Saturday, April 28, 2007

Dogs on TV

Don't forget to watch part 2 tomorrow night of the Nature series Dogs That Changed the World. The show is getting a lot of play because, well, after all, they are our best friends. Rick Kushman of the Houston Chronicle, who proudly proclaims himself a dog guy, calls it a solid hour of dog charisma. In the New York Times, Susan Stewart focuses on the diversity of dogs, alluding to them as freaks of nature and at times even grotesque, thanks to human manipulation. "As a lesson in genetics, 'Dogs' is far more entertaining and peculiar than Gregor Mendel's peas ever hoped to be," she writes. The LA Times' Paul Brownfield notes, along with Stewart and Kushner, that what probably separated the wolf from the proto-dog was willingness to approach human settlements in search of food--garbage, that is, a theory espoused by Hampshire College professor Ray Coppinger. I first reported on this theory in an article on the history of the dog-human bond, which appeared in the October 2000 AKC Gazette. "Dog's first job, and one for which he is still well known, was a combination of waste management and security system," I wrote. Huh. Sort of like The Sopranos. Only cuddlier.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Cool Pet News

Dog gone? Contact the K-9 Amber Alert and let people across the country know to keep an eye out for your missing mutt. The e-mail list posts notices about dogs that have escaped from yards, gotten lost during a vacation trip or that have been stolen from yards, homes or dog shows. Photos can be uploaded to the list as well. Click here for the URL.

Marley and Me faces competition. The life story of Dewey, a beloved library cat in a small town in Iowa, has just sold for $1.25 million to Grand Central Publishing. Dewey died last November, but his tale lives on.

A suppressor gene has been identified as the reason for the amazing plasticity in dog size. Dogs are the only species to produce adults with a 100-fold range in size, from the 2-pound Chihuahua to the 2oo-pound Neapolitan mastiff. The only difference between the two, according to a study published in the journal Science, is a tiny bit of DNA that suppresses the "insulin-like growth factor 1" gene. Elaine A. Ostrander, whom I've interviewed and heard speak previously, says the same gene suppressor is found in mice and humans. Ostrander is chief of cancer genetics at the National Human Genome Research Institute and says knowledge of the gene will be beneficial in cancer research.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Pooches and Purses

On Sunday we did our Laguna walk, which I'm not going to tell you about because I'm too selfish to give away the secret of where one can find beach parking on a weekend. When we reached Main Beach, Jerry was craving fries and I a burger, so we went to Brussels Bistro, one of our favorite places. It's the perfect combination of Europe and California. We sat on the patio, which is below street level. That gave us a good view of all the dogs walking by. At the street level bar, two girls sat, each with a Chihuahua decked out in pink Puppia harnesses and pink Doggles. They were a smash. Tourists stopped to take their picture, and little kids begged to pet them. I've never really figured out the purpose of Puppias except as decoration. Cavalier people like them, too; I frequently see Cavaliers in our play group wearing them. Bella and Twyla are deprived, though; all they get to wear are collars. I'm pretty sure that secretly they're relieved. Bella's breeder asked me once if the girls had Coach collars. I said no, I figured it was enough for them that I had a Coach purse. Okay, four. I can live without designer jeans, but I do love shoes and purses. In a recent Google search for more information on the purse museum in Amsterdam, I ran across a purse blog that included reviews of, what else, designer dog carriers. Nope, the girls aren't getting one of those, either. They already have three colors of the original dog carrier: the Sherpa bag. And besides, they wouldn't trade their visits to Three Dog Bakery for designer anything.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

What's Old Is New Again

Back before pet foods became commercialized, people primarily fed dogs cheap horse meat and table scraps. Royal dogs didn't actually fare all that well. Prince Albert's greyhound, Eos, was fed only pate de foie gras and fresh unsalted butter. Clearly that wasn't a suitable diet for dogs, as Eos died suddenly, no doubt from the canine equivalent of gout. Prince Albert preferred to blame it on a scullery maid who gave Eos salted butter one day.

Commercial pet foods came along in the mid-19th century, accompanying the rise in status of the dog as a family pet. A little over 100 years later, pet food companies had all but done away with home feeding of pets. They performed or financed all of the research into pet nutrition and funded the teaching of nutrition at veterinary schools, emphasizing the importance of a steady commercial diet with little variety. There's no doubt that some of the commercial foods available today are way better for pets than a steady diet of foie gras or table scraps (especially given today's high-fat human diets).

But in the wake of last month's massive pet food recall, with hundreds and ultimately perhaps even thousands of cats and dogs sick or dead from contaminated pet food, people are returning to homemade diets. Despite the dire warnings of pet food manufacturers, it is possible to make a nutritious food for cats and dogs at home. They do have special needs--they won't thrive on Mickey D's or the leftovers from your local taco joint--but mixing up your own dog or cat food according to a veterinary nutritionist-approved recipe gives you the satisfaction of knowing exactly where your pet's food came from and what's in it.

Here's one of the most important things you need to know if you're planning to make food for your cat:

Cats are obligate carnivores. That means they must have meat in their diet. Even if your kitty likes to nibble grass, she can't survive on a vegetarian diet.

Here are some good resources for homemade cat and dog food:

The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care, C.J. Puotinen

The Nature of Animal Healing, Martin Goldstein, DVM

Natural Cat Care, Celeste Yarnall

Natural Dog Care, Celeste Yarnall

Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, 3rd edition, Richard Pitcairn, DVM

Keep Your Cat Healthy the Natural Way by Pat Lazarus

Real Food for Dogs, Arden Moore

Whole Pet Diet, Andi Brown

Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative, Donald Strombeck, DVM, Ph.D.

8 Weeks To A Healthy Dog, Shawn Messonnier, DVM

These aren't in any particular order. They're either written by people I know and trust or they're recommended by people I know and trust.

You can also have your pet food recipe evaluated by the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, for a fee. Your veterinarian must refer you; you can't just send them a sample and a check.

If you'd still prefer to feed your pet a commercial diet, take a look at my MSNBC article on what to know about choosing a pet food. I say in the article that pet food labels are easily manipulated, but I'll say it again here. It's good if some kind of named meat (chicken, turkey, lamb) is the first ingredient and it's good for a food to list other meat or dairy proteins later on the label (chicken meal, chicken livers, eggs, cheese, fish meal, etc.), but if the food also contains several mentions of grains--for instance, wheat, wheat middlings, wheat meal or rice, rice bran, and some other form of rice--then more than likely the food contains more grain than meat and isn't a high-quality choice.

Finally, the most important information on the pet food label is the manufacturer's contact information. Write or call and ask whatever you want to know about the food (see my article for suggestions). If you don't like the answers you get, try another company and another until you get answers that satisfy you. Your pet's health and longevity are at stake.