June is Raw Food Month at Healthy Pets Northwest, and so I’ve been commissioned to write about the benefits of a raw diet for your animal, and to share the experiences of feeding our dogs raw.

I should say outright that, here at Healthy Pets Northwest, we will always tout the benefits of going raw. Our fridges and shelves are stocked with an array of raw items, such as dehydrated treats, freeze-dried and frozen foods, meaty bones, and fermented goat’s milk. However, while we believe in the raw diet, we don’t judge pet parents who are doing the best they can within budget and time constraints.

There are a lot of reasons we advocate raw. For one, if you think about pet diets, it’s only recently that kibble has become a standard meal for cats and dogs. Before, dogs and cats might have eaten table scraps and leftovers (as they still do in many parts of the world!), and often they would have hunted for small prey. Cats in particular are much closer to their evolutionary forebears in terms of diet; there’s a reason there are so many anecdotes about cats dropping off “gifts” for their owners.

And, really, I’ve always been confused about some of the logic as to why kibble is considered the nutritional default. For example, cats are obligate carnivores. It is a necessity that their diet consists mainly of meat. Cats also need more moisture from their food because their tongue is literally not made for lapping up water - it doesn’t cup liquid like a dog’s tongue does, and thus dry food doesn’t provide the needed moisture. This is why a lot of cats, especially males, have so many urinary tract issues. Finally, the idea that dry food is good for a cat’s teeth because they have to chew it also does not make sense to me. Here’s why: carbs are the quickest to go in the digestive process, and as the saliva breaks down the kibble in the mouth, the sugary bits can coat the teeth and in fact cause more dental problems later.

(Quick side note: for those who want to avoid many of these problems, but can’t afford or are skeptical of going raw, here are some solutions: try mixing warm water, bone broth without sodium, pumpkin, or other liquids into kibble to give more moisture, protein, or whatever nutritional content you feel your cat is lacking. Additionally, many brands are coming out with foods with smaller kibble sizes to avoid allowing carbs to build up in the mouth from too much chewing.)

For dogs, although their systems can handle more variety than cats, the reasoning is much the same. Kibble often lacks the nutrition that dogs need, can contain a lot of fillers, and there have been quite a few controversies in recent years regarding even the best kibbles (Healthy Pets Northwest does our best to stay on top of these issues and maintain a quality stock of products). Many customers will remember a popular brand covering up pentobarbital in its red meat kibble, while another brand was recently under fire for bad meat illegally making its way into their food via a third-party vendor. While there is a large cry on the internet about the danger of raw foods, the reality is that the pet industry as a whole has a lot of problems with regulations, transparency, and quality control.

So far I’m throwing a lot of negativity at you, but, because we’re celebrating the raw diet here, of course there are many good things to say.

The raw diet, if done right, can do amazing things for pets’ health. A higher protein content can cure those cravings, make a more active animal, and provide some of those lovely aesthetic benefits such as a silkier coat and better breath. Furthermore, if your pet has problems with yeast infections, food allergies, or UTI's, many raw foods provide complex and complete meals without a lot of the filler and with the moisture needed. Many of the foods we carry in store have high certifications in areas like food quality, sustainability, and treating animals humanely. Finally, raw food makers often use novel proteins such as quail, rabbit, or bison - perfect for the pet with a lot of allergies.

We’ve seen a huge difference in our own dogs when we switched them from kibble to raw. They stopped counter-surfing or digging through the trash - we could leave food out for a bit if we needed, without risk that it would go down the gullet of an enterprising pooch. One of my dogs, who can’t eat chicken in kibble (except for that of the brand Open Farms, which does really good work in the pet food industry) is able to eat chicken from our raw brands without getting hot spots. They really do have softer fur, smaller and less pungent stools, and more energy. My little gremlin in particular has retained her energy, even as her muzzle has been turning white.

It’s amazing seeing such a difference with the change in diet, especially in regards to the counter-surfing behavior. And, indeed, whenever I hear about a cat or dog who eats random things like toilet paper rolls or pokes through the garbage, that’s always a huge sign that something isn’t right in their nutritional content. If you find your animal doing these things, consider examining their diet, whatever it is, and trying out something new.

If you’re interested in making raw food yourself, there are many recommendations online for recipes. Whole Dog Journal and felinenutrition.org have good pieces on the raw diet, with information for feeding it to puppies and kittens, and transitioning pets from kibble or canned to raw. It’s good stuff.

Of course, we’d also love to sell you the food we have in the store. If you’re like me at all, which is constantly exhausted and short on time, I’d definitely consider checking out some of our brands (click here for a list). Our foods take into account the percentage needed of protein, fat, and bones, and many include mindful fruits and vegetables for added nutrition, and to target specific health problems. Raw treats can be very persuasive indeed, especially with dogs. Again, because cats may be a bit more difficult, I’d recommend checking out some of the articles on felinenutrition.org. Raw meaty bones can be good for the dental aspect as well as strengthening important muscles - we at Healthy Pets Northwest have our preferences for which bones are best, and which are safest. I would recommend asking one of our sales associates the next time you stop in.

As to some of the common concerns floating around the internet, I’ll confess, I don’t get the logic of some of them. One is the bevy of articles about feeding raw food being dangerous for households. I understand the concern, but feeding your pets raw is really no different than preparing a hamburger or chicken from scratch. Sanitize surfaces, and wash your hands. But, what is more, our brands in store either test for pathogens in every batch they produce, or they have an additional kill-step built into the process. Many of our brands are produced in human-grade facilities, contain hormone-free meat, and are actually cleaner than a lot of meat you’ll find in supermarkets. When there have been problems, we’ve been notified right away and been able to recall the contaminated products. And, finally, the reality is that cats and dogs have evolved to handle certain kinds of bacteria better. E. coli? Less of a threat to their shorter and more acidic digestive tracts. For immunocompromised animals, of course check with your veterinarian, but I hope I’ve assuaged some fears.

All in all, I am a huge believer in feeding pets raw. Even adding some raw elements can be really good for your pet’s health - so think about making those first steps.

We’d love to hear from you! What have been your experiences feeding raw? Do you prefer to make it yourself, or buy premade food?

Roshi as a puppy

In the late summer of 2010, I flew from our long-time Alaskan home to Seattle to pick up a very special delivery – an eight-week-old, 20-pound Akita puppy. He was tired and cautious after his long flight from Ohio, but in short order he stepped out of his crate. I was completely gobsmacked. He was gorgeous and everything his breeder said he would be. Not only did I fall head over heals in love with him when I first smelled his puppy breath, but it was clear to me that this puppy (who we named Roshi) could grow up to become a stunning show dog. Indeed he did, earning his AKC Championship easily.

Roshi the show dog

A year ago, having just turned eight, Roshi developed a slight limp. Being the hyper-vigilant pet parents that we are, my husband immediately got Roshi in to see our vet thinking it was a shoulder issue. X-rays of Roshi’s shoulder showed nothing out of the ordinary, and we were advised to give Roshi time to rest as he may have suffered a soft tissue injury from playing with our other Akita, Dante.

Over time Roshi’s limp became more pronounced, so we decided to have him seen by an orthopedic specialist/surgeon.  My husband and I sat in the small exam room while the vet performed a thorough exam. He poked and prodded Roshi’s back legs looking for any signs of abnormalities or pain. The same exam was performed on the right front leg with no reaction from Roshi. The vet moved to the left front leg and in just a moment he said, “He has a hard mass here on his elbow.”

The vet said he wanted to do an X-ray of Roshi’s lungs to see if it had spread. Although he never said the word, it was clear that we were talking about cancer.  It was a kick in the gut. Cancer?  We came in for a limp.

The X-ray was normal.  A brief moment of calm.  Next, the vet said that he wanted to make an appointment to bring Roshi back in for a biopsy to find out what type of cancer it was. There he said it: Cancer.

Within a week, Roshi was back at the vet’s for the punch biopsy.  Later that day my husband and I went to pick him up.  While we were waiting for the tech to bring Roshi out, the vet came out to tell us that all went well with the procedure and that we would have results in the next few days.  He sat down with us and then started talking about amputation.  WHAT? How did we go from a limp to talk of amputation in a matter of less than a week?  My stomach did flip flops as the vet spoke about how well dogs do after amputation.  We were reassured that there was no reason to think that Roshi wouldn’t do well after amputation of his left front leg.

Roshi the tripaw show dog

I felt queasy.  How well would Roshi really do?  My Roshi: 110 pounds, deep chested and front heavy?  How well would he really do?

A few days later the vet called with the biopsy results: Chondrosarcoma.  Cancer of the cartilage in his elbow.  The vet again spoke about amputation and suggested that we get a second opinion from a veterinary oncologist.

It took an agonizing 2 ½ weeks to get in to see the oncologist.  She concurred with the orthopedic specialist:  amputation would be curative.  There was no data to show that Roshi’s type of cancer would respond to chemotherapy or radiation. The good news: amputation would cure the cancer.  The bad news: amputation was our only option.

From the first day we saw the orthopedic specialist to the time we decided to have the surgery done was almost four weeks.  At first I cried nearly every day.  I cried because I was afraid we were going to lose Roshi.  I worried incessantly over how Roshi would handle the amputation.  I didn’t want him to be in pain.  I didn’t want him to suffer.  I didn’t want him to go through the pitfalls he would surely have to go through recovering from such an invasive surgery.  To think of him hurting; to think of him confused and not knowing how to balance without his leg was agonizing to me.

We all moved forward though and Roshi was scheduled for surgery in mid-July.  We dropped him off knowing that the next time we saw him he would never look the same.

Roshi post-surgery still loves treats

The following afternoon we went to the vet hospital to pick Roshi up.  After what seemed to be an interminably long time, we saw Roshi come out with a vet tech.  Wrapped tightly with surgical dressing, he came bouncing toward us.  This was hard work for him.

The following week was pretty tough.  When we took him out to the backyard, he seemed to stumble with nearly every step.  He did face plant after face plant trying to get his balance. Each time he stumbled; each time he fell; I stuffed my tears and told him, “Good boy Roshi.  You’ve got this.  You can do this.  Good dog.”

The next week we began six weeks of formal rehabilitation on the water treadmill.  Each week the rehab tech suited up in waders and got in the tub with Roshi increasing both speed and resistance.  It was hard work, but Roshi was a trooper and even attempted to do three-legged zoomies after getting out of the tub.

Roshi get laser therapy wearing Doggles

In addition to the water treadmill, the rehabilitation included cold laser treatment to help the 12-inch incision heal.  Each time Roshi received a cold lazer treatment he was required to wear Doggles, which served as a great source of levity in a very difficult time.

At the same time we were participating in formal rehab, we began our home rehabilitation.  At first we walked him across the street.  Once we got him across the street, he lay down panting and trying to catch his breath.  We told him what a good dog he was.  We told him that he could do it and, in time, we picked him up by his harness and brought him back across the street and into our house where he collapsed with exhaustion.

Day after day, week after week and month after month we would go just a little bit further; then just a little bit further.  We were constantly working to find the balance between pushing Roshi and exhausting him.  In time, Roshi was able to walk a brisk 15-minute, 12-block walk and that is as far as he can go.

Five months after Roshi’s amputation I had the opportunity to show him one last time at a specialty show held in conjunction with the Akita Club of Puget Sound and the Rose City Classic.  He was not going into the ring to compete; he was going to be shown as a “Title Holder.”  He was going to be shown in a class by himself.

As I walked around the ring with Roshi happily bouncing at my side, the audience erupted into applause for our once broken but never defeated dog.  As one friend told me later, “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”

Roshi still wears a smile

Nowadays Roshi’s life is fairly normal.  He gets his 15-minute walk every day and plays happily with Dante and our 2 cats.  He greets us joyfully whenever we come home.  He comes upstairs every night to go to bed.  He wakes up each morning with his baritone Akita “Woo Woooo!” and a smile on his face.  The only real difference is that we put a harness on him to bring him downstairs in the morning.

I can say without hesitation that this has been a tremendous learning experience and affirmation in how dogs have the power to heal us.  Roshi has shown such determination, such grit and such resiliency.  He has also shown us that when adversity strikes, you just pick yourself up and get on with it.  There is no feeling sorry for yourself when you are a dog.  If that is not a life lesson we humans could use, I don’t know what else is.

For more information on tripawed dogs please visit: www.tripawd.com

Editor's note: Cynder is one of our outstanding team members that you will find at our Healthy Pets Northwest Woodstock store. All of us at HPNW are grateful to Cynder for sharing Roshi's heart-wrenching and ultimately heart-warming story.

When I wrote my last blog about the way dogs perceive things, I said I would give it a go about cats as well, and here we are.

Truthfully, I don’t know as much about cats because I’ve always been a dog person. The little nuggets of wisdom I have I picked up from my coworkers at Healthy Pets NW. (For example, I learned that cats often have learned association with food rather than innate association, and so they might not always recognize something as food. I’ve also watched the family cat struggle with figuring out how to eat a piece of pork I’d given him.)

The family cat, up close and personal

So, though there were many facts about a dog’s life I found interesting, learning about cats for me was more compelling.

Some things I already knew - like that cats can see much better in the dark than can humans. Their degree of vision is slightly wider at 200° versus our range of 180°. But overall, cats have much less capacity for vision than we do. They can see a similar range of colors to dogs, perhaps blues and yellows, or greens and reds. The sources I found weren’t in agreement on that. One article did mention it’s possible cats might also be able to see UV colors - the colors we see under blacklight - but this was just one source. (Side note: I found a fascinating article about human vision and “forbidden colors” where researchers used technology to stabilize the human eye when looking at unbordered panels of blue/yellow and red/green. I’d love to know what the world looks like to those creatures with more vision capacity.) Finally, cats have terrible distance vision. After a point of about 20 feet, objects look blurry to them. Cats also have a harder time distinguishing things moving slowly or slightly - and with human faces, a few studies have shown cats may have a hard time recognizing their owners visually. Your scent or your voice is much more likely to aid in recognition than your appearance.

The second family cat, even more up close and personal

Hearing-wise, I mentioned in my last post that cats can hear so well they can discern the subtle differences between opening a regular cupboard, and the cupboard that has their food behind it. Well, this is because cats can hear a huge variety of pitches (though similarly to us in the lower range). They can also hear a multitude of tones and have similar abilities to dogs in being able to move their ears to catch a specific spot of sound. Cats have this enhanced sense of hearing, as well as the ability to see at night, because they are nocturnal, and depend on hearing their pray to catch it. It’s also because cats prefer to lie in wait for their prey, pouncing once they know it’s close, rather than chasing after it.

Cats are also reportedly much better at smelling than dogs are, due to their 30 variants of a relevant scent receptor protein (compared to a dog’s nine). I found an article that mentioned the Jacobson’s organ (an organ just behind the front teeth that connects to the nasal cavity) that allows cats to breathe more air into the nose and distinguish scents further. It was a bit harder to find some articles on cats and their ability to smell because it seems more often people are asking the question, “why does my cat smell?”

Please keep in mind that cats and taste is heavily related to smell - and they can obtain a lot of details from scent. For example, my family’s cat couldn’t handle the change in his canned pumpkin when my stepmom decided to try a cheaper formula. Smellier foods are often better, but something too pungent may be off-putting. Warming up a food before serving it often makes it appeal more as well.

Our cat, graciously ignoring my attempts at a selfie

I didn’t delve as much into cats and their inner emotional lives because (truthfully) I started getting tired after a point. But! Never fear, because I did pick up a few things. For example, experts believe because cats came into human lives on their own terms, cats didn’t develop as much of an understanding of human differences. For example, a dog will act differently around humans than it does around other dogs, while cats treat humans much the same as they treat other cats. That’s not to say cats don’t realize humans aren’t cats - more that they don’t feel a need to treat humans differently. When a cat rubs against your legs, in that sense, it is greeting you as it would another cat (a cat on the same social level, at that!).

They recognize their names as well, as shown in a separate study. Cats ignored human conversation until their name was said; then they showed interest by some form of body language. This one I already knew, as my cat comes when he’s called, albeit in a very angry, stomping, way!

I do really want to learn more about cats, and so I’ll probably be focusing more blogs on them in the coming days. While I leave you here, tell me, what are some fun facts you know about cats?

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