Saturday, January 30, 2010

Are dogs and wolves really that similar??

In this episode:

Pet Joke of the Week: The Faithful Cat
Personal comment: Are dogs and wolves really that similar??

Transcript of personal comment from this episode of The Web-DVM:

In my personal comment tonight, I want to compare and contrast domestic dogs with their ancient ancestor, the wolf. I feel compelled to do this in light of a movement that is gaining some momentum that is directed toward treating dogs like wolves because they are essentially the same. This is most profound with regard to feeding, with some people not only themselves convinced, but vehemently trying to convince other dog owners that dogs should be fed raw meat diets. Many of people of this ilk even believe that all or most health problems of dogs arise simply because most are not fed a raw meat diet like their wolf ancestors. Others take this even further and refuse vaccines, deworming, heartworm and flea preventive...because this is how wolves live and dogs are basically wolves.

I am here to tell you today that this premise that dogs are nothing more than well trained wolves could not be further from the truth. There are physical and some behavioral similarities to be sure, but please allow me to explain that the comparison of the two species pretty much stops there - dogs and wolves are clearly separate and distinct species.

Let us begin with the wolf. The wolf is an ancient wild canid, the product of hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection, which is essentially the fact that, in the wild, only the healthiest and most physiologically well adapted to the environment survive to breed, thereby passing along to offspring only the best genes that reflect the best physical characteristics to survive. After countless generations of such natural selection, the wolf we see today is very hardy creature, physiologically capable of digesting raw meat and dealing with raw meat bacteria and parasites. They have physiological adaptations that enable them to process a diet composed largely of protein, withstand temperature extremes, are more resilient to disease, and have thick skin to better handle insect bites, mites, fleas, and ticks.

The domestic dog, on the other hand, is descended originally from the wolf indeed, from a time in our own ancient past when our ancestors found the most docile examples of wolves convenient to keep around as an easy food source in time of need, as an aid in hunting, and who knows, maybe even for companionship. This occurred presumably about 100,000 years ago, when the fossil record shows the first domestic dog bones found among those of early humans, as a representation of a novel divergent species separate from wolves and clearly living among people. This is proof that selective breeding of dogs began to occur around this time and has influenced the dog's evolution to this day, and it is this selective breeding that has made dogs so very different from the wolf.

First, since of course only the most docile and people friendly examples were logically kept by people, the wild nature of wolves was very much bred out over successive generations of dogs. Next, keeping shelter with humans and sharing their food, ancient dogs did not have an adapt or die reality imposed on them as was the case with their wild cousins. Being cared for by humans, fed cooked meat and the more diverse diet of humans in general, dogs were able to survive and breed with less physiological stress placed on them, which eventually created a species that is far less hardy and resilient than their wolf cousins, essentially a species in many ways, more like us.

Add in the highly selective breeding for the creation and maintenance of separate dog breeds that became popular in relatively recent canine history, and what have today, is an example of the opposite of the hardy wolf born of natural selection. We have instead the domestic dog born of very UNnatural selection. Selective breeding indeed gave us the physical and temperament characteristics people seeked for dogs, but with that came unwanted genetic baggage, known as recessive genetic disease that served to further weaken the species. Case in point, perhaps more than half of the canine disease I see in practice has a genetic origin.

So what does this mean when comparing the two species? Well first, the ability to deal with raw meat bacteria and parasites is far greater in the wolf than the dog. This is because the wolf is physiologically adapted to deal with raw meat pathogens with an extremely acidic stomach pH of 1 or less, poised to effectively kill raw meat bacteria and parasites. The dog, on the other hand, has a stomach pH considerably less acidic and more along the lines of people at a pH of 2.5-3. Just this week, I have treated at least 5 cases of dogs with GI disease secondary to intestinal parasites. In my career as a whole, I have treated many cases of bacterial food poisoning from the ingestion of raw meat, usually by accident, but in some cases fed purposely by owners caring for their dogs under the false notion that dogs should eat raw because they are just like wolves.

Regarding breakdown of nutrients, although wolves are omnivores, meaning that they need a mix of meat and at least some fiber and other nutrients in their diet, with the bulk of their diet coming from meat and a minority coming from the plant material present in the guts of their mostly herbivorous prey, they are physiologically adapted to thrive on a much higher percentage of dietary protein than dogs. In short, biochemically they have a greater ability than dogs to convert protein into non-protein nutrients such as fats and carbohydrates.

Dogs, on the other hand, are, like the humans they have cohabitated with for 100,000 years, are far more omniverous, needing a balance of dietary nutrients of 20%-30% protein, 10%-20% fat, 35%-45% carbohydrate, and 5%-10% crude fiber. Feeding a dog the same percentage of dietary protein that the average wolf would consume relative to other nutrients, would lead to excessive metabolic stress on the liver, kidneys, and pancreas among other problems.

If I have not yet convinced you that wolves and dogs are very different, let us compare their DNA. The dog's DNA sequence differs from that of the wolf by an average of 1%. On paper this does not seem like much of a difference, but if you consider that the DNA of humans and our closest living evolutionary cousin, the chimpanzee, is only 1.8%, one can understand that a difference of 1% is rather significant. If even this fact is not enough to convince you, consider that the percentage difference between the DNA of a 175 pound Mastiff compared to that of a 6 pound Yorkshire Terrier, both variants of the domestic dog, is virtually mathematically undetectable. If there is virtually no difference between the DNA of a 175 pound domestic dog versus a 6 pound domestic dog, how can we be made to believe that the dog is basically the same as a wolf from whom its DNA differs by an average of 1%?

Finally, the notion that dogs do not need vaccines, flea, tick, and heartworm preventive because wolves don't, is just absurd. In truth, while wolves seem to be more resilient to withstand the bites of fleas, ticks, and to combat infectious disease due to their hardiness born of natural selection, they would still benefit from these measures as well. For example, wolves are susceptible to infectious diseases that we regularly vaccinate dogs against, such as rabies, distemper, parvo, as they are also prone to heartworm disease. We do not hear about it or know about it, since they are certainly not routinely checked out by a vet. However the effects of not being protected from these diseases as dogs are is clearly evidenced by their relatively poor neonatal survival rates and much shorter average life spans. Respectively, only 40% or less of wolf cubs survive to adulthood, and the average lifespan of a wolf in the wild is only 3-5 years.

In summary, I urge you to not be misled into believing that your dog is merely a wolf and needs to be fed and treated as such. Wolves are a product of hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection, survival of the fittest in the simplest terms. Dogs, while originally descended from the wolf more than 100,000 years ago, have evolved into a less wildly adaptive, separate and distinct species from breeding under the care, shelter, and diet of humans, then later very selectively bred into distinctive and unique breeds. All of this resulted in domestic dogs being generally a less hardy species than wolves, requiring a more diverse and cooked diet, having a greater susceptibility to the elements and infectious disease, and being prone to genetically inherited disease. They are little more like wolves than humans are like chimpanzees.

That is our show for tonight. Please help us continue our discussion by visiting our blog at, where comments posted there will be read and addressed in my live broadcast at this Sunday evening at 7:30 pm. Please tune in next week when I will be discussing canine and feline nutrition more indepthly, including a bit more on the feeding of raw meat and the evidence we have for why it is a bad idea.

Dr. Roger Welton is the President and chief veterinarian at Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne Florida, as well as CEO of the veterinary advice and health management website

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dental disease in pets: more than just bad breath!

In this episode:

Pet Joke of the Week: The prophetic parrot
Personal comment: Dental disease: more than just bad breath!

Transcript of personal comment from this episode of The Web-DVM:

With national animal dental health month approaching in just over a week, I wanted to address a topic about which there is too little awareness about, and a topic that too many pet owners are dismissive of. All too often people simply think that their cat's or dog's bad breath is just a consequence of nature, that they are animals, and they are supposed to have stinky breath, end of story. What I want to tell you today is that dental disease in animals is very real, is capable of causing severe pain, suppressing the immune system and leading to overall poor health, can rot and dissolve jaw bone, and can lead to infections being seeded elsewhere in the body. I want to tell you that dental disease is far more than just bad breath!

Let us begin with the pain aspect. Anyone who has had a bad tooth ache knows the excruciating pain one bad tooth can cause. Now, imagine that instead of having just one bad tooth, your mouth looks like this (see image on video).

Most of us cannot fathom the kind of pain that teeth like this cause. But then, when I examine a mouth like this and tell the owner about the level of pain this is causing, they almost always tell me, "But he doesn't act like he is in pain." Folks, just as I do my clients, allow me to educate you on pain in animals. In the wild, they are programmed to not show signs of pain since, if they show any weakness, other wild animals will opportunistically bully them away from food, hunt their young, chase them out of their shelter, and generally take advantage of them. Even though our animals are domesticated, they still carry this tendency to hide their pain to the best of their ability, which can make them very cryptic about showing owners signs of pain, which is especially true in cats. And since they cannot speak to us and articulate the fact that something hurts, it often goes under our radar. But believe me when I tell you, this mouth HURTS!

Next, let us talk about suppressing the immune system. Pain leads to stress, which we know leads to immune system suppression in people, and that is no different in dogs and cats. The oral bacterial load associated with this level of tartar is severe, with virulent bacteria being swallowed constantly by patients that suffer with dental disease, keeping the immune system very busy, and subsequently weaker. As a result, patient's with dental disease also commonly suffer from opportunistic infections of the skin, urinary tract, and ears.

While on the subject of bacteria, these pathogens that live in the mouth can also directly seed elsewhere in the body to end up infecting the heart and/or kidneys, leading to life threatening complications that are very difficult to treat.

Locally, I cannot tell you how many times I have seen pathological fractures of the jaw because tooth root infection has eroded bone, or this phenomena (see image on video) called an oronasal fistula, a tooth infection of the upper arcade of teeth that is so severe that it has eroded up into the nasal sinuses.

What is so upsetting about all this is that it is so preventable. All you have to do is take your pet to the vet regularly for its yearly visits, which include getting vaccines current, heartworm screening, stool analysis to check for parasites, all a good idea, but also a thorough examination which includes an inspection of the teeth. If your vet notices early stage dental disease and recommends a dental scale and polish based on that examination, don't blow it off and make the appointment to get it done. Afterwards, if the vet recommends dental chews, feeding dry pet food, or other measures to keep your pets' the teeth and gums healthy, take heed and do it. Maybe next year, your pet may not need dental work because of his recommendations.

So let's go over some common reasons why owners decline dental cleanings, as I refute why most of these reasons are not justifiable. I already discussed that people simply dismiss dental health as unimportant, and am pretty confident we explained how wrong that is. So that brings me to the next most common reason: cost.

Not having the financial resources to have the work done is unfortunate, and I sympathize with anyone in this position. I would not recommend anyone put themselves or their family in financial jeopardy to having the pet's teeth cleaned. But there are others that actually can afford the dental procedure, but money is still generally tight and they cannot justify the expense. I think some of these folks also tend to fall in the same category as the previous group we just discussed, that generally dismiss the importance of dental health. For these people, I will say this: an investment in a dental could potentially save you a great deal of money in the future. For treatment of secondary heart infection, kidney infection, pathological fracture of the jaw, oronasal fistula, and other health consequences of dental disease, cost a heck of a lot more to treat then that dental that would have prevented them. I cannot tell you how many clients have lived to regret declining my recommendations to have the teeth addressed, because of the financial ramifications that resulted in their non-action.

The final most common reason that pet owners decline dentistry is fear of the anesthesia required to perform the procedure. Sorry folks, our patients do not simply open up and say ah. Anesthesia is necessary to have the work done. And besides, if we have to extract teeth or perform deep root cleaning as we often do, they have to be under general anesthesia for that anyway.

My answer to this fear is that it is unwarranted for two important reasons. First, is that complications that arise from dental disease are statistically far more dangerous for the pet than anesthesia. With advances in anesthesia protocols and monitoring equipment that rival that of human medicine, the reality is that death from anesthesia is exceedingly rare, especially with all the precautions we take, starting with a pre-anesthetic exam and bloodwork.

So let us celebrate National Animal Dental Health month with some good common sense dental prevention, beginning with dry pet food, regular dental chews, and weekly tooth brushing (but I would reserve the tooth brushing only for pets that do not resent it too much - most cats will not be too amenable to it). Most importantly, if your vet recommends some cleaning and dental work, if it will not break you financially, by all means do it.

Thank you for watching, I will once again not be available for my live broadcast this Sunday evening, as my beloved NY Jets will be playing a monumentally important playoff game, but I plan to be back on with my live show next Sunday. As for this show, please join me next week, when I will be discussing domestic dogs vs. wolves, are they really as similar as many think, or are they very different separate and distinct species'.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Who is smarter, dogs or cats??

In this episode:

Pet Joke of the Week: The cat and the husband
Heroic 9/11 rescue dog cloned
Personal comment: Who is smarter, dogs or cats?

Transcript of personal comment from this episode of The Web-DVM: Who is smarter, dogs or cats??

In my personal comment tonight, I will answer the age old question of which species is smarter, dogs or cats, as well as tell you exactly how it is that we know the answer. But first, seeking to get an idea of which species people generally think are smarter, I went to PetCo in Viera, Florida to ask patrons of the store what they thought. Here is what I found out.

(See video for PetCo footage)

Interesting view points and I thank all that participated in our survey, but it does seem that people opine in favor of dogs being smarter - and they are right.
Sorry cat people, but it is true, and here is how we know that dogs are the more intelligent species. Cats operate more through instinct and fight or flight response when it comes to hunting and survival, whereas dogs and their ancient ancestors. wolves, rely more on social interaction and coordination. For example, wild dogs and wolves will make distress calls to other pack members when injured or in danger, alert the pack of approaching danger, and formulate complex hunting strategies with pack members when taking down prey that is larger than themselves. They form a cohesive, productive, and functional group by establishing a social hierarchy among one another, with the alpha as leader, all the way down to the lowest ranking member, the omega. This level of social interaction and pack coordination requires a significantly higher degree of intelligence than simply hunting and surviving solitarily and through instinct and stress hormones.
Some erroneously mistake instinct for higher intelligence which would make cats perhaps seem more intelligent in comparison to other species, given their cautious nature, adept innate hunting and self grooming ability. But if one considers that waterfowl, known to be very low on the intelligence scale, still instinctively know to fly south for the winter among many other instinctual skill sets, one can clearly see that instinct and intelligence are not the same.

Being primarily stress driven in animals is actually a prevalent sign of a lower level of intelligence. Stress driven, means that the general survival of the animal depends primarily on its tendency to react in a fight or flight mode in response to even minimal stimulus. In other words, they spook very easily. Cats are so stress driven that moderate elevations in their white blood cell count and of their blood sugar on routine blood work is considered normal, as these are physical consequences of stress generated merely from the trip to the clinic and the office visit. I have actually had to hospitalize cats and place feeding tubes on many occasions because of illness brought on by a sudden stoppage of eating, attributable only to changes in the home, such as new furniture, new pets, construction, and even one time, a big painting hung in the living room. It is hard for most of us to imagine any level of stress that would lead us to literally begin starving ourselves to death, yet it is not surprising when this happens to a feline. These are phenomena we do not really see in dogs, because they are not nearly as driven by stress, their higher intelligence enabling them to rely more on pack interaction and coordinated strategy for survival and contentment.

That said, this does not necessarily make dogs better pets than cats, depending on what you seek in a pet. Being innately solitary by nature, cats are not as needy as dogs, can be left at home alone for longer periods of time, and are generally lower maintenance. I will always have cats because being driven by instinct and stress, having a cat in the home to me is akin to having a tame wild animal in the house that you can pet and snuggle with - yet that wild nature is never too far off to see, as they slink around the house, stalk and pounce on the dog's tail, and meticulously groom after a meal. There is no doubt, they are cool in their own way. They may not catch a Frisbee, fetch a ball, swim in the pool, retrieve a duck, or go jogging with you, but they are quirky, entertaining, and affectionate creatures that make a fulfilling pet, just in a different manner than dogs do. I choose to not choose between having dogs versus cats, and elect to have both, giving me the best of both worlds.

So back to the cat people, while you may be dismayed by this information, please do not mistake this post for being some kind of critique against cats, when in fact this is quite the opposite. This is actually a defense of cats for those who dislike them because of all the reasons they are not like dogs, not as trainable, don't come when they're called, are a bit more aloof, etc. They are not that way because they are dismissive or by nature disrespectful; they are that way because their intelligence and stress driven survival nature imposes these limits on them. If anything, given their innate wild and solitary nature, we should applaud this species that can adapt themselves to readily cohabitate with people and thrive in our homes. If you do not find that remarkable, try keeping a raccoon as a pet and you may begin to understand - that is, of course, if you live through it.

Next week's personal comment - Dental disease: far more than just bad breath!

Don't forget to catch my live broadcast this Sunday 7:30 PM EST at, where I will address comments posted on this blog installment!

Dr. Roger Welton is the President and chief veterinarian at Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne Florida, as well as CEO of the veterinary advice and health management website

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The myth of the rich veterinarian.

In this episode:

Show announcements
Pet joke of the week
The decade's biggest animal news stories
Personal Comment: The myth of the rich veterinarian

Transcript of personal comment from this episode of The Web-DVM:

In my personal comment tonight, I just want to briefly address a misconceived notion that I saw gradually materializing in this past decade, and that is the notion that veterinarians generally are very wealthy people. I do not fully know the origins of this idea, but the truth is actually quite the opposite. While most veterinarians earn enough to live a comfortable middle class existence, only a very select few ever enjoy the kind of wealth that many people erroneously believe is the status quo. Where this can shed a poor light on us in the minds of pet owners is when, frustrated with having their own earning power ever decreasing in this currently challenging economic climate and faced with veterinary bills for their pets’ health care, some cynically characterize vets as fat cats, living in the lap of luxury as we gouge the pet owning public for every last cent they have. So let me set the record straight tonight and tell you how it really is.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, our governing body, the average veterinarian makes $79,000 per year. When taken in the context of the average veterinary graduate starting their careers $120,000 in student loan debt, most of us have an insta-mortgage with payments ranging from $700 - $1200 per month right out of the gates, only with no home to show for it. Factor in rent or an actual home loan, car payment, and other expenses, and one can see how that average salary does not go as far as one would think, or as one would like it to.

Others think, well the average veterinarian does may not make all that much, but the owners of practices are cleaning up. This sentiment is also quite wrong, with practice owners being included in that average salary statistic. The truth is that in order to buy a practice, yet more money has to be borrowed, with significant portions of gross revenue allocated to practice, real estate, and working capital mortgages. Add payroll and tax liabilities, property and business insurance, employee health benefits, utilities, equipment maintenance, building maintenance, inventory costs, continuing education, corporate taxes, and a huge gamut of permit, business, and professional licensing fees, and one gets a clear picture of the staggering overhead of a veterinary hospital.

Now, am I complaining about this? Am I unhappy about this? Absolutely not! I love my job and can envision doing nothing else, and that, is priceless. I thank the good Lord every day that I get to be a veterinarian, not because it stands to make me rich, but because it is my passion. Understand that if money was our primary motivation, any one of us could have attained the big bucks having gone the route of human medicine. It sure would have been a heck of a lot easier, with 131 medical schools in the United States as opposed to only 28 veterinary schools, making acceptance to veterinary school 5 times more difficult. And medically mastering only one species instead of 7? It may seem more attractive to some, but not to those of us that chose to take the harder road that ultimately pays considerably less.

Again, most veterinarians are not hurting for money and most make a good old fashion American middle class living with a decent degree of financial security. And one day when I have my student and practice loans paid off and I sell my practice, I stand to have what will likely be a comfortable retirement. Life certainly could be a heck of a lot worse. But make no mistake, the vast majority of veterinarians, especially young veterinarians are not wealthy, and certainly do not act the part of fat cats with money as our primary motivation. We did all the school and do what we do first and foremost because we love it.

Next week's personal comment: Who is smarter, dogs or cats?

Don't forget to catch my live broadcast this Sunday 8 PM EST at, where I will address comments posted on this blog installment!