Welcome, Sit, Stay, & Bloggers! This blog post is for pet owners everywhere who are inundated with information about the care and well-being of their pets. With advancements in medicine and technology, we have become a society equipped to deal with nuisances such as fleas and ticks, diseases such as heartworm, as well as devastating cancer diagnoses. As more and more research rolls out, however, we are left to decipher the controversial information pertaining to the health and wellness of our pets. One veterinarian screams “Yay, heartworm preventatives for all,” while another advises pet owners to take precautionary measures before considering such products. This controversy invites feelings of confusion and misguidance in pet lovers, and it ultimately becomes our mission to determine right from wrong when it comes to making health conscious choices for our furry friends.
***Disclaimer: None of the information contained herein is presented to serve as veterinarian or medical advice. Always consult with a trusted veterinarian about the health, wellness, and medical needs of your pets!
In the recent months, Pinella and I have had a variety of experiences that have left me feeling as described above — confused and misguided. This all began in August when I discovered…let’s just say…something that did not belong in her bag of kibble. I called the company, immediately expressed my experience and relevant feelings, and, as a token of their sorrow, was sent coupons…for their food. Now, I consider myself to be a very reasonable individual, and I understand that strange things can happen between the production and distribution of food products. However, I had been contemplating transitioning Pinella to a higher quality food, and this particular experience confirmed my decision that it was, indeed, time. The next step: Researching pet foods. Cue the inundation of conflicting, controversial information. Want to feed raw? Beware of potential bacteria contained in raw meat (Lee, n.d.). Considering a grain-free diet? Make sure you brush up on your reading about the Food and Drug Administration’s investigation into the possible link to grain-free diets and canine dilated cardiomyopathy (Food and Drug Administration, 2018). What is a “high quality” dog food anyway? Watch the documentary Pet Fooled on Netflix, and you tell me!
In addition to grappling with which pet food to transition Pinella to, I had another concern on my mind: vaccinations. Now, to set the record straight, I am in NO WAY against vaccinating dogs (or humans). However, I have done a great deal of reading about the differences between core and non-core vaccines and, again, feel misguided and confused. Core vaccines, such as rabies and distemper, help prevent fatal diseases and are not only recommended but required by law in some states (PetMD, n.d.). Non-core vaccines include those for Lyme disease, canine influenza, and kennel cough (Bordetella) which are reportedly only recommended depending on the dog’s lifestyle and living environment (i.e. tick-prone exposure, frequent boarding) (PetMD, n.d.).
As I looked toward Pinella’s yearly checkup appointment last month, I reviewed her vaccination list and read the following: Rabies, Bordetella, Canine Influenza, and Lyme. Previously, her veterinarian and I decided against Bordetella and Canine Influenza as boarding for her is nonexistent, and exposure to other dogs is limited. That left me to question, is the Lyme vaccine core? Is it a non-core vaccine? While I was not surprised to discover it is a non-core vaccination, I was surprised to learn that the jury is still out regarding whether or not its benefits outweigh its risks. Most surprisingly, administration of the vaccine for Lyme disease is suggested to be controversial and debated by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (PedMD, n.d.). Through further investigation about this controversy, I discovered a report based on research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, wherein it was discovered that 95 percent of dogs exposed to the Lyme disease bacteria, B. burgdorferi, never experienced or displayed sickness from the bacteria (Becker, 2017). In drawing my own conclusions, it appears that the Lyme vaccine, similar to the vaccines for kennel cough and canine influenza, truly is lifestyle-dependent.
So, again, the question arises: Why are these vaccines being repeatedly administered without any investigation into whether or not the pet’s lifestyle warrants a need? The best consensus on the internet points to the fact that vaccines serve as a steady source of income for veterinarians. Thus, decreasing the quantity of vaccines administered leads to decreased income. Ultimately, the burden is placed on the pet owner to piece apart this controversial information and make informed decisions about the animal’s welfare.
Next comes my struggle with flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives. You can do a Google search on any of these products and uncover a plethora of conflicting evidence. Keywords like “carcinogen,” “flea resistance to topical products,” and “side effect of seizures” will pop up. In fact, I did a search for “Flea and tick preventatives – risks and benefits” and discovered a list of alarming news posts (see below). By means of speculation, one can argue the benefits of using these products include reduced risk of contact with fleas, ticks, and heartworm, decreased chance of flea infestation, lessened risk of contracting parasites and other illnesses, et cetera. However, as demonstrated below, there exists research indicating that the chemicals contained in these products may be to blame for various adverse effects. As a pet owner, I remain conflicted yet again, not only with whether or not to use these products but also with the products’ mechanisms of action. For instance, if a flea and tick preventative is not a repelling agent (which many are not), the flea and/or tick can still come in contact with the animal and, therefore, bite and cause irritation and infection. Sure, the chemicals in the preventative will kill the insects eventually (usually within 12 hours of contact), but couldn’t one also argue that by applying these products, we are using the animal as a way to prevent infestation in our own homes (No judgement zone for those who do. I’m guilty of it too!)? Possibly. However, one thing remains consistent throughout: The evidence is conflicting.
As I have reiterated throughout, I am in no way asserting that one care approach for your pet is better than the other because, quite frankly, the research points in both directions. What I am saying is that no matter how many hours you spend digging through scholarly research articles, anecdotal evidence, news postings, and veterinarian blog sites, there are no clear-cut answers. What is of most importance is that you, the pet owner, educate yourself. Watch documentaries. Read scholarly research supported by empirical evidence. Ask your veterinarian questions about their methods of care. Consult with other veterinarians, and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. Most importantly, advocate for your pet by making informed decisions about their care. After all, we only want what’s best for our pets, and if you’re anything like myself, you’ll go to great odds to get the best.
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Until next time! 🙂
Becker, K. (2017). Lyme disease: Should you be concerned? Retrieved from https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2017/04/05/canine-lyme-disease-prevention-tips.aspx
Lee, E. (n.d.). Raw dog food diet: Dietary concerns, benefits, and risks. Retrieved from https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/raw-dog-food-dietary-concerns-benefits-and-risks#1
PetMD. (n.d.) Dog vaccinations: A schedule for every life stage. Retrieved from https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/dog-vaccinations-for-every-lifestage
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (n.d.). FDA investigating potential connection between diet and cases of canine heart disease. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm613305.html