How Smart is your Dog?

Don't let my innocent fact fool you!

Don't let my innocent face fool you!

When Stanley Coren’s book The Intelligence of Dogs was first published it drew worldwide attention to a fact that most dog parents were already aware of: dogs are intelligent. On one occasion I carried a copy of the book with me into my doctor’s office. He commented on what I was reading with this question, “Are you kidding me?” Then he shared a story about his daughter and a young bulldog. When his daughter was little she’d  received a new teddy bear. Enraptured with this new acquisition she sat hugging the teddy, admiring it with a gleeful expression. This drew the attention of a new member of the family, a bulldog youngster. Seems that he was quite enamored with the teddy too. He sat staring at the teddy longingly. She chose to ignore the puppy’s pleading gaze. Hugging the teddy close to her chest she shook her head repeating, “My teddy bear” over and over again. The pup resorted to whining. Unimpressed by the pup’s efforts to sway her the little girl continued fawning over the teddy bear.

The bulldog sauntered out of the room only to reappear a short while later holding a brand new collar and leash in his mouth. He dropped this lovely gem into the little girl’s lap, looked up at her imploringly and waited. The little girl was unimpressed. Then the pup picked up the leash and collar and once again dropped it into her lap. This time he wanted to be certain she got the message so he looked from the leash and collar up to the teddy bear (which she’d held up out of his reach). He looked back and forth between the two objects several times.  Then the unthinkable happened. The little girl emphatically stated, “That’s not YOUR leash! It’s Jasper’s leash!” The pup lowered his face, defeated he walked slowly away looking over his shoulder at the lovely object of his affection — not the little girl — but the teddy bear she clasped tightly to her chest.

It’s obvious what the pup was hoping to achieve. There was planning and strategy involved here. If you substituted a child for the dog in this story you’d immediately recognize the amount of thinking involved. After all, it would be evident that a child could figure out a strategy that would involve an exchange of goods, one prize for another. Let’s swap! Certainly. But dogs possess this capability too. They plan, they connive, they figure things out, they can even pull a con job on another dog (or a person). Oh yes! Not so dumb. Yet it’s really not that difficult to explain why dogs possess the ability to think in these ways. After all their survival hinges on this type of thought process. So the next time you interact with your dog don’t be fooled by that innocent look, or the cuteness, or his loving gaze. He’s probably just taking notes on how he can convince you to do what he wants you to do. Then give him a hug!

Are Jerky Treats Healthy for Our Dogs?

I have several clients who feed their dogs chicken jerky treats. After all, chicken jerky treats sound healthy and what pet parent doesn’t enjoy giving Fido a tasty snack? With four dogs of my own, I vary in the type of treats I give them. When I decided to give these products a try, the previous concerns regarding chicken jerky treats were foremost in my mind. So, I was careful in my selection. First I chose duck strips, followed by a high dollar chicken strip treat. The price for the duck strips, about $29 a bag; the chicken strips, about $23. These are not cheap treats. The label made it appear that these products were made in the USA. There was even a little USA flag on the bag. Keep in mind, I stated APPEARED.

Since I write a pet blog I subscribe to regular updates about pet food recalls or other pet related issues.When I received the November 18, 2011 caution from the  FDA about chicken jerky products, I took immediate notice. I went into the pantry grabbed the different bags I had purchased (including one made from cage-free ducks), and read more carefully. Right there, at the bottom of the bag, in bold letters were the words: Made in China. I was shocked!

None of us like to throw money away. I’m no exception. I usually buy several bags of treats at a time. Do I just toss them away? If I don’t have a receipt I can’t really take them back. This means I’m out $60. Not a cheap lesson that I need to be more vigilant when buying pet snacks. I certainly don’t want to expose my dogs to harmful toxins that could cause their kidneys to fail, or even cause their death.

Getting back to the FDA’s concern about these jerky treats; during a 16 month period of time (spanning from 2008 to 2009) the FDA fielded 153 complaints from consumers whose dogs became gravely ill after consuming chicken jerky treats. As a result, in mid-December of 2008 the FDA posted a caution to dog owners about the treats. This coincided with a voluntary recall of Supa Naturals Chicken Breast Strips distributed by KraMar, an Australian company.

In fact, the first reported incidents of a Faconi-like syndrome in dogs who had consumed chicken treats occurred in Australia. Towards the close of 2008, Sydney veterinarians were suddenly faced with an unusually high number of small and medium-sized dogs who needed treatment for this illness. Simply stated Faconi hinders the kidneys from absorbing nutrients and electrolytes from the blood stream. The result is a spillover of glucose in the urine. The effects on the dog’s organs are damaging and will cause death if left untreated. However, Faconi is a genetic disease that appears only in certain dog breeds, particularly Basenjis.

Like super-sleuths the Australian veterinarians questioned the pet parents about their dog’s diet. (This was most likely prompted by the melamine contaminated pet food incident of 2007.) What they discovered was a commonality: All the dogs had received the KraMar chicken jerky treats. In their report to the Australian Veterinary Association, the veterinarians stated a suspected link between the rise in a Faconi-like syndrome and a pet treat manufactured in China.

According to the Australian Veterinary Association, it was at this point “AVA members were alerted via email (3 December 2008) and asked to report any similar cases to the specialist to enable further investigation of the syndrome.” As usually occurs in these situations the story was leaked to the press. Someone forwarded the email to a journalist for the Adelaide Advertiser, an Australian news source. The journalist in turn telephoned AVA president Mark Lawrie. The result of the phone interview and the email were featured in an article that appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser on  December 8, 2008. Within hours the national media got wind of the story.

The situation continues to baffle the FDA.  Extensive tests for both chemical and microbial contamination have come up empty handed. To date no known contaminant has been found. Yet dogs (particularly small breeds) who consume these treats continue to fall victim to this Faconi-like syndrome. On the other hand, Dr. Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, vice president and medical director of the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center in Urbana, Illinois stated that the center received fewer than a dozen calls about the jerky treats in 2007 and 2008. She said the majority of those calls were inquiries. Only one case turned up with glucose in the urine (a sign of the Faconi-like syndrome). She went on to comment that, “It sounds like maybe they’re giving them the whole bag of Oreos.” Hence the reason for the FDA’s cautionary statement to not feed the treats as a substitute for regular food.

Nevertheless, once the KraMar product was withdrawn from the market incidents of the disease in Australia declined. In America the illness has not abated. In the latest twist, Canadian dogs are now getting sick. Cases of the Fanconi-like syndrome have been reported in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Closer to home, a recent case in Rockport, Texas involved a ten-year-old mixed breed dog named Sweetie. The concerned parent reported that Sweetie wasn’t doing well. Dr. Jeanna Godfrey examined the dog and drew blood. The blood test results revealed elevated liver enzymes and urinalysis indicated traces of glucose. Puzzled by this Dr. Godfrey queried the dog’s owner about the possibility of exposure to toxins. But this was eliminated. Then during her lunch break Dr. Godfrey noted an email alert from the AVMA about the Canadian cases. She promptly telephoned Sweetie’s owner and asked if Sweetie had eaten any chicken jerky treats. As it turns out Sweetie’s owner confirmed that the dog had indeed received these treats at the rate of three times a day for the past five months. When Sweetie’s pet parent brought in the bag Dr. Godfrey noted that it stated “manufactured in the U.S.” but in small print there were the words “made in China”!

Until the culprit that creates the Faconi-like syndrome is uncovered it is advisable that pet parents of small to medium dogs forgo giving their dogs any type of chicken jerky treat. If you decide that you must indulge your canine in this type of treat please limit the quantity. Additionally, watch your pet closely. If Fido begins to exhibit symptoms of diarrhea, nausea, lethargy, copious thirst, or frequent urination cease the treats immediately and take him to your veterinarian.

The Many Rewards of Foster Care

Mary never planned on becoming a foster doggie mom but when her twelve-year-old mixed breed dog suddenly died she found herself needing to fill the missing gap.”When Lucy died, it was tragic for me. I really needed something to do, something that could occupy me and get my mind off the whole event,” states Mary with sadness in her eyes.
Her home, a smallish affair, is located in a lovely area of Texas hill country. And, clearly what the home lacks in size Mary makes up for in heart. She has been fostering dogs for almost ten years now and her current one, a little fellow that goes by the name of Tristan, is her one hundredth foster dog.
Mary continues her story, “You know, I never even thought about fostering dogs, my home is so cramped,” she states with a sweep of her arm gesturing towards the kitchen/dining room combo, “I just figured I didn’t have the room.”
Indeed, Mary’s place is petite: barely 950 square feet with a miniature eat-in kitchen, a living room, one bath, and two bedrooms, all contained within a dated mortar and brick exterior. Although the home is tiny, the exterior property is spacious. As we walk through the back door towards the enclosed one and a half acres of property Mary points out something, “Over there, is the dog pen that I built for new foster dogs. I like to put them in there when they first arrive, to get them used to the being out here before they run loose.”
We walk around the perimeter of her fenced in acreage, a good brisk walk, with Tristan following us, tail a-wagging. I can see the little guy is happy here and that brings me to the next question, “How do you keep from getting attached to the dogs?”
Mary stops and looks past the fence into the distance, “That is something I wondered about myself. I do get attached, very attached. But I guess I love them enough to give them over to good homes, sort of sending them on their way into a good future. That’s what makes it all worthwhile for me, knowing they will have a happy life, even if it is without me.” She looks wistfully down at Tristan, pats his head, and continues, “Tristan is leaving me this weekend. He has been adopted by a great family in San Antonio. They have two other small dogs for him to play with and best of all they have children. He really likes kids.”
Mary D. got started in fostering with a phone call to a local rescue agency. Within days her first dog arrived at her home, “I don’t know what I expected! I guess I thought the dog would be all bedraggled and forlorn, but happily my first dog was a gorgeous female blue heeler named Misty. She stayed with me for about three months and went on her way. I still get photos from her family. Misty is now twelve years old, the same age my Lucy was when she died.” Mary shakes her head, “When I think that if I had not been available Misty would never have reached 12 it makes me want to cry. But thank goodness she did, and hopefully she’ll live a lot longer.” Mary looks at me with a smile.
I can’t help but smile back because that is exactly what this is all about, giving a dog a chance to live its life with dignity and joy. Let’s face it, dogs need love just as much as food and water. Without it they will not flourish. Thanks to Mary and thousands of others like her, dogs who otherwise would be euthanized are reaching their full potential and are living out their lives with families that love them.

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