Something to Chew On – Raw Diets

Something to Chew On – Raw Diets

Pet nutrition is unarguably one of the largest areas that people spend on their pets.  While the majority of people feed a commercial pet diet, there is a portion of the population that chooses to feed a raw food diet.  This is not necessarily a good or bad thing as there are pros & cons to this argument that both have validity.  Raw diets come in both home prepared forms as well as commercial forms.

People advocate that raw diets have many benefits.  Among these are the arguments that pets will have a better coat, less dental problems, “it’s more natural”, and that in general they will have better health.  The unfortunate truth is that there isn’t a whole lot of research behind raw diets to substantiate these claims.  They are subjective opinions rather than research based science.  Now this isn’t to say that there aren’t some benefits to raw diets and I think that over time as more information becomes available, there may be more proven benefits to raw food.

Raw organs (img from

Raw organs (img from

Raw diets were found to have a higher digestibility overall and reduced fecal output.  Improved digestibility can lead to better use of the diet and may help with some individual patients, particularly ones with food allergies/sensitivities.  This better digestibility is also the likely cause of the reduced fecal matter as more of the nutrients available are utilized.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (Wikipedia)

Dilated cardiomyopathy (Wikipedia)

So if these are the benefits, what are the drawbacks?  Nutrient deficiencies is one of the first things that comes to mind. In previous studies of cats eating raw diets, a significant lack of taurine was found to be the cause of the development of heart problems.  Taurine is needed by cats specifically to prevent dilation of the heart chambers and can be found in lesser quantities in muscle meat.  The additional problem with home formulated raw diets is that if research by the pet owner is not done before just feeding a raw piece of meat, other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals may be lacking.  Commercial raw food diets have been formulated to have appropriate levels for specific life stages.

Another argument for raw diets has been better dental health for pets fed a raw diet.  As raw diets contain some boney material or there is an actual bone to chew on, the amount of calculus (tartar) has actually been found to be reduced in multiple studies.  What is essentially unchanged though is the development of periodontal disease which is likely secondary to trauma from these bones to the gum tissue.

Salmonella bacteria

Salmonella bacteria

Lastly, let’s touch on contamination issues and microorganisms.  Would you eat raw chicken or beef?  Surely the human food supply has been inspected and kept healthy but it’s not advisable to eat raw meat primarily due to concerns over Salmonella.  The same concern exists for pets.  Bowls must certainly be cleaned and disinfected more regularly and people who are immunocompromised should not handle the feeding of the pets.  Even if your pets don’t get sick, they can still shed bacteria in their stool or saliva so proper hygiene on your part is paramount.

a commercial raw diet

a commercial raw diet

In short, raw diets can help but also not help…and this is one of the conundrums of raw diets.  I don’t doubt that there is some validity behind their use.  Use of a commercial raw diet (often times pre-frozen) is what I would recommend if you chose to go this route as it will meet AAFCO standards (discussed last time). It would also be beneficial to consult the Food & Drug Administration’s website on safe handling as well as potentially contacting a qualified nutrition service such as Pet Nutrition Consulting or through a veterinary college.  If you’re opposed to commercial diets, I would suggest cooking the food, rather than straight up raw, after consulting with a veterinary nutritionist.  Ultimately, it’s best to have a discussion with your veterinarian and do some research before any diet changes for your pets.

Disclaimer: All blog posts are my own opinion and do not reflect that of my current or previous employers.  Info for this post was accumulated from multiple sources including North American Veterinary Conference notes from a talk by Dr. Andrea Fascetti.  This post is intended to help people become informed.  I do not receive compensation from any food company.

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Pet Food Labels – What Do They Mean?

Pet Food Labels – What Do They Mean?

Who’s hungry??  I am…and so are my pets sitting next to me!  With all the recent talk about the Beneful issue (which was reference by Pawcurious), I thought we should discuss a little bit about those labels on pet foods and what some terms mean.  There is much  more detailed information in the links at the end as it would difficult to cover everything here concisely.  In the exam rooms with my patients, the talk about food is often briefly covered and often doesn’t even get too far particularly if we can’t know what food Rover or Fluffy are eating.  This is where it gets tricky.

The question is: “What is Duke/Mittens eating?”  Oh, I love these answers…

    • “I don’t know.  My wife takes care of it.”
    • “It’s the purple bag.  It’s all-natural and grain free.”
    • “I can’t remember but it’s expensive and a holistic diet.”
    • “I make their food at home because it doesn’t contain by-products.”

meme from

People’s food choices for their pets often boil down to cost, past experience, or the power of marketing.  When it comes to the marketing aspect, I’m not sure if consumers (pet owners) truly know what the labels on these food bags/can are saying.  So coming up, the truth behind these words.


Hooves, beaks, and hair – oh my!  NO!  By-products are typically the organ meats which in North American society are not commonly eaten.  Therefore, they are what’s left after the muscle has been stripped away from the carcass.  These parts of the animals being used for domestic pet diets are actually chock full of nutrients.  By-products are regulated and defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) so you know I’m not making this up.  The label below is from the food I feed to my own dogs and have also recommended to my patients.

ingredient list from a veterinary prescription diet

ingredient list from a veterinary prescription diet


Oh those wicked farmers just selling us fillers for our pet foods…wrong again!  Grains aren’t bad.  What is bad are grains that are overly processed or broken down.  Whole grains actually contain valuable nutrients that would otherwise be in the diet from fats & calories.  Grain allergies are also quite rare as the protein source is more likely to be accurately implicated.  Again, “grain-free” is another marketing term to ride on the wave of human concerns over some health conditions that can be complicated by grains.

Natural, Holistic, & Organic

These words are often tossed around to sell a food as being better, or healthier.  The truth is, only one of these words is actually defined & regulated – “natural,” meaning that synthetic ingredients are not included with the exception of vitamin and mineral supplements.  While the term “organic” is defined, it is difficult to control the production & certification methods so there is a high chance that some of this foods are mis-labeled.  The term “holistic” does not have any official definition.

Formulated for AAFCO standards

Formulated for AAFCO standards

Lastly, I’ll touch on one other aspect of food labels.  The AAFCO statement.  Every food will say it is either tested or formulated to meet the AAFCO standards for a given life stage.  A food that has been “tested” is going to have undergone more strict regulation and successfully passed a feeding protocol whereas one that is “formulated” has been controlled to meet to meet the expected standards but the company has not specifically tested that food.  One other caveat is that if a food is for “all life stages” rather than “kittens/puppies”, “adults”, or “seniors” it is not going to necessarily be as specific for your pet and they may be getting inappropriate ratios of the nutrients.

AAFCO statement from the same bag above I feed my dogs

AAFCO statement from the same bag above I feed my dogs

I hope this has been enlightening and informative.  Have you gone to take a look at your pet’s food label yet??  If you’re not sure about ingredient lists or nutrient profiles, it is best to take the bag or label into your veterinarian.  One last thing, you’re probably wondering about raw diets but I promise we’ll have that conversation another time.

Helpful links:$FILE/ct02273e.pdf (Guidelines for Labeling & Advertising of Pet Food)


Disclaimer: All blog posts are personally written and my opinion and do not reflect those of current or former employers.  Posts are for advice and information but do not replace the need for regular veterinary care.

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Dr. Llera Answers Edie the Pug & You

Dr. Llera Answers Edie the Pug & You

Last week, I got the chance to interview the up and coming famous Edie the Pug (read it here).  Did you happen to catch her on “Animal House Calls” last night?  We learned a lot about pug life and her views on some things in the veterinary world last week.  This week I get in the hot seat and she asks the questions.

What’s your favourite part of being a vet?

I just removed this huge bladder stone

I just removed this huge bladder stone

Excellent question.  I really love surgery!!  A chance to cut is a chance to cure.  Whether it’s spaying/neutering, removing bladder stones, or saving a life because a silly pet ate something it shouldn’t have, I love it all!  In an almost too close to call second, I derive immense satisfaction from healing pets and reuniting them with their families.  Seeing the happiness on people’s faces when their beloved pets are sent home is a feeling I will never get tired of.

Do you (secretly) like giving us needles and taking our temperature?

Oh gosh no!  I hate needles myself!!  I always use the smallest needle possible and appropriate for each patient and whatever is being given (some medications are really thick!).  I do this for their comfort but also to try and make a visit to the vet less fearful.  As an added bonus, if somebody moves and I get poked too, the needle doesn’t hurt as much!  About the whole temperature thing, I’d like to say “let’s not go there” but it’s a necessary evil.  If there was a reliable safer way, I’d be all for it.

What about that scale – are you sure it’s set correctly?

I certainly hope so….I weigh myself on it!  Oftentimes, we’ll put one of the larger bags of food on it to see how accurate it is and usually it might only be off by 0.1 kg either way.  What I do suggest for smaller dogs and cats, is that your veterinarian get a baby scale which will be more accurate for lower weight pets.

horses at winterHow many pets do you have?

Currently living in our house we have 5 pets.  The two dogs are Charlie the border collie mix and Taylor the English Springer Spaniel.  The three cats Gremlin, Asia, & Louie all get along with each other for the most part and love snuggling the dogs as well.  We also have two horses, Willie a pony cross and Gus, our Hanoverian stallion that was part of my wedding gift to my wife – but they don’t live in our home!  I also have an iguana named Guida who is almost 24 and still lives with my mom in Florida.

If you weren’t a veterinarian, what would you be?

Wow…where to begin?  Being an astronaut would be cool but I’m not much of a risk taker….something about sitting on an explosive amount of fuel is unsettling let alone being isolated in outer space; they are truly braver than I am.  I always felt that I would probably enter into some kind of teaching field.  This pairs naturally with being a veterinarian and trying to help inform pet owners.  When all is said and done though, I don’t think I could be anything but a veterinarian because it’s the best job in the world!!

Why do you make me leave my humom to go into the “back room”?puppy patient

Oh it’s not such a scary place…it’s where keep the biggest treat jar!  But to answer your question, the treatment room is often where we do a lot of our work.  Taking blood, nail trims, and ear cleanings are some of the things we do there.  Oftentimes, we can also get second opinions from our colleagues who aren’t usually able to also come into the same exam room.  One of the main reasons we take pets to this room is to be able to safely get work done.  Pet parents really do love their fur-kids and we understand that but their well meaning attention to the patient sometimes gets in the way.  People have clutched on to their pets too tight and we can’t adequately examine them.  Another facet is that if the humom or hudad is anxious about things, the pet will often pick up on that and the visit will be more stressful for everyone.  Lastly, we have trained staff that are able to safely hold onto the patients and well intentioned parents can get bit if they try to hold their own pets.

Why do I have sit on the tall stainless steel table to be examined?

For small dogs like yourself, and cats, being up on the table is primarily to help the veterinarian out.  When a lot of patients are on the floor, they tend to move around and wiggle too much.  This can be a problem with larger dogs too but not as often.  Also, when you’re seeing 15-20 patients a day, your back can really hurt if you’re bending over all the time to do a thorough exam.  I’m in talks with our own practice manager at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic about trying to remove some of the fear from the vet visits and part of that will include covering up the cold steel tables.

Be honest – who is a better patient – dogs! Or those cats? LOL

Ah, trick question!  I love them both equally.  If I had to give preference, it would be to whoever doesn’t bite or scratch!


Well that’s all the time we have for this week.  Thank you Edie for some intriguing questions!  *paw shake*  And thank you everyone for joining us.  You can check Edie out on her blog.  Be sure to visit next time as we delve into the world of pet foods & labels…what do they really mean??

Disclaimer: All blog posts are personally written and my opinion (excluding Edie’s answers) and do not reflect those of current or former employers.

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Edie the Pug Woofs the Truth

Edie the Pug Woofs the Truth – An InterviewEdie side profile

Lately I’ve had a few serious posts here.  This week we lighten things up by getting up close and personal with Miss Edie the Pug.  As I don’t have my own late night television show, she joins me on the figurative couch as she lets all of us in on the answers to questions that maybe you or your own pet have had as well as some things I’ve always wondered.   She’s a busy pug so let’s begin…

Thank you for joining me Edie.  What’s it like living with 2 cats?

It’s great to be here.  Well Dr. Llera, when they are not sleeping in my bed or taking my humans attention away from me they’re okay.  They have a box in the basement I sometimes try to clean out for them but I get in trouble for that.  I also like it when they don’t clean their food dishes out. *licks lips*  They have lived with me all my life, so I would be lost without them – but don’t tells anyone I woofed that.

I’m not sure if you watch Westminster, but when not cheering on your fellow pugs, who do you really hope wins the big dog shows?

Oh that’s a difficult question.  I have a furfriend that is a Border Collie and one that is a Newfoundlander, but my humom and I have a soft spot for Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds.

Okay, onto something a little more serious…  What’s the worst part of going to the vet? (Is it the scale, the thermometer, needles, or something else?)

Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes ;)

Actually, I don’t mind going to visit my vet, everyone is very nice to me and I get lots of attention and cuddles – BUT, I have a real problem with that thermometer, do you think you could warm it up at least?  And I don’t like having my nails trimmed – I have sensitive toes.  But the scariest part is when they have to take me into the “back room” away from my humom!

*chuckling* I’ll have to see about getting those thermometers warmed up.  So what would you like to tell other pet owners about a vet visit?  What’s the best part?

I would tell other pet parents that stopping by my vets office when it’s not for a visit that includes needles or when I’m unwell helps to make the visit fun and not a scary place.

Sometimes I go with my humom for the drive (I do love a car ride!) and we just stop in to pick up food, or to step on the scales to keep a check on my weight.  That way I associate it with fun and cuddles!  And yes, the treat jar is a great perk ;)

What would you tell veterinarians that would make a visit better?

Great question Dr. Llera!  I’m fortunate to have wonderful vets and the staff is always friendly and makes me feel comfortable.  I think it’s our humans that need to be comforted more.  If they are relaxed and feel like everything is going to be ok, then us pets will be relaxed too.  Maybe there should be a treat jar for the humans!

Awesome idea, I would love a treat jar for owners but I might use it myself…not good for my waistline.  What is your favorite toy and why?

Edie with her Telus Critters

Edie with her Telus Critters

Do I have to pick just one?  When I watch TV, yes I watch TV, especially commercials with animals in them I would go crazy!  When a Telus commercial comes on with the critters in it I would actually cry (you’re not going to print that part are you?) because I wanted them to come out of that box and play with me!  So I was a very lucky pug and the nice humans at Telus sent me my very own critter to play with.  My critter is never out of my sight.

Do you have your own bed or does humom & hudad let you share theirs?

I have had my own bed since I choose my humans 4 years ago.  As much as I would love to cuddle in the bed with them I like my own space to stretch out and I don’t have to fight for the blankets.  Besides, no one snores in my bed ;)

You’re a lucky dog Edie.  What’s the hardest part of being a pug? 

Wow, that’s a difficult question!  The hardest part of being a pug is we can never have enough love and attention from our humans.  Oh, and we can never have enough treats ;)

How did you get started on having your own Twitter, Facebook, etc.?

Because I’m a very social pug, and I have so much to woof about, my humom helped me set up my own Twitter account just after my 2nd barkday.  And of course what’s a pug without a blog, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest account?

You certainly have a good heart and definitely help lots of people & animals.  Aside from helping out with the OSPCA, what else do you want to share with pets & people to make their lives better?

I don’t know that I can make pets or human’s lives better, but if I can make someone smile than that’s all that really matters.

Do you have other goals you hope to accomplish?

Edie,Royal Canin Canada ambassador

Edie,Royal Canin Canada ambassador

-Finding a way to get the treats from the top of the fridge

-More car rides – preferably to the pet store to get more toys

-Meeting and making new friends

-Having my pug face on the Royal Canin food bag

-Becoming the first Telus pug critter

Those are some great goals; I hope you reach them!  Thank you for joining me Edie!  I certainly learned a lot and I hope so did my readers.  Thanks for joining us everyone.  Be sure to visit back next week when Edie turns the tables and puts me in the hot seat with some questions of her own!  In the meantime, check out Edie’s blog and see how awesome the world is from her viewpoint.

Disclaimer: All blog posts are personally written and my opinion (excluding Edie’s answers) and do not reflect those of current or former employers.

Don’t forget to check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and now Pinterest! Also on the right side here you can subscribe to my blogs so you always get the latest post delivered to you!


Euthanasia – A Gift for Animals but Not People

I don’t always stick to strictly animal topics.  Today, we look at a recent topic in the news from the human side.  Don’t worry, next week we’ll get back to animals and something fun; I promise.

Euthanasia – A Gift for Animals but Not People

Recently, the Canadian Supreme Court reached a landmark decision to reverse a law allowing people to have access to physician assisted death in specific cases.  The current law will become invalid in 1 year.  A few places around the world such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the states of Oregon, Montana, & New Jersey (to name a few) already have laws in place to allow such end of life decisions for people. Belgium even allows for euthanasia of a person.

Coming to such a decision to humanely euthanize a pet has been a gift for people and the affected animal for many years.  I have unfortunately been witness to pets being carried along for too long with owners living in denial.  I remember one cat from 6-7 years ago (from my time in Florida) that I diagnosed with end stage liver failure.  This sweet cat would come in 1-2 times a week to have fluid removed from his belly just to help him feel comfortable and be able to breathe.  The owner was unwilling or unable to afford more intense or beneficial therapy but she refused to euthanize her sweet boy.  Some people might say I should have refused to do anything but that hardly seems humane.  Despite all my efforts to discuss the quality of life with this owner, they refused euthanasia and sadly this cat passed away one day on his way to the hospital from trouble breathing.


I’ve seen how perceptive animals are.  If the tables were turned, I think they would make the decisions to let us go if they felt our suffering was too great.  Personally, both of my grandfathers lay helplessly in their hospital beds in their final days.  Yes, surrounded by family who loved them but all of us being powerless to ease their pain.  Hopefully the recent decision by the courts here will allow people to decide the same for terminally ill human patients as we do for our pets.  I encourage everyone reading this to contact your member of Parliament (or your Representative/Senator if you’re in the USA) and ask them to support new laws showing this kindness towards people.  Some of you may not agree, but I see myself in the unique position as a veterinarian that I know what a blessing it can be to relieve suffering in my patients so I feel my position is warranted.  Whether you agree or not, I’m open to civil discussion in the comments below.

For more information, in Canada, you can visit the organization Dying With Dignity Canada on their webpage or Facebook.

Disclaimer: All blog posts are personally written and my opinion and do not reflect those of current or former employers.

Don’t forget to check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and now Pinterest! Also on the right side here you can subscribe to my blogs so you always get the latest post delivered to you!  And as I mentioned earlier, next week we’ll be back to animals and something more fun & light-hearted!

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