Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chicken feet and the call of the wild

I dedicate this blog to the big healthy portion of chicken feet pictured above and those who love to eat them.

Food and food choices absolutely fascinate me.  The science of nutrition fascinates me.  Perhaps that is why my college days (before vet school) were spent pursuing a degree in animal nutrition.  Animal nutrition was going to be my fall-back profession just in case I did not get into vet school.  Now that I am focused on medicine, my nutrition interests have become more a personal hobby, i.e. cooking for me and my husband.  Of course it helps that we live on a working vegetable farm and have an endless supply of fresh veggies all summer long.  And we raise our own chickens both for meat and eggs.  I do a lot of home grown food preservation so we can enjoy summer's bounty all year round.  I have come to truly appreciate the labor and the taste of cooking from scratch.  Not to say that I don't have some processed food items in the pantry for those weeks when late nights at the clinic use up my supply of pre-made homemade meals.  Sometimes when the body is tired from a long day at work, nutrition becomes more of a necessity rather than something to be savored and enjoyed.  Give me a microwavable dinner and let me go to bed!

Because I enjoy preparing meals so much, I get the whole homemade pet diet craze.  I don't partake it in personally, but I get it.  While I prefer sitting down to a meal with roast chicken from my farm, homemade mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli from the garden over chicken nuggets and previously frozen french fries, my dogs do not show the same type of preferences in their diet.  They are what I call "appetite driven" and not taste driven.  They show the same enthusiasm toward a bowl of dry commercial dog food kibble as they do a few morsels of my cooked chicken as they do the mouse that one of the barn cats left in the back yard three days earlier.   OK, that last one is a fairly bad example because it is quite rare that the rodent carcasses brought home by the cats last more than a few seconds if discovered by any one of the dogs.  But you get my point.  So while I do home cook for myself, I admit I take the easy way out and feed commercially prepared food to my dogs and cats and chickens for that matter.  Lots of science goes into creating balanced and nutritional diets for animals and I am more than happy to take advantage of all the hard work spent to create a balanced animal food.  Scooping feed out of a bag simplifies my life enormously and I've always had a healthy bunch of animals in my household and on my farm.

As a veterinarian, I have very little problem with most commercial diets.  I see dogs that are healthy eating every type of dog food from typical grocery store fare to exotic pet shop diets.  For that reason, I am very hesitant to recommend specific brands when having discussions about what to feed pets (unless there is a medical need).  I think the obesity problem (that means OVER feeding) has way more to do with how healthy or unhealthy our pets are than what brand of food they eat.  Genetics plays a HUGE role too.  There was an interesting study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine recently about causes of death in dogs by breed and age.  Not surprising was that as dogs grow older they are more likely to die from cancer.  Some would blame our environment or diet as the culprit, but interestingly enough was that after a certain age, the incidence of cancer started going down.  You would expect that if diet or environment were totally to blame that the cancer incidence would continue to climb all the way through the oldest individuals.  It doesn't .  Here is a nice blog that discusses this study.

But you would be living under the proverbial rock, if you did not at least know there are murmurings about how bad commercial diets for our pets.  Ah yes, the internet buzz.  I have three issues with the undeserved demonization of commercial pet diets.  The same people who have jumped on the "raw diet" and homemade diet bandwagon are the same ones who proclaim commercial pet foods are some toxic product of the animal slaughter house industry because you will find ingredients such as chicken by-product meal in pet food.  Oh the horror when it is discovered that chicken by-product meal is this: " Chicken by-product meal consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice.".  Chicken feet!  Oh my, it contains chicken feet!  Well did you know that chicken feet actually do have some nutritional value?  They are considered a delicacy in many Asian cultures and can be found pre-packaged on grocery store shelves in many parts of the world.  Just because most Americans (me included) wouldn't put a chicken foot within a few feet of my mouth doesn't mean they aren't edible.  Actually one of the women who was at one of our farm's chicken butchering days last year requested cleaning and packing up some of the chicken feet because her mom makes soup stock from them.  No problem.  I was planning on throwing them out.

But yet the "raw food" crowd jumps up and down and shouts how raw diets are "natural" when all they are feeding is meat and perhaps ground up bones and veggies.  What is so wrong with the feet, necks and internal organs and perhaps a few feathers mixed in?  The coyotes that raid the farmer's chicken coop don't seem to mind eating those other parts along with the meat and bones.  I don't get the prejudice against animal parts that most AMERICANS do not tend to eat.  And what is great about chicken by-product meal is that it is cooked so that all the nasty bacteria and parasites that are found in raw food are now dead.

The second issue I have with raw food diets is the "raw" part.  I've gotten a little better with my own cooking, but after going through public health class in vet school and learning about all the parasites that occur naturally in the meats that we eat, I had a tendency to cook every cut of meat until it resembled a charcoal briquette.  Not because I wasn't paying attention to how long I cooked my meat.  No, it was quite purposeful as I would flip burgers on the grill and mutter "die parasites die" under my breath.  I have loosened up a bit these days in the pursuit of good flavor and juiciness of the meat I eat, but you will never catch me eating Sushi.

Raw foods can be an issue for pets too.  Remember about how my dogs love to snack on the rodents that the barn cats catch and deposit so lovingly on the front porch of the house?  Well this caused quite a bit of embarrassment for me last winter.  I used to let the dogs sleep with me in bed before I got married.  Then I married a farm boy who was raised with the "dogs don't belong in the house" philosophy.  He was quite tolerant of the dogs in the bed until one day one of the dogs ate a pile of cat poop outside and then proceeded to jump on the bed and vomit said pile of cat poop all over said bed.  That was the last day the dogs were allowed on the bed.  He has no problems with the dogs in the house (and even cuddles with them on the floor every day), but no dogs in bed.  Because I don't sleep with the dogs anymore, I may be a little slower on the uptake about things like, um, tapeworms (which dogs get from eating rodents).  Sue, our office manager, was so kind to watch my old dog Molly at her house while my husband and I went out of town on vacation.  Sue has such a kind heart and even though Molly is not allowed on the furniture at my house, Sue puts a blanket on her couch and lets Molly sleep there.  When I got back from vacation Sue informed me that she had found tapeworm segments on her couch.  Ooops!  So sorry Sue.  Guess I had better worm my rodent eating dog.   Dogs and cats DO get parasites from raw food.  They DO get salmonella and other bacteria from food.  As someone who sees firsthand the harm that parasites and bacteria can cause pets and people, I don't understand why cooking pet food is evil to the raw food believers.  I guess I can't understand everything.  I will continue to cook my food and mutter "die parasites die".  I am a cooked food believer.

Last but not least is the nutritional balancing act.  You've got your big nutrients (carbs, proteins and fats) and your little nutrients (vitamins and minerals).  All must be in balance.  Now there is some deep philosophical stuff right there.  So for those who want to make homemade diets for your pets,  I beg you PLEASE learn how to do it correctly.  It takes months and months of eating a diet with nutritional deficiencies before you might see a problem.  It makes me so sad to see a blind cat or a young dog with thin brittle broken bones all because they were eating a poorly made diet.

I am going to give you two great sources of homemade diets.  Both companies are run by veterinarians.  Both are VERY reasonably priced for their consultation services.  One is BalanceIT and the other is  Check them out so I don't have to see your pets in my office for a nutritional deficiency.  I have enough to do treating all the bone impactions and the diarrhea from people feeding raw diets to their pets. (OK sorry I couldn't resist that.)

As for me, I will be heading home to make some homemade enchiladas with rice and beans for me and my husband and scooping food out of a bag for my doggies.  Guaranteed smiles from my husband and wagging tails from the wooferdoodles (as I like to call them).

Thanks again to Flickr creative commons for some of the photos (linked back).

Monday, April 11, 2011


Last but definitely not least, here is the third idea for giving local and making a difference.  This one will have you coming away with a deep sense of "fullness".

Event #3

What: Spayghetti Dinner
When: Monday April 18, 2011 5-8pm
Where: Wagon Wheel Restaurant, Madison, Ohio
To Benefit: The Ashtabula County Animal Protective League

This is one is a no-brainer.  We all have to eat, right?  What better than to have a great spaghetti dinner and raise money for the local animal shelter!  I have been to a couple of these and they are VERY well attended and for good reason.  The food is great.  The homemade desserts are great.  The atmosphere is great.  The people are great.  Oh I could go on and on.  They always get a bunch of great donations for a Chinese auction and have a 50:50 raffle.

The Ashtabula County Animal Protective League is the largest shelter in our county.  When you call the dog warden to pick up a stray dog, this is where they go.  The people who work and volunteer at this shelter are saints!  Really!  They have such a hard job to do caring for all these animals and they do it with such compassion.  A truly amazing group of people.  But once again, this is an organization that relies HEAVILY on donations in order to take care of all those animals. 

I know times are tough and money is tight, but like I said in the opening paragraph, we all have to eat.  Tickets are $8 and $7 of that goes to the ACAPL.  You cannot beat that!  For more information head over to the ACAPL web site.  You can even purchase tickets online.  Can it be any easier?  Dinner, dessert, fun! 

Thanks again to flickr's creative commons for providing the pictures.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Here is the next idea for helping local animals and you can even help your own dog or cat out in the process!

Event # 2

What: Rabies vaccination clinic
When: Saturday April 30, 2011 from 1-4pm
Where: Ashtabula County Humane Society, Austinburg, OH
To Benefit: Ashtabula County Humane Society

This event just has all sorts of good written all over it. First and foremost is the public health aspect of vaccinating pets for rabies. If you have been paying attention, you know that after quite a few years of not having a wild animal test positive for rabies in our county, we have had 3 raccoons in the eastern part of the county test positive. This is a big deal folks. Rabies kills. It kills thousands of wild animals, hundreds of domestic animals and a few people every year in the United States. And every year, I read stories in the national news of someone's beloved pet that got in a scuffle with a rabid wild animal and had to be euthanized because the pet did not have a rabies vaccination. How sad! I cannot for the life of me fathom why someone with a dog or cat would not get it vaccinated for rabies. Seems as though when you acquire a dog or cat, you should budget in a rabies vaccination, if not for the pet, then for the health of your family. And for those of you with indoor cats, they are not exempt from this. I remember a case quite a few years back of an indoor only cat whose family did not get it a rabies shot because the cat never went outdoors. One day a bat got into the house and the cat did what cats do and caught the bat. The bat turned out to be rabid and the cat had to be put to sleep. All the family's heartache could have been prevented by simply getting their cat vaccinated. End of the vaccinate your pet sermon.

The second part of this is that the rabies vaccination clinic serves to raise a little bit of money for the Ashtabula County Humane Society. They are not as big or as well known throughout the county as the APL is, but they are equally important. They serve a very different function too. The APL is an animal shelter that houses our county's stray and unwanted dogs and cats. The Ashtabula County Humane Society are the folks who investigate cases of abuse and neglect toward animals. They have a shelter too where they house dogs and cats and adopt out animals to new homes. And these are the folks that get to see the worst of the worst of animal abuse/neglect. I've seen some bad stuff in my time, but nothing compared to what the humane agents get to see. And remember, local Humane Societies are just that LOCAL. If you think giving to a big national organization like The Humane Society of the United States helps your local humane society in any way, then think again. The two have no affiliation with each other. HSUS is a multi-million dollar lobbying group that gives less than 1% of its budget to help animals in shelters. I will blog more on this in the coming weeks, but just remember if you want to help abused animals, keep your donation dollars local.

So if you have a dog or cat or ferret that needs a rabies vaccination, come out to the AC Humane Society on Saturday April 30th and get your pet vaccinated and help out your local humane society at the same time. For more information click on this link: ACHS Annual Rabies Vaccination Clinic.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Normally I like to put up blog postings that have some lasting value: something that can be referred back to from time to time. But I am going to stray from that for the next three days.  My usual M.O. is to put upcoming event postings up on the Country Doctor Facebook Page or my Twitter feed instead of in my blog.  But there are 3 events in the next couple months that deserve some special mention and give Ashtabula County residents a great chance to help animals and keep donation dollars local.  So I will highlight 1 event per day for the next three days.  All 3 events benefit local Ashtabula County animals that really need our help.  Each event helps a different group so you have a chance to go to 1, 2 or all 3 events and do multiple good deeds.  And everyone of us (me included) need a little prodding and a little cheerleading to get motivated to do something for a good cause so let the cheerleading begin...........

Event #1
What: Family Fun Dog Show
When: Sunday May 22nd starting at 1pm

Where: Ashtabula County Fairgrounds Sheriff Station
To Benefit:  local police and sheriff working canine units

I cannot say enough good about our county's K-9 units.  Trained police dogs are such an invaluable part of our local law enforcement.  Because of them and the officers who train and work with them, we are a much better off community.  From drug detection to apprehension to search and rescue, these dogs are amazing.  The K-9 unit departments do have quite the challenge though when it comes to budget.  It takes quite a bit of money to keep these units up and running and we all know how bad the budget situation is in our county.  So being the best staff on the planet, the women who work at the Country Doctor decided they wanted to come up with a fund raiser to help out the K-9 units.  The dog show is 100% their idea and I think it is great!  Giving back to the community is what this life is all about.  Making a difference.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am blessed to be working with such generous and caring people.

Now on to the dog show details...............

In case you think that your dog can't enter a dog show because it is not a show dog, not in this case.  This is a fun show!  You can find the complete flyer and the dog show registration form over at the County Doctor web site by clicking on the hot links.  Here is a list of classes that you and your dog can enter:

Best Tail Wagging

Best Under bite

Crazy hair do's

Pet and owner look alike

Cutest eyes

Best pet trick in 60 seconds

You can enter for only $5 per class.  There is something for every dog.  There will be guest judges (including me and if you really want to know, my weakness is chocolate frosted brownies *wink,wink*)  Several of the K-9 units will be at the event so you can meet them.  We are going to have a bake sale too so if you can't find a dog to enter, you can at least come over and eat.

Since this our first Family Fun Dog Show, we need folks to sign up by early May so we can plan.  If you need more info you can visit the Country Doctor web site at  and look for the show flyer in the "Patient Center" tab and then go to "events".  OR you can email us at  We would love to see everyone there and help us raise money for the dogs who do so much to make our communities a safer place to live.

And thanks to Flickr's creative commons for helping me fill in a few pictures.