L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

Category: Nutrition

Ask a vet: If avocados are dangerous for dogs, what's up with avocado dog food?

Have a non-emergency question about your pet's health?  Dr. Heather Oxford of L.A. veterinary hospital California Animal Rehabilitation (CARE) is here to help!  In this installment of Ask a Vet, Dr. Oxford tackles canine nutrition -- and a commonly found food that can be harmful to your pets.

Avocado Unleashed: I've heard that avocados are bad for dogs, but I also see avocado dog food on the shelves.  What’s the deal?

Heather Oxford, DVM: The toxic principle in avocados is called persin, a fatty acid derivative that is highly toxic to birds, horses, guinea pigs, goats and rabbits, among others. 

Dogs seem to be less susceptible to the toxic effects; nonetheless, excessive amounts can cause fatal problems with the heart as well as gastrointestinal effects such as vomiting and diarrhea.  Persin is located in highest concentrations in the leaves and is likely in the skin in lower concentrations. 

Dog foods that utilize avocados for their nutritional value use avocado meal, which is the green fruit between the pit and skin, and avocado oil.  Neither of these parts used in dog foods are toxic.

To submit your question for Dr. Oxford, just leave a comment on this post and look for her answer in an upcoming installment of Ask a Vet!

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Your morning adorable: Guinea pigs battle over a cucumber

For the three guinea pig pets of YouTube user Gerald56, a cucumber treat is well worth the effort it takes to steal it from your compatriots. We find the resulting video oddly hypnotic, rather like watching guinea pigs eat watermelon. Why do we find these little guys' eating habits so fascinating? We're not sure, but if loving to watch guinea pigs eat is wrong, we don't want to be right.

While experts in pocket-pet health say that the majority of a guinea pig's diet should come from grass hay and commercially available pellet food, many pet owners give them extra treats in the form of fruits and vegetables. Provided these treats are free from potentially harmful seeds, many fruits and vegetables are actually good for guinea pigs -- which, like humans, can't synthesize vitamin C. To make sure they get plenty of this nutrient, treats like an orange wedge or a bit of kale are an especially good choice.

Rescue groups fear increase in guinea pig purchases because of Disney's 'G-Force' movie
Your morning adorable: Chinchilla eats -- nay, savors -- a raisin

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: Gerald56 via YouTube

Pet food company Nutro responds to assertions of dangerous zinc levels in recalled cat food


Late last month, pet food company Nutro announced a recall of dry cat food sold in the U.S. and 10 other countries.  The company told consumers to return dry Nutro cat food with a "best if used by" date falling between May 12, 2010, and Aug. 22, 2010, to the store where it was purchased, citing an error from a premix supplier. 

"One premix contained excessive levels of zinc and under-supplemented potassium. The second premix under-supplemented potassium," read a statement posted on Nutro's website.  The company told cat owners to watch out for symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, reduced appetite or refusal to eat, and weight loss in cats that had eaten the affected food.  Still, it insisted it had received no consumer complaints and, instead, had issued the recall out of an abundance of caution.

The assertion that Nutro had received no complaints "outraged pet owners nationwide, who have told ConsumerAffairs.com for the past two years that their cats and dogs have experienced" the symptoms noted by Nutro, Lisa Wade McCormick of ConsumerAffairs.com wrote.  McCormick alleged that the website had received more than 800 complaints from pet owners who said their dogs and cats had experienced diarrhea and vomiting after eating Nutro food. 

Despite some confusion around the Web, Nutro is not under investigation by the FDA.  Even so, a few of our readers echoed the doubts expressed by ConsumerAffairs.com in the wake of the recall.  "My thirteen year-old cat is in the hospital with elevated liver enzymes and pancreatitis after eating from a bag of Nutro food with a best buy date of August 5, 2010," C.W. wrote earlier this month. "Before Sunday he was in perfect health, with a clear blood work-up in March."

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Pet food company Nutro announces recall of dry cat food


Pet food company Nutro has announced a recall of dry cat food sold in the U.S. and 10 other countries, including Canada, Mexico, Japan and Israel.  The cause of the recall, Nutro says, was a production error that caused incorrect levels of potassium and zinc to be used in the affected food. 

Nutro dry cat food that bears a "best if used by" date falling between May 12, 2010 and Aug. 22, 2010 should be returned to the retailer for a refund or exchange.  "Two mineral premixes were affected" by the error, which was made by a premix supplier, according to a statement on Nutro's website. "One premix contained excessive levels of zinc and under-supplemented potassium. The second premix under-supplemented potassium." 

The company says it has received no consumer complaints about adverse health effects on cats who ate the food, but cautions owners to watch out for symptoms including reduced appetite or refusal to eat, weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea.  (ConsumerAffairs.com dismisses the claim that no complaints were received, saying that it has logged more than 800 complaints about Nutro's food from pet owners.)  Owners of at-risk cats, such as those that are pregnant or already in poor health, should check with their veterinarian.

Nutro's moist cat food, cat treats, and dog food (dry or moist) are unaffected by the recall.  For a full list of affected products, see Nutro's website or call (800) 833-5330 between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Central time.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Dog food or pate? Who can tell anymore?

Dog food Can you tell the difference between your dog's food and, shall we say, a higher-cost alternative?

The researchers behind a new study found that, despite what we've been led to believe about the taste of Alpo or Mighty Dog, many people can't.  That study, scheduled to be released tomorrow by the American Assn. of Wine Economists, tested 18 volunteers on their ability to tell between fancy fare like pâté and some less elegant-sounding alternatives like dog food and Spam.  Our colleague Jerry Hirsch explains the results of the blind taste-test:

"We have this idea in our head that dog food won't taste good and that we would be able to identify it, but it turns out that is not the case," said Robin Goldstein, a co-author of the study.

Goldstein said the tasting demonstrated that "context plays a huge role in taste and value judgment," even though researchers warned the participants that one of the five foods they were going to taste was dog food.

The five samples came from a wide price range and were processed to have a similar consistency. The foods were duck liver mousse, pork liver pâté, two imitation pâtés -- pureed liverwurst and Spam -- and Newman's Own dog food.

Of the 18 participants, 15 misidentified the substance they believed to be dog food.  (Eight thought the liverwurst was dog food, four thought the Spam was, and one identified the duck liver mousse as Newman's Own canine cuisine.  Two even identified the high-end pâté as dog food.)

But 72% of the participants rated the actual dog food as the worst-tasting pâté. 

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Trader Joe's dog food shortage raises stink

Trader Joe's If you're a dog-owning Trader Joe's shopper like me, chances are you've been living in a world of stink the last few weeks.

Two weeks ago, due to manufacturer delays, Trader Joe's ran out of wet dog food.

Since Trader Joe's is the only place to buy Trader Joe's brand dog food, if you waited until your last can to restock, gradually switching your dog to a new food wasn't an option. This can wreak havoc on a dog's stomach and eating schedule, resulting in stomach cramps, heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea and vomiting.

For my dog it meant serious gas and refusal to eat.

Properly acclimating a dog to new food can take up to a week, slowly mixing the new with the old. This gives the digestive system time to adapt.

Time to adapt was not an option for dog owners who depend on Trader Joe's wet dog food.

Trader Joe's corporate office tells Unleashed that the wet dog food should be back in stock early this week. They blamed the shortage on a manufacturer's delay and didn't elaborate.

Message from dog owners  to Trader Joe's: This really stinks.

--Graham McCann

Photo: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times

A warning about holiday food and pets

Pug puppy We are about to enter the high-calorie season and veterinarians around the country are warning pet owners: Do not feed Fido table scraps!

Here's one take on the subject, written by Dr. Greg McGrath and published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

Feeding dogs and cats foods they are not accustomed to can cause a number of problems, from simple vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, to intestinal obstruction or perforation or pancreatitis. The most serious offenders are fatty handouts such as meat trimmings, bones and spicy dishes. We also seem to see many dogs that develop GI problems after eating tomato-based foods.

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1,500 Chinese dogs die from eating tainted feed

BEIJING — Some 1,500 dogs bred for their raccoon-like fur have died after eating feed tainted with melamine, raising questions about how widespread the industrial chemical is in China’s food chain.

The revelation comes amid a crisis over dairy products tainted with melamine that has caused kidney stones in tens of thousands of Chinese children and has been linked to the deaths of four infants.

The raccoon dogs — a breed native to east Asia whose fur is used to trim coats and other clothing — died of kidney failure after eating the tainted feed, Zhang Wenkui, a veterinary professor at Shenyang Agriculture University, said Monday. "First, we found melamine in the dogs’ feed, and second, I found that 25% of the stones in the dogs’ kidneys were made up of melamine," said Zhang, who performed a necropsy — an animal autopsy — on about a dozen dogs.

Zhang declined to say when the deaths occurred but a report Monday in the Southern Metropolis Daily said they had been over the past two months. In the ongoing tainted milk scandal, which has been linked to the deaths of four babies, melamine was said to be added to watered-down milk to artificially boost nitrogen levels, making products seem higher in protein when tested. Some 54,000 children were also sickened.

The animal deaths were also a reminder of last year’s uproar over a Chinese-made pet food ingredient containing melamine that was linked to the deaths of dozens of dogs and cats in the United States. At the time, China’s product safety authorities revoked the business licenses of questionable firms, announced tougher guidelines and increased inspections.

-- Associated Press

Checking up on dog food ingredients

With, what, a possible 4,000 deaths of American pets caused by pet food contaminated by ingredients from China, you'd think the pet food companies would be a little more aware of consumers' sensitivities.

I picked up a can of dog food at the grocery store a couple of days ago and read every letter of the fine print, looking for where the ingredients came from. Then I picked up another brand and did the same thing. And a third, and a fourth. A fifth. I even looked at the top and bottom of each can, in case it had been stamped there with an expiration date.


Here's what I did find, and it did absolutely nothing to reassure me. There on the label were the words:  "Printed in the USA."

So, if I'm worried about the origin of what I'm giving my dog, I guess I can safely feed him the label. 

--Patt Morrison

Pedigree pet food sold in California recalled


State public health officials have recalled a type of Pedigree pet food because of possible salmonella contamination, the Associated Press reports.

The California Department of Public Health issued a statement Tuesday pulling certain bags of Pedigree Complete Nutrition Small Crunchy Bites off of the market.

Mars Petcare US of Franklin, Tenn., which makes the pet food, said in a statement that a possibly contaminated component that should have been held back was accidentally shipped to a Pedigree facility in Tracy, Calif.

It was used in about 100 bags of the food, which were shipped to Albertsons supermarkets in Southern California and to Costco stores statewide. The lot codes for bags sold at Albertsons is 830BFCAT02. The bags sold at Costco have lot numbers of 831BFCAT02 and 830DFCAT02. Both have “best by” dates of July 2009.

There have been no reports of illnesses resulting from the recalled pet food, Mars Petcare said.

Salmonella can cause serious or even fatal abdominal illness, with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea, in both people and animals. Sometimes the averse affects don't show up immediately, so if your pet ate some of the recalled food, a visit to the vet is recommended.

More information about the recall is available by calling (877) 568-4463 or on Mars Petcare's website.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images


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