Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rainbow Of Poo

Easily offended readers, or those with good taste, have probably not made it past the title to get to this warning, but as a precaution here is the warning anyway: this post is entirely devoted to discussing the whys and wherefores of dog poop colour.

I did not have a dog growing up so my earliest dog memories are of my friend's and relative's dogs. In particular I remember Antje, the beautiful big black standard poodle owned by my friend Derwin Rovers' family. Derwin lived in the next block and we were back and forth at each other's houses a lot. They were Dutch and loved the Dutch style red cabbage that is stewed with apples and turns a vibrant purple colour. Derwin's Oma was visiting from the Netherlands and she loved Antje. Antje loved her too. Antje loved her because Oma would feed her from the table whenever Derwin's parents weren't looking. One day they had this red cabbage and Oma gave Antje rather a lot of it, plus some pork and mashed potatoes. The diarrhea was purple. Right on their white shag carpet (this was the early 1970s after all). Brilliant, vivid purple. I cannot begin to explain how deeply impressive this was to a pair of 6 year old boys. Eyes wide, mouth hanging open, fingers pointing... this made our day. Heck it made our month. Purple poo. Derwin, your dog had purple poo.

Fast forward forty-five years and I am still grappling with dog poo colour as not a week goes by without a question from a client about what it all means. So here, for your edification is a field guide to the spectrum:

Brown: Let's start with an easy one. Any shade of brown is normal. It may vary from dark to light from time to time for no particular reason, but it's all good.

Yellow, Green or Orange: These are generally muted brownish versions of these colours, but these are also fine. You are just seeing more bile coming through. This may happen when the gut is contracting a little faster or with certain foods, but as long as it is firm it is fine.

Red: This generates the most calls and visits as it is understandably alarming. Yes, red does mean blood. Generally, however, the red blood is in spots or streaks or as a small amount at the end of the bowel movement and should not be a cause for alarm. (If, on the other hand, the entire bowel movement is red you are right to be alarmed and you should call your veterinarian forthwith.) The spots and streaks just mean that anus, rectum or last part of the colon are irritated and that perhaps there was some straining to break a small blood vessel. If it only happens once or twice and the feces are otherwise ok or just a little soft, don't worry. If it happens several times, call your veterinarian.

Purple: See Antje's story above.

Blue: Never seen that. I have no idea. Call you veterinarian immediately.

White or Grey: Likely your dog was given a barium swallow test and you are seeing the barium pass through. If this was not the case... you know what I'm going to say... call your veterinarian!

Black: This is the important one, really the only colour you need to watch for. If the stool is jet black like tar or molasses and especially if it is soft and glistening and sticky, your dog may have what is called "melena". That is digested blood and is coming from higher up in the system like the stomach or small intestine. This can be very serious as it may indicate a bleeding ulcer or tumour. Please note however that pepto-bismol can also turn the stool black.

So there you have it. While consistency, size, frequency and effort to produce are all important pieces of information regarding your dog's stool, colour, perhaps surprisingly, is generally not. Unless it is black.

And for the cat people reading I'll say that more or less the same applies although for some reason you don't ask about it nearly as often as dog people do. A fun fact though is that if you have multiple cats and someone is pooping out of the box but you don't know who you can put non-toxic sparkles in one cat's food at a time until you see who makes sparkly poo!

No, I have not lost my mind. Yes, I am absolutely serious about all of this. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Nature Of Nature

Nature is not your friend, or your pet's friend. It is not your enemy either, but it is not your friend. It is simply indifferent. Like that cool, funny, attractive, intelligent person you wish you could get to know better, but they're too busy being themselves.

I'm probably going to get some hate mail for this, so let me first reassure the reader that I actually do love nature, regardless of how it feels about me. I spend as much time in the wilderness as possible, I contribute to environmental causes, I make my own yogurt, I buy eggs from pasture-grazed chickens direct from the farmer, I can distinguish the two species of nuthatch at fifty paces and I have been known to wear Birkenstocks.

Unfortunately however, for some people, including some pet owners, love of nature has become confused with believing that medications and foods labeled "natural" are better for their pet's health. There are two distinct problems with this belief.

The first is, as I indicated above, nature is not your pet's friend. The most potent cancer causing agent yet identified anywhere is aflatoxin, which is produced by a certain mold on peanuts, rice and a few other foods. Tiny amounts that are undetectable to the eye, nose or tastebuds are enough to cause a problem. This is perfectly natural and has been around since we were still living in trees and grunting at each other. And it has cropped up in some small batch dog foods with poor quality control. This is just one example. There are many many more.

Another way to look at this is to consider the life span of wild animals living fully natural lives. Wolves, for example, generally average around 7 years, not much more than half that of many domestic dogs. Middle aged and older readers may wish to shield their eyes, but if nature is indifferent to our fate, it is supremely indifferent to the point of negligence about our fate once we are past reproductive age.

The second problem with seeking out "natural" labeled products for health purposes is that the term is unregulated and effectively meaningless. I have no particular affection for the giant pharmaceutical corporations and their profit-seeking distortions of science, but if you believe that a product that happens to have a smiling Peruvian native on the label and uses a funky earthy font is truly "natural" and, moreover, is somehow made by a non-profit collective that only has your pet's very best interest at heart, then you are naive. Ditto for pet foods named purple antelope or green beaver or some other marketing department driven bewilderment. The only difference is scale. It's almost all profit driven and it's almost all designed to sell as much product as possible.

If you can gather it or grow it or raise it or hunt it yourself, and if you have solid research (statistics not anecdotes please!) to back up its safety and efficacy, by all means, go natural! But if you are buying it packaged, be wary, be skeptical. It's not necessarily bad, but it's certainly not necessarily good either.

Many people have the charming belief that something wouldn't be allowed to be sold if it wasn't safe and at least a little bit effective. The truth is that if it doesn't require a prescription it is either very loosely regulated or not regulated at all. A giant firehose of over-the-counter nutraceuticals, supplements, herbal remedies and "natural" cures of all description is aimed at us and nobody has the resources to test and double-check even a fraction of it.

And right now nature is producing -43C wind chills out there. So please keep your pets in the unnatural confines of the house until the natural winds subside.