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What do you think makes a difference?

The Ryman Setters Forum Forums Health What do you think makes a difference?

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    • #1421
      Katie O’Donnell

        Hi all,

        As I’m thinking ahead to my next dog, I’m looking back on what I’ve done for my dogs before and thinking about what has worked/hasn’t worked.  When I was training/showing my Goldens and working in an animal shelter, I felt like I had a good finger on the pulse of canine health trends/updates…but I’ve been a little bit out of the loop the past few years with career changes, etc.

        Anyway, I was wondering if any of you would be willing to share some of your thoughts on the following:


        Tick Prevention

        Heartworm Prevention


        Pet Insurance

        Ryman Quirks?

        Sorry, I know that is a long list!  But I’ll take any information I can get.  Living in Southeastern MA, I am in the heart of tickborne disease/mosquito country, so that is a major unavoidable concern.  While I haven’t had Setters before, I can say that feeding my dogs a grain-free diet means that I haven’t had nearly the problems with chronic ear infections and hot spots that I used to deal with 15-20 years ago.  I follow a three-year vaccine schedule for everything (I think it’s a UC Davis protocol), but can’t see that it has made a significant difference.  Also, I keep my dogs lean and fit and prefer not to neuter for health reasons.  My dogs are carefully supervised — no chance of accidentally siring unwanted litters.

        After looking into it about 8 years ago, I decided against pet insurance, but it was still a fairly new market then.  I’m thinking about it with the next pup…I live in an area with a high cost of living that extends to everything else.  I’ve been friendly with my vet for years, and was blown away when she offhandedly mentioned that even a fairly routine obstruction surgery (ie, dog ate a sock) will run about $5k these days.  Even though my Golden’s cancer ultimately wasn’t treatable, just the process to get a diagnosis cost close to the same.  Anyone use insurance?  Have any companies you recommend?

        Also, any health care “quirks” unique to Rymans or Setters in general?  Anything to be on the particular lookout to treat or avoid?



      • #1422

        Hi Katie.  That is quite a list of questions!  I suspect that folks don’t know quite where to start so have not yet responded.  I will say that a focus of breeders here at RS is health.  Not just OFA hips, although that is a good start, but an overall healthy dog that can fulfill its job as a life long hunting companion.   I would say that lines of ryman-types represented here at RS have a pretty decent track record for good overall health and the breeders that I have gotten to know here on RS try to keep it that way.  Of course there are individual dogs who suffer from any one of the zillion health issues such as cancer or diabetes that effect all breeds of dogs, but breeders openly talking to one another is an important way to make sure that these are not a trend or embedded pattern.  This is very important because, in my opinion, working bird dogs should be healthy and genetically rigorous.  They should not require special diets or be high maintenance.  So I think that breeders who actively and rigorously hunt their dogs will be more likely to have healthy dogs.

        Tick disease is a hot topic for all ruffed grouse hunters.  How to protect dogs from ticks seems to be a personal choice but many people report success with the Seresto collars.   Vaccination schedules may vary but I get the sense that most breeders are aware of the literature reporting that yearly vaccinations are not necessary and may in fact have negative effects.   A quick internet search will pull up various suggested protocols which range from 3 -5 year intervals.  Discussions and choices of dog food can be as individual and debated as politics so I won’t go there, but I will say that recently I have been seeing quite a few articles suggesting that grain-free diets can have negative effects, you might want to check those out.  Again, my own experience has been that feeding any one of the many quality performance foods has been successful with my rymans, they are good eaters with none of the “sensitive skin and stomach” problems that seem to be an issue with some other breeds.  Welcome and thank you for sharing your questions and concerns with our group.

      • #1425

        Katie, our experiences with grain free foods follows yours. Grains are not immediately bad, but are cheap, cheap cheap…. and their use as fillers results in high carbohydrate levels which in turn mean a lot of excess energy for the dog to dump out of there system. Dogs do not need carbs for energy. There is some recent hub bub about grain free diets and death or one or more dogs known to researchers. I picked up guidance at my vet’s clinic this week which does suggest this really may be a taurine deficiency caused by other choices of components in the formulation. Whole dog Journal had a great piece on diets a few months ago I hope I can find again for this discussion.


        Ticks – can’t be said oftern enough that we know these days that ticks mean many diseases above and beyond Lyme. Many of those diseases can transmit shortly after attachment of a tick, not just after a 24 hour attachment. I use Brevecto now as a baseline preventative, and apply a permethrin based spray on my clothes and dogs when in the field. Seresto collars seem to be highly effective too, but some of us have heard one or more truly awful stories about ingested collars. I also don’t like seeing multiple collars on a dog. On this account I have no science, only my belief a multi-barrier approach that greatly reduces the number of live ticks making it back to my truck, dog b0xes, or home is better than the insult I or the dogs may suffer from exposure to permethrin. One we reach mid-September, we have tick activity anytime the temperature is above freezing. That means I see ticks crawling on dogs in January if its 35 degrees out after 2 weeks of bitter cold weather.


        Enough from me, I look forward to what others offer here too.

      • #1426
        Rum Creek Setters

          I took the puppies to the vet last week for their 1st immunizations and we had a discussion about grain free foods.  He mentioned that there is currently buzz on the internet that the FDA is looking investigating grain free dogs food and their link to cardio myopathy, heart attacks.  As J.C. noted, the lack of grains cause a deficiency in taurine that they think is connected to the heart issues.  I have been using grain free this summer but am going back to using Purina foods with grains.  Protein is another issue where too much protein, especially older dogs is damaging to kidneys.  So I am only feeding high protein food in the hunting season, not in the off season.

        • #1431
          Katie O’Donnell

            Hi all,

            Thanks for the responses!  Sounds like I’m on track with all of you…I’m not the world’s biggest nutritionist, so I’m glad to hear that Rymans are pretty hale and hearty!

            I think I found the article you were talking about in the Whole Dog Journal:

            Interesting to see that English Setters are listed as a breed of concern.  Also interesting to see that it seems to be not a concern about absence of grains so much as a proliferation of legume and potato (high fiber) fillers.  Something to keep an eye on.

            Thanks all!

          • #1434
            Classic Setters

              I read the Tufts article and others.  Years ago we tried feeding a lamb based diet and did not like the results so the taurine deficiency may have played a part in that.   I tested a lot of feed years ago and was aghast at how far off from the guaranteed analysis some cattle feeds were.  I guess I have trust issues with animal food companies so we mix together two good foods hoping that if one is not up to par in a particular lot hopefully the other makes up for it.  Sometimes availability was a problem too so switching temporarily to just one was not a problem.   It seems  basically impossible to get companies, who use rice as the main carb, to give you the average arsenic content of the dog food.  American grown rice is often high in arsenic which causes health issues.  Brown rice can be worse than white rice. I have asked and was told the company would be happy to send me the info on arsenic (As) but it never arrives.  I tested our previous foods but not my current two.  I plan to test the two we currently use in my next metals in food analysis.


            • #1435
              Thunder Bay Setters

                Somewhere I remember reading that low taurine levels are a function of lamb based food, is that not the case?

              • #1438
                Katie O’Donnell

                  Without re-reading, my memory of the article is that lamb may not contain as much taurine as other meats, but that it was the legumes that somehow inhibit taurine uptake…so a combination of the two (lamb & high legume content) can be problematic, but not sure to what extent.

                • #1443
                  October Setters

                    Katie- Years ago I charted our food costs and vet bills for a few years before and after switching to premium kibbles and homemade foods. Overall expense was near identical after the switch, but food costs and vet bills traded places. Food went up to about what we were spending at the vet, and vet bills went down to about what we had been spending on food. At least with run of the mill issues I can say with confidence that our dogs became healthier during that time period.

                    I have no experience with pet insurance. It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything about it, but as I recall they required spay/neuter? If that’s the case I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for a male, or for a female if they require it early. Maybe the information that neutering isn’t so good for dogs has filtered down to them by now though.

                    I want to respond to some of what has been posted, and also to the Tufts article/DCM/grain-free foods question. Sorry, I tend to be pretty long-winded when it’s a subject I’m interested in:-)

                    Regarding taurine- this amino acid is only found in meats, never in plants, so the lack of grains itself can’t directly cause a deficiency. The Whole Dog Journal article Katie posted covers the taurine questions pretty well and probably puts the scare in proper perspective. A major point to consider is that taurine is heat sensitive. For the last few years there have been reports industry wide that people are having to feed higher volumes of kibble (of the same brands) to maintain their dogs’ weight. A theory I’ve heard as to why this is occurring is that factories are cooking at higher temperatures because of the recalls over bacterial contamination. If you are concerned about taurine, the conclusions and recommendations in the WDJ article are probably a good starting point, plus it’s not expensive to supplement.

                    English setters being prone to DCM is news to me. We have had one old dog die from congestive heart failure. We gave him taurine in case that would help, which as far as I could tell did nothing. I guess I can’t rule out taurine deficiency as the cause, but heart meds kept him going long enough that I’m guessing the taurine should have helped so I’d say the cause was likely something else. It’s probably not a bad idea to consider supplementing taurine though.

                    Our food distributor has always recommended against lamb based foods with the reason that lamb meal doesn’t have a great amino acid profile by itself. However, I just talked to him and he feels the mention of lamb and/or potatoes regarding DCM is a smoke screen. He believes the main problem is most likely due to legumes, which are being used more and more because of changes in the dog food industry. There is such a demand for chicken meal that low ash meals (higher protein, less bones etc) are not available any more. There used to be several grades of meal but now there is only one you can buy, and it is high ash. Peas are used either for the protein, or to lower the ash content of the food because of the problem with the chicken meal. There is also a strong money influence right now that supports peas and penalizes nutritionists who don’t.

                    As an aside, another problem with lamb is that the legal definition of lamb meal is 51% lamb. So it could have other meats in it that aren’t disclosed in the ingredient list or even to the food company who buys the meal. I think that’s a possible reason why lamb kibbles don’t work as well as they should sometimes, especially for allergies.

                    Protein and kidneys- my understanding is that high protein foods are not considered a risk for developing kidney disease any more (it is in rats if I remember correctly). Maybe if it’s plant protein or if it was extreme. What really matters, especially with older dogs, is the quality of the protein, and there is at least one study where even dogs in kidney failure didn’t live as long if switched to a low protein food. Dogs can get along well on a fairly low protein diet, but only if it is has adequate amino acids and is digested well, qualities that may be hard to find in a lower protein kibble. In my experience formulating home made diets it’s somewhat tricky to meet all of the NRC’s amino acid requirements without getting above about 25% of calories from protein. So, I’m not sure there is a good basis for switching to lower protein during the off season. FWIW Purina has that famous study showing fewer injuries if dogs are fed performance foods year round rather than switching to lower protein during the off season.

                    I don’t think the reports of heart problems should be discounted, but I also feel the Tufts article and others do a disservice if they scare people into switching to some of the lesser quality big company foods, which is exactly the way some people I’m hearing from are reacting. WDJ does a good job of calming things down, but here are some additional points from the Tufts article that I feel are misleading:

                    -The biggest problem I see is the sweeping declarations and generalizations. For instance, what exactly is a “boutique” food and how would you know which kibbles fit in that generalization? Anything except Purina, Hills, or Iams? There is a lot of daylight between the goofy kangaroo/chickpeas diet mentioned and those foods, but the generalization will make you fear that the food you’re using fits into it. And “grain-free” doesn’t really have much of a meaning either. There are high and low quality foods that have grains, and the same goes for grain-free, plus the ingredients are all over the place. On the other side of the equation, there is nothing magical about the food simply being grain-free, again because it doesn’t mean very much. “Grains” are not all the same thing. None of them are natural foods for a canine, but the substitutes used to form a kibble aren’t either.

                    -Food allergies are “very uncommon”???! I’d like to see the data this statement is based on.

                    -Grains “do not contribute to any health problems”.  Another broad, sweeping statement that I question the support for. And again, how do you define “grains” in this statement.

                    -The recommendation to watch for early signs of heart disease if you’re feeding a boutique, grain-free, or exotic diet sounds really scary and implies that you are making a poor choice if you don’t go with one of the big brands like those I mentioned above. WDJ does a better job of giving rational recommendations without encouraging your imagination to determine whether you are feeding a good food or not.

                    To illustrate why I think overreacting and going to one of the old standard big companies might not be so good, here is the list of ingredients for a supposedly high end performance formula from one of them, with my criticisms below.

                    Chicken, corn gluten meal, brewers rice, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), poultry by-product meal (source of glucosamine), whole grain corn, corn germ meal, fish meal (source of glucosamine), animal digest, fish oil, dried egg product, salt, calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, calcium phosphate, Vitamin E supplement, choline chloride, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate, manganese sulfate, niacin, Vitamin A supplement, calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate, copper sulfate, riboflavin supplement, Vitamin B-12 supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, garlic oil, folic acid, Vitamin D-3 supplement, calcium iodate, biotin, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), and sodium selenite.

                    For many reasons you can’t reliably judge a food by reading the ingredients. However, with some foods you can get a pretty solid indication of the quality from the list, especially if it’s loaded with junk like this one is. Here are my comments on some of these ingredients.

                    • Chicken: 11% protein. These days fresh chicken is nearly always liquefied chicken (with water added) that is delivered to the factory in a tanker truck and pumped into a tank through the side of the building. This is not an unhealthy ingredient, but the food would be extremely expensive if it had actual chicken, like you naturally picture when you read the company’s hype about “real chicken” as the first ingredient. Liquefied or not, it is first on the list because it’s the heaviest ingredient, and it’s the heaviest because it’s primarily water. Once cooked it will be a minor ingredient unless the company uses a huge amount of it, which they would not do because of the cost. If chicken was the main ingredient it would be a meal rather than fresh. Because customers think fresh meat is better, even good companies are using it, but named meat meals, which already have the water weight cooked out, is what you want to see on top (or second if fresh is first) if you’re looking for animal protein based foods.
                    • Corn gluten meal: 65-70% protein. By-product of corn wet milling process and corn starch production. Cheap ingredient that boosts protein levels but dogs don’t utilize it well. Devoid of taurine and low in lysine. Lysine deficiency is associated with torn cruciate ligaments among other things. This should be assumed to be the actual first ingredient.
                    • Brewers rice: 28-30% protein. Cheap junk left over from making human food. Same problems with the protein as corn gluten meal.
                    • Animal fat: Cheap fat source that could be anything. May vary batch to batch depending on what is available at what price today.
                    • Poultry by-product meal: Probably the real first animal protein source in the formula. Could be great, could be bad depending on what’s in it. Also can vary.
                    • Then we have two additional corn ingredients- this is a plant protein-based formula, primarily corn.
                    • Fish meal: Another non-specific ingredient. Most fish meals (maybe all generic ones like this) are made off shore on ships. Because fish meal is a fire hazard, regulations require that it has ethoxyquin added, a controversial preservative. Unless made on shore, ALL fish meal has this preservative in it, and the dog food company does not have to list it in the ingredients. In fact, they can claim ethoxyquin free as long as it isn’t added during the manufacture of the food.
                    • Fish oil: From what fish?
                    • Animal digest: Animal parts that are dissolved with enzymes in a vat. Can be anything.
                    • Menadione sodium bisulfite complex: Cheap synthetic version of vitamin K worth doing some research on if you’re interested. Avoided in better foods, and considered not safe by some.

                    To me, this is an amazingly bad formula given that it’s from a company with lots of research, feeding trials, and experience. And this food isn’t cheap.

                    As a contrast, for about 10 cents more per pound you can buy the following performance formula that we’ve used. It’s from a small company that won’t use Chinese-sourced ingredients (if a company doesn’t brag about no Chinese ingredients they definitely use them) and didn’t come out with a fish based formula until they found a supplier who would guarantee no ethoxyquin.

                    Chicken Meal, Pork meal, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), ground whole grain sorghum, whole brown rice, whole peas, dried beet pulp, natural flavors, flax seed, kelp, sea salt yeast culture, carrots, peas, blueberries, cranberries, chicory root, dried eggs, yucca shidigera extract, sage, zinc amino acid complex, manganese amino acid complex, iron amino acid complex, vitamin A supplement, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin E supplement (natural source of vitamin E), ferrous sulfate, choline chloride, copper sulfate, niacin, d-calcium pantothenate, biotin, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, sodium selenite, pyridoxine hydrochloride, vitamin B-12 supplement, folic acid, ethylene diamine dihydriodide, colbate carbonate, mixed tocopherols, citric acid, rosemary extract (natural preservatives), Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Aspergillus Niger Fermentation Extract, Dried Trichoderma Longibrachiatum Fermentation Extract, Dried Bacillus Subtilis Fermentation Extract

                    The knocks on this food are the peas, brown rice, beet pulp (debatable), and natural flavors, none of which are major ingredients. Some people also think you should avoid rosemary extract if your dog has seizures. I am not too concerned about the peas because it’s clear they aren’t used as a significant protein source- there are two named meat meals up front, followed by the fat and grains before we get to the peas. At that point you’re looking at a minor ingredient, and with two meals as the first ingredients this is definitely an animal protein based food. But, I would prefer no peas and white or no rice over brown rice. Most consumers would consider brown rice more healthy however. Some of the ingredients just look good and don’t really do anything in my opinion. For instance the carrots and blueberries are probably too far down the list to be of any significance, not to mention the fact that they have been cooked at a high temperature and run through an extruder. Note the chelated minerals (amino acid complexes). These are expensive, but absorbed far better than the cheaper versions in the other formula. This is especially good for zinc. Note also that it uses dried eggs rather than dried egg product, which is another byproduct/leftover ingredient from processing human food. That’s a subtle difference, but one that gives another hint about where the other company is coming from. The probiotics are a plus. Crude fiber, which may be a factor in the DCM scare, is 3.5% max versus 3% max in the other food.

                    Enough for now.


                  • #1444
                    Rum Creek Setters

                      I have not listened to it yet, but there is a current podcast produced by Ron Boehme interviewing Dr. Brian Zanghi from Purina.  The website is, usually quite entertaining.  In this interview he discusses Grain-free dog food.  I hear it is some good info.


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