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How to Read & Understand Pet Food Labels

pet food labels

Understanding Ingredients on Pet Food Labels

Taking care of pets means understanding ingredients on pet food labels, knowing what to look for on pet food labels, and why the ingredients matter. While most of us scan the basics of the packaging, labels are cluttered with information and small print, so it’s not always easy to tell what’s most important. All claims on pet foods are required to be truthful, and every product must undergo regulatory scrutiny and approval on federal and sometimes state-by-state levels before it ever lands on retailer shelves. The front of a package must include brand and product name, species the food is intended for, and the quantity statement. It will often feature bright logos, graphics, and enticing photos or illustrations. The back and side panels will contain a variety of other information, including the food label and nutritional breakdown. Here’s a simple guide to reading food labels that can help take the guesswork out of pet food and treat purchases.

Guide to Reading Food Labels

All pet food labels follow the same basic format, but they can still be confusing for many customers. Once you know the most important things to look for, you’ll be able to choose the right foods and treats for your pet. If you’re not sure what food is right for your pet or if they have particular conditions or special needs like weight control, always consult with your veterinarian.

What Must Be on Pet Food Labels

  1. Product and brand name, species, and/or other unique identifiers. Many pet owners will base their buying decision on a specific ingredient their pet likes, like chicken, beef, or salmon. Most brands will try to highlight that particular ingredient in the product name. 
    • Words to watch for on pet food labels: AND, WITH, flavor, and descriptive qualifying terms like dinner, entrée, feast, stew, or platter. Each of these differences correlates to percentages of ingredients by weight or volume. These words tend to signal smaller primary and individual ingredient quantities, so understanding ingredients and how they are listed and described is essential.
    • The 95 Percent Rule: In order to name a product that includes a specific ingredient, i.e. Savory Chicken Dog Food or Salmon Cat Food, the food must contain 95 percent of the named ingredient by weight and must be at least 70 percent of the total product when added water is factored in. 
    • The 25 Percent Rule: Products named Chicken Dinner for Dogs, Salmon and Sweet Potato Entrée, or Lamb and Vegetable Stew, for example, must contain at least 25 percent of the product (not counting the water for processing), but less than 95 percent. In this case, the product name must include a qualifying term, such as dinner, entrée, or platter. When counting added water, the named ingredients must comprise at least 10 percent of the product. If more than one ingredient is included in a “dinner,” the combination of the named ingredients must total 25 percent of the product and be listed in the exact same order as found on the package ingredient list.
  2. Product weight, liquid measure, or count, depending on the food formulation. Savvy pet food purchasers know that these measures will vary by the type and density of the product. These are included in metric measures by law. If you’re not sure if a particular food or treat is worth the price tag, do a cost-per-ounce or cost-per-pound comparison between your choices. It’s OK to choose something in the middle range.
  3. Guaranteed Analysis: Specifies the number of specific nutrients from crude protein to crude fat to moisture, vitamins, and minerals and any added flavors or ingredients. Guarantees for other nutrients may be required to support any claims made in labeling (High Calcium Formula or other benefits). These can include voluntary guarantees for other nutrients. All guarantees must be given in a particular order, specified units, and as a minimum or maximum, depending on the nutrient.
  4. Ingredients listed in order of highest weight to lowest. Understanding ingredients is easy but can get more complex if you really dig into the details of “defined names” for added flavors and colors. By law, the ingredient making up the highest percentage of the total weight is always listed first, followed by the next highest, and so on. All ingredients used must be GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe), approved food additives, or otherwise sanctioned for use in animal feeds (i.e., as defined by AAFCO, a pet food industry regulatory body). Ingredients must also be declared by the correct AAFCO-defined name if it exists. If not, the “common or usual” name customers might expect must be used.
  5. Nutritional adequacy statement. These must be backed by professional lab testing that confirms the food provides a certain level of nutrients suitable for consumption. These may also include values for the appropriate life stages (puppy/kitten, adult, senior, weight control, etc.).
  6. Feeding directions and guidelines by weight range. Feeding frequency must also be clearly stated. All pet foods labeled as “complete and balanced” for life stages or general use must include feeding directions stating “Feed (XX amount of product) per (weight) of dog/cat” per day. Feeding directions are optional for treats, but all must be labeled as snacks or treats.
  7. Manufacturer name and address. This may also include a general number for customer service contact. If someone else makes the product for the company, the words “manufactured for” or “distributed by” will be included before the address.

Remember, marketing for pets is very similar to that of people, and everything on pet food labels is carefully worded and designed to attract the buyer’s attention. Since pets don’t have wallets and they can’t really shop for themselves (unless it’s helping themselves to enticing treats or toys in open boxes at lower levels at the pet store), it’s up to each pet owner to choose the best foods and treats to meet the dietary needs of their pets throughout their lifetime. If you’re still unsure how to read pet food labels and choose the right food for your pet, consult with your veterinarian.

Disclaimer: Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworms & How to Protect Your Pet

heartworm prevention

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease is a very serious disease found in ferrets, cats, and most commonly dogs. If untreated, it can result in severe lung disease, heart failure, organ damage, and in some cases it may be fatal.

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis, which spreads through a mosquito’s bite. The mosquito serves as the intermediate host, meaning the worms live inside the mosquito only for a short period while becoming infective and able to transmit heartworm disease. The next time this mosquito bites an animal, it will transfer the larvae into its bloodstream. The animal will then serve as the definitive host, which means the worms mature into adults, mate, and even produce offspring while living inside the animal. 

These worms often nestle into the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of the infected animal, hence the name “heartworm” disease.

  • Mature heartworms can live for up to 5 to 7 years in dogs and 2 or 3 years in cats.
  • Every mosquito season puts animals at increased risk for developing the disease or growing numbers of worms in already infected animals.

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworms in Dogs?

In the early stages, many dogs will show only few symptoms (if any at all) and the severity depends on several things: 1) how many worms are residing inside of the dog (worm burden), 2) how long it has been infected, and 3) how its body is responding to the presence of the worms. The dog’s activity levels also play a role in the severity of heartworm disease and when the symptoms are first noticed. 

Inactive dogs, recently infected dogs, or those that have low worm burdens may not show obvious signs, whereas dogs with heavier worm burdens, active dogs, or those that have been infected for a long time will often show more obvious symptoms.

Some signs of heartworm disease can include:

  • Mild, persistent cough
  • Lethargy/avoids exertion
  • Fatigue after mild to moderate activity
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Periodic vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss

As the disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and/or a swollen tummy as excess fluid builds up in the abdomen. Dogs can also develop sudden blockages of blood flow in the heart, leading to cardiovascular collapse. This is marked by the sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark, bloody or coffee-colored urine usually requiring prompt surgical intervention.

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworms in Cats?

While most heartworms do not survive to the adult stage in cats, it is possible. Both outdoor and indoor cats are at risk, and the signs can be either very subtle or very dramatic. 

Some symptoms displayed by infected cats may include:

  • Coughing or asthma-like attacks
  • Lethargy
  • Periodic vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss

Occasionally, an infected cat may have difficulty walking, experience seizures or fainting, or suffer from fluid build-up in the abdomen similar to that in dogs.

How to Prevent Heartworms in Your Pets

The best treatment is prevention, and fortunately, there are many FDA-approved preventative products available today. However, all of them require a veterinarian’s prescription so scheduling an appointment is the first step toward preventing heartworm disease. 

The most common products are given on a monthly basis either orally or as a topical liquid applied to the skin by the pet owner. Another option is an injectable product, administered just under the skin every 6 or 12 months by a veterinarian. Additionally, some preventative medications also contain effective ingredients against certain intestinal parasites (hookworms and roundworms).

Year-round prevention is the best option to help ensure the safety of your pet. Contact us at AZPetVet to schedule a preventative care exam and we can help you decide which options are best suited for your pet!

Disclaimer: Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.

How to Prevent Dogs from Eating Poop & Why They’re Doing It

how to prevent dogs from eating poop

Why Did My Dog Eat Poop?!

Although poop-eating, or coprophagia, is relatively normal for dogs and puppies, it’s a wildly unsightly habit. Not to mention, there’s really nothing more grotesque than watching your pup munch on its own or another dog’s stool before moseying over and planting a wet one on your face. 

Among all of the gross hobbies your dog could have––drinking toilet water, rolling in mud, licking their behinds––poop-eating is among the least ideal. Fortunately, there are several ways to discourage it. Here are some key tips for how to prevent dogs from eating poop altogether.

Reasons Why Dogs Eat Poop

American Kennel Club (AKC) shares that in many cases, dogs will take up poop-eating as a result of some sort of environmental stress or behavior triggers, including:

  1. Isolation: Research shows that dogs cooped up in a kennel or basement away from their families are more likely to eat stool than those living in spaces near their family.
  2. Confinement: Dogs who spend excessive amounts of time confined in small spaces can develop poop-eating habits, which means it’s not uncommon to see this in dogs who have been rescued from shelters. 
  3. Anxiety: Coprophagia is a typical response to punishment or harsh house training methods. In this case, dogs may eat their own poop to remove any evidence of using the bathroom where they shouldn’t have.
  4. Seeking Attention: Dogs who consume their own poop may be out to get a reaction or consider it a game.
  5. Association With Real Food: Dogs fed in the same proximity as their poop may make a connection between the odors and ultimately, over time, be unable to differentiate.
  6. Nursing Mothers: Nursing females often eat the feces of their young to keep their space clean.
  7. Nursing Pups: In some cases, puppies will become confused by sniffing fecal odor on their mother’s breath after she’s cleaned them or their den. Mothers may often vomit food mixed with fecal matter, which may lead the puppy to develop this same habit.
  8. Elderly/Sick Pet: Sometimes, a healthy dog will consume feces from a weaker canine family member. Researchers predict this may be related to a dog’s instinct to protect its pack.
  9. Taste: Dogs sometimes eat the stool of another species like cats or horses solely because they find the taste enjoyable.

Furthermore, if your pet starts snacking away on poop, you should consult with your vet to rule out other underlying problems like:

  • Parasites
  • Nutrient-deficient diets
  • Malabsorption syndromes
  • Diabetes, Cushing’s, thyroid disease, and other appetite-increasing conditions 
  • Steroids or other drugs

How to Prevent Dogs From Eating Poop

Is it bad for dogs to eat poop? Stool, especially found in other species, often contains certain beneficial nutrients. However, it can also contain harmful bacteria, so it’s best to dissuade them as best as possible. Try out strategies like vitamin supplementation, enzyme supplementation, and taste-aversion products like poop-eating deterrents. Along with that, dog owners have seen improvements following training and environmental management methods such as:

  • Keep the dog’s living space clean
  • Keep the yard clean and free of poop
  • For owners with both dogs and cats, store the litter box out of reach
  • Closely monitor dogs on walks and immediately pick up after them
  • Work on commands like “leave it” and “come,” rewarding with a treat

Additionally, AKC provided these facts on fecal-eating for pet parents to consider:

  • Coprophagia was more common in multi-dog households. In single-dog homes, only 20 percent of dogs had the habit, while in homes with three dogs, that rose to 33 percent
  • Poop eaters are no harder to house train than any other dogs
  • Females are more likely to eat poop, and intact males were least likely
  • 92 percent of poop eaters want fresh stuff, only one to two days old
  • 85 percent of poop eaters will not eat their own feces, only that of other dogs
  • Greedy eaters—dogs who steal food off tables—tend to be poop eaters

So, is it normal for dogs to eat their poop? Yes. But as you’ve learned, the causes and solutions to this are not always simple. Assess the situation as well as your dog’s everyday living and eating environment, and adjust accordingly to minimize exposure and ultimately any poop-eating opportunity. If you find these at-home prevention tips and tricks are ineffective, contact your local AZPetVet so we can help you come up with a plan for how to prevent your dog from eating poop.

Disclaimer: Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.

Detecting & Managing Worms in Dogs

worms in dogs

What Causes Worms in Dogs? 

Nobody wants to think about anything creepy or crawly invading their pup’s internal organs. Still, it’s every pet parent’s essential responsibility to understand the risks, signs, and treatment options available if your dog contracts worms. The first rule is don’t panic. Worms are a relatively common condition in domestic dogs, typically referred to as intestinal parasites, and can infect dogs of any age. Some worms can even be transferred to people, with immunosuppressed people and small children being the most vulnerable.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) states that there are five types of common worms in dogs that parents should be aware of: roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, whipworms, and heartworms. 

“What do worms look like in dog poop?” is perhaps the most common question we hear our pet parents ask. Certain roundworms and hookworms will appear as small to large, off-white to tan, spaghetti shaped parasites in the stool. Tapeworms will appear as small, off-white to tan segments in the stool or clinging to the hair around the privates. Fresh segments will be white and may expand and contract, but dry segments often resemble rice grains or sesame seeds and are darker in color. However, some worms can be digested and won’t appear in the stool.

The Arizona Humane Society lays out how each of the common worms in dogs might be transmitted: 

  • Roundworm – Commonly transmitted to puppies prior to birth (while in the uterus). They can also be transmitted by nursing from an infected mother and through feces or contaminated soil. Ingesting infected rodents also increases susceptibility. 
  • Tapeworm – Commonly transmitted by fleas as a result of self-grooming and swallowing an infected flea that grows into a tapeworm.  
  • Hookworm – Commonly transmitted by eggs passing through feces of infected dogs and hatching into larvae. These larvae can often be swallowed or penetrate the dog’s foot pads or skin. Nursing dogs can also transmit hookworms to their pups. Hookworms are transmissible to humans.
  • Heartworm – Larvae are transmitted by mosquitoes from pet to pet and are prevalent throughout the country. Dogs that are infected carry thousands of microscopic larvae within their bloodstream, and when mosquitoes bite, they suck out the blood, swallowing the tiny worms and passing them to the next dog they bite. The adult worms grow quite large in the heart and lungs and can be life-threatening. 
  • Whipworm – Commonly transmitted by ingestion of food or water contaminated with whipworm eggs. Those eggs mature and attach to the intestinal tract, feeding on the dog’s blood. The eggs are often passed through the stool and remain in the soil where they mature, then the process repeats. Grooming tools can also carry contaminated eggs.

The Humane Society also provides detail for each parasite and their related symptoms and prevention. However, each parasite impacts every dog differently.  Here are some general warning signs owners can look out for:

  • Diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Excessive weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Poor coat appearance
  • Intestinal blockage/pneumonia
  • Deficiencies in nutrition
  • Anemia
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite

Not all dogs with parasites will have clinical signs. Parasites come in many shapes and sizes, and although some may be impossible to see with the naked eye, they can still cause severe problems. Luckily, they’re preventable and treatable with proper veterinary care. 

Many deworming medications have been proven safe and effective, however, it is always recommended to discuss with your veterinarian prior to administering any medication. Worm infestations can be life-threatening for dogs if caught too late or left untreated. Some parasites can be transmitted to their human companions. It’s recommended that you check your pet frequently for parasites with the help of your pet’s veterinarian. This way, they can work with you to develop a treatment plan and get your pup on the fast track to recovery.

If you’re worried your pet might have a worm infection, immediately contact your nearest AZPetVet location and make an appointment.

If you would like to learn more about parasites visit https://www.petsandparasites.org/

 

[DISCLAIMER]

Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.

Adopt a Less Adoptable Pet Week – September 20-26, 2020

Why You Should Consider Special Needs Animals for Adoption

 

Shelters and rescues are packed with homeless pets. At AZPetVet, we work with many rescue groups and organizations around the Valley, such as LovePup, to help as many animals in need of adoption as we possibly can. The ASPCA estimates that around 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year – approximately 3.3 million dogs and 3.2 million cats. Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats). Special needs animals are consistently overlooked for adoption simply because so many people prefer to adopt cute puppies and kittens.

If you search ‘animals up for adoption near me’, you’ll get a huge string of results from all sorts of shelter and rescue organizations vying for your attention. All of them have pets that have been waiting weeks, months, and sometimes years to find their fur-ever homes. Typically, ‘less adoptable’ refers to animals in some unique categories including special needs and even hair color. While the term ‘special needs’ might sound intimidating, it’s a category term for pets who may need a little extra care. Physical disability, behavior, chronic illness, or medical conditions can all put an animal into this category, reducing their chance of finding a home. That’s why PetFinder.com created ‘Adopt a Less Adoptable Pet Week’ – to help raise awareness of these wonderful animals who are too often overlooked. Here, we’ll highlight the most common types of special needs pets and the reasons you may want to consider them.

Older Dogs

Senior pets end up in shelters for a variety of reasons. Some may have health conditions that can be managed with diet and medications, others are perfectly healthy. Sometimes, the owner can no longer afford to care for them, becomes ill, moves, or just doesn’t want a pet anymore. Given the chance, older dogs can adapt to a new home and family, and become wonderful companion animals for families. Older dogs are especially great for individuals that enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle, as they require a lot less exercise, and are often just happy to curl up next to their beloved person. Many people prefer to skip the rambunctiousness, potty training, and additional training that comes with adopting a puppy or kitten. Older pets usually know basic commands and tend to be more mellow, so they’re ideal for senior citizens. And yes, old dogs can learn new tricks – it’s just a matter of working with them to develop new habits. Positive reinforcement is the best approach. The Arizona Humane Society even offers a Senior to Senior adoption program with discounted fees. Like people, older pets will require regular wellness checks to keep them healthy and happy for life, so this should also be considered when adopting a senior animal.

Pets With Medical Conditions

Many shelter dogs and cats have some form of short- or long-term medical condition, especially older animals. Younger animals with less developed immune systems, or that haven’t received the required vaccination series can contract diseases, like parvovirus, distemper, kennel cough, or Valley Fever. With the right family or individual, plus regular veterinary care, many health conditions can be managed through medications, lifestyle and dietary modifications, and some good old fashioned TLC. With the right treatment and care, most pets will enjoy a good quality of life for years to come with their new families.

Hearing loss or deafness is another reason people will overlook adoptable pets. Congenital deafness often occurs in predominantly white or merle-coated breeds like Dalmatians, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, English Setters, white Boxers, and white Bull Terriers. While they may not be able to hear, most of these pets can learn simple sign language commands. Aside from the hearing loss, they’re still the same wonderful, loving creatures – they just need the chance to show it.

Behavior Problems

Just like people, no pet is perfect. Behavior problems are a common reason for people surrendering animals to a shelter or rescue. Pets with behavior problems have special needs, and require consistent, specialized training from a professional to get them back on track. Behavior issues can range from poor potty training, separation anxiety, or not getting along with other animals/children, to aggression. Many issues can be resolved with stability, consistent training, regular exercise and play, and of course, love.

Black Dogs & Cats

Research studies consistently show that black dogs and cats have a more difficult time getting adopted than others. Black dogs and cats are often left behind in shelters and rescues due to centuries of ingrained superstitions and old wives’ tales. The reality is that black dogs and cats are just as loveable as any other pet. While it may be harder to capture their cuteness and features in a photo without proper lighting, no matter what, black cats and dogs bring the same brand of goofy, unconditional love as other pets.

Remember, loving pets come in all shapes and sizes, colors, and breeds. Take some time to get to know one another when you’re looking for a new pet. You never know, it could be a loving match for life. Good luck in your search!

Need a good vet for your new pet? AZPetVet has 21 locations around the Valley. Click here to find a location near you.

Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.