Cutting Through Some Of The Hype In The Dog Food Market

Pet food

At times, I can only shake my head at some of the print, television and on-line marketing that I see from those peddling dog foods.  There has always been a fair amount of the “we’re better than them” advertising in this, but I believe that the digital age has brought the dog food market competition to another level.  Not only do corporate manufacturers push the envelope in their opinions, but bloggers (many uncredentialed) jump in the fray as well.  An unfortunate outcome is that a consumer may respond to the last, loud voice that they heard prior to purchase.  Today I’ll tone it down to a hopefully rational discussion of how to choose a good dog food.  Keep in mind, I have no affiliation with any particular dog food brand.


First, let’s talk about the all-meat and raw diet market.  Recently I visited family in Charlotte and walked into a local pet store.  The total concept of their food stock could be summed up in two words that really don’t match up well:  natural and meaty.  Along with a freezer that they stocked with raw meat products, this store (I kid you not) carried the following dog food brands:  “Call of the Wild”, “Wild at Heart”, Taste of the Wild”, “Primal”, “Precise Naturals”, “Natural Balance” and “Origins”.   Why can’t anyone simply say “it’s a well-balanced dog food” rather than naming the food after one of the two-word current dog food trends?  Sure, a meat protein is nice to be included in a dog food, but we’ll sum up more of that in the food allergy discussion.


The anti-grain trend is another bandwagon that many dog food manufacturers have jumped on.  Bloggers just about outright claim that wheat, corn, rice and barley are the root of all evil because they cause all the skin allergies.  While it is true that a dog that has been allergy tested might react to a given grain, these are not proteins.  Protein sources are the majority of what dogs test positively for when testing is done.  And the big clincher?  According to most veterinary dermatologists, only 15-20 percent of all dog allergies originate from food.  My personal opinion is that many “people” consumers relate to the anti-grain (particularly wheat) trends from their own diets, and want their dogs treated similarly.


The “we’re the best dog food for every dog” mentality simply won’t wash.  Dr. Andy Roark, a veterinarian with his own on-line blog, states this very well, when he shares that in search of the best dog food for our pets we may avoid certain allergies, but run headlong into others by trial and error.  For example, a dog allergic to pork and beef may not benefit from switching off a food (that he or she may be doing well on) that contained chicken and egad-grains.  So, the bottom-line answer is that the best dog food for your dog is the one that they thrive on well.  Allergy talk aside (see your vet for this), there are many other attributes we use to judge dog food compatibility.  Hydrolyzed proteins ae also a popular option when clients of mine opt out on allergy testing.  A dog’s body will not respond with an allergic response from hydrolyzed proteins the way they would normally respond to a conventional protein source in their diet.


My simple questions amount to this:  Does your dog like the taste?  How is the skin coat, musculature and other subjective observations about your dog going?  And finally, how is it coming out the exhaust pipe?  If these all have affirmative responses, keep calm and keep feeding what you’re feeding.


Dr. Chris Duke

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Feeding Your Older Cat

Rear view od senior man sitting on the bench in the park with tabby cat on his shoulder

Cats: They’re notoriously mysterious. They hide their illnesses well, often rule the home, and only want affection when they’re in the mood for it. Some cat breeds have average lifespans of nearly 20 years, while others might only live for 10. Most cats will begin to show visible age-related changes between 7 and 12 years of age. There are metabolic, immunologic, and body composition changes, too.


While some age-related changes are unavoidable, some can be managed with diet. It’s beneficial to start your cat on a senior diet at about 7 years old. Why? Foods specifically designed for senior cats help to maintain health and optimum body weight, slow or prevent the development of chronic disease, and minimize or improve clinical signs of diseases that may already be present.
As your cat ages, he or she will be more susceptible to particular health issues, including:

  • Deterioration of skin and coat
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • More frequent intestinal problems
  • Arthritis
  • Obesity
  • Dental problems
  • Decreased ability to fight off infection

Just like humans, cats who receive regular preventive health care and eat healthy diets will be less likely to suffer from age-related health conditions. Not sure what to feed your feline to help him or her age gracefully? Ask us—we’d be happy to help.

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What’s The Best Dog In America? An Update

group of dogs is looking up

Here’s the one you’ve been waiting for!  That pooch over there on his or her bed, or maybe the one out in the yard is set to get his or her due.  After all, how can mine not be #1, right? But before we open the envelope on the #1 dog breed in America, perhaps we need a few qualifiers:


First of all, there is a profound difference between the most popular dog breed in America, and the “best breed”.  It never ceases to amaze me that when folks lose their beloved dog, when they are in the market for a replacement, what do they most likely choose?  That’s right, the breed that they love so much.  To that individual or family, they have a “best breed” in mind.  It always warms my heart to see folks return with a new puppy after a loss of their previous dog with us.


Back to the topic: Recently, the AKC listed its m popular breeds in America, and I’ll announce them in order, followed by a caveat.  According to the AKC, the #1 breed was the Labrador retriever, followed by the German shepherd, the golden retriever, the bulldog, and the beagle.  I could keep going, but you get the gist of the top five here.  My caveat?  The most “owned” breed in America is the mixed breed of dog-and that’s I think kind of cool.  The AKC just doesn’t track them!


The Labrador retrievers aren’t just Johnnie-come-latelies to the list.  This is the 25th consecutive year that they have topped the list.  They were the #1 dog in 28 of the 50 states.  Now I didn’t vote in this contest, and I would have recused myself if asked, because my “Jake” and “Flo” represent the chocolate and black sub-breeds of Labradors in this discussion.  But frankly, from a Chihuahua to a Mastiff, I see them all in my practice and love them all.


So what is your favorite breed?  That is a different question altogether, isn’t it?  Years ago news commentator Paul Harvey had such a contest question where he posed the question:  What’s the best town in America?  The trick answer was “you’re living in it”.  Mr. Harvey respected the personal opinion of one who loved the sense of community they were familiar with.


Using that same logic, what’s the best dog breed in America?  That’s right, the one or ones you have!


Dr. Chris Duke

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Tips for a Safe Memorial Day Trip with your Pet

Man and dog traveling by car

Are you one of the millions of people who will hit the road over the long Memorial Day weekend? The American Red Cross wants everyone to have a safe trip and has some travel safety steps everyone can follow to help them enjoy their trip.

DRIVE SAFELY With more people on the roads, it’s important to drive safely. Be well rested and alert, use your seat belts, observe speed limits and follow the rules of the road. If you plan on drinking alcohol, designate a driver who won’t drink.

Other tips for a safe trip include:

  1. Give your full attention to the road. Avoid distractions such as cell phones.
  2. Use caution in work zones. There are lots of construction projects underway on the highways.
  3. Don’t follow other vehicles too closely.
  4. Make frequent stops.
  5. Clean your vehicle’s lights and windows to help you see, especially at night.
  6. Turn your headlights on as dusk approaches, or during inclement weather.
  7. Don’t overdrive your headlights.
  8. Don’t let your vehicle’s gas tank get too low. If you have car trouble, pull as far as possible off the highway.
  9. Carry a Disaster Supplies Kitin your trunk.
  10. Let someone know where you are going, your route and when you expect to get there. If your car gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along your predetermined route.



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What Motivates Dogs To Bark?


The Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2015; 10(3): 204-209) published the results of their study, mainly addressed at “nuisance barking” in dogs.  It was re-published in the February, 2016 Clinicians for practicing veterinarians.  I kind of questioned use of “nuisance barking”, because as a veterinarian I always want to have a pat answer to a situation, and never broad brush such a thing as a dog bark as something in the nuisance category.  After all, the bark is the way dogs outwardly communicate, right?  They’re trying to tell us something!


Before reading the body of this article, I mentally composed my own list of why dogs bark.  I came up with these:  Time to get fed, time to go out and use the potty, there’s someone at the door, I or someone here needs help, there are other dogs barking in the neighborhood-so I chimed in, there is a (fill in the blank)-rabbit, raccoon, armadillo, cat, person, strange dog or other living thing in my yard, or simply “I need attention”.  You may have your own submission, and that’s great.  Sometimes, yes my “Jake and Flo” barking at two am is a nuisance, but once again, there’s usually a reason.


Back to the article.  In this pilot study, 25 dogs reported to be nuisance barkers were fitted with bark-counter collars.  Their owners not only tracked the barks, but filled out a questionnaire at the end of the seven-day study.  What were some of the findings in the study?


-Of these dogs, barks per hour ranged from 10 to 500 per hour.  Yes-that’s 500.

-64 % of these dogs barked more when their owners were absent.

-In four of the 25 dogs, a repeating stimulus caused barking at the same time every day.

-The number of dogs in a given neighborhood did count.  Barking increased when more dogs were in a given region.

-Those dogs that had received behavioral training did bark less overall.

-There was no correlation between barking frequency and exercise levels, age, or hours spent alone.

-Patterns correlating to boredom or separation anxiety were not significant.


That last point was surprising to me.  This study disputed the long-held belief that most dogs only bark for a 10-15-minute window after an owner leaves because of separation anxiety or boredom.   This study showed that nuisance barking can be triggered by various environmental stimuli.


So why is this study relevant to veterinarians and pet owners?  Once aware of underlying causes, perhaps we can see less animal surrenders, therefore keeping more dogs in homes, and in turn strengthening the human-animal bond.


Dr. Chris Duke

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Five Dental Problems In Dogs That We Deem Emergencies


It makes sense.  Teeth are too important to overlook.  If the mouth has a major issue and a dog can’t eat, then the rest of the dog can’t be nourished, right?  Over the past two weeks I’ve had three of these top five emergencies (according to Clinician’s Brief) that I personally dealt with in dogs.  To be fair, I’ll touch on all five on their list.  By the way-my three thus far have happy endings.


#1:  Hard tissue trauma: That’s where either the mandible or maxilla have a structural dislocation, whereas either lower or upper parts of the mouth can’t allow for proper prehention or chewing of food.  A recent case of mine had ben in a dog fight and three teeth on the upper arcade were actually flipped up 90 degrees, so that they were “coming straight out atcha!”  We repositioned the upper arcade to its rightful position quickly.


#2:  Soft tissue trauma:  This could mean the gums or the tongue.  Tongues that get traumatized (like cut or sliced) require immediate surgery-and man can they bleed because of their vascularity!  Recently I had a case where due to an automobile encounter, the chin was actually pulled away from the tongue on a small dog.  We had to re-build the chin, which wasn’t easy working against gravity during the healing phase.


#3:  Tooth fractures or avulsions:  Every person knows what pain a broken tooth can cause, as due to an injury the pulp is exposed.  This pulp exposure also can lead to infection and eventual tooth loss if not treated promptly.  Whether root canal or extraction is opted for, the key eventually is for patient comfort and functionality.  As for avulsions (teeth knocked sideways or backward), if the tooth is presented with a viable socket within a reasonable amount of time, many of these teeth may be straightened and preserved.


#4:  Inability to open the mouth:  This is obvious I know, but there usually is an underlying cause to why this happens.  Mysoitis of the masseter muscles can affect dogs as an autoimmune problem.  Abscesses can cause in the back of the mouth causing innervation issues due to pressure.  Cancers can interfere at times too.  Veterinarians often have to sedate these patients to get a good look at why things mechanically can’t work in a dog mouth.


#5:  Anorexia due to a deteriorating dental picture:  Yes, dental abscesses can get so severe that dogs can’t eat.  It is rare that I see pet owners on the fact that we need an “emergency dental intervention”, but there are times when it is necessary.  I’m not talking a little gingivitis or tartar buildup, but swollen, pus-pockets in and around the gum lines causing discomfort, dead tooth roots and even fever from systemic disease in some cases.  These are big in risk/reward, because when we get the dental situation restored, these dogs get back to being themselves rather quickly.  I just had one of these cases this past week.


If you ever have one of these five issues affecting your dog, see your vet as soon as possible.  After all, time is nutrition and health.


Dr. Chris Duke

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Easter Pet Poisons


The veterinarians at Pet Poison Helpline receive hundreds of calls this time of year from pet owners and veterinarians concerning cats that have ingested Easter lilies.

“Unbeknownst to many pet owners, Easter lilies are highly toxic to cats,” said Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS assistant director at Pet Poison Helpline. “All parts of the Easter lily plant are poisonous – the petals, the leaves, the stem and even the pollen. Cats that ingest as few as one or two leaves, or even a small amount of pollen while grooming their fur, can suffer severe kidney failure.”

In most situations, symptoms of poisoning will develop within six to 12 hours of exposure. Early signs include vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy and dehydration. Symptoms worsen as kidney failure develops. Some cats will experience disorientation, staggering and seizures.

“There is no effective antidote to counteract lily poisoning, so the sooner you can get your cat to the veterinarian, the better his chances of survival will be,” said Brutlag. “If you see your cat licking or eating any part of an Easter lily, call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline immediately. If left untreated, his chances of survival are low.”

Treatment includes inducing vomiting, administering drugs like activated charcoal (to bind the poison in the stomach and intestines), intravenous fluid therapy to flush out the kidneys, and monitoring of kidney function through blood testing. The prognosis and the cost – both financially and physically – to the pet owner and cat, are best when treated immediately.

There are several other types of lilies that are toxic to cats as well. They are of the Lilium and Hemerocallis species and commonly referred to as Tiger lilies, Day lilies and Asiatic lilies. Popular in many gardens and yards, they can also result in severe acute kidney failure. These lilies are commonly found in florist bouquets, so it is imperative to check for poisonous flowers before bringing bouquets into the household. Other types of lilies – such as the Peace, Peruvian and Calla lilies – are usually not a problem for cats and may cause only minor drooling.

Thankfully, lily poisoning does not occur in dogs or people. However, if a large amount is ingested, it can result in mild gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting and diarrhea.

Other Dangers to Pets at Easter Time

Pet Poison Helpline also receives calls concerning pets that have ingested Easter grass and chocolate.

Usually green or yellow in color, Easter grass is the fake grass that often accompanies Easter baskets. When your cat or dog ingests something “stringy” like Easter grass, it can become anchored around the base of the tongue or stomach, rendering it unable to pass through the intestines. It can result in a linear foreign body and cause severe damage to the intestinal tract, often requiring expensive abdominal surgery.

Lastly, during the week of Easter, calls to Pet Poison Helpline concerning dogs that have been poisoned by chocolate increase by nearly 200 percent. While the occasional chocolate chip in one cookie may not be an issue, certain types of chocolate are very toxic to dogs. In general, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the greater the danger. Baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate pose the biggest problem. The chemical toxicity is due to methylxanthines (a relative of caffeine) and results in vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, an abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, and possibly death. Other sources include chewable chocolate flavored multi-vitamins, baked goods, or chocolate-covered espresso beans. If you suspect that your dog ate chocolate, call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline immediately.

Spring is in the air and Easter is a wonderful holiday. Remember that your pets will be curious about new items you bring into your household like Easter lilies, Easter grass and chocolate. Keep them a safe distance away from your pets’ reach and enjoy the holiday and the season.



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5 Reasons to See a Vet

Reasons to See a Vet in Ocean Springs, MS

Does my pet REALLY need to see a vet? Many pet owners have asked themselves this question, either because their pet spends most of their time indoors or because they appear healthy. But the short and simple answer to this question is yes, and here are five reasons why, from the team at Bienville Animal Medical Center in Ocean Springs, MS.


Pet Dental Care

Does your pet have bad breath or excessive tartar buildup? If so, these may be signs of a dental problem, which means it’s time for a dental exam/cleaning. Left untreated, certain dental problems can result in pain, infection, and tooth loss. Bienville Animal Medical Center offers dental services to both treat and prevent dental problems in pets. These services include cleanings, extractions, and dental abscess procedures. With regular professional and at-home dental care, you can lower your pet’s risk of developing oral problems, including gum disease.


Comprehensive Wellness Exam

As you’ve probably heard, dogs and cats age about seven times faster than people do. These and other species can be masters at hiding their illnesses, so there could be a health issue that you may not even know about. These are just two of the many reasons we recommend that pets have a comprehensive wellness exam at least once a year. Annual exams are important for exotic pets with long lifespans, too, such as birds, since they may still be susceptible to illness or require diet changes as they age. During these visits, we can thoroughly examine your pet and provide treatment or other health recommendations if necessary.


Arthritis Treatment

Arthritis is one of the most common conditions seen in middle-aged and senior pets. Sometimes, even younger pets can experience arthritic issues. Without treatment, it can be quite painful and debilitating for a pet. If your pet has been suffering from arthritis, there are many safe, effective treatment options available at veterinary hospitals, including laser therapy, which we offer here at Bienville Animal Medical Center. By simply scheduling a visit to the vet, you can put an end to your pet’s arthritis pain.


Diagnostic Care

Some pets will eat just about anything, even that loose change under your couch cushions, or maybe even the batteries from your remote. Of course, pets can’t tell us why they’re hurting and may respond to discomfort by simply acting sluggish, which is why veterinarians often have to resort to diagnostic imaging services. These include digital radiography and ultrasonography, which allow for an internal examination to detect fractures, foreign bodies, and other conditions.


Parasite Prevention

Even if your pet spends most of their time indoors, they may still be at risk for certain parasitic diseases. Fleas can enter your home by hitching a ride on the soles of your shoes while mosquitoes can easily fly in for those few seconds your front door is open. This is why it’s so important to keep your pet on a year-round parasite prevention product, which you can purchase safely from a veterinarian, including Bienville Animal Medical Center. We can recommend the best product to meet your pet’s lifestyle.


If it’s been a while since your pet has seen a vet, or if you’re looking for a new vet, let us know by calling 228-872-1231. We’re always happy to meet new patients!


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Holiday Pet Safety Tips

Holiday Pet Safety Tips in Ocean Springs, MS

Just like Andy William sang it, the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year. Or at least it SHOULD be, but sometimes it can include some hazards for your four-legged friends if you’re not careful. Bienville Animal Medical Center in Ocean Springs, MS, wants to help keep your pet safe this holiday season, so we have created the following pet safety tips to do just that. We know the last thing you want is to spend the holidays in an emergency veterinary clinic, so if you keep these tips in mind, you and your pet can have a safe, happy holiday!

Holiday Gatherings

Planning a party at your home this year? If so, keep an eye on your pet if you leave them out around your guests, especially if any of your guests are children. Some children have a tendency to pull pets’ soft fur, which, of course, can leave both the pet and the child very unhappy. Let your guest know your house rules about pets on furniture and feeding table scraps, too. If your pet seems uneasy around your guests, or vice versa, it might be best to leave your dog or cat in a separate room or area of your home until the party’s over.

Christmas Decorations

That shiny tinsel and ribbon can add a nice sparkle and touch to a Christmas tree or gift, but before you use these items, think about your pet. Some pets—especially cats—are drawn to these sparkly, stringy decorations and are known to even eat them. But if a pet does ingest tinsel, ribbon, or any other stringy item, it can result in intestinal blockage, which can only be treated with surgery. Other decorations that can be hazardous to pets include Christmas lights, glass ornaments, and poinsettias. So either keep these decorations out of your pet’s reach or simply avoid using them altogether.

Table Food Do’s and Don’ts

We know those big puppy-dog eyes and that soft chin on your lap can be hard to resist at the dinner table. But before you throw your dog some scraps, make sure you know which foods are safe and which one aren’t. On the “naughty” list are any foods that contain chocolate, raisins, macadamia nuts, grapes, onions, or the sugar substitute xylitol. These foods are toxic to pets and can result in a number of symptoms, including diarrhea and vomiting. On the “nice” list are cooked white turkey or chicken (no skin or bones), green beans, and chopped apples and carrots. These foods provide a number of health benefits for your pet. Just be sure not to limit the quantity.

Feel free to give us a call Bienville Animal Medical Center at 228-872-1231 if you have any questions about these pet holiday tips or if you need to schedule an appointment for your pet.

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Pets as Holiday Presents

A dachshund puppy for Christmas!

Sometimes it may seem like a cute idea to give someone a pet as a Christmas present, but it’s important to give that some extra thought before you do it. Most pets that are given up lose their home because their owner loses interest in them or is unprepared for the responsibility of pet ownership. This is a huge problem seen among pet owners who receive their pets as “gifts.” Children especially are given the mistaken idea that pets are all fun and games, but they are not fully ready to take on the responsibility of feeding, walking, cleaning, and training their pet.

Instead of giving pets as presents, we recommend getting acclimated to the idea of bringing a new pet into your home. Bringing your children to volunteer at an animal shelter or babysitting the pet of a friend or family member can help. Children and potential pet owners (no matter their age!) need to be reminded that pets aren’t just cute; they are also hungry, need to exercise, and need to use the bathroom. They can be messy when they aren’t fully trained, and the training process can be difficult too.

Please, don’t adopt until everyone in your family is READY.

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