health & diet
As more dogs are diagnosed with cancer and allergies, I can't stress enough avoiding processed foods. I have included some great links to valuable information regarding raw diets. For those of you that live in the greater Columbus area, I have included a meat source as well.
First let me preface this section by saying you should do what you feel comfortable with when it comes to the health of your pet. This is our stance on vaccinations based on research and experience. I have had dogs that have never been to the vet after their first year for anything more than a rabies booster and have lived 10+ years without issues. Our goal is long term health and well-being of our dogs. We take all necessary precautions to make sure we are doing the best we can to provide them everything they need to thrive and maintain a healthy immune system.
When it comes to vaccines, most vet’s are trained to believe that they must be done annually. We have always been a proponent of completing the normal set schedule of puppy vaccines along with rabies. After these vaccines, we discontinue any further vaccines, titer test our dogs every 3 years, and only vaccinate if deemed necessary. Your dog’s vaccines in MOST cases are good for 7 years (at minimum) in a healthy animal. Yearly vaccines are not necessary and there is absolutely NO scientific evidence, or literature behind the need for yearly vaccines. For those who wish to vaccinate less and decrease the risk of vaccine related diseases, it’s important to understand what vaccines are available for your dog and the risks and benefits of each.
Note: Rabies vaccine is required by law in most states and we do recommend regularly completing the rabies vaccine to comply with local by-law enforcement.
Before subscribing to the general practice of a routine vaccination program, make sure you’re both aware of the duration of immunity of those vaccines and the potentially lethal consequences of giving just one vaccine too many.
When it comes to immunity and duration of immunity for vaccines, there is one clear expert.
Dr Ronald D Schultz is one of perhaps three or four researchers doing challenge studies on veterinary vaccines – and he’s been doing these studies for 40 years.
In fact, it’s Dr Schultz’s work that prompted the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) and AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) to re-evaluate vaccine schedules.
In 2003, The American Animal Hospital Association Canine Vaccine Taskforce warned vets in JAAHA (39 March/April 2003) that:
‘Misunderstanding, misinformation and the conservative nature of our profession have largely slowed adoption of protocols advocating decreased frequency of vaccination’; ‘Immunological memory provides durations of immunity for core infectious diseases that far exceed the traditional recommendations for annual vaccination.’
‘This is supported by a growing body of veterinary information as well-developed epidemiological vigilance in human medicine that indicates immunity induced by vaccination is extremely long lasting and, in most cases, lifelong.’
"The recommendation for annual re-vaccination is a practice that was officially started in 1978." says Dr Schultz.
"This recommendation was made without any scientific validation of the need to booster immunity so frequently. In fact the presence of good humeral antibody levels blocks the anamnestic response to vaccine boosters just as maternal antibody blocks the response in some young animals."
He adds: "The patient receives no benefit and may be placed at serious risk when an unnecessary vaccine is given. Few or no scientific studies have demonstrated a need for cats or dogs to be re-vaccinated."
Below is the result of duration of immunity testing on over 1,000 dogs and on every major vaccine.
Both challenge (exposure to the real virus) and serology (antibody titer results) are shown on below.
Dr Schultz explains "It is important to understand that these are minimum DOI’s and longer studies have not been done with certain of the above products. It is possible that some or all of these products will provide lifelong immunity."
Dr Schultz has seen these results repeated over the years. In 2010, he published the following with newer generation, recombinant vaccines. It is important to note that not only did the vaccines provide protection for a minimum of 4 to 5 years, it did so in 100% of the dogs tested.
Why is it important to understand Dr Schultz’s work?
Because vaccines can create very real health problems in dogs. It’s important that vaccines are only given when necessary because every vaccine has the potential to kill the patient or create debilitating chronic diseases including cancer and allergies.
Below is a list of potential adverse vaccine reactions, according to Dr Schultz:
We understand vets are frightened because they’ve seen animals die and suffer from preventable disease, but it’s critical to start recognizing that vaccine-induced diseases are also deadly and preventable. Issues can develop over time and won’t always be apparent days, or hours, after the injection. It’s vital to understand we need to protect our dogs not just from infectious disease, but also from vaccine damage. We now have inexpensive in-house titer testing (Vaccicheck and TiterCHEK). Titer tests will determine whether your pet has responded to his vaccines and formed immunity. With in-house titer testing, there is never any reason to give your dog over the age of 16 weeks another vaccine without a negative titer test. Vets no longer have to guess at when to re-vaccinate.
Other Informative Links:
Early spay and neuter is a topic relatively gone unnoticed because it was thought to be in good practice for the best of the animal, owner, and society as a whole. It is very common for breeders to have contracts in place to ensure pet buyer’s neuter their dogs prior to 6 months old. The health of the dog is our priority well ahead of what may be in my personal best interest for everyone to fix their dogs early to avoid accidental breeding. Many veterinarians will push for you to spay, or neuter your pet around 6-8 months of age. Spaying and neutering removes the risk of some reproductive health issues, or accidental pregnancy, but it also brings on other liabilities. Reproductive organs aid in the healthy growth of bones and mental maturity. Most people don’t realize the irreversible long term effects by doing something that has always been associated with being a responsible pet owner. As more research and information has become available, it has been proven that there are more negative effects than positive. We strongly recommend to wait until 18 months of age at MINIMUM before spaying or neutering.
I Was Once a Huge Advocate of Spaying or Neutering Every Dog at an Early Age
By Dr. Becker
I started volunteering at an animal shelter when I was 13 years old. I started working there when I was 14. I cleaned cages. By the time I was 17, I had become certified as a euthanasia technician by the Iowa State College of Veterinary Medicine. The ten years I spent working at a kill shelter and the exposure to certain clients and cases in my veterinary practice over the years have taught me more than I ever wanted to know or could share in this video about abused, neglected, and unwanted pets.
When I first opened my animal hospital, I was so adamant about my clients spaying their female pets before the first heat cycle, that if they didn't follow my advice, I really became upset. I tried not to show it outwardly, but I suggested that those clients might be more ethically aligned with another veterinarian who didn't feel as strongly about the subject as I did.
That was my politically correct way of saying, "Maybe you should go to another vet," because I would literally lose sleep over having intact patients in my practice. I spayed and neutered thousands of my patients when they were very, very young, assuming I was completing my moral task as an ethical veterinarian.
Five Years into Private Practice, Many of My Canine Patients Began to Develop Endocrine Imbalances and Related Diseases
About five years after my practice opened, many of my patients started to develop endocrine issues. This was obviously very concerning to me, as these animals were not over-vaccinated. They were all eating biologically appropriate, fresh food diets.
The first light bulb went off in my head when I started researching why up to 90 percent of ferrets die of endocrine imbalance, specifically adrenal disease or Cushing's disease. Mass-bred ferrets that enter the pet trade are desexed at about three weeks of age. The theory behind why most ferrets develop endocrine imbalance is that juvenile desexing creates a sex hormone deficiency, which ultimately taxes the last remaining tissues of the body capable of producing a small amount of sex hormone – the adrenal glands. So I began to wonder… could the same phenomenon be happening with my dog patients?
By 2006, the number of dogs I was diagnosing with hypothyroidism was at an all-time high. Diagnosing low thyroid levels is very easy compared to the complex adrenal testing required to show that a dog has adrenal disease. I started to wonder if hypothyroidism was just a symptom of a deeper hormonal imbalance in many of my patients. Because even after we got those thyroid levels balanced, the dogs still didn't appear to be vibrantly healthy or entirely well.
I contacted Dr. Jack Oliver, who ran the University of Tennessee's adrenal lab, and posed my theory to him. I was stunned when he told me that indeed adrenal disease was occurring at epidemic proportions in dogs in the U.S. and was certainly tied to sex hormone imbalance. Now, whether veterinarians were testing and identifying the epidemic was a whole different story.
In a Flash of Recognition, I Knew My Insistence on Desexing All My Patients at a Young Age Had Created Serious Health Problems for Many of Them
At this point, I became overwhelmed with guilt. For many years, I insisted my clients follow my advice to spay or neuter their pets at or before six months of age. It hit me like a lightning bolt that I was making this suggestion not based on what was physiologically best for my patients, but rather what I felt was morally best for their owners.
As all of the patients that I desexed at a young age cycled through, many of them with irreversible metabolic diseases, I started apologizing to my clients. I apologized to my patients as well. Through my blanket recommendation that all pets be desexed because humans may be irresponsible with an intact animal, I had inadvertently made many of my patients very ill. As a doctor, this revelation was devastating.
I began changing my recommendations on spaying and neutering. I advised my clients to leave their pets intact. Now, you must realize my veterinary practice is filled with wildly committed owners. I am not dealing with uneducated, uncaring, or unreliable clients.
Of course, there were and are exceptions to my advice against desexing. But in general, my recommendation as a holistic vet is to perform any surgery – including spaying and neutering – only when it's a medical necessity and not an elective procedure.
I recently adopted a stray Dachshund who is intact, and I plan to leave him intact. I am an intact female myself. I am proud to say that I have not experienced a single unplanned pregnancy in my personal life or in my career at my practice as a holistic vet catering to thousands of intact animals.
Why I Believe Sterilization, Not Desexing, Is the Better Option
As a proactive veterinarian, I have dedicated my life to keeping animals well. I have learned and continue to learn the best ways to help pets stay healthy and the reasons disease occurs. I am also a holistically oriented vet, which means I view animals as a whole – not just a collection of body parts or symptoms.
I believe there is a purpose for each organ we are born with, and that organ systems are interdependent. I believe removing any organ – certainly including all the organs of reproduction – will have health consequences. It's inevitable. It's simply common sense.
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that desexing dogs, especially at an early age, can create health and behavior problems. When I use the term "desexing," I'm referring to the traditional spay and neuter surgery where all the sex hormone-secreting tissues are removed. When I use the term "sterilization," I'm referring to animals that can no longer reproduce, but maintain their sex hormone-secreting tissues.
In my view, I would not be fulfilling my obligation as an animal healthcare professional if I chose to ignore the scientific evidence and not pass it on to Healthy Pets readers and the clients at my practice who entrust me with the well being of their animals.
Health Issues Linked to Spaying and Neutering Dogs
Before I discuss some of the health issues now associated with desexing dogs, first let me point out that there are two medical conditions that actually can be totally eliminated by desexing: benign prostatic hypertrophy or BPH (enlarged prostate), and pyometra (a disease of the uterus). However, a wealth of information is mounting that preserving innate sex hormones, especially in the first years of life, may be beneficial to pets, whereas the risk of pyometra or BPH in an animal's first year of life is incredibly low.
Recent research has also discredited a couple of myths about the supposed benefits of early spays and neuters, including:
A study from the U.K. suggests there isn't much scientific evidence at all to support the idea that early spaying of female dogs decreases or eliminates future risk of mammary tumors or breast cancer. This has been a much promoted supposed benefit of early spays for decades. But as it turns out, it's based on theory rather than scientific evidence.
Similar to the situation with early spaying and mammary tumors, there's a common belief that neutering a male dog prevents prostate cancer. However, a small study conducted at Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine suggests that neutering – no matter the age – has no effect on the development of prostate cancer.
And now for some of the disorders and diseases linked to spaying/neutering:
Shortened lifespan. A study conducted and published in 2009 by the Gerald P. Murphy Cancer Foundation established a link between the age at which female Rottweilers are spayed and how long they live. Researchers compared long-lived Rotties that lived for 13 years or more with those who lived a normal lifespan of about 9 years. They discovered that while females live longer than males, removing the ovaries of female Rottweilers before five years of age evened the score. Females who kept their ovaries until at least 6 years of age were four times more likely to reach an exceptional age compared to Rotties who were spayed at a younger age.
I spayed my rescued Rottie, Isabelle, when I adopted her at seven years of age. She lived to be 17, and she was still unbelievably vibrant at 17. She slipped on the floor in a freak accident and became paralyzed, which ultimately led to her euthanasia. But she was the oldest and healthiest Rottweiler I have ever met.
With Isabelle, I provided literally no medical care because she didn't need it. Her body naturally thrived throughout her life. I fed her a balanced raw diet. I checked her bloodwork every six months, which was perfect until the day she died. Isabelle was a great example of a thriving pet that lived above the level of disease. I believe her sex hormones greatly contributed to her longevity and her abundantly healthy life.
Atypical Cushing's disease. It's my professional opinion that early spaying and neutering plays a role in the development of atypical Cushing's disease as well. Typical Cushing's means the middle layer of the adrenal gland is over-secreting cortisol. Atypical Cushing's involves the outer and innermost layers of the adrenal glands and occurs when other types of hormones are over-produced, usually estrogen and progesterone.
When a dog is spayed or neutered before puberty, the endocrine, glandular and hormonal systems have not yet fully developed. A complete removal of the gonads, resulting in stopping production of all the body's sex hormones (which is what happens during castration or the traditional spay), can force the adrenal glands to produce sex hormones because they're the only remaining tissue in the body that can secrete them.
Over time, the adrenal glands become taxed from doing their own work plus the work of the missing gonads. It's very difficult for these tiny little glands to keep up with the body's demand for sex hormones. This is the condition of atypical Cushing's. Hormone disruption is a central feature in Cushing's disease. Any substance or procedure that affects the body's hormonal balance should be absolutely evaluated as a potential root cause.
Cardiac tumors. A Veterinary Medical Database search of the years 1982 to 1985 revealed that in dogs with tumors of the heart, the relative risk for spayed females was over four times that of intact females. For the most common type of cardiac tumor, hemangiosarcoma, spayed females had a greater than five times risk vs. their intact counterparts. Neutered males had a slightly higher risk than intact males as well.
Bone cancer. In another Rottweiler study published 10 years ago for both males and females spayed or neutered before one year of age, there was a one in four lifetime risk of developing bone cancer. Desexed Rotties were significantly more likely to acquire the disease than intact dogs. In another study using the Veterinary Medical Database for 1980 to 1984, the risk of bone cancer in large-breed, purebred dogs increased two-fold for those dogs that were also desexed.
Abnormal bone growth and development. Studies done in the 1990s concluded dogs spayed or neutered under one year of age grew significantly taller than non-sterilized dogs or those dogs spayed or neutered after puberty. The earlier the spay or neuter procedure, the taller the dog. Research published in 2000 may explain why: it appears that the removal of estrogen-producing organs in immature dogs – both females and males – can cause growth plates to remain open. These animals continue to grow and wind up with abnormal growth patterns and bone structure. This results in irregular body proportions, possible cartilage issues, and joint conformation issues. (See why structure is important here.)
Higher rate of CCL ruptures. A study conducted at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center on cranial cruciate ligament injuries concluded that spayed and neutered dogs had a significantly higher incidence of rupture than their intact counterparts. While large-breed dogs had more CCL injuries, sterilized or desexed dogs of all breeds and sizes had an increased rupture rate.
Hip dysplasia. In a retrospective cohort study conducted at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, results showed that both male and female dogs sterilized at an early age were more prone to hip dysplasia.
Breed-specific effects of spay/neuter. A recent study conducted at the University of California Davis involving several hundred Golden Retrievers revealed that for the incidence of hip dysplasia, CCL tears, lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, and mast cell tumors, the rates were significantly higher in both males and females that were neutered or spayed compared with intact dogs.
Other health concerns. Early spaying or neutering is commonly associated with urinary incontinence in female dogs and has been linked to increased incidence of urethral sphincter incontinence in males.
A cohort study of shelter dogs conducted by the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University concluded that infectious diseases were more common in dogs that were spayed and neutered at under 24 weeks of age.
The AKC's Canine Health Foundation issued a report pointing to higher incidence of adverse reactions to vaccines in spayed and neutered dogs as well.
Among the reports and studies pointing to health concerns associated with early spaying and neutering, we also find mention of increased incidence of behavior problems, including noise phobias, fear behavior, aggression, and undesirable sexual behaviors.
Options to Traditional Spaying and Neutering
Veterinarians in the U.S. and Canada are trained only to spay and neuter, which is unfortunate since there are less invasive alternatives, such as tubal ligation, hysterectomy, and vasectomy. These techniques are quick and easy and certainly effective. In fact, commonly, once the technique is mastered, they're faster, less risky and potentially less costly than a full spay or neuter.
But unfortunately, nobody knows how to do them in this country. The reason they're hard to come by is because U.S. veterinary schools simply don't teach these alternative procedures. They've never had a reason to. And until pet owners start demanding sterilization options beyond spaying and neutering, the status quo will remain.
As author Ted Kerasote and I have discussed on numerous occasions, in many European countries, there are intact free-roaming dogs running about under voice control of their owners. When female dogs go into heat, owners simply manage the situation by removing them from group social events until their heat cycle is complete. They're kept at home, sequestered away from males. They're walked on a leash.
Ted tells the story of a British veterinarian he interviewed who said most of the requests he gets to neuter dogs come from U.S. and Canadian citizens who are living in London. Rather than immediately complying with the request, the veterinarian talks with the pet owner about the actual necessity to desex the dog. For example, if the dog is always on a leash and always under the owner's control, then how exactly would the dog become pregnant (or mate with a female) if it's constantly with the owner and never off leash? The veterinarian says that he rarely has a British pet owner request a spay or neuter procedure.
Most Americans can't even comprehend that it's possible to keep intact pet dogs and not have millions of litters of unwanted puppies. That's because we've been conditioned to believe that a responsible pet owner means spaying and neutering your dog. I was taught to believe the same thing -- that keeping an intact pet was considered irresponsible even if the owner is meticulously careful about not allowing the pet to breed.
Of course, our dependence on spaying and neutering as the only form of birth control is the result of generations of irresponsible pet owners and millions of unwanted dogs and cats that are killed annually in our animal shelters.
It is a vicious cycle, and it's a very frustrating cycle to witness. Irresponsible people need to have sterilized pets. No one's going to argue that point. Unfortunately, spaying and neutering responsible people's pets doesn't make irresponsible people any more responsible. They remain the root cause of the overpopulation crisis in this country.
My problem with the spaying and neutering issue is it's the only current solution to the overpopulation problem. We're not just halting the animal's ability to reproduce, we are also removing incredibly valuable sex hormone-secreting tissues like the ovaries and the testes. These organs serve a purpose.
We're slowly waking up to the fact that in our rush to spay or neuter every possible animal we can get our hands on – the younger, the better – we are creating health problems, sometimes life-threatening health problems, that are non-existent or significantly less prevalent in intact pets.