Saturday, July 18, 2015

Part Two: Annya's Story

This is Part Two of a series, and if you haven't yet read Part One, I suggest you start there.
In the first post, I shared with you the story of my first dog, Tessie. Today's post will be quite a bit less tragic, but no less important in the telling of the story I'm offering to you.

Part Two: Annya's Story

I convinced my dad to allow me to get Annya in the winter of 2008. She was about three years old at the time, and her previous family no longer wanted her. The day we took her home, we were warned that she needed to eat only a certain type of food, otherwise she would get sick. Being the stubborn person that I am, I decided to give Annya some of Tessie's food, just to test it. Lo and behold, the original owners were correct, and Annya did indeed get sick. Little did I know that this was the start of a long and unending journey in the discovery of the best types of food for my dear Annya.

For the next five years, I continued feeding Annya the same brand of food that her original owners fed her. During that time, and even now, there have been several periods of time where Annya develops digestive issues for several days in a row, resulting in extremely loose bowels, lack of appetite, and occassional vomiting. Until recently, I'd always thought that she had gotten into some food that didn't sit well in her stomach, or that it was just some sort of stomach bug that work work its way out of her system on it's own. I didn't know how wrong I was.

When I switched Tessie to grain-free food, I had to switch Annya's food as well. Luckily, the switch didn't seem to be an issue for Annya, as the food was an upgrade in quality for her. She did well with the change, the diarrhea and vomiting became much less frequent, and for that I was grateful.

Despite the change to a slightly higher quality grain-free food, all has not been well for Annya. In the last four years, there have been a few days where Annya spent anywhere from an hour to three hours having small cluster seizures.

The first time these happened, I happened to at my boyfriend's (Now husband) house when I got a call from my parents. Annya had come in from the backyard and was acting strange for a few minutes before she had starting seizing. The seizures lasted for about an hour in total that day, with small periods of normality interspersed between seizures. By the time I got to the house, they were almost over, and I only witnessed a couple small seizures. I watched her carefully over the next several hours, but nothing else happened. Once the seizures stopped, it only took Annya about ten minutes to return to normal. She shakily stood up, walked around a bit, took a small drink of water, and then returned to lay down by my side for the rest of the night. My parents had figured that she might've hit her head (Very typical of Annya. She often miscalculates where and how large her head is.) while playing outside with Tessie, and we all cautiously dismissed the strange occurrence.

The next episode didn't happen until almost two years later. It was a normal day, I was at home with Annya and she had been napping on her bed. She woke up, stretched, walked into the kitchen to get a drink of water, and one of her back legs gave out. At first I thought she had slipped on a little puddle of water on the kitchen floor. She walked out of the kitchen on unsteady legs, and sat, then flopped over on the ground in the dining room. This time I knew what I was seeing, and I rushed over to her as her legs began twitching. Again, the individual seizures would last between two and ten minutes each, with  only short periods between them. This episode only lasted for about 45 minutes, totaling about 6 seizures. She recovered quickly, and within half an hour it was as if nothing had happened at all.

The most recent episode came about six months ago. Again, Annya had been napping, this time on the couch next to me. She woke up, climbed off the couch, and immediately went into a seizure as she reached the ground. I sat on the ground with her through each seizure, trying my best to comfort and her. I had learned from the past that there wasn't anything I could do to get her to come out of a seizure, and luckily for me, her seizures have always been on the more mild end of the spectrum. This time, she had a few longer seizures in the space of about 45 minutes, and after that the spacing between them was longer. She went about an hour without any issues, and then another seizure would hit. This happened twice, and then there was nothing else for the rest of that day. 

At this point, I knew it wasn't just a fluke, or some weird coincidence that she was having these seizures. I spent the rest of that day looking for information, for any article or forum I could find that would give me some kind of answers for what was happening. I found several interesting facts:

1. Some dog breeds are more susceptible to seizures than others, and Siberian Huskies are one of the more likely breeds to have issues.
2. The type of seizure Annya was having is called Grand Mal seizures, or generalized seizures. This simply means that the seizure affects her entire body, not just one side or limb.
3. Since there doesn't seem to be any kind of trigger or schedule to her seizures, it's unlikely that she has canine epilepsy. so there has to be some other cause.
4. Since Annya's seizures don't occur very often, there isn't any treatment that a Veterinarian would likely use for her until the occurrences are more than once a month- which they aren't.
5. Seizures happen when there is a disruption in the electrical impulses in the brain. There are lots of things that can cause seizures, but after careful consideration and analysis, I can confidently rule out accidental poisoning, liver damage, genetic default, and head injury.
6. There are a few different medications a dog can take to help prevent seizures from happening. However, with many of these medications, once the dog has begun taking them, it's a lifelong medication. To stop the regimen would increase the dog's risk of seizures, as well as risk the worsening of the seizures.

After learning all of these things, I began looking deeper into the causes of seizures, and once I was able to figure out the most likely cause, I wanted to find a natural, non-medicated treatment option for Annya. What I found was that the most likely cause for Annya's seizures (And the cause of a lot fo seizures in Siberian Huskies in general, actually) was a Zinc deficiency. Northern breeds of dogs like huskies and malamutes tend to have a genetic inability to absorb the Zinc that is found in their foods, causing the deficiency.

According to Snowdog Guru (an expert on Northern Breeds and their health), some common signs of a chronic Zinc deficiency are*:

  1. Chronic digestive issues (often mistaken for food allergies), often accompanied by bouts of diarrhea, and lack of appetite (often mistaken for being a picky eater).
  2. Raised itchy crusty patches of dermatitis,( ZRD) ( often diagnosed as allergies or hot spots) around the nose, mouth, eyes, groin, or paws that may respond temporarily to topically applied Zinc Cream. These crusty patches seem to come back with more intensity each time.
  3. A host of seemingly unrelated illnesses that are actually immune system related. Immune system may under function and not respond well to clearing up infections in the body or it may overreact and your dog’s immune system may be treating everything as if was an invading force. This issue can lead to the development of cancers.
  4. Thyroid gland malfunctioning causes problems with weight gain or loss, increase or decrease in appetite, skin and coat problems including excessive shedding, a constant cycle of secondary infections, and possible on going cough. Hormone levels in the body become out of balance.
  5. Major organ failures; liver, kidney, heart from a lack of sufficient support from the Thyroid.
  6. The last process in line where Zinc is used is in the brain. Adequate Zinc has to be present in order for Taurine to be used as a neuro transmitter smoother. The end result of inadequate available Zinc can be erratic neurotransmitter firings(seizures).

Sound familiar? Bouts of diarrhea? Lack of appetite? Excessive shedding? Seizures? Here I was, thinking that these were all totally unrelated things, not knowing that they all added up to something bigger. I thought the shedding was just a symptom of a Siberian Husky living in sunny and hot Sacramento. I thought the diarrhea and lack of appetite were from a sensitive stomach. The seizures were the final straw that got me to realize that there was something else going on. And it's as simple as a Zinc deficiency! Zinc is one of the most important minerals in the biological processes of a dog's body, and since there isn't really any kind of storage capacity of Zinc in their bodies, they need a daily intake for their bodies to run their best. 

Some foods (like grains) bind to Zinc and make it nearly impossible for a dog's body to absorb, once those foods are digested. This explains why Annya's Zinc-related issues were at their worst while she was still eating foods with lots of grains in them, and also explains why her symptoms have gotten better since switching her to grain-free foods.

While it is possible (and sometimes necessary) to supplement your dog's diet with a Zinc supplement (Such as a pill or tablet), it is a much better option to try to include or increase the foods that are already high in Zinc, before adding a supplement to their diets. Some foods with high Zinc quantities are*:

  • Most meats, 100 grams yield 100 mgs of Zinc ( beef, chicken, duck, pork, salmon)
  • 100 grams of the following foods yield Zinc in the following quantities:
  • Turkey 120mgs
  • Lamb 150mgs
  • Liver 130mgs
  • Tuna in oil 120 mgs
  • Eggs 70mgs
  • Apples, blackberries, and strawberries 100mgs
  • Plain yogurt 200mgs
  • Carrots (raw) 50 mgs
  • Potato (baked) 120 mgs
  • Pumpkin 100 mgs
  • Sweet potato and yams 100mgs
  • Peanuts( raw) 5 = 25 mgs

Since learning all of this, I have started adding more zinc-rich foods into Annya's diet, and so far I've seen nothing but improvement from her. After her last bout of digestive upset (about 3 weeks ago, at this point), we've been giving her nothing but homemade foods, deciding that at least for now, it's best and easiest for us to tailor her foods to her needs, to ensure that we can identify the ingredients and the quality of the foods we're feeding her. Our family and friends have been making comments about how good her fur looks now, how much healthier she looks, even asking if she's gained some weight. (Which we take as a compliment, since she had been steadily losing weight for several months.) She's been shedding much less than normal, despite the temperatures in our area raising for the summer. 

Now, all of this information should not be taken as a replacement to professional medical knowledge. This article is nothing but the story of what I've learned about my own dog, and the journey to finding what works for her. No two dogs are alike, and no two medications or treatments will work the same way. Luckily for us, it seems as though I've finally figured out what the issues have been for Annya, and what the correct course of action should be for her. the future is definitely looking brighter for her, now that we've found the answers we've been searching for, for so long. 

To read more about Siberian Huskies, Northern Breed dogs, or the Zinc related issues that they face, visit these articles from Snowdog Guru:

Correcting Zinc Deficiency in Huskies

Stay tuned, Part Three will be coming soon, and it'll detail what and how I feed Annya now, and what it looks like to make homemade dog food for your pets!

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not meant to be used to diagnose or treat your pets without the advice of a Veterinarian or other professional. If your pet is sick, please take them to see a Veterinarian, and then do your own research before choosing a treatment option. 
*All information cited and provided is taken from and is not intended to be viewed as my own personal research findings. No copyright infringement or plagiarizing is intended.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Stuffed Manicotti


16oz cottage cheese 
8 ounces mozzarella            
3/4 cup Parmesan   
2 C fresh spinach
2 eggs                               
1 tsp dried parsley              
3-4 cloves garlic       
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste      
1 jar spaghetti sauce                       
1 box uncooked manicotti pasta

                  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine ricotta, mozzarella, and 1/2 cup parmesan, eggs, parsley, and salt and pepper. Mix well. Pour 1/2 cup sauce into an 11x17 inch baking dish. Fill each uncooked manicotti shell with 3 tablespoons cheese mixture, and arrange over sauce in a single layer. Pour remaining sauce over top, and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake 45 minutes, or until bubbly. Serves 6.
Tip: If you're having difficulty getting the cheese mixture into the shells, try pouring the mixture into a plastic zipper bag, or frosting bag. If using a plastic bag, cut the tip of one corner off the bag, add cheese mixture and close the bag, then squeeze the mix out of the cut opening into the uncooked shells.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Grandma's Tater Tot Special

1 lb ground beef, browned (Ground turkey works just as well)  
8oz  nacho cheese sauce 
4oz can of diced green chiles
1 cup of milk                                
1 bag of frozen tater tots
Cheddar cheese to top, if desired

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9x13 inch casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray or thin layer of oil. Cook the ground meat in a skillet until browned, and season with salt and pepper if desired. In a separate sauce pan, heat nacho cheese sauce until warm. Add the milk and diced chiles, and stir until mixed well. Spread the bag of frozen tater tots over the bottom of the casserole dish in a single layer, if possible. Pour browned meat over tater tots. Pour cheese mixture over meat and tater tots. Cook in oven until boiling, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with cheddar cheese if desired, then place back in oven until cheese has melted. Let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cajun Chicken Fettucine


1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
1 Jar alfredo sauce
1 Box fettucine noodles
3 tbsp cajun seasoning mix
1 tbsp oil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (Optional)

Toss chicken and cajun seasoning together until well coated. In a large skillet, saute chicken strips until cooked through; set aside. In a large sauce pot, cook noodles according to package directions, and drain. Add alfredo sauce to chicken, letting the sauce simmer until hot. Toss all ingredients together in pot until all noodles are coated with sauce. Serve immediately, and garnish with parmesan cheese, if desired. Serves 4.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Am I flourishing?

That was the topic of today’s devotion. It’s the second part of a three-part mini series within my devotional book, and today’s message really hit me.

The point of the message was that there is a battling going on inside of you between your flourishing self and your languishing self. “Your languishing self feels uneasy and discontent. You’re drawn to bad habits like mindlessly watching TV, drinking too much, misusing sex, excessive spending- things designed to temporarily anesthetize pain. Your thoughts automatically drift in the direction of fear and anger. Learning doesn’t feel worthwhile. You think about yourself most of the time.”

In contrast, flourishing takes place:
-In your spirit. You begin to feel like you’re getting ideas and inspiration from an outside source: God’s Spirit. You feel like you have a purpose for living; you come alive.
-In your mind. Your thoughts are full of joy and peace; you have a desire to love and learn.
-In your time. You wake each day with a sense of excitement, and you realize you're never too young (or too old!) to flourish.

I can identify with both aspects of this message, and sometimes I’m on both sides in the same day, even within hours of each other. That’s the whole point of it being a battle. It’s not over in just one instance, it takes time to overcome, and there will be times where its unclear which side is winning. But for myself, I am confident that my flourishing side is winning. Why? Because these descriptions of a flourishing person fit me almost perfectly.

A few months back I had an ‘epiphany’ of sorts. I was driving towards the ocean with my best friend, and suddenly I looked around and thought, ‘This is what I want. This is the life I’ve been imagining.’ As it turns out, it’s very similar and complimentary to the life that she wants too, and we’ve been planning and working ever since to make those dreams and ideas a reality. Never before have I had such a moment of clarity. Never have I had my eyes opened wide to see what had been hidden for so long. It was as if all of my ideas and dreams had been blurry, covered with some kind of film so that I couldn’t see them clearly, and then in that moment, the film was removed and everything was shining brightly.

I am enrolled in classes again for the fall, starting to work towards a brand new degree and certifications. I’m excited about learning, excited for what the experience will bring me. I can’t wait to see how the classes will prepare me for the future I have.

I used to really struggle with trusting God to provide for me and for my family. I spent almost every day worrying and stressing out about how we were going to pay our bills, where the money would come from, how it would all work out in the end. I didn’t have the energy to think about or plan for the future, because I was so busy worrying about the here and now.

Now, I wake up each morning with a sense of peace, and a deep knowledge that God will provide for us. No matter how bad things look, I know that we’ll get through it. I know that God has it taken care of already. I never had that peace before. I never knew what it felt like to fully and completely trust God with an area of my life. Now I do.

I think the most unobtrusive change has been my mindset, and the things I think about. It used to be completely focused on money, bills, stress, making myself feel better. Now though, its all about the future. The plans that I have, the ideas I’ve discovered, the things I can do right now to prepare for the future I have. I hardly ever think about myself anymore, and when I do it’s usually to ask myself what it is that I truly want for my future. I’m always checking to make sure that the goals I have are aligned with my values, to make sure that I’m not getting carried away with unrealistic worldly goals. I’m trying to keep up with God now, not with the Jones’.

All of these things, though they seem small on their own add up to one big answer for me: I am flourishing. It’s funny that I never really thought of it that way until now. I knew that my life had gotten better, that my mindset had been improving for a long time. I just never equated those things to having a flourishing life. Now that the question has been asked of me though, the answer seems glaringly obvious. Funny, the way our minds can process information and situations in such bizarre ways.

What about you, though? Do you identify more with the languishing side, or the flourishing side of things? Which side is winning? If it’s not the flourishing side, what can you do to change the battle?

My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10

Disclaimer: The passages and quotes used in this post are from Daily Devotional The Word for You Today by Celebration, Inc. (Feb 8th passage.) It is not my intent to plagiarize from anyone.

Part One: Tessie's Story

I started writing this with the intention of it being a relatively short post. The original intention of it was to focus on how to make homemade food for your dog, and why I feel that it's one of the best possible options. However, I soon realized that I needed to include some back story to explain how I came to this decision, and I began writing about the only two dog's I've ever owned.

What was meant to be a short paragraph or two about our family dog Tessie, turned into an essay-long story. When I did a mental overview of the things I felt needed to be talked about with my other dog Annya, I realized that this topic couldn't be contained to just one post. So, for your reading pleasure, here is Part One of my first ever mini series of posts! Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

Part One: Tessie's Story

My family owned Tessie, a female Boston Terrier, since she was about a year old. I found her on the street one day, and although we posted countless signs and checked with all the shelters in our area, no one ever claimed the sweet girl. We eventually grew attatched, and thus she became my family's first dog. I was around 10 at the time, and I spent the next 13 years taking care of her in an almost singular position.

In 2013, I realized that Tessie had developed an allergy to one of the grains in her dog food. I did some research and found that she had many of the typical signs of a wheat allergy- licking her paws, excess gas, etc. Since she was already eating senior citizen dog food, and I knew she didn't have the strongest of stomachs, I decided to switch her to completely grain free food- no wheat, corn, or soy for her from that point on. And since she wasn't afraid of snacking on Annya's food throughout the day, both dogs made the switch. It worked wonders on both of them, as it turned out. While Annya didn't have any allergies that I could tell, she definitely benefited from the removal of the grains, and she had never been healthier. As for Tessie, all of the symptoms of allergies disappeared quickly, and she was back to her normal self within a week.

In 2014, I noticed that Tessie had a rather noticeable bump on her forehead, above her left eye. I checked it out, and although she didn't like me putting pressure on it, it seemed fine. I wasn't too concerned, since it wasn't unusual for her to occasionally bump into something, as her eyesight wasn't the best anymore. I left it alone, thinking it would heal itself in time, and didn't think much more of it. Two weeks later, the bump was completely gone. A week after that, it was back. This time however, it was over her right eye, and it was larger than before. I talked with my dad, and he assured me that she had likely bumped into something again. I tried to put it out of my mind, but I continued to watch the bump's progress. When it started forming scabs without there being any visible open wounds, I began to worry. I examined the bump as closely as I could, and still found nothing that would cause the seeping fluids that were crusting around the bump each day. Research became my best friend, and I discovered that the bump was actually a tumor.

I guess this would be the appropriate time to explain why I wasn't consulting a vet. You see, I believe a part of me knew what the bump was from the beginning. It was the same part of me that continually reminded me throughout the entirety of 2014 that Tessie was an old dog. The same part that reminded me that regardless of what this thing was, she wouldn't live forever. It was the part of me that said that this thing-this tumor-would only be the beginning of the list of things that would soon start to go wrong with our loving pup. I knew that my family would never be able to afford the vet bills to have her examined and have the tumor removed, and I knew also that it was unlikely that she would even survive the whole process anyways. I know it probably sounds harsh, and I had many days where I was absolutely convinced that I was a horrible dog owner for not doing everything I could for her.

But I made a decision, and even now, I stand by it. My dad and I talked about the options, and we both agreed that there would be no point in putting Tessie through the stress of a surgery that in the end, wouldn't prolong her life by more than a few months, at most. We sat down with my siblings, broke the news to them, and we all cried over the now blatant fact that Tessie wasn't invincible after all. We all agreed to do everything we could to make her the happiest and most loved dog that we could, while she was still around. The thought of keeping her on her diet (She had gained quite a few pounds from sneaking Annya's food) went out the window, and she received plenty of delicious table scraps from anyone she sat next to. We went on walks, we played, we took her to the dog park, the lake she loved, the ocean, anywhere and everywhere we could think of. She was the happiest dog in the world, despite the tumor.

We had five more months with her. In that short span of time, her eyesight and sense of smell became almost non-existent. Her hearing was abysmal. She started to sleep more and more, eventually sleeping for more time than she spent awake. The tumor grew larger, spreading over her forehead and down into her nasal passage, eventually blocking most of the airway available in her nose. She panted because it was the only was she could breathe, and we started carrying her up and down the stairs. Not only because her old joints would protest, but also because we were afraid that she wouldn't be able to breathe through the exercise. And despite the added treats she was given, all of her additional fat quickly withered away, leaving her with a scarily frail frame. The last month and a half were the worst for me. I watched her fade away, not knowing what I could do for her, wondering when it would be the right time to say goodbye. I felt selfish for thinking about how hard it was for me to take care of her, and how upset it made me, to watch her suffer. I thought maybe I should have been stronger for her, for my family. But she was living with me, and I didn't have any help from the other people who had watched her grow over the years.

In the end, there was a drastic turning point in her health that finally convinced me that it was time. The tumor had been growing larger on the outside of her forehead, slowly spreading downwards to her nose. What I didn't realize at the time was that it had been growing inside as well. I noticed one day that she was falling asleep while she was standing up. Her eyes would drift closed, her head would drop down slowly, she began breathing a bit heavier. I thought it was an old-dog thing, being too tired to stop and lay down. When it continued happening for several days in a row, I realized that it was due to the tumor. Never before had Tessie had any issues with moving to her bed before falling asleep, and it was just too large a coincidence for the cause to be anything other than the tumor.

I contacted the rest of my family, letting them know that it was time for Tessie to be put to rest. We made the arrangements, everyone gathering together, taking the day off work or coming into town where necessary. We took Tessie to the shelter and watched as she succumbed to a deeper and more restful sleep than she'd had in months.

Now, I'm not telling you this story to put a damper on your day. I'm not looking for a pity party, or condolences, or anything else of the sort. I'm telling you this story because I don't want anyone else to suffer through the same thing that my family endured. 

Disclaimer: I am no scientist. The things I'm going to tell you are not scientific fact, or proven by anything other than my own experiences. However, I believe down to my bones that these things are true. For most of Tessie's life, she had been fed any average, run-of-the-mill dog food that she was willing to eat. Several different brands, flavors and manufacturers. Quality ranging from bargain basement to somewhat-higher quality brands that were available at Big Box Stores. I believe that her ingestion of poor quality ingredients from questionable food sources contributed to the development of her tumor. Its true that we switched her to grain-free food before she developed the tumor, but I think by that time, it was a change that was too little, too late. The damage had already been done, and although it took care of the allergy, it wasn't enough to reverse the damage that had been done by the many years of byproducts, and artificial ingredients.

I wish I could provide proof that the link between food quality and Tessie's tumor was more than just a hunch. If I could do that, this article would have a very different tone to it. However, in my research I've found some very compelling evidence that shows that there is at least some type of link between pet food ingredients and cancer, and that several of the brands I've fed both my dogs have been cause for concern. Just like with humans, the quality of the food being eaten has a huge impact on overall health and wellness. Just like with humans, choosing organic food is the best we can hope for for ourselves and our pets. And just like with humans, any studies or evidence that is found to support these ideas is likely to be quickly shut away before anyone can get their hands on it, or start forming any ludicrous ideas about demanding better quality food. The world we live in...

In any case, I know that for Tessie, this knowledge came too late. But for Annya, and for the other dogs and cats that we all know and love, there is still time. All I ask is that you give careful consideration to what you're feeding your pets, and do your own research before choosing what to feed the furry members of your family. "You are what you eat" has never been more important than it is now. To get you started on your own research if you have concerns about the link between dog food and cancer, check out these articles:

Thank you for reading Tessie's Story. I hope that you've gained some insight into the importance of choosing quality food for your pets, and I hope it'll help you find the right options for your furry friends. Stay tuned for Part Two of this series: Annya's Story.

Disclaimer: I am no scientist, veterinarian, or pet health expert. I am simply a lover of dogs and animals in general, and I am one of the unlucky group that has had to watch a beloved pet wither away too soon. If you have any concerns about your pet's health or wellbeing, please consult a veterinarian and do some research about the healthiest options for your pet. When in doubt, err on the side of caution, for your pet's sake.