Dogs off leash cannot be kept safe in the way that leashed dogs can.