Category Archives: natural pet health

Flea and Tick products and natural options

With the warmer months approaching, flea and tick season will soon be upon us, calling for preventative measures to hopefully protect your canine friend from becoming prey to these parasites. Fleas can cause dozens of health issues, ranging from severe allergies, injured skin, skin infections, anemia, and tapeworms. Choosing a flea and tick product to use is often overwhelming and confusing. There is a wide variety of different options, from standard spot-on or oral flea treatments, such as Frontline, Revolution, Advantage, Adventix, Sentinel, Program, Bravetco, Nexgard Capstar to a variety of natural topical remedies and supplements.

flea dirt

FLEA DIRT IN PET FUR

 

Preventative Measures For Fleas and Ticks

Although flea and tick infections are not entirely possible to prevent, it is certainly practical to use preventative treatment options to keep your dog’s immune system as healthy as can be.

— Improving Your Pet’s Health

Improving and strengthening your pet’s overall health is a preventative option for any type of disease. In some households with multiple dogs or cats, it’s not uncommon for one dog/cat to be ravaged by fleas while another is flea-free. Flea problems can stem from the mere presence of fleas, but sometimes health and environmental factors allow opportunistic parasites to feed on weakened animals.

Diet plays a major role in your dog or cat’s health. In some cases, upgrading their diet may help strengthen their immune system and help them prevent these opportunistic parasites from invading them and your house. See our previous blogs on raw diets, home-made diets and commercial kibbles/cans.

Proper grooming and daily body exams for fleas and ticks is part of the recommended guidelines for any pets during the summer months. Groomers can help identify and find fleas on  your pet, so regular visits to them may help prevent issues.

— Supplements and Herbal Remedies

Supplements can also be helpful in repelling fleas and ticks; however their effectiveness varies on the individual’s body chemistry and makeup. An essential fatty-acid supplement (Omega 3) is important, as essential fatty acids play critical roles in how your dog’s immune system responds to threats of infection, including parasites. Essential fatty acids are also beneficial in creating healthy skin and a shiny coat. Not all Omega 3’s are created equal and the brand I currently recommend and trust is the Ascenta Dog/Cat fish oil. Make sure to store the product in the fridge once it is open as rancidity is a problem with all omega 3 supplements.

Probiotics may also be a good supplement, as they assist with the transport of nutrients throughout the body and aid in the breakdown and removal of waste and toxins. Purina Fortiflora, Rx Vitamins Biotics, Rx Vitamins Nutrigest, Animal Essentials Plant Enzymes and Probiotics are all good options. Consult with your veterinarian about which pet specific probiotic would  be best. I do not recommend using human probiotics since the bacteria found in animal flora is different. Pet specific probiotics are usually ideal. Here is a link to Dr Dodds point of view on probiotics for those interested in reading more about them.

As far as herbal support, some holistic veterinarians recommend garlic for flea issues but I do no agree with them. Garlic is helpful as it supports the immune system, liver, and the skin but it does nothing to directly prevent or treat fleas and ticks. No study has ever been able to support its usage for fleas/ticks versus other natural less toxic products. Natural does not mean safe! Some owners use fresh garlic, garlic powder, or garlic oil which can be very dangerous! It is important to talk to your veterinarian before starting your pet on a garlic supplement, as garlic can be toxic at certain doses, causing anemia and possible hospitalization. CATS ARE VERY SENSITIVE TO IT!  Usually I do NOT recommend its usage in cats and I would not recommended it for fleas in dogs since there are more safer and more efficient products available. 

I am not a fan of over-the-counter products containing garlic since it is very hard to know the exact dose of garlic in these products and therefore there is a risk to pets consuming these. I would highly recommend you consult with a veterinarian before using any garlic containing products. A lot of people think garlic actually kill or repels fleas and IT DOES NOT ! There has never been anything published supporting this belief but there is a lot published about the benefit of garlic on the immune system. A lot of people will use that as proof and mis-represent garlic as a flea repellent product when it is more of a immune system supporter. The link between giving garlic to pets and preventing fleas has never been directly established. If you give garlic, you may help the immune system, which may then help prevent against opportunistic external parasites (like fleas) from infesting your pet. But, garlic has been linked toxicity and poses a risk at certain doses.

There is no scientific study supporting the use for garlic, brewer’s yeast or vitamin B as being able to control fleas. Client often buy these products at pet stores and they believe these work because they have yet to see fleas on their pets. The main reason they are probably not seeing fleas on their pets is because either their pets were not exposed to fleas or they are healthy enough to not allow fleas to invade them. We must not forget that fleas are opportunistic and will invade weak animals more often then strong ones.

For ticks, there are several types of natural spray/shampoo products that may be effective in discouraging ticks from infesting on your dog. If you are unsure of which type works in your area, contact your local holistic veterinarian for guidance. I personally do not use any of these products on my pets. They need to be applied often and if you forget and miss a few applications you are putting your pet at risk. A lot of them have a lemon smell and I am not a fan. 

If your pet is having problems with itchy skin, talk to your veterinarian about other skin support supplements. Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a good herb to give to your dog if the itching is severe and the skin is inflamed. It also acts as an internal anti-inflammatory. Nettles is another great anti-itch herb.   Some probiotics like Rx Vitamins Nutrigest contain garlic (low dose) and licorice so these types of product may benefit dogs with allergies during flea season.

Borax, Borates and Borax powder can be toxic (irritants) to cats and dogs. They can kill fleas but these products are not safe for pets. Electronic flea collars not really effective while electric flea trap do work but I personally would not bother using them. Products with citrus extract like limonene will repel fleas but should not be used on kittens and puppies. Flea and tick collars may help reduce fleas, but I have seen so many pets loaded with fleas come into my office wearing those collars and scratching that I usually do not recommend them.

Pyrethrum (natural form) or permethrin (synthetic) based products can be found in topical flea and tick powder at your veterinarian’s office. Permethrin or pyrethrin products are considered SAFE INSECTICIDES FOR DOGS ONLY. DO NOT USE THESE PRODUCTS IN CATS! Pyrethrum is derived from chrysanthemum flower. Be careful with organophosphates based products in cats.

Essential Oils Blends FOR DOGS ONLY (I do not recommend the topical use of essential oils on cats for flea prevention). Cats are very sensitive to essential oils like tea tree, cedar, peppermint, lavender and many more and this can be very toxic for them if ingested. Cats like to groom themselves and therefore the risk of exposure is high. In regards to dogs, the same can apply, specially if you are making bandanas and collars out of essential oils mixes. Make sure you dog does not chew them as they are potentially toxic.

Essential oils repel but do not kill fleas. Because of this, they are not recommended for pets with allergies to fleas or when you are dealing in a major flea infestation.

I would not recommend this to my clients, but these examples have been recommended by some holistic vet and I am making the information available to my clients. If you want to know what I do for my own pets for flea prevention, read this blog.

a) This formula was taken from page 46 of Dogs naturally magazine March-April 2014 issue.

1/2 oz base oil (hazelnut or sweet almond), 4 drops of clary sage, 1 drop citronella, 7 drops peppermint, 3 drops lemon

Apply 2-4 drops topically to the neck, chest legs and base of the tail. You can also add the drops to a bandana or cotton collar.

b) The book The Pet Lover’s Guide to Natural Healing for Dogs and cats (well worth the 15$) gives other mixes for essential oil blends at p. 556-557. Again, I am not a fan of using essential oils for flea and tick prevention. Dr Barbara Fougere, will also sometimes recommend using Revolution and supplementing with herbs like milk thistle, omegas and other natural supplements to support the immune system and detoxify topical flea products. She co-authored the textbook Veterinary Herbal Medicine with Dr Susan Wynn. Both of these books are great references.

Example of how to make a natural DOG flea-free collar(not for cats) found in book the The Pet Lover’s Guide to Natural Healing for Dogs and cats .

Buy a soft cloth collar. Mix vodka 2 tsp, lavender 2 drops, citronella 1 drop, cedar 1 drop, rose geranium 1 drop, garlic capsule 2 capsules

Double this formula for pets over 15kg and under 30kg. Triple this formula for dogs over 30 kg. You need to soak collar with mix and allow to dry. Repeat each month as the smell wears off.

Essential oils used for flea sprays should always be diluted to about 15 drops per 500ml of water. If you prefer to dilute with almond oil, then use about 10 drops per 20ml of almond oil and then massage onto your dog’s fur twice a week at about 1 drop per kg.

—- Repellent Herbs

Dr Barbara Fougere, in her book suggests to plant Fennel, Sage or Wormwood near the kennel or cattery. These are meant to environment outdoor flea repellents, not to be ingested by your pet.  Lavender can also be sprinkled around the bedding.

— Outdoor Environment

Controlling the outdoor flea population can be difficult, especially since you can’t control how your neighbours keep their yard. Keep your grass short, especially where your dog spends a lot of time, as this will help reduce habitat for fleas. Flea eggs, larvae, and pupae live in long grass and piles of leaves.

Unfortunately, it is not as easy to control the tick population with simple measures such as grass clipping. Ticks do like to live in organic matter, so keeping the leaf or pine needle litter to a minimum in your yard may help prevent ticks.

You can also use food grade diatomaceous earth, which is a calcium dust ground from single-cell, ocean organisms (fossilized remains of hard shell algae). Diatomaceous earth acts as an abrasive and a desiccant, drying out and destroying adult fleas and killing larvae. This is a relatively easDEy and inexpensive product to use with positive results. Food grade diatomaceous earth is the only recommended kind (do not use the industrial type) and in some case it may lead to lung irritation in people. Also, water and rain will wash it off and you will need to re-apply it as needed.

I personally do not recommend using food grade diatomaceous earth anywhere near myself nor on my pets. I would use it strictly outdoors. It is basically fossilized remains in a dust form and I personally do not want to be breathing calcium deposits (dusts) into my lungs nor do I want my pets to breath that in either. It is a known lung irritant and some people may be more sensitive to it. I constantly have direct contact with my pets and their fur so I do not want to have them full of a potential lung irritating powder. Chronic lung irritation in people and pets can lead to long term health issues and I am not willing to risk that at this time.

Beneficial nematodes can also have a good effect on flea-infested areas. Nematodes are small worms that kill flea larvae and pupae by feeding on them. They can be purchased at some garden supply stores or online.

Products containing Insect Growth Regulators (chemicals/insect hormones) do work. They are still not considered natural, but they do seem safe and effective for long term use. I call these products the birth control for fleas! The veterinary products Sentinel (Lufenuron) and Program are considered Insect Growth Regulators versus Revolution (Selamectin) and Advantage (Imidacloprid) which are considered insecticides. The Insect Growth Regulators do not kill the fleas like insecticides but they stop them from developing. The fleas will eventually die off. They are considered a more biological way to control infestation than the use of insecticides and do remain a valid options for clients.

— Indoor Environment

When controlling your indoor environment, it’s important to target the highest pfleas and their life cycleart of the flea population — the non-adult stages. Over 90% of the flea population is in your house is in the form of egg, larvae and pupae. It does not reside on your pet, but in your actual home environment. Less than 10% of the fleas will be found on your pet. I often hear clients saying that they do not have a flea problem because they only saw 1-2 fleas on their pets. In my brain, this actually translates to: these people actually have millions of fleas in their house that they are not aware of!

Good housekeeping is essential when preventing flea growth. Wash your floors frequently, vacuum carpeting, and remove any rugs. Wash your dog’s bedding at least once per week in hot water and mild detergent or vinegar. If you own a steam cleaner or can borrow one, this is a great tool to use as the steam kills adults and larvae. The steam stimulates the eggs to hatch as well, so it is important to follow up with a vacuum after a day or two to capture the newly hatched fleas. Otherwise, you can simply vacuum weekly any carpets, but also on and under furniture. Make sure you seal your vacuum cleaner in an airtight bag before disposing or put in the freezer overnight. In some cases, where people have ceflea cycle vetntral vac, they will put flea collars in their vacuum containers to help. Vacuum will kill fleas in all life stages and at a rate of about 96% for adult fleas and 100% of younger fleas! So, people looking for a great chemical-free option to get rid of flea infestations in their houses can start by buying and using a vacuum routinely! This is a great article that talks about a study done on vacuuming and fleas.

 

Ticks do not thrive in houses, so the issue of larvae nesting in your sofa is thankfully not an issue!

Flea and Tick Control Products

Unfortunately, as much as we may try to prevent them, fleas and ticks may still invade our dogs and our home. Luckily, there are multiple treatment options. As a general rule of thumb, in treating any disease, choose the lesser of the two evils — many flea and tick products arguably contain some ingredients that may not be the safest, yet in some severe cases, may be deemed necessary for the overall health of the dog. Generally, choose the least toxic product that is effective in your dog’s individual case.

Check to see if your product is targeting multiple parasites — some products target both fleas and ticks. Others also offer protection for heartworm and intestinal worms. Don’t subject your dog to these additional ingredients if the targeted parasite isn’t an issue in your area or at a certain time of year.

Cats are very sensitive to chemicals, so only use flea and tick products labeled for cats.

Also, use these products only as needed or as directed by your veterinarian. Many manufacturers recommend administering tick and flea repellent monthly, year-round. But, for most people, flea and tick season is not a year-round threat and this is completely unnecessary. If fleas is the major concerns, then some people prefer waiting till their pets actually get fleas before using veterinary products like Revolution or Advantage. At one point, it becomes more a personal choice. Other owners never use conventional flea and tick prevention and their dogs never have issues with parasites. It truly depends on the environment and the animal’s overall health.

 Flea Allergies

Some dogs and cats suffer from flea allergies, resulting in severe itching to the point of skin damage and infection. This is caused by an allergic reaction to flea saliva which contains an anticoagulant substance that prevents the blood in the wound from clotting, thus allowing the flea to suck additional blood. Flea saliva also contains other substances that can irritate the pet’s skin. In cases of flea allergies, I always recommend using an insecticide to kill the actual fleas. So products like Avantage and Revolution are used instead of Program and Sentinel. Only a couple of fleas are required to send your pet into a scratching fit, so you need to get rid of the fleas ASAP.

 

Typical Flea allergy Pattern

Typical Flea allergy Pattern

Lyme Disease

Some areas of the world may experience a higher number of Lyme disease cases, while in others the probability of your dog contracting it is rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Lyme disease is most commonly found in the United States northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and upper north-central regions. In these areas, the risk is greatest in residential areas surrounded by woods.

Unfortunately, the natural options for tick prevention aren’t really effective, especially when the risk of Lyme disease is high and you feel that your dog needs to be protected. In the end, it ultimately depends on the individual dog’s body makeup and chemistry, determining if the product works.

pet fur tick

Tick attached to a dog.

As far as preventative measures, check for ticks every time your dog has been outside, particularly around the legs, belly, neck, and armpits. Ticks can transmit lyme disease in about 2 days, so even if you only check your pet once a day at night for ticks, removing what you find can prevent the transmission of lyme. Ticks travel towards dark and warm areas of the body. Ticks are most active mid-morning, so try to limit your dog’s exposure during this time.

Fleas and ticks are frustrating to deal with, however with patience you can usually find a safe product that works effectively for your dog or cat. As always, prevention is key, and concerning fleas, there are quite a few options for controlling both indoor and outdoor populations. With the high of flea and tick season approaching in many areas, we wish you the best of luck in protecting your pets from these parasites!

Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Grad Dip Vet Chinese Herb Med CVHM (IVAS/CIVT)

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Seizures in dogs and cats

What are Seizures?

Seizures occur when your dog’s brain causes the body to experience sudden, uncontrolled physical attacks, with or without loss of consciousness. Some seizures are a result of genetic abnormalities, while others occur for unknown reasons (idiopathic).

What are the symptoms?

Seizures manifest in different ways, however there are normally three phrases: the “pre-ictal” phase, the actual seizure, and “post-ictal” phase. In the pre-ictal phase, dogs usually start acting agitated or stressed. They may become extra clingy to their owner or they may seek solitude. This phase can last mere minutes or a few hours. Directly before the onset of the actual seizure, the dog may experience trembling, loss of vision, and unresponsiveness. During the seizure, the dog may stiffen, fall over, and convulse. Some will kick their legs in a running motion, foam at the mouth, or lose control of bladder and/or bowels. In the post-ictal phase, the dog may be lethargic, disoriented, and confused. Some dogs may experience temporary blindness.

Watching your dog experience a seizure can be a scary thing to witness, however it’s extremely important to remain calm, clear the area around your dog, and speak gently to him/her. Never place your hand near your dog’s mouth, as your dog may be unaware of your presence and may bite unknowingly. Do not try to pet or calm them because sometimes external stimuli may actually worsen the signs and prolong the seizures.

What is the cause?

There are two types of seizures: primary and secondary. Primary seizures (idiopathic) have no known source, while secondary seizures have a known source (disease process).

If the dog is less than one year, the most common cause of seizures is low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). This is more common with puppies and toy-sized breeds. However, dogs with liver disease, diabetes, or pancreatic tumors may suffer from hypoglycemia as well. Puppies with distemper or congenital issues (hydrocephalus) may also experience seizures.

Seizures in dogs aged one to five are normally considered to be idiopathic.  Idiopathic Epilepsy is considered a genetic condition in some breeds such as the Beagle, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Collie, and Boxer. Brain tumors and head injuries may also be the cause of seizures, as the pressure on the brain tissue can result in loss of vision, loss of coordination, and seizures. Senior dogs with seizures may be experiencing a symptom of neoplasia or liver or kidney disease.

We have found that a lot of the times, it seems that seizures are induced by stress like a visit to the groomer, kennel stays, visit to the vet, etc. Sometimes if we can identify the seizure triggers, they can be avoided and this may help with their management.

What are the treatment options?

For epileptic seizures, treatment varies by the severity of the condition. For dogs that experience less than two seizures per month, traditional treatment is not often recommended. However, for dogs who experience frequent and long seizures, anticonvulsant medication may be an option. Phenobarbital is the usual prescribed drug — unfortunately, it does have some side effects, including sedation and stimulation of hunger/thirst. Phenobarbital also directly impacts the liver and if your dog is on Phenobarbital long-term, liver damage can occur. Potassium bromide, Gabapentin and Kepra (Levetiracetam) may also be used or added to phenobarbital for dogs that fail to respond to the initial therapy. In emergency situations, drugs like valium (diazepam) or propofol may also be used. There are also newer drugs available so the agent used will depend on the veterinarian in charge of the case. In some cases, one drug is needed and it other cases it may take up to three drugs to get the seizures under control. Control is considered achieved when a pet does not have a seizure more often than every 6-8 weeks. That means that some pets will still have seizures but at an acceptable frequency (no more often than  every 6-8 weeks).

There are many holistic and alternative approaches to help control seizures and epilepsy, ranging from supplements to flower essences, that have had great success in minimizing the frequency of seizures.

More information on specific holistic treatment methods below:

  • Acupuncture

Acupuncture is the ancient Chinese practice of inserting safe needles into specific acupuncture points to move and unblock energy. Acupuncture can offer great results for epileptic patients.

  • Diet

For humans that suffer from seizures, a Ketogenic diet is often recommended. A Ketogenic diet contains no carbohydrates, low to moderate amounts of fat, and high levels of protein. While the Ketogenic diet has no proven efficacy in dogs, it may be worthwhile to consult with a veterinary nutritionist about using diet as part of anti-convulsant therapy. In dogs, switching to low carbohydrate and higher protein diets or raw diets should be considered

Dogs suffering with Hepatic encephalopathy should NOT BE FED A HIGH PROTEIN DIET / Raw diet.

It is extremely important to consult with your veterinarian if thinking about a serious change in diet, as ‘seizure diets’ like the Ketogenic diet can have severe side effects in humans.

Some veterinarians has seen a reduction of seizure episodes when patients are switched to a hypoallergenic or ‘novel protein, novel carbohydrate’ elimination diet. In the past few years, a lot of holistic veterinarian have been discussing the fact that in some cases, allergies and seizures have gone hand in hand and that an elimination diet should be considered in every pet diagnosed with seizures.

  • Flower Essences

Bach Flower Essences makes a tincture called “Rescue Remedy”. It is a combination of five flower remedies all designed to combat stress, panic, and fear. The flower essences it includes are Star of Bethlehem (helps animals that have experienced abuse, shock, and trauma), Rock Rose (helps animals in stressful situations, such as thunderstorm, fireworks, going to the veterinarian, etc), Cherry Plum (helps animals who have lost control of their actions, exhibited by excessive barking or scratching), Impatiens (helps animals who are impatient, unable to wait), and Clematis (helps animals who seem to be sleeping excessively and have lost interest in their surroundings). The tincture provides a calming effect on the animal.  Some seizures are triggered by stress, such as new people in the house or thunderstorms. Consistent use of Rescue Remedy may reduce anxiety and prevent seizures in this manner.  Rescue Remedy can purchased at most health food stores and online. We will be writing a blog about Rescue Remedy in the near future so follow us!

  • Herbals, Supplements and TCVM

A diagnosis from a holistic veterinarian who practices Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) can be very helpful in the treatment of seizures. Some seizures are caused by patients having different Yin or Yang deficiencies, Triple Burner obstructions, Phlegm/Damp accumulation, Liver Yang rising, etc. A TCVM diagnosis can also identify and address other factors that may be contributing to seizure activity. Different tonics, herbs or even ‘cooling’ Western drugs such as phenobarbital may be used together as anti-seizure treatments.(1) There are a lot of Chinese herbal formulas that can assist the treatment of seizures like: Long Dan Xie Gan Tang, Ban Xia Zhu Tian Ma Tang, Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin, Xiao Chai Hu Tang, San Ren Tang, Bu Yang Huan Wu Tang, etc.

It is thought that the herb Skullcap may have positive benefits on epileptic animals. The plant is believed to moderate overactive synapses in the brain where seizures are triggered. Valerian, Kava, Saint John’s Wort, Corydalis, Gastrodia, Uncaria, Bacopa and many others may be beneficial as well. For dogs taking Phenobarbitol, Milk Thistle can be helpful as it is commonly used to protect and regenerate the liver. There are many western herbs that can benefit pets with seizures and a veterinarian trained in western herbal therapies can assist you in designing the appropriate formula for your pet. Each pet is different and a patient specific seizure herbal formula is always recommended vs a generic one. It is important to talk to your veterinarian before starting supplemental herbs, as some can interact with common seizure medications.

Dietary supplementation of omega-3 essential fatty acids are important in the development and maintenance of a healthy nervous system. In addition to a quality essential fatty acid supplement, you may wish to give your dog extra minerals (whole foods supplements), digestive enzymes, or probiotics to ensure the nervous system is as healthy as possible.

If seizures are related to allergies, keeping the gut healthy should in theory help with the management of seizures. We have to remember that 70% of the immune system is related to the gut ! Bowel health is an extremely important factor in seizure control and it is often forgotten by conventional veterinarians.

  • TTouch, Massage, and Reiki

These forms of energy and physical healing can help reduce anxiety in all dogs- suffering from seizures. Although your dog’s seizures may never be entirely eliminated, it is possible, with the help of alternative therapies, to reduce the frequency and severity of the attacks.

If you have any questions about seizures, feel free to email me for a consult.

If your pet suffers from seizures, please feel free to tell us about your experience in the comments section.

Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Grad Dip Vet Chinese Herb Med CVHM (IVAS/CIVT)

Resources

(1) Mitchell, Deborah. TCVM Diagnosis and Treatment of Seizures. Western Veterinary Conference Proceedings. 2012.

Urinary Tract disease in dogs and cats

Keeping Your Pet’s Urinary Tract Healthy

Your dog or cat’s urinary tract can be the source of many minor and serious issues, ranging from bladder stones, bladder infections, and chronic inflammation. Therefore, it’s important to employ preventative techniques and therapies to keep your dog’s urinary tract in great shape!

About the Urinary Tract
Urine is created in the kidneys, then stored in the bladder before being expelled. Urine contains 95 percent water and its primary function is removing waste products from the body.  Those waste products make up for the other five percent of urine and normally composed of toxins, uric acid, mineral salts, and other forms of waste.

Urinary Tract Problems and Symptoms
First off, let’s talk about some of the issues that can arise in the urinary tract. Common symptoms include urination with greater frequency, straining, licking of the urethra, and changes in urine (presence of blood or severely concentrated urine). When viewing urinary health in a holistic sense, it’s essential to consider diet and environment. Stress can also be a major factor in cats. In cats the term FLUTD (Feline lower urinary tract disease) is often used to described various diseases symptoms presented.

Urinary crystals and stones are one of the most common complaints in dogs. Crystals and stones are formed when naturally-occurring minerals in the pet’s urine bond together. When enough crystals form, it can partially block the excretion of urine. Stones are an advanced form of crystals.  These are the types of stones that can be found in your pets: struvite, calcium oxalate, urate, cystine, calcium phosphate, and silicate. If you are interested in seeing what urinary crystals look like under a microscope click here to access the Cornell University website.

There are two more common types of crystals and stones: Struvite Crystals and Calcium Oxalate Crystals. Struvite crystals are made of magnesium ammonium phosphate, developing in urine ph that is highly alkalic, while Calcium Oxalate Crystals are formed in urine that is highly acidic.

Bladder stone I removed from a 55 lbs Boxer

Bladder stone I removed from a boxer

For many years, Struvite crystals were the most popular form of crystals to affect household pets. However, in an effort to hopefully dissolve and prevent crystals from occurring, many pet food manufacturers created high-acid diets. Unfortunately, as the pet food formulations changed to accommodate Struvite crystals, calcium oxalate crystals started to rise and become just as common as Struvite crystals. Your pet’s diet may be the reason for this.

When determining what type of crystal your dog or cat has, it is necessary to have your veterinarian perform a urine exam, known as a urinalysis. It is also important to know whether their urine is more concentrated or diluted. For pets with super-concentrated urine, your vet can give tips on how to dilute their urine.

Bladder Infections or Inflammation (Cystitis) are caused by bacteria and crystals that have led to inflammation in the lining of the bladder. Antibiotics for 2-3 weeks are typically the prescribed treatment for bladder infections. Pets treated with only 7-10 days of antibiotics will often have recurring infections because the duration of treatment is not long enough. Although as a holistic pet owner you may wish to avoid antibiotics, for many patients with bladder infections, it can be crucial in preventing formation of crystals as well as reducing the chance of developing scar tissue in the urinary tract. Scar tissue can create more health issues for your dog or cat long-term. Unless your cat is a diabetic, urine infections in cats are a lot less common than in dogs. Bacteria cystitis although rare in cats, is usually seen in cats over 10 years of age and it is more common in females. Bacterial urinary infections in cats accounts for only 1% of the cases of urinary problems and bladder stones/crystals are seen in 20-30% of the cases while stress related cystitis is seen in 75% of the cases. Antibiotics are seldom used in cats with urinary problems for that reason.

Environmental stresses, indoor overweight cats area also other factors contributing to FLUTD in cats. A dirty litter box is often a problem! Cleaning the litter box daily and providing at least one litter box per cat if part of the solution. Trying automatic litters, litters with a cover or without one can sometimes help. Trying different litter substrates may also be suggested if your pet is developing certain preferences. Feeding your pet the right amount (portion control) and avoiding obesity is very important with indoor cats. We need to keep these indoor cats active and their brains busy! For cats with stress related cystitis, the Ohio State University as a great website called College of Veterinary Medicine Indoor Pet Initiative. It contains loads of information that is recommended to every indoor cat owner. This is a great video that they have made available to help pet owners with indoor cats:

Treatment Options and Preventative Care

Diet and increasing water intake

Making your pet drink more water is the best natural treatment recommendation for urinary problems in cats and dogs. Urine dilution is the most important goal to achieve when treating urinary problems in pets. Here is a blog that shows you 10 ways to get a cat to drink more. 

As with almost all illnesses, diet is an important factor. It is essential to feed a quality, preferably homemade diet or raw diet that needs your pet’s nutritional requirements. If this is not possible, then feeding a good quality well-balance dry kibble may be the option for you. If your dog or cat’s diet is lacking in some area, this can cause many issues to arise.

** If your pet already has urinary issues, talk to a veterinary nutritionist for direction on home-cooked diets. Maintenance home-made diets are not ideal if your pet is already having issues and a special home-made diet for urinary problems will need to be fed. Visit our blog on Home-made diets to find more information on who to contact to get a urinary diet designed for you pet. **

Struvite crystals can usually be dissolved by dietary management, however oxalate crystals are generally more challenging to treat. Surgical removal is typically recommended for oxalate stones and if too many struvite stones accumulate or are not successfully dissolved.

The main stay of the prevention of calcium oxalate stones in pets that have had them in the past is using veterinary prescribed diets like Royal Canin/Medical S/O, Rayne Urinary Protection RSS, Science Diet K/D or Prescription diet U/D, etc. Struvites crystals and stones are most often associated with urinary infections in dogs. The Minnesota Urolith center at the University of Minnesota as this pdf list of recommendations for the prevention of calcium oxalate stones in dogs and minimizing their recurrence. 

In cats and dogs, suffering from struvite crystals/stones using veterinary prescribe diets can lead to their dissolution and are often recommended over pet store diets. These veterinary diets do work and I have seen evidence of struvite stones dissolution myself on xrays. I have also seen patients on pet store brand diets develop these types of urinary problems. Doing a urine test 4-6 weeks after your pet has been on any new food is a good preventive measure. This way you can make sure that the diet you are feeding your pet will not be leading to urinary problems down the road. It is important to consider that increasing the water intake is always the best way to prevent and treat these urinary issues.

  • VBMA veterinary discussions in regards to calcium oxalate stones and food.

Recently on the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association list server, holistic vets were discussing recommended diets for calcium oxalates stones and the subject of high protein low starch diets came up. The belief is that high protein low carbohydrate diets acidify the urine are not recommended for dogs and cats with oxalates. If a pet has an history of having urinary crystals/stone, any holistic vet that recommends a high protein low carbohydrate diet like those found in pet stores, is opening themselves up to malpractice suits because these diets may contribute to the development of new oxalate stones. Dr Susan Wynn, holistic vet and author, says that if diets with moderate protein and moderate carb are used in order to alkalinize the urine and dilute the urine, then potassium citrate and water need to be added and the urine target ph needs to be 7 and above for oxalate stone prevention with a urinary specific gravity of under 1,020 (very dilute urine). This means that a lot of urine sample need to be tested over 24 hours to make sure this is achieved and this option becomes costly for the clients. Also, the other problem with this option, potassium citrate is no longer readily available in Canada and it makes this option impossible to offer for some of us

Herbal Supplements and nutraceuticals

Antioxidants, such as Vitamin C and E, can help support your pet’s immune system while fighting bladder and urinary tract issues. For example a recommended daily dose of Vitamin C for cats would be about 125 mg to 500 mg depending on their size. In dogs, the dose of Vitamin C can range from 250 mg to 500 mg twice a day depending on their size. Please not that vitamin C is not indicated in patients with calcium oxalates because it can acidify urine which can lead to more oxalate stones. Vitamin C will modify the urine pH so consult a veterinarian before giving it to your pet. For Vitamin E the recommended dose for a cat would be around 100 I.U. daily. The dose of Vitamin E suggested in dog is about 10 I.U. per kg of body weight.

Cranberry for E.Coli infections

Cranberry has a wonderful reputation for enriching and healing the urinary tract. It is beneficial in preventing infections and problems for dogs who tend to have urinary tract problems, especially those with E. coli infections.(1) Cranberry prevents bacteria from latching to the wall of the bladder, as well as gently acidifying the urine. If you pet suffers from a bacterial infection that is not caused by E.Coli, then using cranberry will probably not help and relying on it without the use of proper antibiotics (herbal or synthetic) will put your pet at risk of an ascending kidney infection. Urine cultures are important in determining which type of bacteria is present. It is important to NOT give cranberry at the first sign of bladder troubles- have your veterinarian check for crystals in the urine first. There is some evidence that supplementation with cranberry can contribute to the excretion of oxalate and can promote Calcium Oxalate crystal formation due to its acidifying qualities.(1)

Keep in mind that simply giving your pet cranberry juice is not potent enough and is often high in glucose (sugar) so not at all recommended by holistic vets. You can find a cranberry extract, typically in capsule form, at your local health food store. I prefer to use the RX Vitaminsrx-vitamins-for-pets-cranberry-rx Cranberry supplement because I am sure of the safety and quality of this product. Cranberry is a helpful remedy, both as a treatment and as a preventative in pets with previous E.Coli infections. Talk to your veterinarian about dosing information. The Rx Vitamins product contains about 425 mg of cranberry juice extract per capsule.  Cats and small breed dogs would get 1/2 capsule to 1 capsule twice a day. Medium breed dogs would get about 1 capsule twice a day and large breed dogs would get 1-2 capsules twice a day.

Herbs for urinary tract problems

There are Chinese Veterinary Herbal formulas designed to help with DAMP HEAT, so bladder infections and in some cases bladder stones (Blood Stasis/Stone Lin) dissolution. The selection of a specific formula for your pet will depend on the Chinese traditional medicine exam and history in-take of your pet. Please consult a Chinese veterinary herbal vet prior to starting your pet on any herbal formula. other veterinarians like myself are certified by CIVT/IVAS in Chinese Veterinary Herbal Medicine or by Chi Institute. Examples of Chinese Herbal formulas: Polyporous Combination (Zhu Ling Tang), Herbsmith Bladder Care, Kan essentials Urinary Support, Kan Essentials Urinary Support Formula,  CrystaClair, etc.

Western herbs like uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is commonly used in many herbal blends for bladder issues due to its antibacterial benefits. Uva ursi is best given for short periods of time as it can cause problems with diseased kidneys or if used long-term (2). There are other herbs that may assists with urinary problems (marshmallow, dandelion, corn silk, nettle, cough grass, gravelroot, stoneroot, fenugreek, cough grass, astragalus, crataeva, withania, passion flower, chamomile, milk thistle, etc), but consult a veterinary herbalist before using these herbs. A formula can be designed by a trained veterinary herbalist. Buying on-line herbal formulas without assistance from a vet is not recommended. A lot of natural products that are not quality and safety controlled are available for the average consumer. These products may be detrimental for your pets and a lot of them may be contaminated by other things like antibiotics. A recent study published in Canada showed that over 60% of the natural products they tested were contaminated by either the wrong herbs or other drugs. Make sure you buy herbal supplements from a vet or a trusted supplier that has GMP procedures in place. For more information of natural supplements safety in Canada, visit our blog on the subject.

As a certified veterinary herbalist, I do not list recommended herbal formulas on this blog, because I practice holistically. This means that I evaluate each patient before recommending or designing appropriate herbal formulas for each. Herbal formulas can be modified based on the patient and their physical exam including history. There should not be a one formula fits all attitude when it comes to treating pets holistically.

Omegas

Supplementation with Omegas (30mg/kg DHA) can also help manage bladder health. Omega fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and can help decrease inflammation if your pet is currently being treated.(1) You can visit our previous blog on omega supplements for pets! Many veterinarians recommend long-term supplementation even after the bladder infection has resolved.

Glucosamine

Cosequin (glucosamine) for cats is sometimes recommended by some veterinarians to help with urinary problems, but it is contra-indicated if your pet is a diabetic. Glucosamine is more often recommended for pets with arthritis but some vets have seen pets on it have improvement of their urinary conditions. It seems that glucosamine may help support the protective wall of the bladder from irritation and can also be used in dogs with recurrent bladder problems.

It is important to discuss using supplements with your veterinarian or veterinary herbalist before starting, as some may interact with other medications or not be appropriate for your dog’s particular case.

Feliwayfeliway_refill

Using products like Feliway or herbal formulas designed with herbs to reduce anxiety and calm cats suffering from stress related cystitis is also suggested. Feliway can be dispensed in a spray form or plug-in dispenser and it is a feline facial pheromone that is used to help cats feel safe and secure, reducing their anxiety which is the major factor leading to urinary problems in cats.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture can help pets deal with the pain associated with urinary problems and it can help reduce their stress. It can help tonify the immune system to help them fight off infection but it is not known to be able to dissolve bladder stones themselves. It can reduce inflammation in the bladder wall and in the urethra to help dogs and cats urinate with less discomfort. Acupuncture can also speed up healing and recovery after bladder surgery in patients.

Maintaining urinary tract health is important, as the urinary tract is an essential part of your dog’s overall health and immune system strength. Feeding a healthy, well-balanced diet, supplementing with omega fatty acids if you feel your pet is at-risk for urinary problems, and keeping a watchful eye out for any urinary tract issues that may arise is the best way to keep your dog in tiptop health!

Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Grad Dip Vet Chinese Herb Med CVHM (IVAS/CIVT)

References

(1)   Bowles, Mary. Alternative Options for Managing Urinary Tract Disease in the Dog and Cat. ACVIM Proceedings. 2012
(2) Tilford, Greg L. Toxicology of Herbal Medicines. Western Veterinary Conference Proceedings. 2004.