Book Review and Giveaway: One Good Dog by Susan Wilson

OneGoodDog

Today’s review is about a book with a d-o-g in it, but thankfully, Amber allows me to read them every one in a while.  I would have hated to miss One Good Dog.  In the tradition of Marley and Me and The Art of Racing in the Rain, this is a moving book about how a dog changes a human’s life for the better.

Adam March, a ruthless, self-made Boston millionnaire seems to have it all, living a picture perfect life, surrounded by wealth and privilege.   Then, in one instant, all of that changes, and he finds himself alone, unemployed, and doing community service in a homeless shelter.  Chance, a pit bull mix bred as a fighting dog, living in a dark and vicious world, takes a random moment to escape from his captors.  Human and dog come together, and as One Good Dog unfolds, both fight for a chance at a new life.  This is a tale of love, loyalty, new discoveries, and redemption, told from the point of view of Adam March, but also from the point of view of Chance, the former fighting dog.

Wilson masterfully lets Chance tell the story in his own words.  Some of the passages describing his fighting life are disturbing, but his gradual introduction to the world of being a pet dog is charming and touching.  I found this book hard to put down.  The narrative from the two different points of view was fascinating and added to the pace of the story.  You’ll find yourself routing for the initially extremely unlikeable character of Adam March and for the tough dog with the rough beginning.

Entertaining, moving, and heartwarming, fans of dog memoirs, or pet memoirs in general, will thoroughly enjoy this book.

I’m giving away one copy of this book to one lucky reader.  For a chance to win, please leave a comment telling me why you want to win this book .  For an extra chance to win, tweet about the giveaway or share on Facebook and post the link in a separate comment.  This giveaway ends Friday, April 30.

Amber’s Mewsings: Getting Used to My New Sister

I know you’ve all been waiting to hear how things are going at my house since the arrival of my new little sister Allegra last week.  Yup, she’s been here an entire week now.  Guess she’s here to stay.  The first couple of days, I was kind of thinking maybe she was just visiting, but oh well.  I’m starting to get used to her.  Mom is making sure that I get plenty of attention, and that really helps.  In fact, I’m writing this on the laptop – and I mean that literally.  I’m on top of Mom’s lap, and typing away on the computer.   It’s the best place in the world to be, and for now, it’s all mine.  Allegra is taking an after dinner nap in the chair across from us.  She hasn’t figured out how to be a lap kitty yet.  I know she will sooner or later, and then I’ll have to share again like I did with my sister Buckley, so I’m enjoying this while I can.  I’m showing Mom how much I love it with a huge purr while I’m writing this.

Anyway – it’s been interesting having this youngster around.  It doesn’t take much to amuse her.  In her world, everything is a toy, whether it’s the shadow on the wall, the reflection of a prism on the floor, or a Q-tip.  As you can see in the photo above, I’m exhausted from just watching her – always on the move, always running around.  Unfortunately, she actually thinks she can make friends with me by pouncing on me.  I think not!  I just hiss at her and if she gets really obnoxious, I swat at her.  Mom says she just wants to play and get to know me, but I have to tell you, she better find a less annoying approach to get on my good side.  For now, I’m focusing on making sure she knows I’m in charge – make no mistake about that!

I can tell that she’s starting to calm down a little, though.  The first few days, she was on the go constantly, exploring our house, playing with all the toys we have all over the house, and looking out the windows.  She’d barely slow down long enough for Mom to get in a pat or two. The last few days, she’s been more relaxed.  I think she’s finally starting to believe that this cool place is really her new home.  I know how she feels – I couldn’t believe it either when Mom first brought me here almost ten years ago.

There is one very annoying problem, though, and I sure hope Mom figures out a way to make it better.  I’m talking about feeding time.  Now mind you, I love my food, and I’m a hearty eater.  But I like to savor my meals and extend the pleasure by eating a third or half of it, and then come back a little while later to finish the rest.  Allegra has no culture whatsoever when it comes to meal time – she just inhales the kitten food Mom puts in front of her.  I’ve never seen a cat eat so fast!  The bad thing is that when she’s finished with her own dish, she goes after mine (not while I’m eating, though – at least she has more sense that that!).  Mom’s been trying to stay on top of things and puts my dish out of reach when I’m done with the first part of my meal, but it’s a problem when Mom can’t keep an eye on things. Like the other day, Mom went out for a while.  She said she’d be gone past our dinner time, so she fed fed us before she left.  What she doesn’t know is that the second she was out the door, Allegra went and finished everything that was left on my dish.  The nerve!

But all in all, it’s not so bad.  I can tell that Mom is already in love with Allegra, and that makes me happy for her.  I know Mom’s heart is big enough to love both of us.  I think once Allegra settles down a little bit more, and once she understands that I’m in charge, no if’s, and’s or but’s, I’m going to like having her for my little sister.  I know I have a lot to teach her, and I’m not just talking about manners.

Free Teleseminar April 22 – Ask the Vet with Fern Crist, DVM

Join us for our first “Ask the Vet” Teleseminar
on Thursday, April 22 at 8:00pm Eastern

On Thursday, April 22, at 8pm Eastern Daylight Time, we will launch our first Ask the Vet teleseminar with Dr. Fern Crist.  You already know Dr. Crist from the pages of Buckley’s Story and from some of Amber’s Mewsings – this will be your chance to get to know her better and get your cat health questions answered.  Dr. Crist has been practicing veterinary medicine since 1982, and has been working exclusively with cats since 1993.  She served on the board of the American Association of Feline Practitioners.  Dr. Crist is married with five children, two of which are not fuzzy.

The seminar is free, but long distance phone charges may apply.  To participate in the conference, dial 1-712-432-3100.  When prompted, enter conference code 674470.

How to Read a Pet Food Label

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I’ve previously written about the foods I recommend based on what an obligate carnivore like the cat needs to thrive. In general, the progression from most desirable to least desirable is a raw food diet (either commercial or homemade), a home cooked whole food diet, grain-free canned food, and, if cost is a consideration, any canned food.  I do not recommend any dry food for cats (read The Truth About Dry Cat Food for more  on why this dry food is not a good choice). But even within these parameters, the available options can be overwhelming.  Pet food labels should be a useful tool to help pet owners decide which foods to select. Unfortunately, unless you know how to interpret the often confusing information on the labels, they may only add to the confusion.

Pet food packaging is all about marketing

Pet food packaging is all about marketing. Our pets couldn’t care less what container their food comes in, or whether it has cute pictures of kittens and puppies on it.  They don’t care about pretty label and brand colors, but you can bet that pet food companies spend major marketing dollars on determining which colors appeal to pet owners. Don’t let  pet foods labelled as “natural” mislead you – just because the label has the word “natural” and pictures of wholesome vegetables and grains on it does not necessarily make it so. The only way you can be sure to understand what’s in a food is by reading the label.  Here are some things to look for:

Ingredients 

Pet food manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order; in other words, the most predominant ingredient has to be listed first. Look for meat based proteins as the main ingredient. Avoid anything that lists corn or soy and their by-products – these two ingredients are some of the prime culprits for causing allergies in pets. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a food is good for your pet because it lists ingredients such as peas, carrots, cranberries, blueberries and the like. Pets don’t really need these ingredients to thrive, but they make for good marketing to the pet’s human. They can be a source of antioxidants and vitamins, but in many foods, the amounts are not significant enough to make a difference.

Guaranteed Analysis

Manufacturers are required to list basic nutrient percentages on the label. Typically, this portion of the label will list crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, moisture, and ash content. Note that there is no listing for carbohydrates on food labels, which is a very important consideration when it comes to feeding cats, who are obligate carnivores. However, it is not difficult to calculate approximate carbohydrate contents. Simply add all of the listed nutrients and subtract the total from 100% – this will give you a fairly accurate number.

AAFCO Statement

This is probably the most misunderstood item on pet food labels.  AAFCO, the American Association of Feed Control Officials, is the organization which is charged with establishing and enforcing animal feed requirements across all fifty state governments. Its primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of feed for human food producing livestock. The AAFCO statement on most pet food labels indicates that the food has been tested and approved as “complete and balanced for the life of a pet.”  This is sadly misleading. The tests are conducted on very small groups of animals and for very short periods of time. The only real long-term tests of pet food happen when pet owners feed these diets to their own pets!

Just like selecting food for yourself and your human family members, choosing healthy food for your pets comes down to educating yourself, reading labels, and not falling for marketing hype. Your pets will thank you for it.

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Amber’s Mewsings: Training My New Sister

So you already know from Mom that we have a new baby in the house.  I could tell something was up when Mom came home one day last week and she was all excited and said something about a kitten and then she let me smell her hands and there was kitten scent all over them.  I didn’t think anything of it until she kept telling me that we were going to get a new family member.  She really tried to prepare me, I’ll give her that.  It’s been over a year now since my sister Buckley passed on, and I kind of liked being the only cat again and having Mom’s undivided attention.  Sure, it got lonely sometimes, but Mom is home a lot, and when she’s not, I sleep most of the time anyway.

But apparently Mom had made up her mind, and on Tuesday, she brought Allegra home.  At first, I couldn’t believe it.  I really wasn’t thrilled, and I made sure that both Mom and this new interloper knew it.  I may be totally sweet most of the time, but I can hiss and growl with the best of them.  Besides, I have to make sure this little whippersnapper knows who’s in charge around here!  The first day, I pretty much just stayed  away from Allegra, and watched her from a safe distance.  If she came too close, I gave her a warning growl or hiss.  A couple of times, she pushed her luck, and I had to smack her upside the head.   I know Mom was upset, she knew I wasn’t happy and she hated that her decision to bring Allegra home was the reason for it.  I tried to tell her that I understood she didn’t do it to upset me, I knew she couldn’t help herself, but it was not a happy day.  That evening, I was relieved when Mom took me to bed with her.  That’s our time together, we always snuggle at night, and I was really glad that even having a new baby in the house wasn’t going to change that.  I stayed snuggled up against Mom all night long, and that felt really nice, like old times.

Unfortunately, when I woke up the next morning, the little pipsqueak was still here.  I hadn’t just dreamed the whole thing.  The day didnt start out so great.  I was minding my own business, heading down the stairs to use the litterbox downstairs hoping for some privacy when the little stinker attacked me from behind.  Boy, was I mad!  I swatted and hissed at her.   Thankfully, the day got better as it went on.  I continued to keep a close eye on her, and it was actually kind of fun to watch her get used to our house.  She’s fascinated with windows.  I guess I’ve gotten kind of blasé about them, taking our backyard views of birds and squirrels for granted, but I still remember what it was like when I first came here.  It was almost overwhelming – so many windows to look out from, so many soft places to sit, it’s hard to know where to start, and I was an adult at the time and much smarter, not a little kitten like Allegra.

Anyway, I relaxed a little bit more, and as a result, I could feel Mom relaxing, too.  She really worries about me, and I love her for it.  And then something really fun happened – a big box arrived, and when Mom opened it, I realized that it was filled with cans of cat food!  So I had to go check it out.  When Allegra joined me, it didn’t even bother me, and we both helped Mom unpack the food.  Good to know that Allegra and I have that in common – we both love our food!

The last two nights, Allegra even slept in our bed with us for part of the night.  At first I wasn’t crazy about it, but I was safely curled up in Mom’s arms, and as long as I get to do that, all is well with my world, and I guess I can be big-hearted enough to allow this little kitten on our bed, too.

It will be interesting here, now that there’s three of us again.  Mom told me she’s counting on me to show Allegra the ropes, and I won’t let her down.

New Family Member: Meet Allegra

The Conscious Cat has a new family member!  Amber and I are excited to welcome Allegra into our hearts and into our home.  Well, right now I might be a little more excited than Amber, but so far, things have been going really well.  Amber is watching the newcomer from a cautious distance, and if she comes too close for comfort, she lets Allegra know who’s in charge.

I found Allegra on Facebook on the Great Falls Animal Hospital Cat Adoptions page.  When I contacted the page administrator for more information, I was told that she was seven months old and “very very sweet, loves cats, loves dogs, loves people, loves life!”    I knew I had to meet this little girl.  The first time I met her, I spent about an hour in an exam room with her.  She was your typical ADHD kitten – discovering and exploring everything, whether it was a stethoscope hanging from a hook on the wall or a syringe cap on the floor.  She didn’t pay all that much attention to me, but I started to fall in love with her anyway.  However, I didn’t want to make a hasty decision.  I had only just begun to even think about bringing another cat into our lives.  I didn’t know whether I wanted a kitten or an adult cat.  So I went home, slept on it, thought about it – and I just couldn’t get Allegra out of my mind.  I went back to see her again the next morning.  And that’s when I just knew.   She was meant to come home with us.

Her background, as far as I know it, is this:  she was rescued from a county shelter in Maryland, and fostered by two different foster moms.  Her most recent foster mom described her as a “total love bug lap kitty” who loved to follow her everywhere.

I brought her home yesterday morning.   And so a new chapter in our lives begins.  Allegra spent most of yesterday exploring her new home.  She was particularly fascinated by windows – something she hadn’t been able to enjoy for the last ten days when she lived at the animal hospital.  Everything seemed to delight her – bumble bees flying by, leaves blowing in the wind, squirrels rushing by outside.  It’s so much fun watching her discover her world.

Amber is not so sure this was a good idea just yet.  I’m sure you’ll hear all about it from Amber herself soon.  And you never know, Allegra might eventually want to contribute to The Conscious Cat, too, once she adjusts to her new home and new life.

The Truth About Dry Cat Food

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Grocery and pet store shelves abound with a dizzying array of cat food.  For decades, kibble has been the preferred choice for most cat owners. After all, the bags say it’s “complete and balanced,” it’s easy to feed, and most cats seem to like it. Unfortunately, dry cat food, even the high-priced premium and veterinary brands, is the equivalent of junk food for cats. Feeding dry food to cats is no different than feeding sugared cereals to kids.

Cats are obligate carnivores

This means they need meat to survive.  They cannot get enough nutritional support from plant-based proteins such as grains and vegetables, because, unlike humans and dogs, they lack the specific enzyme that processes plant-based proteins metabolically.  They need little or no carbohydrates in their diet.  Feeding foods high in carbohydrates leads to any number of degenerative diseases, including diabetes, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Free choice feeding leads to obesity

Many pet owners feed dry food because it can be left out during the day without spoiling while the cat is left at home alone. This method of free choice feeding is one of the leading contributors to obesity in cats.  Cats, by nature, are hunters, and it does not make sense that they should need access to food 24 hours a day. Feeding two or more small meals a day mimicks their natural hunting behavior much closer, and by feeding controlled portion sizes rather than leaving food out all day long, calorie intake, and weight, can be controlled without the cat going hungry.

Dry food is the leading cause behind most urinary tract problems

Dry food is the leading cause behind most urinary tract problems in cats. While cats who eat only dry food will generally drink more water, they still don’t get enough moisture to support all their bodily functions and essentially live in a constant state of low level dehydration, which can lead to bladder and kidney problems.

Dry food can lead to diabetes

Due to the high carbohydrate content, dry food dumps unnaturally high levels of sugar into the cat’s bloodstream, which can lead to an imbalance of its natural metabolic process. In extreme cases, this can, and often does, lead to diabetes.

Dry food does not clean teeth

The myth that dry food cleans teeth is one that just won’t die. Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough for any of the scraping action that is the theory behind this myth to kick in. What little they do chew shatters into small pieces. Some pet food manufacturers offer a “dental diet” that is made up of larger than normal sized kibble to encourage chewing, but in my years at veterinary practices, I’ve seen many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole. Additionally, dry food actually leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.

Eliminate all dry food from your cat’s diet

The one best thing you can do for your cat is to stop feeding dry food and feed a meat based, grain-free raw, homemade or canned diet which is consistent with the needs of a carnivore.

You may find that some cats are very difficult to wean off dry food, further supporting the junk food analogy. They’re literally addicted to the carbs and additives used in these diets. During the manufacturing process, substances called “digests” (fermented by-products of meat processing with no nutritional value) are sprayed on the outside of the kibble to make it more palatable to the cat.  Most cats wouldn’t touch dry food if it wasn’t for these flavor enhancers.  For these hard-core addicts, you will need to transition them to a healthier diet somewhat slowly.  Never let a cat go without food for more than 24 hours.

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Book Review: Your Cat – Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life by Elizabeth M. Hodgkins, D.V.M., Esq.

Elizabeth Hodgkins, a successful veterinarian for more than twenty years, formerly served as Director of Technical Affairs at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, and as such, has had an insider’s view of one of the giants of the pet food industry.  In her book Your Cat – Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life, Dr. Hodgkins raises the alarm regarding the dry pet food we feed our cats and the degenerative diseases that result from a diet that is completely contrary to what an obligate carnivore like the cat needs to thrive.

From kitten through adult life to the senior years, Dr. Hodgkins explores the full spectrum of proper cat care, and offers a closer look at the common chronic diseases that afflict so many cats – diabetes, kidney disease,  thyroid disease, allergies, heart disease, and more.  The underlying cause for many of these diseases, as well as the key to managing or even curing them, is nutrition.

I’ve been passionate about feline nutrition for a long time, and I’ve done a lot of research and reading about it, but I have not found a book that presents the reasons why cats need protein and not carbohydrates as the mainstay of their diet as succinctly and convincingly as this one.   Going back to the cat’s origins as a desert-dwelling predator, Dr. Hodgkins explains why cats cannot thrive on dry food, but need a high protein, low carbohydrate, moisture-based diet.  She examines the problems with today’s pet food industry with an insider’s view and explains in detail why dry food is so harmful for cats.  She offers her recommendations for what we should feed our cats, including how to choose the best canned food, or how to safely prepare raw food for cats.

She also takes a thorough look at many common feline diseases, sharing case histories of cats she has treated in her practice.  The stories are convincing and provide a wonderful resource as well as hope for cat owners who may be dealing with these conditions.

This book should be required reading for all cat parents – in a way, it’s almost like an “owner’s manual” for cats.  It should also be required reading for veterinarians.  Sadly, most veterinarians receive very little education on nutrition in veterinary schools, and what little they do receive is sponsored by the large pet food companies.  The science presented in veterinary school nutrition courses is based on limited in-house studies by the pet food companies that typically only test their products with an eye to proving what they want the studies to prove.  Dr. Hodgkins explains the limitations of these studies in detail in her book.

This book will change the way you view what you’re feeding your cat.  It will also change your view of the pet food industry and what you may have considered good cat nutrition.  Your cat will thank you!

Coming on Monday on The Conscious Cat:  learn more about why dry food is not a good choice for your cat.

Meet the Author with Clea Simon

Did you miss last night’s Meet the Author teleseminar with Clea Simon?  You can still listen to the interview by clicking on the link below.   You can also save the recording to disk so you can listen to it on the media player of your choice by right clicking on the link, and then selecting “save target as” (for PC’s) or “save link as” (for Mac’s).

Thanks to everyone who joined us on the call, and for asking such great questions!

Meet the Author with Clea Simon

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