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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pros And Cons Of Invisible/Electric Fences....And A Contest!

From time to time I am asked by clients about my opinion on using a wireless dog fence (sometimes called "invisible" or electronic fences) for dogs.  And yes, I have thoughts on the issue!  Also.....I have a contest!  But I'll get to that at the end.

The short version is that I do think that an electronic dog fence is a very viable option for many people.  I know from personal experience that having a physical fence is expensive and can be difficult to install if you try to do it yourself.  My own yard doesn't have a fence and we've been considering having one put in for a long time.  Last year we finally decide to do so and got a few quotes.  The cheapest one was around $2600, and they went up from there.  That cost wasn't really in our budget and as a second choice I looked into invisible fencing.

An invisible fence was a much more reasonable option.  I looked at a few companies who did the full installation as well as a DIY electric fence.  I finally decided on the latter because for less than $300 I could get a full kit plus an extra collar.  I will admit that it was a bit of work putting it in, as I had to measure and arrange the wire, set up the transmitter, dig small trenches in which to bury the wire, and make sure the whole thing worked.  It took several hours last Summer, and while not back-breaking it was a bit tedious.  In the end I got it installed and within a couple of weeks had my dogs trained.

The fence has worked great for a year and is still going strong.  My dogs have learned the boundaries and don't approach them.  They are used to the collars and don't mind them.  In fact it has worked so well that we aren't planning on putting up a physical fence any time in the near future.

It's obvious that I'm biased in favor of these fences, but I'm still realistic about the occasional challenges.  Here are a few key points.
  • The collars provide a small static charge, not a full blast of electricity.  Yes, it's uncomfortable, but the collars make a tone as the dog approaches the wire, warning them in plenty of time.  My dogs learned very quickly where that line was, and don't go too close.  If fitted and used properly it doesn't cause any physical damage and the dogs learn when to stop so they don't actually receive the shock.  I can't remember the last time my dogs have actually received any kind of "punishment" from the collars.
  • This is a much cheaper alternative to a physical fence, which makes it a great option for people on a budget.  That was one of the main reasons I decided to use one.
  • If the electricity for your house goes out for some reason (storm, blown fuse, etc.) your fence is effectively down.  So don't let your dogs outside unsupervised if this is the case or they will not hear the tone of the collar and may go beyond the boundary.
  • If the battery in the collar dies you lose the benefit of the fence.  The collar won't give a tone or a shock if the dog approaches the boundary wire.  However, many dogs are so well trained by that point that they will stop at that border anyway.  And at least the brand I use will give a warning flash as the battery is losing power.
  • Thought it would happen rarely, there is a risk of a big, strong dog getting excited and taking a running start at the boundary line, breaking through it in about a second.  I've heard of this happening, and once the dog is through the other side the collar stops giving any signal since it relates to the proximity of the transmission wire.  This has never been an issue with my dogs and they both weigh around 60 pounds.  Be aware of your dog's personality and tendencies.
Wireless dog fences aren't for every dog, but they are definitely a good option for many.  Certainly look at it as an option if you don't need a physical fence for any reason other than to contain your dogs.  There are many types of invisible fence out there, so look around.  Here is one site for invisible fence reviews.

Okay, now the contest!    I want to see how many people are aware of this blog and willing to share it!  In order to "enter", you must either comment on this post or share it on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.).  Once you have done so send me an email at DrChrisBern@gmail.com with either the link to where you shared it or your name/alias in the comments.  Doing both (commenting and sharing) will get you two entries!  I will need a valid email address in order to send the prize.  I will draw a person from random from those emails and that person will win a $25 Amazon.com electronic gift card!  Entries will be taken through Midnight (12:00am) EDT on Tuesday, July 14th, 2015.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Proud To Be American

Today is Independence Day, considered the birthday of the United States of America.  And I have to say that I'm very proud to be an American.  In fact, I think the world would be a much worse place without the USA.

America and Americans have done amazing things.  We have helped revolutionize technology and industry.  We have helped stop dictators in two World Wars and fought against more during the Cold War.  Our economy has helped stimulate global trade.  We have been a country steeped in innovation and independence for our entire history.  The American entertainment industry has set standards around the world.   American brands and characters are recognized in every country.

Does this mean that the rest of the world doesn't matter?  Or that America doesn't fail?  Or that it doesn't have faults?

Absolutely not!

While Americans have made significant contributions to science, we don't want to ignore the discoveries of Europeans, Chinese, and others.  Linnaeus and Copernicus are just as important as Edison and Ford.  While we have helped innovate technology, the Japanese often do better.  Our automobiles are generally very good, but the Swedes, Germans, Japanese, and even Koreans have learned to make them just as well.

We have made plenty of mistakes as a country.  We treated the American Indians abhorrently.  We were one of the last to outlaw slavery.  We failed in our war efforts in Vietnam and Korea.  Bad fiscal policies lead to global market crashes in the 1930s and 2000s.  We have upset allies, rattled our saber when we should have sat at a negotiation table, funded evil people who eventually became our enemies, and oppressed our own citizens.  Even today we have problems with violence, racism, poor national policies, and numerous conflicts between our people.  And I am less than thrilled at several very bad decisions by the US Supreme Court in the last couple of weeks.

But through it all we survive and grow.  Though racism is not eliminated (an never will be in my opinion), the situations are far, far better in 2015 than they were in 1955.  Though we hear a lot about violent crimes and mass shootings, FBI statistics show that violence as a whole has been trending downward for decades.  Though we may not dominate the global economy as we once did, we are often finding ourselves still being innovators.  And despite bad things that people may say about America, we are still such a desirable place to live that millions of people break the law and risk their lives to come here.

Yes, I'm patriotic and a nationalist.  But I also understand and respect other countries and cultures.  My own father is an immigrant, and though he may disagree with many of the things happening in the US (especially from the Right Wing side of things), I don't think he would look back and think it was a mistake to move here and become a citizen.  I also love talking to people from other countries and visiting those other lands.  Being proud to be an American doesn't mean that I hate or discount other countries or their citizens.

This is all a long way of saying "Happy 239th birthday, America!"  I still pray for God's blessings on us, and that we will overcome the challenges and differences that face us.  While I look forward to visiting other places around the world, I will never want to call anywhere else my home.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

New Study On Raw Food Dangers


It really does seem like pet nutrition is the focus of everything lately! I think I may have to take a break from the topic for a while before this blog changes to "A Vet's Guide To Pet Food".

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently published information about salmonella in dogs and cats and the link to raw pet foods. Here are some key points from the study.

Of the nearly 3,000 dogs and cats tested, fewer than 100 tested positive. Those that did were more likely to have eaten raw meat, reported the National Institutes of Health (NIH) / U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MedLinePlus.


The FDA also noted that dogs can transfer the bacteria into their environments without pet owners being aware of it. (Half of the dogs that tested positive showed no physical signs of the bacteria.) (original article here)

A dog may show no signs of illness yet still carry the bacteria, which can potentially spread to other members of the household. Moreover, for young children, older adults, or individuals with compromised immune systems, bacterial illnesses can be especially serious.


Additionally, the dogs that tested positive for Salmonella were more likely to have eaten raw pet food, study results show. Scientific literature indicates that raw foods are more likely than processed foods to test positive for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, another common cause of disease, in part because they have not gone through a “kill step,” such as heat processing. (
original article here)

Raw foods are more likely to carry Salmonella than processed foods. That bacteria can make it through a dog or cat's gastrointestinal tract and come out the other end. Pets that eat raw food are more likely to have Salmonella in their feces than pets on processed foods. And these animals can shed the bacteria without showing any clinical signs. The Salmonella in the feces can lead to serious infection in their human family members.

So here's the bottom line, and something sure to draw the ire of raw food proponents. And I can guarantee that I'll get at least one person who reads this who says "Well, I've been feeding raw foods to my dogs for decades and I'm fine!" But the data is pretty solid. Raw food diets fed to pets increase the risk of Salmonella infection in the humans around them.

 Think about this carefully if you are considering using such diets.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Recommendations For Flea, Tick, And Heartworm Prevention.....2015 Update

The last time I specifically wrote about my personal recommendations in parasite prevention was several years ago.  In fact, it was about four years ago!  A few things have changed since then, so I thought it would be a good time to update what I recommend to clients.  While I stand by every one of my recommendations, realize that they are my opinions and I know vets who might disagree.

Heartworm Prevention
Personally, I really love ProHeart.  This is an injectable heartworm prevention for dogs that lasts for six months with a single shot.  From what I understand, outside of the US it is frequently used at a higher dose and lasts for a full year.  I wish we had that here!  I love this prevention because you only have to worry about it twice a year.  It's so easy for people to forget a monthly pill, and this keeps that from happening.  Veterinarians can include this in their preventative care reminders, easily contacting clients when another dose is due.  This is the preventative I give to my own dogs. 

If ProHeart wasn't available I would use Trifexis.  I think this is a very safe product, despite the unwarranted media and internet hype about it.  I like the fact that it covers heartworms, fleas, hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms.  It's the only product on the market to do all of that (Sentinel doesn't count....it prevents flea eggs from hatching but doesn't actually kill adult fleas...and it has the same heartworm preventative found in Trifexis!).

There are a plethora of monthly pills similar to Heartgard.  Iverhart, Tri-Heart, and several others use the exact same combination of ivermectin and pyrantel to protect against heartworms, roundworms, and hookworms.  All of them are equally effective, only differing in cost and brand name.  There is nothing wrong with any of them, and they are still an important staple of heartworm prevention.

I'm not huge fan of Advantage Multi and Revolution because they are topical and therefore have the potential to be less effective with frequent bathing.  But for people who don't bathe their dogs more than 1-2 times per month they can still work well.  I just think that there are better options.  However, for cats I love both!  Revolution is my choice for my cats but I think that Advantage Multi works just as well.  These are the best options for heartworm prevention in cats because you don't have to give a pill orally.  These two products are also great for ferrets, who do get heartworm disease, though neither are officially approved for this species.

The bottom line is that no matter which product you chose, please use an approved heartworm preventative year-round in all dogs, cats and ferrets!  This is a completely preventable disease so there is no reason why any pet should ever have to suffer from it.

Flea & Tick Prevention
There are many more choices in this category, and it can get very overwhelming.  Do a search on my blog for "fleas" and you will get lots of details that I've written over the years on proper flea control.  This time I'm focusing on specific products.  But PLEASE read some of my other posts, as no product will be 100% effective, and there are many, many things that can lead to a persistent flea problem even if the product is working well.

As I mentioned above, I'm a big fan of Trifexis.  In my case since I'm using ProHeart for heartworms, I use other products to control fleas and ticks.  I really like Comfortis, which is the same flea control ingredient found in Trifexis.  Dermatology specialists tend to like this product for dogs allergic to fleas since it kills so fast and so thoroughly.  The only downside to Comfortis is that it doesn't do anything for ticks (neither does Trifexis).  If your dog really doesn't go near places with ticks, this is an excellent choice.  If you worry about ticks as well, I'd recommend something else.

My favorite topical products are Advantage (fleas only), K9 Advantix (fleas and ticks), and Vectra 3D (fleas and ticks.....sold under the brand name FirstShield Trio in the Banfield Pet Hospital chain, but is the same product).  Currently I'm using Vectra on my dogs, but I think that the Bayer products work as well and am happy to recommend them to clients.  Advantage has been shown to be safe in most small animals, so it can actually be used on rabbits, ferrets, and guinea pigs (though this is "off-label" and not officially approved for these species).  The products combined with heartworm prevention (Advantage Multi and Revolution) are just as effective against fleas as the non-heartworm equivalents.

A newer product is the Seresto collar, made by Bayer.  I have not personally used this, but I have been hearing many good things about it.  Several of my clients use it and have been extremely happy.  I've also spoken to some veterinary colleagues who use it and recommend it.  The technology behind Seresto is very unique and is unlike any other flea and tick collar ever made.  Do not think this is just another collar!  In fact, I haven't recommended flea collars at any point during my career (18 years at this writing) until Seresto came around.  It is supposed to last for eight months, which if true is a huge advantage for it.  Do NOT buy other collars!  They are simply not effective and are a waste of money.

Frontline is an old reliable topical product, and since the patent ran out you can find cheaper brands containing the same active ingredient (fipronil).  When it first came out it was a huge benefit in the fight against fleas and ticks.  However, I've seen it fail more than other products over the years, and there is anecdotal evidence that there may be some resistance developing to it.  I don't think it's a bad product overall, and many people are still using fipronil products with good success.  However, because there are much more effective products on the market I don't generally recommend it.

I would never use any other topical products currently on the market!  I just don't think that the Hartz and Sergeants products are effective and I've seen some cases of toxicity with them.  Please stay away from them.  Yes, they're cheaper, but in this case you're going to get what you pay for.  Don't throw your money away on them.

Also stay away from flea shampoos.  Yes, they will kill fleas, but they give you no residual protection.  Within a day of you rinsing off the shampoo any new fleas in the environment will be right back on your pet.  Use a product that lasts at least a month in order to get good flea control.

Capstar is a great product for what it does.  There really isn't anything else that kills fleas as quickly!  Within 30 minutes of giving it the fleas will start falling off!  I've seen it happen in my own clinic.  If you want a rapid flea kill, this is a great choice.  The big downside is that it doesn't last for more than a day.  For spot control, such as if you're bringing a new pet home, I love it.  But you won't get lasting control.

There are a couple of newer products on the market this year, Nexgard and Bravecto.  Honestly I don't know anything about them other than what I've read in journals and veterinary forums.  I have no personal experience with them so I can't attest to their effectiveness.  I'm eager to try out Bravecto, as it controls fleas and ticks for three months, and there is growing anecdotal evidence that it can treat demodex mites with a single tablet.  But for now I'll leave those recommendations to other vets who have actually used them.


Okay, I think that covers most of the current products!  As always, check with your own veterinarian if you have questions about anything I write.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Aids For Reading Pet Food Labels

It seems that pet nutrition is a common topic in the profession nowadays.  Just a couple of weeks ago DVM 360 posted an article on how to read and interpret pet food labels.  Along with the article they posted a couple of great client handouts on the topic.  I can't attach the files on Blogger, but here are direct links to the handouts.  I would encourage everyone to check them out.

The Pet Food Guessing Game  (information on what different words and phrases on a label really mean)

Forget The Packaging, Read The Ingredient List  (definitions of different terms in the ingredients)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Read Carefully....Corn Isn't Bad And Vets Haven't Sold Out

I've blogged a lot about nutrition in pets, especially the big myth that corn is a bad, worthless ingredient.  I still revisit these issues because I've developed a real interest in nutrition and because there is still so much misinformation out there about pet food ingredients.  For those who may not have read my previous posts, I would strongly recommend going back and doing so at the following links:

Nutrition Mythbusting
Nutrition Week #1
Nutrition Week #2
Nutrition Week #3
Veterinary Food Conspiracy?

Today's post was stimulated by a recent email from Kevin.
I've always been told that corn is bad for cats and as a good daddy I want nothing but the best for my furkids as they are my babies and part of my life. My Vet of Six years nows put one of my boys on Hills Science Diet Prescription for urinary tract issues with struvite crystals in his urine. I've read their label and corn gluten meal is the second ingredient after brewers rice and the protein from chicken is like 5th or 6th on list. I don't feel comfortable with feeding my boys this food but my Vet who I believe has sold out to Hills as.she carries nothing but Hills products says that she's had good results with this food from other clients that she's had on this food. It also states on the bag that it is clinically tested to dissolve struvite stones and crystals. Marketing hype I imagine but if it works my boys will be much better off as I don't have 3 to 4 thousand dollars to throw at a blockage including hospital stays and surgery and such and would likely have to say goodbye to my boy. Would you say that this is a good formula to try being that you've had first hand experience with urinary tract issues with cats and dogs I presume being a Vet and all. If you could take the time to answer my questions I would be most appreciated by my boys as well I myself. I have one other choice of food that my boy likes and its by Royal Canin Urinary so and he liked the samples that this other Vet gave him last week when his regular Vet was all booked up I was referred to this other Vet and this is the food that both the Lady Vet and the guy Vet recommended for him. Don't know if you've had any experience with Royal Canin brand food but Chion liked it and his other brothers like it as well and that's what counts with me.

Let me begin by once again speaking against the issue of corn being bad.  CORN IS NOT BAD.  It is NOT filler, it IS digestible, and both dogs and cats DO get benefit from the protein in it.  Seriously!  Years ago some people started espousing the idea that corn was a horrible ingredient, and that has taken hold in the collective consciousness of the American pet owner.  Some food companies have continued to perpetuate this myth (Blue Buffalo, I'm looking at you!).  It is a complete fallacy and there is no scientific basis to that belief that I can find.  In fact, I can find quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.

Here's some specific data from Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 5th Edition, Hand et al, 2010. 

Protein Digestibility, Dogs
Beef and bone meal--82.4% (25% crude protein in food)
Chicken and chicken by-product meal--85.1% (33% crude protein in food)
Lamb meal--79.7% (20% crude protein in food)
Poultry by-product meal--80.1% (20% crude protein in food)
Beef, fresh--89.8% (20% crude protein in food)
Corn gluten meal--84.7% if 15% crude protein in food; 87.8% if 20% crude protein in food; 90.3% if 30% crude protein in food

Protein Digestibility, Cats
Fish meal--78%
Meat meal--91%
Chicken and chicken by-product--83-88% (different studies represented)
Chicken meal--86%
Corn gluten meal--70-86% (different studies represented)

You can clearly see that the protein in corn gluten meal is just as digestible as in various meat sources, and even more than some of them.  Corn meal absolutely IS digestible! 

From the same text a table summarizes protein quality of common pet food ingredients (Table 5-17 if you want to find a copy of this book).  Corn gluten meal is listed as "good" quality, the same as beef, lamb, pork, chicken, liver, fish meal, meat and bone meal, and lamb meal.  Corn meal IS good quality protein!

I'm not going to take the time to write down many studies referenced in these tables,  but there are around a dozen of them from multiple scientific journals and covering time periods from the 1980s through the early 2000s.  All of the studies that lead to this data are peer-reviewed and accepted by the scientific community and veterinary nutritionists.  There is NO reason why corn gluten meal should not be used in pet foods or why it should be considered inferior to animal protein sources.  I challenge anyone who thinks that corn gluten is a poor protein choice to present a similar list of scientific studies proving their point of view.  I'm sure that you'll get many opinions, but without true scientific studies and data.

Okay, so now on to the next concern...selling out.

Currently there are four major companies making therapeutic diets for pets in the US:  Hill's Science Diet, Royal Canin, Purina, and Eukanuba/Iams.  All of them have their pros and cons and while I don't think any of them are "bad", I do have personal preferences.  Those preferences are based on experience, and I'm sure that other vets have great experience with foods I don't favor.  The bottom line is that all of these companies put a ton of money into research on the quality and efficacy of their foods, and I have no problems with any of them.  Also, all of the companies have comparable diets for different conditions.  For example, each of these companies makes diets for gastrointestinal disorders, kidney disease, and diabetes.  While the forumulations and methods of treatment will vary somewhat, they all do the same basic thing.

A vet has to pay to stock food in their practice, and if the food doesn't sell it comes out of their pocket.  A vet simply doesn't have the space or money to stock food from each of these companies.  Some vets may stock two companies, possibly because they prefer one company for treatment of certain disorders but another company for different illnesses.  But it's impossible for a vet to stock all of them and give people the choices.  Therefore most vets chose a single manufacturer to sell.  That doesn't mean that they've "sold out".  They just have to make a practical, realistic decision as a business owner, and they chose a food that they believe is high quality, will treat necessary illnesses, and be cost-effective to them and the client.  Hill's Science Diet was one of the first companies to make therapeutic diets, and they're still the biggest and most well known, so it's not surprising that a vet would chose them over the other brands.

As an aside, I personally prefer the Royal Canin diets for most disorders.  I base that on personal experience with using the foods compared to Hill's, palatability, their high involvement in nutritional research across the world, and their strong ethics, especially regarding research animals.  I do really like Hill's Metabolic diet for weight loss and overall think they have high quality foods.  I just lean more towards Royal Canin as a personal choice but wouldn't at all advocate against Hill's.

Now that I've spent a lot of time on generalities, let me specifically address Kevin's concerns.  I absolutely and strongly believe that Hill's urinary diets do what they say they will do.  Their C/D and S/D are good foods and will do what the vet says they will.  As I said before, I personally prefer Royal Canin Urinary S/O for these conditions, but honestly it's a matter of degrees as opposed to Royal Canin being significantly better.

Kevin, I hope that answers your questions!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Injuries To The Vet

One of the things many people don't realize about being a vet is the very real risk of personal injury. Many of the patients we see every day have the ability and desire to hurt us.  While we take precautions and are good at avoiding most injuries, sometimes it's just going to happen.  

Here are some photos of my arms after a recent tussle with a dog.



These are scratches from the dog's nails, which happened while I was trying to restrain him.  While they aren't fun, these are minor compared to some I've had and will heal quickly.

Over the years I've been bit by dogs, cats, horses, birds, snakes, hamsters, guinea pigs, lizards, ferrets, and just about every kind of animal I've worked with.  Some of the injuries have required me to go to a doctor for treatment and antibiotics.  I know vets who have been mauled by patients, had their back broken by a cow's kick, and other serious incidents.  No matter how careful we are and how well we read body language or chose to use sedation, injuries will happen from time to time.  In fact, the risk of injury is one of the bigger stressors in my job and has been one reason why I've wanted to get out of daily practice.

This ain't an easy job!