…And why our therapy dogs are not fed them
Raw protein diets have started to gain some traction in the pet food industry and among dog owners. Some proponents feel that raw diets are healthier for dogs, though there has not been any peer-reviewed study proving this claim. However, there have been studies showing that feeding dogs raw protein diets can be a risk to human health, especially to those people who have compromised immune systems.
Raw protein diets can be contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, Samonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria. Since the meat is raw, it is not cooked or processed in ways to kill these bacteria that may be present in the meat. Some dogs may get sick and have nausea or vomiting, soft stool or diarrhea, or even get an infection in their blood stream. For other dogs, they may not get sick, but could become asymptomatic carriers of the bacteria. This means, they could transmit the bacteria to people, either by licking them, or simply by the person coming into contact with their fur. These types of bacteria can make people extremely sick, and can even cause death, especially among susceptible children.
Because our therapy dogs frequently encounter people who may not have strong immune systems, such as children and the elderly, we cannot allow our therapy dogs to be fed raw protein diets. We do not want to put the people we are helping at risk for a deadly infection, no matter what the odds are.
Most veterinarians advise against feeding a raw food diet because of these public health risks.
Most types of “raw food” are prepared when the pet owner buys raw meat and bone and feeds it directly to their pet. There are also commercially available “raw protein diets”. However, there are some raw foods that we may not be aware of that could potentially cause harm, and these include the following:
- Pig ears
- Bully sticks
- Marrow bones
- Raw coated kibble
- Freeze-dried raw food
- Dried liver bites
**For this article, when we refer to raw, we only refer to raw meat and bone, not raw vegetables, since those are usually fine as long as they are washed off first.
References and where to find more information:
Last month, Beatrice Bowlby, a senior at Park Tudor and part of the Global Scholars Program, presented her study regarding the research question, “Can animal assisted therapy, with an emphasis on inter-special empathy, play a valuable role in the treatment of psychological and physical disorders?” Below is the essay she wrote in response to that study.
At 12 inches tall and 24 inches long, Kipling does not look like your average therapist. In fact, he looks more like a loaf of bread. But I suppose at seventeen and a half I don’t really look like a therapist either. In my eighth grade English class we were taught the difference between sympathy and empathy, and since then I have attempted to define them on my own, striving for the noumenal moment that manifests itself through empathizing with another being. It was not until I found Paws & Think that I truly understood the definition of empathy. In his therapeutic role, Kipling serves as the medium for the conversations I have. His stubby legs, long back, and big ears are characteristic of a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and they have facilitated my ability to provide comfort and happiness to people from all walks of life.
The creative writer in me is fascinated by the complexity of character and the creation of dynamic personalities with only words, searching for a connection beneath a pile of diction and syntax. I am moved by the stories I hear in the nursing homes and the grief of the little girl who tragically lost her father. Listening has always been a strength of mine. In kindergarten, I was taught to listen because that is the respectful thing to do. As I got older, I discovered that listening isn’t only respectful, but it instills a sense of trust and understanding in and for another.
The visits to Hoosier Village and Camp Healing Tree force me to step outside my immediate circles of school, family, and friends into a community that I would not know if I had not trained Kipling to become a therapy dog. As one of Paws & Think’s youngest volunteers, I have become a familiar face. The other volunteers may know me as the young English girl with the corgi, and I can’t say that that identification is any different in other aspects of my life. After all, my voice became an amalgamation of English and American before I could even call myself a citizen, stretching between one culture and another until the Atlantic felt more like an ocean and less like a pond.
From volunteer to intern, I have immersed myself in an organization in which I believe, spending time communicating with people and managing the donor database. The work is challenging and emotionally intense, but I am constantly amazed by the support and sense of fulfillment that I get from being part of the Paws & Think community. As an intern, I find myself in my element as my academic work ethic takes over, and thank you letters to donors are written, printed, enveloped, and sent with the greatest care. As a volunteer, I have realized that the time spent with the elderly woman in the wheelchair as she talks slowly about coming to America as a small child and the moments spent listening to little girls finally talk about emotions that kids their age should not know how to feel are the real reasons I love my work with Paws & Think.
Kipling aids in my ability to walk alongside another as they tell me of a journey that forced them to grapple with confusion, pain, and ultimately strength. I cannot say that I have endured what many of the people I talk to have, but I can say that I know what it is to be a sister and a daughter, a 10 year old girl, a friend, and a listener. Now I am able to define empathy for myself: to mirror the vulnerability of another as they tell an honest story.
Dogs have been a human’s best friend for thousands of years. Originally, they provided support to hunters and latterly shepherds. In more modern times, they have helped the blind to become more mobile, with the first seeing eye dog starting its duty in 1928. They can now assist the police and other emergency services as well. However, dogs are not just a tool for physical labor. They can also provide emotional support to the lonely, including the elderly or socially anxious. These canines are known as Therapy Dogs and they’ve been providing a wealth of health benefits for many years now.
Who Can Use a Therapy Dog?
Anyone who can find benefit in spending time with a dog should aim to do so. This includes people who are suffering from social isolation, particularly the elderly who are at risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s.
There have even been initiatives to help young children with their reading and writing by using the comforting presence of a dog. Therapy dogs are taken into classrooms and will sit attentively while children try to “teach” the dog how to read. In reality, it is the kids who are learning to read at a faster rate than if the dog hadn’t been there.
For those with mental conditions such as depression or anxiety, a dog can make a world of difference. Having a dog in your home will release tension in the muscles and lower blood pressure, simply by allowing yourself to stroke, pet and play with them, therefore combatting stress. Dogs provide non-judgemental love and give their owners a sense of purpose and responsibility. This is an extremely effective motivator for those with depression who struggle to find meaning.
Where to Start
If you have serious problems with everyday movement, firstly make sure your house is mobility friendly. This may involve installing wider doors or a stair lift if it is becoming increasingly difficult to access other levels of the house.
If possible, adopt a pet of your own. The loyalty and caring nature of dogs makes them the perfect pet. By adopting from a local shelter, a traumatised and anxious dog will have a new free and happy life in your care. A dog with its own emotional problems may seem appealing because it allows owner and pet to help each other and heal together.
If you are unable to own a pet for yourself, search around for the right charity program to suit your needs. Paws & Think offers therapy dogs to help with behaviorally and academically challenged students. There is also help available for children or adults who have gone through other emotional trauma such as bereavement. Paws & Think offers pet services for people of all ages, who need therapy for a wide variety of reasons.
Written by Lucy Wyndham
Leptospirosis (lepto) is a bacterial disease that can infect animals and humans. In the past, this was a fairly rare disease in dogs. However, over the past few years, it has become more common and easier to obtain.
Lepto is acquired by coming into contact with infected urine or from coming into direct contact with infected animals. The most common sources our dogs may acquire infection from includes rodents and wildlife, such as squirrels, raccoons, deer, opossums, and skunks.
Our dogs can become infected by coming into contact with water or soil where the infected animal’s urine has spread. In fact, lepto can live in water and soil for weeks to months! It is a very persistent little bacteria! Our dogs can obtain the infection by drinking, swimming, or even just walking though water that is contaminated, as it can enter through the skin, eyes, mouth, or nose.
Lepto can be life-threatening to many dogs if they become infected. However, some dogs may not become sick, but could still shed the bacteria in their urine. Additionally, lepto can be shed in a dog’s urine for up to 3 months after infection.
Humans that come into contact with infected dogs are at a high risk of becoming infected themselves. This is very dangerous for children, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system. In fact, one-third of lepto cases in humans come from contact with infected dogs.
For this reason, and because of the communities of people we work closely with in promoting the human-animal bond, we follow the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation regarding lepto and dogs. The Centers for Disease Control recommends dogs be vaccinated against lepto yearly.
In the past, small dogs (dogs weighing less than 30 pounds) tended to have vaccine reactions to the lepto component of vaccines. Some would develop hives or facial swelling. However, over the past few years, vaccine technology has vastly improved and the risk of a vaccine reaction is far less likely now.
There is always a small percentage of dogs in which vaccine may not be 100% effective, and a small percentage of dogs that could still become carriers of the bacteria. While we can’t account for all of the variants, we can do our due diligence to protect the humans who our therapy dogs serve. Protecting this bond means minimizing any risk that may threaten it, which includes preventing infectious diseases that may be transmissible from dogs to humans.
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