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“All veterinarians take this oath upon graduation from veterinary college, being admitted into the field of veterinary medicine to practice wisely, with compassion and concern for both human and animal welfare. We also generally adhere to the medical profession’s ethic of Primum non nocere, first do no harm.

While I firmly believe that all veterinarians hold this oath in their hearts, I often question whether we are “doing no harm”. Increased knowledge regarding effectiveness and duration of vaccine immunity has shown that animals do not need annual vaccinations, yet it is estimated that up to sixty percent of veterinarians still recommend giving annual core vaccines to dogs and cats. Over-vaccination does cause illness in our pets and should not be taken lightly.

While parasites such as fleas and ticks can cause diseases in our pets, the new chemicals that are being developed to prevent and treat infestation are extremely toxic, resulting in serious side effects such as seizures, tremors, liver failure, and death. In many cases, a less toxic method of treatment could be undertaken, minimizing risks to our patients.

I recently received a message from a devastated pet owner who lost her precious dog from a medication reaction after giving an NSAID for post-op pain. We’ve become dependent on these medications to treat pain in our patients, but it can become easy to overlook the potential disastrous outcomes when a pet reacts badly.

Pet owners are no different than parents with children – it is up to each individual to alert their veterinarian or doctor to any adverse events or reactions, to question the use of vaccines and chemicals, and to ask for safer alternatives when they are available. Newer generations of veterinarians are being taught about decreased vaccine usage; hopefully this trend will take hold for future generations of animals.

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Antibiotics are important medications; it would be difficult to overstate the benefits in treating bacterial infections, preventing the spread of disease and reducing serious complications of disease.

But some antibiotics that used to be standard treatments for bacterial infections are now less effective or don’t work at all. Bacteria are able to undergo mutation to develop resistance to drugs and then pass this resistance on to future generations of bacteria. When an antibiotic no longer has an effect on a certain strain of bacteria, those bacteria are said to be antibiotic-resistant. Antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing health problems.

The overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human and animal medicine are key factors contributing to antibiotic resistance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to one-third to one-half of antibiotic use in humans is unnecessary or inappropriate. Approximately 2 million infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria occur in people in the United States each year, resulting in 23,000 deaths.

What is considered misuse or overuse of antibiotics? Antibiotics are only effective against bacteria, not viruses. Most upper respiratory infections or “colds” are viral, not bacterial, in origin. Prescribing antibiotics is unwarranted. Unnecessary antibiotics in livestock feed also contribute to antibiotic resistance. The EU banned addition of antibiotics to livestock feed for growth enhancement in 2006. The FDA has issued an updated Veterinary Feed Directive to limit the used of important antimicrobials in livestock feed.

I recently received an email from someone who reported their veterinarian had prescribed multiple rounds of antibiotics to treat “crystals” in their dog’s urine. No bacteria were found in the sample and a culture was not performed to see if bacteria were present. The dog had undergone inappropriate antibiotic therapy multiple times. Sick animals should be tested to determine the most effective and prudent antibiotic to treat their specific infection. Whenever possible, a culture and sensitivity test should be performed to determine presence of bacteria and suitable antibiotics for treatment.

One 2011 study, published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice, evaluated a random sample of antibiotics prescriptions in dogs over the course of a year at one veterinary hospital. The scientists found that about 38 percent of all antibiotics prescriptions were given to dogs that showed no evidence of needing an antibiotic—some even had test results that were negative for a bacterial infection.

When antibiotics are prescribed, they kill bad bacteria in the body, but they also kill many of the beneficial bacteria that live in the gut, on the skin, and in the respiratory tract. Beneficial bacteria grow in large numbers that outpace the growth of dangerous bacteria when their habitat is supported with good diet, exercise, and a healthy environment.

Fecal transplants are becoming more popular as a means of replacing beneficial bacteria in the gut for both humans and animals. Oral probiotics may also be helpful, but should contain multiple species of bacteria in large numbers. Fermented raw goat or cow milk can provide a vast array of viable healthy bacteria.

It’s up to everyone to help diminish the overuse of antibiotics in both the human and animal populations. Test before treating, know what is being treated, and treat for the prescribed length of time.

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Before I became involved with holistic medicine, I would have said that all pets should be spayed or neutered at six months of age before the females have their first heat cycle. This belief is still held by most traditional veterinarians.

The single biggest reason to spay or neuter is population control. Thousands of animals are euthanized at shelters every year due to unwanted production of puppies and kittens. However, if we could all be responsible pet owners and keep our young pets from being accidentally bred, our pets would be healthier by allowing them to reach full maturity before considering spaying or neutering.

I do not support pediatric spaying and neutering, but I do understand the usefulness when adoption agencies and shelters want to get puppies and kittens adopted and know they will not be able to breed. Some studies have shown long-term health consequences of early spay/neuter, including hypothyroidism, joint problems, urinary incontinence, and more frequent urinary tract infections. Other studies have shown long-term health benefits of leaving pets intact, including decreased risk of cancer.

On the other hand, mammary cancer dramatically increases in unspayed older females. Current studies show that spaying between twenty-four and thirty months of age will allow females to reach maturity and may have some beneficial protective effects against certain cancers, while still having a low incidence of mammary cancer.

The incidence of uterine infection (pyometra), which is life-threatening, also increases with age. Owners of intact females should understand symptoms of infection, which may include increased thirst and urination, decreased appetite, lethargy, and possibly vaginal discharge. Dogs and cats with discharge are easy to diagnose, while those that do not show discharge are more challenging. Pyometra generally occurs approximately six to eight weeks following a heat period.

Ovary-sparing spay, where the uterus is removed to prevent pyometra, while leaving the ovaries in place, is becoming more popular. Not many veterinarians will perform the procedure. Risk of mammary cancer remains with this type of spay. Whether a pet parent decides on ovary-sparing spay versus traditional spay is a personal decision that should be discussed with the veterinarian.

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I couldn’t resist writing a blog about this after seeing a photo on Facebook of a kitty sitting by the heat register enjoying the flow of warm air on a cold morning. His owner asked “Why does he do this every morning?” The answer is really very simple.

There are two basic principles of energy in Traditional Chinese Medicine: Yin and Yang. Yin is cold, dark, moist, and female. Yang is hot, light, dry, and male. Both of these energies need to be in balance to achieve optimal health and well-being. We and our pets are born with a lot of Yang energy – children, puppies, and kittens spend a lot of time racing around in high-energy play. They love to play in the snow and go outside on a cold day without a coat.

As we and they age, we lose some of the Yang energy, slowing down and displaying more Yin energy. Older people like the heat turned up high in the home (have you ever walked into a senior housing area?). My parents wear sweaters and have lap blankets in our 80-degree house in the winter, while Hue and I wander around sweating in tee shirts. Our dogs are all in their teens; we have heated floors and they love sprawling on them, getting as much warm body contact as possible.

The kitty in the photo is fairly old. He was found about fifteen years ago, standing in the middle of a country road, screaming at me as I rode by on my horse. I ended up taking that kitty on a two mile trail ride on the front of my saddle. The kitty went to a great home, where he has been well loved.

So the answer to the question, “Why does he do this every morning?”, is that he is older, colder, and looking for some Yang energy to get his motor revved in the morning. Energetically warming foods such as chicken, lamb, or venison can help. For us older folks, that hot cup of coffee works well. But there are days I’d like to be sitting right next to Muffins with the warm air blowing through the vent.

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Glyphosate is an herbicide. It is applied to the leaves of plants to kill both broadleaf plants and grasses. Glyphosate was first registered for use in the U.S. in 1974. It is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States. People apply it in agriculture and forestry, on lawns and gardens, and for weeds in industrial areas. There are over 750 products containing glyphosate for sale in the United States; the most widely known is probably Round-Up.

Studies suggest that glyphosate has carcinogenic potential, although its maker, Monsanto, claims it to be harmless. However, their research was performed by pesticide companies in support of Monsanto’s goals and the results have not been made public.

Glyphosate binds tightly to soil and can persist in soil for up to 6 months, probably longer in water. Glyphosate is found virtually everywhere in the food chain, as well as tap water, and has been found in human and animal urine. The chemical acts as an endocrine-disruptor and can alter liver and kidney function. It also seems that glyphosate accumulates in internal organs, rather than being rapidly eliminated, as previously thought. Humans with chronic ill health were found to have higher levels of the chemical in their urine.

Altered testosterone and estradiol levels were found in rats given low doses of glyphosate and mammary cancer rates were much higher in treated rats. Kidney changes leading to chronic kidney failure, as well as death of liver cells, was seen in treated animals; this correlates with chronic kidney disease seen in farmers who handle this chemical often. One study showed that antibiotic resistance by bacteria may be associated with exposure to glyphosate.

Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto who still claims their product is completely safe and does not cause cancer or ill health. Many large food companies have also been sued for having natural claims on their products when glyphosate is found in significant levels in the food.

Cornell University tested 18 different pet foods and found that all products contained glyphosate, even those labeled as non-GMO. As expected, pet foods higher in grains topped the list for contamination. For pets eating the same product day in and day out, chronic exposure to this chemical can have deleterious effects on kidney, liver, and reproductive function. In one study, animals were found to have levels of glyphosate in their bodies at 50 times the level of humans that were tested.

Fatty liver syndrome was seen in rats fed levels of glyphosate much lower than those found in many common pet foods. One of the most common alterations in lab work seen in my practice is elevated liver enzymes, which we treat with supplements to detox the liver. Cushing’s Disease, an endocrine disorder, is being diagnosed much more frequently in dogs. Could the inclusion of this chemical in food be contributing to these changes?

Unfortunately, our pets have higher exposure to these chemicals than most humans. They walk barefoot on treated ground, lick from puddles and eat plant material that may be contaminated. When they are fed pet foods laden with glyphosate, the exposure is compounded. Long-term effects on our pets are unknown. Do your best to avoid chemicals containing glyphosate on your lawn and gardens. Feed healthy, fresh, organic foods that are non-GMO whenever possible.

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Having pets in your home is like having toddlers. They seem to find things that aren’t good for them, even when we are careful. Here is a list of items that can be particularly toxic to your pets.

1. Some human foods can be toxic, while others are great additions to the diet. Grapes, raisins, onions, chocolate, macadamia nuts, bread dough, and caffeine can all be toxic to pets. Grapes and raisins are common snacks for children, so be sure the kids are instructed not to share. Onions can cause hemolytic anemia and pose a greater risk to cats than dogs, but should be avoided for either species. Chocolate toxicity is particularly problematic around certain holidays – Halloween, Valentines’ Day, Easter, and during holiday baking. Dark chocolate contains more of the toxic ingredient theobromine and smaller amounts cause greater toxicity than mild chocolate. Bread dough containing yeast will expand in the stomach and produce alcohol, which leads to alcohol toxicity, seizures, and bloating. Dogs getting into the trash may eat coffee grounds, so hide the trashcans. One of our dogs is particularly adept at opening cans with lids; our trash is in a pull-out cabinet.

2. Xylitol, an artificial sweetener, can be found in sugar free candy and gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, baked goods, and more recently, is being added to common food products such as peanut butter. Xylitol causes low blood sugar and liver failure. Most cases I have seen involve children sharing with pets or pets getting into a purse containing gum or breath mints.

3. Cooked bones. Many pet owners bring home their steak bones from dining out to give to their dogs. Not only can they get diarrhea and pancreatitis from the high fat content of the cooked prime rib, they also risk ingesting splintered bones that can pierce the bowel. Chicken and turkey bones stolen from the trash are another prime culprit. Take all bones to the outside trash cans and make sure the lids are secured.

4. Prescription Drugs. Animal poison control help lines list prescription drugs near the top of the list for reported exposures. Particularly, antidepressants and medications for ADD and ADHD. Do not leave these medications on bedside tables, even if they are in containers. Put them in a drawer or cabinet out of reach. Prescription pet medications can be just as toxic if eaten accidentally in excess, particularly flavored, chewable medications that taste like treats. Children are sometimes tempted by these pet medications as well.

5. Nonprescription Drugs. Over the counter medications such as acetaminophin (Tylenol), Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Alleve) can cause liver failure, kidney failure, and gastrointestinal ulceration. In cats, one tablet of acetaminophen can be a deadly dose. Never give an over-the-counter medication to your pet without asking your veterinarian first. Mixing these medications with prescription drugss can also be deadly.

6. Mouse and rat poison. These baits usually contain grains to attract rodents. Dogs and cats may also be drawn to them. For cats, eating a rodent that has ingested the poison will have the same effect as eating the bait directly. The poisons can cause internal bleeding, bruising, liver and kidney failure, and brain swelling. The poisons can affect the pet for weeks, resulting in prolonged treatment if ingested. Effects may take a few days to become apparent. Have your pet seen immediately if you suspect ingestion.

7. Cleaning chemicals. This includes a very long list of household products including bathroom and kitchen cleansers, bleach, laundry detergent, and even “natural” household cleaners. Scented products like potpourri and plug ins can also be deadly. This can include dryer sheets, air fresheners, and laundry pods.

8. Insecticides. Not only does this include household sprays, baits, and liquids, it also includes many of the chemicals sold by veterinarians or over-the-counter that are meant to be applied on or fed to our pets. Many chemicals are safe for dogs, but not cats, and misapplication results in serious consequences for the kitties. Even though the prescribed chemicals are touted as safe, many pets have succumbed to these products. (Please check out the Facebook pages “Does Bravecto Kill Dogs?” and “Does Nexgard Kill Dogs?”) Cats may be sensitive to “natural” essential oils and chrysanthemum based products (pyrethroids). Natural alternatives are readily available.

9. Ethylene glycol. Found in antifreeze, windshield washer fluid, paints, household cleaners, and motor oil. Commonly found where cars have been parked, leaving a puddle of antifreeze behind. This product tastes slightly sweet and animals like the taste. Even a small amount can cause kidney failure. Check for and clean up any spills you find.

10. Small toys, stuffed toys, rawhides, bones. Dogs like to chew. They don’t do a good job differentiating their toys from children’s toys, so make sure everything gets picked up and put away. Always supervise your pet when giving them a toy to play with or a raw bone to chew. Foreign objects may require surgical removal. For cats, watch particularly when playing with any toys with string, as cats seem to love to eat string. Rawhide treats do not digest when large pieces are swallowed. Most rawhide is treated with formaldehyde or other tanning chemicals that are harmful. I never recommend feeding rawhide.

11. Plants. Some household and ornamental plants can be extremely toxic. Easter lilies are near the top of the list, but sago palm, tulips, hyacinths, azaleas, rhododendron, amaryllis, and poinsettia are also problems.

12. Heavy metals. These may be found in fertilizers, vitamins, lead-based paint, and pennies. Some dog food companies are also being sued for heavy metal toxins in the food.

13. Gasoline, kerosene, and tiki torch oil. Spills are common, but need to be cleaned immediately.

14. Tobacco. Tobacco products will cause vomiting and diarrhea and may cause tremors, seizures, and death. Always empty ashtrays immediately. Do not leave tobacco products in areas pets might find them. Better yet, give up smoking for your the health of you and your pet.

Photo by Hector Bermudez on Unsplash

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When I first studied acupuncture almost twenty years ago I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. Seriously, how could sticking small needles into different areas of the body make a difference in pain, digestion, allergies, kidney or liver function, or infection?

I’m happy to say, my skepticism was unwarranted. The amazing changes I have seen in my patients over the years, just by sticking small needles into different areas of their bodies, has made me a believer! I’ve also had acupuncture needles placed on myself by my doctor. The feeling is one of relaxation and rejuvenation.

Acupuncture works by stimulating points along meridians or channels to balance the flow of energy, or Qi, in the body. Modern physiologists have suggested that the clinical influence of acupuncture is transmitted primarily through stimulation of sensory nerves along the meridians that provide signals to the brain, which processes the information and then causes clinical changes associated with treatment.

Sometimes energy flow is blocked and there is an area of stagnation. Think of a bruise on your arm or scar tissue from an old injury. Blood flow may be blocked, as well as nerve impulses through the area. When you have back pain, there is commonly muscle spasm that is constricting blood and nerve flow. Stagnation causes pain. By releasing that stagnation through stimulation of nerve and blood flow, the pain decreases or disappears. This is one of the ways that acupuncture helps decrease pain. When combined with application of warm compresses and massage or chiropractic therapy, the effect can be amplified.

Our pets suffer from pain and stagnation just as we do. Unfortunately, many times they suffer silently, not letting us know they have pain until they reach a point of immobility. Stagnation occurs not only in the muscles, but can also be an internal problem. Stagnation of energy flow through the liver can result in digestive disorders and Shen disturbances (disturbances of the mind, commonly associated with frustration). Stagnation in the heart can lead to heart failure and inability to pump blood throughout the body.

By placing needles in acupuncture points along the meridians associated with different organ systems, blood and Qi flow can be improved, bringing more energy where needed or draining excess where needed. When the organs are in balance, the whole body remains in balance.

In the past twenty years I have treated arthritis, allergies, kidney disease, liver dysfunction, heart failure, pyometra, seizures, digestive disorders, and many other diseases with acupuncture. I continue to be amazed at the transformations that can occur. I recommend exploring acupuncture as an option for your pets and yourselves if there are any chronic or acute disease patterns that need to be treated. Acupuncture can also be used for maintenance of good health – there’s no need to wait for illness to occur.

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Pets Need Proper Dental Care, Just Like People Do

Eighty percent of pets have periodontal disease, based on information from a scientific study published in The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science. Periodontal diseases are infections of the periodontal ligament, alveolar bone and/or gums. Without proper dental care, the risk of dogs and cats developing dental diseases, including periodontal disease, will increase. Some dental diseases may lead to lung, kidney and heart disease. Just as people require healthy teeth and gums for general good health, dogs and cats need appropriate dental care to feel good. When pet owners ensure that their pets’ teeth are examined and cleaned, and arrange for dental surgical procedures to be performed when they are needed, they will help to keep their pets healthy.

Pets need proper dental care, just like people do. Daily brushing helps keep your pet healthy. My favorite toothpaste is made using coconut oil mixed with a few drops of New Zealand Deer Antler Velvet Oral Drops. I do not recommend the use of starch-based dental chews or water additives that may contain xylitol and other harmful chemicals.

Pets need regular dental checkups

Dogs and cats should be taken for oral examinations annually. Veterinary teams perform these exams. Six months is the right age for the first dental checkup. Small and medium-sized dogs usually have the most urgent dental needs and may need checkups more often. Signs that your pet needs an exam include bleeding from the mouth, tooth loss, halitosis, weight loss, reduced appetite and trouble chewing. An examination by a veterinarian is the only way to know if regular cleaning is enough, or if your pet will need a more invasive dental procedure, such as root canal or dental extraction.

Dental cleaning includes polishing and scaling

Many dogs and cats need once-per-year tooth cleaning. Some pets need their teeth cleaned more often. This type of dental care involves crown polishing and scaling. The teeth are scaled to remove plaque and tartar. Scaling eliminates build-up on the crowns of teeth, which are the visible parts of canine teeth. This type of cleaning requires anesthesia, so pets will have blood drawn beforehand, to make sure that they are healthy enough to be anesthetized. If they are, cleaning under the gum line will be performed, in addition to scaling and polishing.

Oral surgery may be necessary

Dental exams and cleanings may reveal problems that necessitate oral surgery. One form of dental surgery is tooth extraction. Usually, extractions are necessary due to fractures or chips which enter their pulp cavities. Abscesses, periodontal disease and dental cavities may also require oral surgery. Once teeth are extracted, sockets are stitched closed with dissolvable sutures.

When you schedule annual dental examinations and cleanings, and arrange for oral surgery when it’s needed, you’ll be a caring and responsible pet owner. Good dental care helps pets to survive and thrive.

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Recently there has been a lot of speculation surrounding the relationship between dilated cardiomyopathy and feeding grain-free kibble. The FDA is “working on it”, which means we may or may not have answers in the next seven to ten years. (We are still waiting for answers on the toxicity of chicken jerky treats from China, after eight years of “research”…)

No one knows for sure why some breeds are having difficulty or whether the problem is low taurine, low taurine absorption, interference with taurine production, or an ingredient in the food that is toxic to the heart. The usual breeds such as Dobermans, Boxers, and Great Danes will continue to top the list for dilated cardiomyopathy problems, but why are we seeing it in small breeds and breeds that have not been genetically prone to DCM? And why are they not seeing this problem in Europe?

Board certified nutritionists are recommending that pet owners continue to trust the large pet food manufacturers with years of experience producing high-quality food. (Including those that have been found to have pentobarbital in their food.) Those big companies are making just as much grain-free food as the smaller “boutique” companies. Since grains do not contain taurine, feeding grain is not the solution to the problem. Many of those large manufacturers were incriminated in one report.

Many of the dogs tested for taurine were found to have adequate blood taurine levels, even though they had full-blown DCM. So supplementing taurine may not be the solution to the problem.

While the cardiologists are seeing this disease more often in dogs, they are not claiming the same issues for cats. However, this week I saw a four-year-old cat with dilated cardiomyopathy. The cat was eating a grain-free food. Cat food has been supplemented with taurine for years, as it is an essential amino acid for cats. Is there a connection here?

At this point in time there are more questions than answers. I have never recommended feeding high-starch diets to dogs or cats. Peas, chickpeas, lentils, potatoes, and other high starch ingredients may or may not be the problem associated with the increase in DCM. I just don’t think they are a good addition to the diets of our pets for many reasons: obesity, insulin-resistance, diabetes, and other inflammatory conditions are seen more often in pets eating large amounts of these ingredients.

While the cardiologists at Tufts recommend against feeding raw or home-prepared diets, I can only attest to the benefits I have seen in my own dogs by feeding these diets. All my cavaliers have developed mitral valve disease (a different disease from dilated cardiomyopathy, but heart disease nonetheless). They have eaten raw and home prepared diets for years. The average life expectancy for a cavalier once placed on heart medications is under three years. We have far surpassed that in all our dogs. Coincidence? I think not.

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Dealing with itching, scratching pets with chronic ear and skin infections is incredibly frustrating for pet owners. Listening to chewing, licking, and scratching has the same effect as nails on a blackboard for me. Pets suffering with allergic otitis and dermatitis can lose weight from the constant motion of scratching and rubbing. Sometimes they smell so horrible it’s difficult to stay in the same room with them. No one wants to pet their greasy, thickened, flaking skin.

At first, the bacterial skin infections will respond to antibiotics, but then return as soon as the antibiotics are discontinued. Over time, the bacteria change, becoming resistant and requiring stronger antibiotics. Chronic use of steroids, anti-inflammatory medications, and immune-suppressant pills and injections totally ruin the ability of the body to heal. These pets suffer greatly. Many will develop cancer or die of overwhelming infection.

While suppressing the immune system may temporarily decrease allergy symptoms, this course of action results in serious long-term damage. The immune system is necessary to fight infection and maintain overall health. The immune system is comprised of the thymus gland, bone marrow, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels, as well as the spleen, skin and liver. These organs work to form barriers, produce immunity, and filter blood.

There is a well-known connection between the microbiome (bacterial population) in the gut and healthy immunity. Chronic use of antibiotics destroys the microbiome, resulting in overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeast, swelling of the intestinal cells lining the gut, and an event called “leaky gut“, where bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles are allowed to enter the bloodstream, setting up an immune reaction.

In order to heal a leaky gut, a species-appropriate diet must be fed. The feeding of starches such as grains, potatoes, and legumes which break down to sugar, feeds the yeast and causes more inflammation. Feeding high-starch, highly processed food will not bring about good gut health. It is impossible to change the “allergy” outcome without changing the diet if the dog or cat eats a diet high in potatoes, legumes, or grains.

Pre- and pro-biotics should be added to help repopulate the gut. Fermented foods and sprouts are a great source for these. Digestive enzymes can be used to help break down the food and lessen the work of the damaged bowel. The amino acid glutamine can help heal injured cells. Glutamine is found in high-protein foods such as meat and fish and in supplements.

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