Cinnamon Smile

As I continue to eliminate products that include ingredients with names I can’t pronounce, I started thinking about the toothpaste I use to brush my dogs teeth.  I looked at the ingredients, most of which are in all toothpastes regardless of brand or price. As a side note, quite a few of these ingredients are in popular brands of toothpaste sold for humans, but there seem to be more ingredients in dog toothpaste. In summary, the ingredients include rocks, salt, sugar, extracts made from black mold, and—if the doggie toothpaste is “poultry flavored,”—that flavoring is made from the most disgusting leftover parts of all kinds of birds. It could be intestines and poo from chickens, turkeys, or buzzards. I didn’t know that buzzards were poultry, and I’m a little grossed out by this knowledge.

Many of the ingredients don’t do anything to help teeth, and some actively harm the teeth by preventing remineralization and damaging the enamel. One ingredient, determined safe by the EPA, has been linked in new studies to harm the brain. There is a lot of controversy on this topic, but it’s in a lot of products—from foods, to cosmetics to toothpaste.  All in all, what I read makes me rethink what I’m using to brush my own teeth, as well as my dog’s teeth.

The first thing I changed for my pups was to start adding 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon to their food, morning and evening. Cinnamon has natural antimicrobial and antibacterial properties and might help reduce tooth and gum decay.[1] It might also help with bad breath. My dogs haven’t had a lot of problem with doggie breath, but it’s still a bonus. I started this just after their last visit to the anesthesia-free doggie dentist, so it will be interesting to see what report they get next visit. One caution—I did read that rubbing cinnamon on the gums isn’t a good idea because it can harm the gums. I’m going to start brushing their teeth with baking soda (just a little is needed) mixed with food-grade coconut oil. If you use a brush to apply the baking soda, don’t apply pressure because the baking soda is abrasive. I read the paste can also be flavored with a little chicken, beef, or other flavor bouillon cube. I know my boyos will like that. Baking soda is an age-old ingredient in toothpaste so it looks like we’ll all be going from rocks, sand, and sugar to something a little healthier.

One-week update…We’ve been brushing with coconut oil and baking soda with a few drops of alcohol-free vanilla mixed in, and so far so good. I used to have to call them over for their turns, but now the boyos line up to get their teeth brushed. While I brushing the teeth of one, the other is trying to figure out how to get the lid off the container. They love it!

[1] “10 Amazing Health Benefits of Cinnamon,” Readynutrition.com, accessed February 2017. http://readynutrition.com/resources/10-amazing-health-benefits-of-cinnamon_22072014/

Treat Tips

In addition to cooking main meals for my dogs, I like to bake treats too. Because I cook for my dogs, their food is soft so I like to give them crunchy treats. I finally found a great way to crisp up the treats without blackening the edges, and so simple! After you turn off the oven, let the treats cool in the oven. I bake my treats for 2 to 2 ½ hours (sometimes more if the batter is very moist) at 250o. If you bake at a higher temperature, when you turn off the oven leave the treats inside and crack the oven door slightly while they cool.

Tasty Treats

What I like best about baking my own treats is knowing what’s really in them. My dogs don’t have gluten sensitivities so I use wheat flour sometimes, rice flour, or teff. Here’s a favorite recipe.

Crunchy Peanut Butter and Banana Bites

1 cup peanut butter 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 or 2 very ripe bananas 1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs, whipped 1 to 1 ½ cups flour

Mash the bananas and mix with peanut butter. Mix in the whipped eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon. Fold in the flour. Grease the bottom of a baking sheet with butter and press the batter flat on the pan. I don’t worry about making it look pretty. I go for about ¼-inch thickness, but press to your preferred thickness. Score the dough by running the blunt edge of the knife across the dough to create square shapes.

Bake at 250o for 2 to 2 ½ hours. Longer baking = crispier treats. When the dough is hardened (but not burned on the edges) turn off the oven and let the treats cool in the oven. When the treats are cooled, break them into pieces along the scored edges. Enjoy!

Doggie Breath

Bad breath! Bah humbug! While my boyos don’t usually have nasty doggie breath, when I was treating them for tummy troubles, I found a side benefit to parsley water—fresh breath. Now I know why restaurants put that sprig of parsley on the plate.

Cooking up a batch of breath-freshening parsley water couldn’t be easier.

Recipe for parsley water

Boil a quart of water. When the water comes to a boil, turn off the heat. Drop a bunch of parsley (amount the amount you get at the store) into the water and let it soak for 3 minutes.

Pour a teaspoon of the parsley water on your dog’s food to help with upset tummies and to freshen breath.

A quart of water makes a lot of parsley water so you can freeze ½ cup or 1 cup portions for later use. Or make less and boil it up as needed.

There are lots of causes of bad breath in dogs, so—just as with humans—good dental practices like regular checkups and regular brushing are important. Parsley water won’t clean teeth or substitute for professional care.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar may be one of the best things you can put in your dog’s mouth. I give my dogs ½ teaspoon with their meals to support overall digestive health. They don’t mind the addition to the food, and I like it better than putting it in their water. They’re picky about the taste of their water.

Vinegar –it’s good inside and out. Some great things vinegar may do for your dog (and you too!):

  • Support overall digestion
  • Help with the assimilation of vital nutrients, including calcium
  • Provide a great source of potassium (11 mg/tablespoon)
  • Prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in the digestive track (and vinegar doesn’t interfere with the good bacteria)
  • Reduce blood sugar levels
  • Relieve or prevent arthritis
  • Protect the urinary tract from infection and can help relieve infections
  • Repel insects

Vinegar works wonders outside the body as well. One of my boyos gets itchy feet in the late spring/early summer. He has literally licked the fur off his paws. But daily foot baths with about a cup of vinegar to a quart of water relieves the itching. When pollen is literally coating everything in sight, I add about a half cup of baking soda to the foot bath. Tino has actually learned what I mean when I say, “Tino! Don’t lick your paws?” If the itching is so bad, he can’t resist, I threaten… “Do you want me to get the socks???” Usually I only have to put the socks on for a day or two when the allergens are at the worst, along with the foot baths.

Vinegar is also great for repelling insects, so dab it on sensitive areas during mosquito and flea season.  A vinegar rinse at bath time also helps keep those gorgeous fur coats soft and shiny.

As with any food, not all pets react well. So watch your pet for adverse reactions like queasiness, vomiting, diarrhea, gas, or lethargy. Test on skin too before adding it to baths or other topical applications to make sure it doesn’t cause irritation.

Tummy upset

Maybe I should have saved this entry for a holiday because that’s when my puppy medical emergencies always seem to happen—when the cost of care doubles. Well, it’s almost the weekend, and that’s the boyos other favorite time to develop lumps, bumps, or tummy grumps and grumbles.

While I prefer natural and homeopathic remedies whenever possible, I’m not against vaccines or pharmaceuticals. And while antibiotics have their place and do clear up a plethora of tummy ills, I feel that antibiotics are like taking one step forward and two steps back. The offending bacteria, germ, or parasite gets killed but so do all the good guys. The immediate problem is solved, and that’s good. But the boyos’ ability to naturally fight off those microscopic intruders is compromised. In the end, I can’t help feeling we’re solving one problem but creating a bigger one.

Each of my boys have different susceptibilities, and Sammie suffers more often from tummy upset. We go to the vet, we get XXX, we pay a few hundred dollars, we go home and follow the regimen, and the vomiting and bloody diarrhea go away. Sounds like the perfect solution. Until the symptoms come back.

The last time Sammie suffered from this recurring illness, one which has attacked him once or twice a year since he was almost a year old, I decided to try a different protocol.  I did my research, and some of the options sounded scarier than the vet’s go to pharmaceuticals. In the end I landed on some that were natural, food-based, and sounded safe. And they worked!

I’m not a vet, but I did share what I tried with my new homeopathic (but traditionally trained) vet, and she explained to me why they helped. I can’t—and wouldn’t want to—say this will work for every situation, but I do think these natural remedies are worth considering. Here’s what I added to Sammie’s food at each meal.

  • Parsley water, 1 tsp.
  • Ground pumpkin seed, ½ tsp.
  • Cooked canned pumpkin, 1 heaping tablespoon

My boys weigh between 25 and 30 pounds, so the amounts should probably be adjusted based on size and weight. And I always watch them closely when I introduce any new food. It’s only been about six months, so I can’t say anything about long-term effects. But I am happy that Sammie’s tummy troubles cleared up without antibiotics. And I feel like I’m helping his system get stronger and fight those bugs better without drugs. Two steps forward, right?

Natural Sources of Calcium

Here’s a list of calcium rich foods. Some dogs (like people) don’t tolerate dairy well. But if they can handle dairy, it’s packed with calcium. Two of my favorites are plain yogurt and cottage cheese. With any new food, introduce a small amount, one new food at a time, and watch for reactions. Also, canned foods may have ingredients added (like onions) that are not good for dogs, so read the label.

Personally, I don’t give my dogs ¼ cup of any of the foods below in a single meal, except sardines, salmon, and sometimes yogurt or cottage cheese. Try low-fat yogurt if calories or weight are a concern.

  Quantity Calcium
Eggshells, finely ground ¼ t. 200 mg
Sardines, with bones, canned 1.75 oz. 200 mg
Yogurt ¼ cup 112 mg
Salmon, with bones, canned 1.75 oz. 90 mg
Collard greens ¼ cup 72 mg
Dried figs* ¼ cup 60 mg
Cottage cheese ¼ cup 47 mg
White beans** ¼ cup 31 mg
Kale ¼ cup 25 mg
Edamame ¼ cup 25 mg
Parsley ¼ cup 20 mg
Okra ¼ cup 20 mg
Bok choy ¼ cup 18 mg
Quinoa ¼ cup 15 – 25 mg
Spinach ¼ cup 14 mg
Celery ¼ cup 12 mg
Carrots ¼ cup 9 mg

*Figs may cause stomach discomfort

** Beans may cause gas and should only be feed in small amounts

The Calcium Quandary

As I’ve been reading more about supplements—just like with people—there seems to be a lot of debate around the value and necessity of supplements. The one I’ve most often been told needs to be supplemented is calcium. Reading some of my books on the topic, I came across this quote by Wendell Belfield, D.V.M: It’s too much, not too little that bothers me most in regard to calcium.

Hypercalcemia  can cause increased thirst and urination, lack of appetite, vomiting, constipation, lethargy, and other symptoms. There is a blood test to check blood calcium levels, if you’re concerned.

Definitely, our pets need calcium. According to the National Research Council (NRC), dogs need about 50 mg per kilogram of body weight daily, that puts my 30-pound Shelties at needing 650 mg daily. Another guideline cited about half that amount, or less, depending on the author’s definition of size:[1]

  • Toy dogs, 100 mg.
  • Small dogs, 200 mg.
  • Medium dogs, 300 mg.
  • Large dogs, 500 mg.

Not that it’s anything new, but that’s a big difference in requirements. Intuition tells me our bodies must be a little adaptable because normal eating isn’t that balanced. But I’m not a scientist. I just do the best I can.

I do supplement, using what I consider a natural source of calcium—eggshells, finely ground into a powder. One whole medium-sized eggshell makes about one teaspoon of powder and has about 800 mgs of calcium. I give them ¼ teaspoon of ground eggshell daily

Some sources say that human bodies are more forgiving of imbalances in natural sources of nutrition, and I hope that’s true of dogs and cats too.

[1] Martin, Ann. Food Pets Die For. New Sage Press. 2008. p. 140.

The Processed Food Paradox

Everywhere we look these days, we’re being told fresh, whole foods are the healthiest option for humans. At the same time, vets often give me a sideways glance when I say I cook for my dogs. They tell me I have to be sure that my dogs’ meals are nutritionally balanced, and that most pet owners don’t take the time or have the knowledge needed to accomplish this goal. Not that I can guarantee the meals I prepare for my dogs are 100% nutritionally balanced, but I bet the meals I feed the boyos are more nutritionally balanced than what I feed myself.

And even if they’re not, I know I’m not feeding them cheap feed corn, sawdust, recycled restaurant grease, or road kill. Legally, dog food can contain all of those things and  “4-D” meat, including meat from dead, dying, or diseased animals.[1] Even euthanized animals can be “rendered” and added to what is labeled as animal or meat byproduct meal.

In addition to low-quality or contaminated meat, pet food manufacturers are also given a distressing amount of leeway in what they’re allowed to label as fiber. Animal hair, peanut hulls, and even ground-up paper can all be labeled as sources of fiber in pet food.[2]

While there are some foods humans thrive on but dogs shouldn’t have, the vast majority of healthy people food is also healthy dog food. The more I learn about what can be—and is—put in many dry dog foods, the less I worry about 100% “balanced” nutrition. This is not to say that ethical manufacturers don’t exist, but I guess we need to do our homework regardless of what we choose to feed the four-legged members of our family.

 

 

 

[1] Dog Food Advisor. The Shocking Truth About Commercial Dog Food. Accessed 6/12/2016 at http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-industry-exposed/shocking-truth-about-dog-food/

[2] Martin, Ann. Food Pets Die For. New Sage Press. 2008. p. 138.

Going Against the Grain…It’s been a scary journey

Opinions vary on what’s best for dogs—kibble, canned, cooked, or raw?  Most vets I’ve encountered advocate in favor of packaged foods like kibble and canned. The main argument being that those foods are “balanced.” The main reason I bring this up is because I chose to feed my dogs a cooked diet believing I could cook healthier foods than I could buy in packages. Packages that can sit on a shelf for months or even years and still be “fresh.”  The logic escapes me.

However, fresh food doesn’t automatically provide all the nutrients needed in a healthy diet. So where do we find support, encouragement, and direction?

Before I started cooking for my dogs, I read several books on the topic. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Food Pets Die For, Shocking Facts About Pet Food by Ann N. Martin
  • Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats by Beth Taylor & Karen Shaw Becker, DVM
  • The Whole Pet Diet by Andi Brown

I’ve also found helpful information on these forums:

But books don’t provide encouragement or answer questions that come up along the way. Most of my support comes from a couple of friends who also cook for their dogs, but there are also online discussion groups and some vets who are interested and informed. In some cases you might be able to find a nutritionist who has specialized in raw or cooked diets for dogs and cats. Any of these could be good resources.

The reason I’m writing this post, though, is because it’s been a lonely and kind of scary journey. Judging the right path is a combination of intuition, observation, and doggy biometrics. My boyos are four years old; they’re happy, maintaining a healthy weight, and full of energy. They eliminate well and sleep well. Overall, they have good temperaments, though they are Shelties and tend toward the vocal and excitable. Blood tests done by their vet come back within normal range.

All the above leads me to believe I’m on a good path with their nutrition, but there are no guarantees. Many adverse effects of poor nutrition might not show up for years. I guess the same can be said of eating highly processed, preservative filled dry food. What are your thoughts on taking a road less traveled? Easy peasy or lonely and scary? How do you handle going against the grain?