Because we have our own vets practice, we see many pets, with a whole range of different problems. And because all of us have our own dogs and cats, we also understand the challenges of pet ownership. We get our ideas for our food, from our clients in the clinic so we are never short of problems to solve and that’s what we aim to do with our pet food.
For example, when our head nurse Katie got Binny and started training him, she realised there weren’t many options of treats, which were small, soft and that he could eat easily but that were also made with all natural, high quality ingredients. We started looking into it.
As vets, we have a unique understanding of the impact nutrition has on pet health, and how diet can significantly prevent or aid in managing many common health and behavioural conditions. In any animal, including humans, nutrition is fundamentally linked to health and well-being. For example, we see the effects that poor nutrition can have on our pets; from digestive disorders and obesity to chronic skin conditions, ear problems, diabetes and many more. We know that cats and dogs are different physiologically and have different nutritional needs. So we use our years of training and our veterinary knowledge and expertise to create our products, using natural ingredients to help address many of the common problems that we face as vets and pet owners.
We care a lot about what goes into our food and the only way to make sure what we are putting in will help and is healthy, we have to do a lot of research. We come at these problems from a research angle first. So we hit the books and gather advice from external specialists. Once we have an idea, the team set about collecting the very latest nutrition and clinical research from studies, clinical journals and research papers, to provide an evidence base for formulating the product. We make sure we know as much as possible about what ingredients can help which ailments and if there is no sufficient evidence that something works, then it doesn’t make it into our food.
We work closely with highly qualified animal nutritionists. This, alongside a combination of our veterinary and pet expertise means we can provide your pets with high quality nutrition in every mouthful thanks to our cutting edge diet formulation and manufacturing techniques. We sit down and write down exactly what we want in our product.
We are proud to be independent. It’s of huge importance to us that our products are manufactured in the UK, sourcing local, sustainable, and high quality ingredients. We are proud to be British and we think it is important that our products are also packed in the UK.
Puppy training is a very important part of ensuring your new puppy grows up to be a well socialised and trained member of the family. Training can begin pretty much as soon as your new family member comes home at around 8 weeks of age. Yes, your puppy is small, cute and still a baby, so to speak, but now is an important time to set some ground rules, and begin the basics. Everyone knows of someone who owns ‘that dog’ who jumps up, barks at the window, or drags its owner around the park. These are all totally avoidable behaviours, and all it takes is patient training and your puppy can sit nicely when being greeted, and walk calmly to heel.
Training should always be fun and rewarding for your puppy. We use the term positive reinforcement, by which we mean that the action has a positive outcome. For instance when the puppy sits, he gets a treat or a game with his toy. We do not use negative reinforcement, so if the puppy does not sit he gets told off. Positive reinforcement will mean that puppy will be willing and happy to perform that action again, whereas negative reinforcement can lead to delayed learning, and can affect your newly forming bond.
Clicker training is a popular new type of training, which can help dogs learn faster as you can be more accurate with telling them when they have performed the correct action. A ‘clicker’ is a small hand held plastic device that makes a clicking sound when depressed. The dog learns that the click means they have done something correctly, and that a treat will follow. It is a means of marking the good behaviour that the dog has done as soon as it is done, so timing is very important. For instance, as soon as the puppy goes into the sit position, you click and give the treat. This can mean the puppy instantly knows when it has done something correctly, rather than waiting for you to dig out the treat! It is also useful, for what we call ‘shaping’ behaviours. For instance, my dog Binny was clicker trained, and so when he performed a natural behaviour, which was wiping his feet when coming in from outside, I was able to click and treat this behaviour and he learnt that it was desired. I could then gradually add in a command ‘wipe feet’ and we have shaped a natural behaviour with clicker training.
Training sessions should be small and short, for example 5-10 minutes a couple of times a day is plenty. A puppy will only have a short attention span, and will tire quickly. You want to ensure that the session ends on a positive note, and not go on for so long that they lose interest and start getting things wrong. The basic things your new puppy must learn (besides toilet and crate training) are:
Once the basics are in place and are consistent, other fun things to teach could be:
To train your puppy, first you must start off with no distractions, for instance in a room the puppy is used to, with no other people or loud noises. This reduces the chances of the puppy getting distracted. Prepare yourself with some tasty treats which your puppy is used to, so they will not get an upset tummy. Little Star are great as they can be broken up into small pieces, so as not to overload them with too much food. Small pieces of cheddar cheese or chicken are also good, if your dog can tolerate them. Keep some treats which are ‘special’ for training, so if your puppy is already getting chicken with his dinner for instance, he will be less likely to see it as a good reward. A treat pouch is useful, which you can attach to your waist so it is easy to reach.
To train the ‘sit’ the treat should be shown to the puppy, then held infront of the nose, and gently moved up and backwards. This lures the puppy, as its natural reaction is to look at the treat, and this will in turn make the bottom touch the ground. As soon as the puppy has sat, give the treat and some praise, or if your puppy is clicker trained, click and treat. Repeat this a few times, letting the puppy get up and move about in-between. Once the puppy has got the hang of the sit and is quite consistent, you can pair it up with the word ‘sit’ which must be used as the bottom is heading to the ground. If the word is used too early, and the puppy does not sit, the word becomes meaningless. Hand signals can also be used. Remember to keep the training session short and fun, you could end by playing a game with your puppy and their favourite toy. Once the puppy is able to perform the command in an area with no distractions, you can gradually change the location, so you can do it with other people in the room, or out in the park.
However, taste is only one factor that affects how palatable a food is. Dogs and cats also rely on olfaction (smell), texture, shape and the temperature of food before they decide if they like it or not. For example, studies show that neither dogs nor cats particularly like sticky foods but yet generally both show a preference for wet food over dry. Cats in particular can form strong preferences for the texture of food, which can happen when they are very young. This can create finicky adult cats that have never been exposed to different textures of food as kittens. Some pet foods contain colourings to make the food appeal visually to the owner, so far there are no studies to suggest that colour makes any difference to food preference of dogs or cats.
he water content of food does seem to play a part with both dogs and cats preferring moist food over dry. Adding water to dry food can increase palatability (and water consumption) for some pets but there are others that will refuse to eat it this way.
Higher protein diets- those with a higher percentage of meat or fish are favoured by dogs and cats (cats especially like diets that contain liver) but the freshness of a diet is important especially when it comes to fish. Interestingly, with the increase in raw diets at the moment when given a choice it seems that most pets prefer cooked food over raw, however if it’s overcooked this can put them off.
Some pet food companies add ingredients specifically designed to increase palatability of dry food. These are called ‘digests’ or ‘palatants’ and come in a dry or liquid form. The dry kibble is coated with the palatant (and sometimes oil or fat), which can be vegetable, yeast or meat based. The quality of the palatant varies greatly, with premium palatants costing more to produce. However, diets that use high quality ingredients should be tasty enough without the need to add these flavour enhancers.
With all these factors to consider when developing a new food, it is important to test palatability before launching a new diet and there are several different ways to do this. Some pet food companies will use kennelled dogs or cats. There are benefits to this method, for example it tends to be more accurate as there are no family members to feed extras and no other pets to push in and steal the food! And kennelled animals are used to a wide variety of flavours and textures which means they tend to be less fussy. However, we prefer pets to try our food in their familiar own-home environment and we only use willing volunteers – either staff pets or clients that come into our in house Vet’s Klinic. This type of taste-testing means that we only use family pets and we are able to get ‘real-life’ feedback rather than data from kennelled animals that taste new foods day in, day out. We can also get the owners perspective on how excited their cat or dog is to eat the new food.
There are two types of consumption tests; the single bowl acceptance test and the two-bowl (or two-pan) acceptance test. When we tested our Ultra Fresh cat food we used the two-bowl approach. Two bowls are offered to the cat simultaneously. One bowl contains the cat’s current food and the other bowl contains the new food – that up until this point they had not seen, smelled or tasted before. Each bowl contains the same amount of food and after a set period of time the remaining food is measured to see which bowl the cat ate more food from, this is called ‘intake ratio’. The other measures recorded during this approach is for the owner to report which bowl the cat approached first (even if they didn’t eat from it) – this is called ‘first approach’ and then which bowl they ate from first, which is ‘first choice ratio’.
At Vet’s Kitchen we only use willing volunteers to taste test our food in their own home. Before we launched our Ultra Fresh Adult cat food, we were pretty sure it was going to be tasty, but to be sure we recruited 40 willing volunteers from our own in-house practice Vet’s Klinic… the empty bowls speak for themselves!
See our tasters in action below.
Socialisation is the term used to describe the careful introduction of your puppy to other animals, people, environments and objects. Puppy socialisation as a way of learning; they learn how to cope with new places, situations and people, they learn how to communicate with other animals and how to fit in with family life. A puppy that is properly socialised will grow up to be confident and happy, whereas one that has been poorly socialised may end up anxious and fearful, which in turn can lead to aggression. Several studies have linked a lack of early socialisation in puppies with behavioural problems in older dogs.
Up until 16 weeks old, puppies are going through a critical stage of their development when they are open to learning about new situations and environments. After this age anything new that they haven’t come across before will be met with apprehension. However, there is also a phase known as the ‘fear imprint period’ which is seen between 8-11 weeks old. It is still within the socialisation window but occurs when their natural fear responses start to kick in. During this period any traumatic, frightening or painful experiences will have a more lasting effect and can set your puppy back for life. It is very important that you continue to expose your puppy to new things during this stage but it is essential to make each experience as positive as possible – please see our information on ‘positive reinforcement’ in Training 101. A second fear imprint period occurs during adolescence, typically between 6-14 months old.
It is believed that this stage in development can be traced back to the habits of wild dogs and wolves. After the first few weeks with their family and a safe environment, wolf cubs develop a healthy apprehension of new situations or creatures as a way of protecting themselves from danger. Although older dogs can still be socialised it is much harder and they do not appear to cope as well.
Your puppy should be introduced to as many friendly people as possible in their first few weeks of life. In fact, it’s a good idea to ask the breeder how many people your puppy has been socialised with before coming home with you. They should also have handled the puppy frequently as this gets them used to being touched and has been shown to help reduce the likelihood of biting later on. You should try to let your puppy meet as many different people as possible including: men, women and children of all ages, people of different races, people wearing hats, scarves or sunglasses, family members and strangers.
According to the PDSA, more than five million cats in the UK are overweight. Vets are now reporting that 40% of all the cats that they treat are obese or overweight. With 48% of owners feeding them treats more than twice a day one way of tackling this feline obesity epidemic is with puzzle feeding.
Puzzle feeding is simply a way of feeding your cat in a more rewarding and stimulating manner than the ordinary bowl method. Your cat has to figure out what movement of a toy is required to get the food out, creating a game!
Many owners wish to keep their cats indoors due to safety or health reasons, however, it is important to remember supply them with enough environmental enrichment to keep them mentally stimulated and physically fit. Using a puzzle feeder can provide this enhancement into their daily life.
Cats are natural born hunters and they normally get their meals by stalking, pouncing and capturing prey. In the domesticated lifestyle, we are simply serving beautifully prepared birds and mice in a ceramic bowl, usually two times a day, which causes them to become lazy and bored. For this species, a successful meal requires mental and physical stimulation.
Puzzle feeders come in many shapes, sizes and complexity. If you’re just starting out using them then consider a simpler puzzle and then move onto more complex designs.
You can choose from stationary puzzles where the cat has to use his/her paws to knock, push or pull the food to where they can eat it, or a moving puzzle they have to chase or bash around to get the tasty reward out.
You can make your own inexpensive, homemade puzzle feeders easily using toilet rolls and bottles making them as simple or complex as suited to your cat.
These are important minerals for a dog with chronic heart failure. A deficiency of magnesium or phosphorus can exacerbate the potential side effects of cardiac medications and may cause other problems such as muscle weakness and cardiac arrhythmias. Magnesium levels should be monitored in your dog and if he/she becomes deficient then a diet with higher levels may be recommended. However, whether the dog requires a diet higher or lower in potassium depends completely on the individual animal. Again, your vet will need to check your dog regularly and moderate the diet when and if necessary.
Some of the specialist diets specifically developed for cardiac disease have a reduced phosphorus content too. Phosphorus, along with calcium is a major component of bone. Phosphorus is also found in the soft tissues and plays a role in almost all of the body’s metabolic processes. However, phosphorus restriction is important once kidney failure has been diagnosed. During renal failure the kidney’s ability to filter and excrete phosphorus declines and the build-up of phosphorus in the body can be toxic. Reducing dietary phosphorus for dogs with kidney failure has been shown to increase their lifespan by 2-3 times compared to dogs fed on a standard food. As many dogs with heart disease also have kidney disease, some companies have chosen to restrict phosphorus in the diet as well as minerals such as sodium. However, phosphorus restriction is not necessary to aid patients with heart disease if their kidneys are functioning correctly.
During normal cell metabolism (oxidation) the body produces unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are responsible for normal aging but if they are able to increase in numbers they can cause disease and illness too. Contaminants such as pollution and damage from sunlight (sun burn) can increase the amount of free radicals the body produces. Antioxidants including Vitamins C and E help to neutralise free radicals and therefore reduce the destruction caused by free radicals. However, studies have shown that dogs with either Dilated cardiomyopathy or Mitral Valve disease have an imbalance between free radical production and the amount of antioxidant protection available. Therefore it has been recommended that the diet of a dog with heart disease is supplements with antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E, however scientific evidence to support the need for supplementation is still weak.
Vet’s Kitchen dry food contains 8% moisture, the rest of the food (92%) is called dry matter and this is where all the nutrients in the food are. Different brands of dry food and types of foods e.g. wet food or semi moist food all contain different moisture contents. These differences in moisture content make it difficult to do a direct comparison on nutrient levels, therefore nutrients are usually only compared on a dry matter basis instead of an ‘as fed’ basis.
November is a time of year to raise awareness for men’s health, and we must not forget our furry friends! Our dogs can also suffer from specific health issues associated with being male, one of these being prostate disorders.
The prostate is a small gland found at the neck of the bladder in male dogs. It is an essential part of the male reproductive system and is responsible for producing some of the fluids found in semen needed to protect sperm. Unfortunately, male dogs can suffer from a range of prostate disorders, some of which are incredibly common – especially in entire (non-castrated) dogs.
Below are some of the basics to identifying and understanding prostatic disease in dogs.
There are a range of disorders which can affect the prostate – some are ‘acute’ and so will have a rapid onset of clinical signs, while others are more chronic and one may only see a slow progression of signs appearing over months to years. All of these conditions however produce a similar range of clinical signs, which you can look out for at home:
As the name suggests this is a non-cancerous (benign) enlargement of the prostate. It is very commonly seen in entire male dogs as it is associated with the hormones released from the testicles. It can be treated very effectively with castration, and signs should begin to improve within a few weeks. If the dog is required for breeding or is too unwell to undergo surgery there are medical alternatives which can be used, but the treatment of choice by most veterinarians will be castration. Another similar benign enlargement of the prostate also under hormonal influence is called squamous cell metaplasia – it is most commonly caused by an oestrogen producing tumour in the testicles and is also treated by castration.
Chronic kidney disease is unfortunately a problem in cats and dogs we see all too frequently and at our Vet’s Klinic we help many pets and their owners to manage this difficult news. The kidneys are essential for filtering waste products into urine and for water and electrolyte (essential salt) balance along with the regulation of certain hormones. This article touches on the causes, diagnosis and treatment options available to you and your canine or feline friend.
Kidney disease (also known as renal disease or renal failure) comes in two forms, acute or chronic. Acute kidney disease is often due to toxins, usually accidental poisoning by ingestion of antifreeze/medications, or from diseases, such as leptospirosis (which can be vaccinated against). The symptoms will appear suddenly, over a couple of days. These can sometimes be treated, although the effects on the kidneys may not be fully reversed, depending on how quickly treatment is sought.
Chronic kidney disease (CRF) is fairly common, and mostly seen in older/senior animals, which we class as animals over 8 years of age. Chronic Kidney disease is more common in cats than dogs and is often secondary to other conditions, such as hyperthyroidism. However, it is estimated that 1 in 10 dogs will also suffer from this disease. It has a slower progression than acute kidney disease, and builds up over time. There are several possible causes, and signs are often hard to spot initially, as they are not visible until 75% of the kidney function has already been lost.
The main signs of chronic kidney disease are:
If your pet is showing any of these symptoms, you should go and see your vet.
There are many different causes for the loss of kidney function and often it is impossible to tell the original causative factor. To simplify into three categories there are causes before, in, and after the kidneys which can lead to damage to the kidneys:
Dental disease can also have an impact on the kidneys, as bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream and attack the kidneys. The vet can have a look at your pet’s teeth and gums and assess if they will require a dental procedure called a scale and polish, and possible extractions of rotten teeth. However, this does have risks if the pet does already have kidney problems, as the anaesthetic and drugs used in the procedure could worsen the problem.
Like us, our pets have an immune system. The immune system consists of the lymphatic system (lymph nodes, lymph vessels & tonsils), thymus, spleen, bone marrow, liver, intestines and white blood cells. These structures all help to defend the body and help it to fight off illnesses and infections caused by things it does not recognise and thinks could be dangerous e.g. viruses, parasites and bacteria.
With the immune system being such an important part of our pets health, it is important we look after it as best as we can. The phrase ‘you are what you eat’ comes to mind as most owners would agree that eating healthy food can help you stay in the best shape. It’s the same for our pets, healthy food without any chemical preservatives, colourings or artificial flavourings is a great start but getting the right balance of ingredients is also important. For example, it has been proven in both humans and animals that a deficiency in energy, protein, essential fatty acids and some minerals and vitamins can be detrimental to the immune system. On top of this, studies have shown that as our pets age there are changes to the immune system and they are more likely to develop tumours and infectious disease. However, it’s never too late to start supporting their immune system and alongside a healthy, balanced diet there are some ingredients/supplements that have shown promising results for immune health. This article will explore some of the more important nutrients including:
Beta-Glucans are naturally occurring carbohydrate molecules found in the wall of Brewer’s Yeast; which is alsov an excellent source of B Vitamins and additional prebiotics.
Beta-1,3/1,6- glucans have been shown to reduce chemical messages that stimulate inflammation and increase the anti-inflammatory messages to white blood cells. These types of chemical changes are thought to be beneficial to the control of allergic skin disease in some dogs.
Nucleotides are the building blocks of DNA. DNA is present in every cell and provides genetic instructions for the cells’ function. Every time a cell divides it must replicate the strands of DNA for each new cell. The tissues in our body that produce new cells the most frequently are the cells that provide our natural defences, the gut wall and immune cells.
We naturally make nucleotides from the food we eat. However, in the cells that are dividing the quickest and most frequently (the gut and immune cells) it has been proven that by supplementing the building blocks (nucleotides) for cell replication when the defences are challenged, that the response is quicker and greater. Supplementing your dog’s food with nucleotides enables them to respond more quickly and efficiently to what life throws at them.
During normal cell metabolism the body produces unstable molecules called free radicals. These are responsible for normal ageing, but if they are able to increase in numbers they can cause disease and illness too. Contaminants such as pollution and damage from sunlight (sun burn) can increase the amount of free radicals the body produces. Due to their structure, immune cells are particularly vulnerable to damage from free radicals, however, antioxidants including Vitamins C and E help to neutralise free radicals and reduce the destruction caused by them. Vitamins C and E are found widely in foods, however plant oils and seeds are a rich source of Vitamin E and whilst citrus fruits are a well-known source of Vitamin C, but it is also it is found in other foods including green leafy veg such as kale and broccoli. Other rich sources of antioxidants include curcumin – the active ingredient in turmeric, grape seed extract (which is safe for dogs, unlike grapes) and spinach which contains the antioxidant lutein. Minerals including selenium, which contains an antioxidant enzyme and zinc also have very important roles in the immune system. The richest sources of zinc include meat, fish and nuts and selenium fish, meat and spinach.
Fatty acids are ‘good’ fats that can be beneficial to health. In fact, some of them are vital for health and without them your pet would not survive. The essential ones cannot be produced by dogs or cats and must be obtained from their food. There are different types of Omega fatty acids, but the most well-known are Omega 6 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) and Omega 3 EFAs.
The correct balance of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is important as an imbalance can actually produce inflammation; the amount and type of essential fatty acid can also affect the activity of immune cells. It is thought that there are other ways that EFAs help the immune system and current research is looking into this.
Marine sources such as algae or fish oil are generally the best sources of Omega 3’s. Omega 6 fatty acids are found in plant and seed oils such as flaxseed, borage, sunflower and rapeseed but it is also smaller amounts in meat and cereals.
Amino acids can be described as the building blocks of protein. Many amino acids are essential meaning that your dog or cat has to get them from their food. Three amino acids that have important roles in the immune system are arginine, cysteine and glutamine. Any complete dog food should contain all of these amino acids if it has a high enough meat content as they are mostly found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Arginine is also found in several types of nuts and glutamine in parsley and spinach.
Your dog’s diet affects the type and number of bacteria (and other microbes such as fungus) in their gut. This collection of microbes is known as the gut microbiome. Bacteria in the microbiome is essential for digestion and also affects the immune system. Some types of bacteria are seen as invaders and can trigger the immune system, whereas others are thought to be beneficial, this is an area of research which is of great interest and clinical studies are on-going. In dogs, the type and number of bacteria changes depending on whether the diet is high protein, low carbohydrate or vice versa. However, additional natural ingredients such as prebiotics or sources of prebiotics like inulin from chicory or Brewer’s yeast can also be important. Prebiotics help to feed the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut supporting overall gut health.
There are many foods that are thought to help support the immune system including citrus fruits (high in antioxidants), ginger, garlic and green tea extract. However, some of these are not suitable for pets. For example, green tea extract research has shown it has some very promising health benefits but if taken in high doses or on an empty stomach it can be lethal and garlic (and onions) can lead to anaemia if too much is eaten. Therefore, you might prefer to look for a complete food with added ingredients to maintain the immune system, or a vet recommended supplement so you can be sure the dose and ingredients are suitable for your pet.