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A VEGAN DIET FOR MY PETS?

Posted Apr 10 2011 12:00am


Well, so much for spring arriving!  Helpful Buckeye shoveled 12" of "springtime" from the driveway yesterday morning and right now (5 AM Sunday morning), the temperature is 7 degrees!  I'm OK with the winter season, but I'm ready to cry "Uncle" right about now....

Several of you asked about the lead photo in last week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats.  It was taken on the outdoor patio of Dos Gringos restaurant in Scottsdale, AZ.  Ah, the memory of sitting there, in the 90 degree weather, enjoying a tall, chilly one....

Helpful Buckeye received a lot of e-mails about the discussion of heartworms last week.  The really good news is that 90 % of respondents said they keep their dogs on heartworm preventive medicine year round.  Also, only 10% replied that they have had a dog become infected with heartworms.  Looks like a perfect correlation, doesn't it?  Remember to answer this week's poll questions in the column to the left.

Helpful Buckeye would like to send a special "thank you" to Holly for her kind words following last week's issue Doc,
I swear, just when I think your blog can't get better, you go and out-do yourself. This week's blog is FULL of great information...Once again, thanks for all the love and hard work you put into this site. I love it here!

Perhaps I should consider having Holly as my agent?

Three weeks ago, we spent the whole issue discussing "What Do Your Pets Eat?"  Helpful Buckeye was a little surprised to receive several e-mails after that asking about whether or not it would be feasible to offer a vegan diet to your pet.  Even though the concept of vegan diets for humans is currently pretty much in the mainstream of awareness, the same cannot be said for pets.  So, this week, Helpful Buckeye will present some of the viewpoints on this topic and how it relates to the health and well-being of your pets.

However, let's first get some terminology taken care of.  There are numerous forms of diets that restrict meats and/or by-products of animals.  Vegetarians, vegans, fruitarians, and pescetarians are some of the more familiar examples of individuals who choose for various reasons to follow a particular diet.  For our purposes in this discussion, we will be treating all these categories as interchangeable...no offense intended; it's just that the animals aren't really aware of what they are being fed.  Their diet is being prepared by a human who most likely has strong, well-defined feelings about what is being fed to their pet.

This very interesting interview from CNN will start us off with the principal viewpoints of vegetarian/vegan diets as related to pets:

Vegan diet for dogs: A question of thriving vs. surviving
It began when Shelley Boyle's veterinarian recommended she stop feeding meat and dairy to her beloved mutt, Cleo, to determine whether a food allergy was to blame for the dog's chronic ear infection.



Boyle's interest was immediately piqued. She had been a vegan for nearly two years, after deciding to cut meat, eggs and dairy from her diet for health and ethical reasons. But she never considered the possibility that she could align her dog's diet with hers.


"I've had animals all my life and when I did look into a vegan diet for my cat, I read that cats can't be vegan ... so I went to the conclusion that we can't do this for Cleo," says Boyle, an environmental consultant and part-time vegan baker from Studio City, California.


With her doctor's guidance, she began whipping up batches of pinto beans, brown rice and sweet potatoes each week. She fed them to 4-year-old Cleo, a German shepherd/pit bull mix, twice daily with a dose of probiotics at lunch to help her digest.


Five months later, Cleo's ear infection is gone, Boyle says. Her coat has taken on a healthy shine and she no longer has bad breath, dandruff or excessive shedding, she says. Her vet at the Animal Dermatology Clinic in Pasadena, California, suggested incorporating calcium and iron supplements through a diet of leafy greens or a vegan nutritional capsule.


"Her health and well-being is the main thing for us, but that fact we have a vegan option is a double-benefit because it means our dog can live with the same ideology," she says.


With the vegan diet enjoying a period of (mostly) positive widespread exposure, it should come as little surprise that vegetarian or vegan pet owners might want to project those ideals onto their canine companions.


The notion of a holistic approach that gives pet owners more control over their pets' diet has been gaining ground since 2007, when a melamine contamination of commercial pet food caused people to take a closer look at what they were feeding their pets, says Donna Spector, a veterinary internal medicine specialist who runs SpectorDVM, an animal nutrition consultancy.


"That was a turning point that led to more home-cooked meals and raw food diets. Vegetarianism is another subset of that backlash," she says.


Spector and six other pet experts who spoke with CNN conceded -- some more reluctantly than others -- that most dogs could biologically live on a vegan diet. But doing so requires substantial attention to creating a balanced diet that makes up for the loss of animal protein with substitutions of beans, soy and, to a lesser extent, vegetables and grains.


Dogs are classified in the order Carnivora, but, unlike cats (a topic for another day) they have evolved biologically as omnivores, meaning their systems can derive nutrients from a wide variety of sources, including fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and animal products.


"The important thing is that you use a diet that has been shown to be nutritionally adequate for whatever stage of life you're feeding, and it is absolutely possible to find a good quality commercial pet food that doesn't have animal products in it," says veterinarian Kathryn E. Michel, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine.


She recommended using only commercial pet food that has gone through Association of American Feed Control Officials feeding trials. Or, if you prefer to cook meals from scratch, consult a credentialed expert in dog nutrition to ensure a proper balance of essential nutrients.


Whether dogs can thrive on a vegan diet elicits different shades of responses.


"If you go to India you can see dogs living on the scraps. They can survive on almost nothing once they've evolved to living on the streets, but is that what's best?" says pet expert and author Tracie Hotchner, host of the radio show "Dog Talk."


"If a dog has a choice he's not picking a pile of beans over chicken or meat, and he's not going to be lapping up soy," she says. "If you're going to be harmonious in your choices, be harmonious. I say respect each species for what it was meant to be, and if you feel that strongly about being vegan, get a vegetarian animal. Bunnies make wonderful pets."


Dogs have a significantly higher daily protein requirement than humans. Finding protein sources that provide adequate amounts of nutrients such as amino acids in the sufficient ratio can be difficult under the vegan approach, which relies on plant protein sources that have less biologic value than meat protein, Spector says.


"Vegetarian pet foods require the addition of synthetic amino acids to fill nutritional gaps or a much higher overall protein level to supply all of the essential amino acids. Overall, it is much easier and more reliable to supply a dog's essential nutrients in a food containing both plants and meat," she says.


The vegan diet also lacks some essential fatty acids that are only available in animal products like butter and fish oils, says veterinarian Michael Fox, former president of the U.S. Humane Society and author of "Dog Mind, Dog Body."


Fox, a lacto-ovo vegetarian who feeds his dogs an omnivorous diet prepared at home, says the best approach for dogs -- and humans -- is a varied diet from organic ingredients. He says some adult dogs do adapt and even thrive on well-balanced vegan diets, but contends that dogs do best with a variety of foods that include some animals fats and protein.


"Dogs have evolved to a degree, but they've been with us 45,000 years as camp followers, scavengers, village dogs in the third-world countries and they'll eat just about anything," he says, adding that dogs could benefit from a vegan meal at least once a week to detox.


"But then again, we don't have the real science to back up whether it's safe enough, so, for dogs' sake, we need to adopt the cautionary principle."


The first thing doctors tend to ask is why someone is considering a vegan diet, Fox says. In most cases, personal ethics are the primary motivator, followed by food allergies.


In the latter category, a vegan diet can bring relief, veterinarian Armaiti May says.


"I've seen many dogs with food allergies, and often switching to a vegan diet can help them," says May, who is vegan. "They also avoid taking in animal by-products from commercially produced dog food, including slaughterhouse waste products and rejects that wouldn't be fit for human consumption. We've seen a lot of cancer and other degenerative diseases in dogs in recent years so it's easy to suspect that pet food could be a contributor."


For those who have embraced a vegan diet for their dogs, they say they have living and breathing proof that it works.


Heather Kennedy, an editor for a scientific nonprofit society in Atlanta, has raised her two dogs vegan since she they came to live with her, two and a half years ago. She feeds them a prepared blend of dried vegetables, fruits and herbs that she mixes with water and either tofu, beans or textured vegetable protein.


"I get the occasional weird look, but any doubters seem to feel much better once they meet Moliere and Tillie and see that they're normal, healthy, energetic and rambunctious little dogs," she says

This interview from a dog owner's point of view is available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/LIVING/03/10/vegan.dog.diet/

From a veterinary nutritionist's point of view, there are several different considerations:

Vegetarian Diet For Dogs

by David A. Dzanis, D.V.M., Ph.D., DACVN


Many Americans enjoy the vegetarian lifestyle today, either for health or ethical reasons. Some people choose to extend this dietary philosophy to their pets as well, which has prompted the marketing of commercial vegetarian dog and cat foods. There is a spectrum of foods and ingredients that may be included or excluded from a "vegetarian" diet, depending on one’s definition. At minimum, it usually means that most meat sources are excluded from the diet (such as beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and sometimes fish). More restricted diets exclude other foods of animal origin, such as egg and dairy products. Perhaps the most extreme example would be a "vegan" diet, where all foods and ingredients of foods, including vitamin and mineral sources, are excluded if they are derived from animals. Provided foods are carefully combined in appropriate proportions, vegetarian or vegan diets for people can be very nutritious and tasty. However, is the same true for dogs and cats?



To help answer that question, one must consider the normal anatomy and physiology of the dog and cat. Both species are in the scientific order Carnivora ("meat- eaters"), although today the domestic dog is considered more as an "omnivore" (animals that eat both animals and plants). Still, just by comparing the dentition of dogs and cats with that of humans and herbivores (plant-eaters, such as cattle and horses), it is readily apparent that their teeth are designed by nature for eating a diet largely comprised of animal tissue. Their short intestinal tracts compared to humans and especially to animals like sheep or horses also indicate that they are not designed to accommodate diets containing large amounts of plant materials. Their nutritional requirements, such as the need for relatively high amounts of protein and calcium, reflect these dietary limitations.



Cats are even more specific in their nutritional needs, emphasizing their status as "true carnivores." For example, cats cannot convert the beta-carotene in plants such as carrots and dark green vegetables into vitamin A. Rather, they require "pre-formed" vitamin A, such as found in liver and fish oils. Cats also need dietary sources of taurine (an amino acid-like nutrient) and arachidonic acid (an essential fatty acid), both of which are found in appreciable levels only in animal tissues. Thus, while both species can eat and utilize some plant-source ingredients (dogs more than cats), they simply are not intended to eat only plants as are other animals such as cattle and sheep.



Why feed a vegetarian diet to pets?



Many people consider their vegetarian diets to be more healthful than the traditional American diet that includes animal-source foods, and some assume the same to be true for dogs and cats. However, the health reasons that people cite as the basis for their own eating habits may not apply where pets are concerned. For example, dogs and cats do not suffer from problems such as high cholesterol or coronary artery disease at anywhere near the incidence as do humans. Thus, reducing intake of saturated fats and cholesterol by cutting meats out of the diet would not be of any real health benefit in pets. Another concern may be about bacterial contamination of the meat ingredients, which could cause disease when consumed by pets. This may be a legitimate concern when eating raw or undercooked meat or poultry, but properly processed dry or canned pet foods pose a far lesser risk of disease transmission than raw fruits and vegetables. Some vegetarian diets for pets are also offered on the premise that they will prevent food allergies. The true incidence of food allergies in pets is relatively low. Regardless, allergies can also be developed against proteins in plants just as easily, so cutting out the meat sources does little to prevent this problem.



Another reason that a pet owner would wish to feed a vegetarian or vegan pet food is because some people may be philosophically opposed to the consumption of products derived from animals, even by their pets. While this is a personal matter that each pet owner must decide for himself or herself, consideration also should be given to the ethical issue of feeding an animal a diet that is against its nature. To be honest, all commercial pet foods are to varying degrees "unnatural" (no company sells raw, whole rodents or small birds as "cat food"). However, eliminating all animal products from the diets of dogs and cats to meet one’s personal philosophy, regardless how well intentioned, may not be the correct choice if it potentially compromises the health of the pet itself. Fortunately, there are many pets besides dogs and cats that would thrive on a completely vegetarian diet (birds, iguanas, rabbits, horses and goats, to name a few).



Potential problems

The nutritional requirements for dogs and cats are very different from those for humans. Thus, a vegetarian diet perfectly suitable in meeting a person’s nutrient needs may be grossly deficient where dogs or cats are concerned. It is possible, but very difficult, to develop such diets for dogs and cats. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), in cooperation with CVM, has developed the AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles, which details the known nutritional requirements for these species. Formulating a pet food to meet all these requirements is not a simple task in any case, but becomes extremely difficult when using only ingredients that would meet the definition of a vegetarian diet (especially a vegan diet).



For example, the protein and calcium needs of the dog and cat are much higher than those for humans. These nutrients are most easily provided through animal-derived ingredients. Some plants, such as soy, are high in protein, but the amino acids within the protein are not as balanced as they are for most animal-source ingredients. Dogs and cats also need a dietary source of vitamin B12, a substance not found in most plants. All animals "need" this vitamin, but plant-eating animals such as cattle and sheep can make their own through the action of bacteria in their gastrointestinal tracts, provided there are adequate amounts of the mineral cobalt in the diet (which is found in plants). As mentioned above, the cat has even more unique nutritional requirements that make it harder to get adequate amounts of all required nutrients in the diet without using some animal-source ingredients.



Can’t these nutrients be replaced using synthetic substitutes? Yes, it is theoretically possible to formulate a diet that meets all these specific needs using synthetic additives. However, it becomes more expensive and far less reliable to do it this way. Even when a product is formulated to meet the nutritional needs "on paper," it may not work in the "real" world. For example, plants also contain phytates, substances that bind calcium and trace minerals, lowering their "bioavailability." So, even when minerals are provided at levels that appear adequate, they cannot be properly absorbed and used by the animal. There are adjustments in the AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles to account for decreases in bioavailability of nutrients, but these are made on the assumption that both animal and plant-source ingredients are used. It is impossible to tell whether these levels would still be adequate for a completely plant-based diet.


Finally, even the most carefully formulated diet with respect to providing adequate amounts of all essential nutrients is worthless if the dog or cat does not eat it. While dogs certainly enjoy the occasional snack such as a cookie or piece of fruit and cats will chew on grass and other plants, foods without some animal-source ingredients may not be very palatable, so asking dogs and cats to eat only plant-based foods may not be possible in some cases. Even if the cat or dog does eat the vegetarian diet, it still may not be eating enough to meet its nutritional needs.



Vegetarian diet "check list"


Before and after one decides to offer his or her pet a vegetarian diet, several factors should be considered:



1. Why am I choosing to feed this diet? One needs to balance any perceived health benefit against the real potential health risks. The ethical dilemma of the feeding of animal products to animals should be weighed against the moral concerns of feeding a diet that is opposed to that which would be consumed in nature.

2. Does it meet the nutritional needs of the pet? Many homemade diet recipes, including those found in books and magazines, may be seriously incomplete or unbalanced. Testimonials and "success stories" notwithstanding, they have not been shown by scientific testing to meet the nutritional needs of dogs and cats, and should be avoided. For commercial products, reject anything that does not bear an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement as required for all "complete and balanced" pet foods in the United States. The label may say that the product "is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles." However, since palatability and bioavailability of nutrients are big concerns with vegetarian diets, even greater assurance would be had if the product label bears the statement that "Animal feeding tests following AAFCO procedures substantiate that (the product) is complete and balanced."

3. How is it working? After a month or two on the diet, and occasionally thereafter, try to objectively assess the performance of the diet compared to your pet’s previous food. Has it lost or gained weight? How’s the skin and coat? Energy level? Stool volume and consistency? Ask your veterinarian for an examination and professional opinion on your dog’s or cat’s health status.



Summary

The decision to feed a dog or cat a vegetarian diet is not one to be taken lightly. A vegetarian diet with some animal-source ingredients is more likely to meet the needs of the pet, especially for the cat, than a completely vegan diet. In either case, feeding such a diet carries an element of risk to the health of the animal, so the pet owner must consider the possible consequences of choosing these types of diets. If it is later found that a commercial product does not meet the animal’s nutritional needs, it would also be helpful for the pet owner to report that fact to the company and the appropriate regulatory agencies. That way, corrective measures can be taken to ensure that products on the market are nutritionally adequate for the intended species.



This presentation by Dr. Dzanis is found at: http://www.dognutrition.com/vegetarian-diet-for-dogs.html

Taking the other, more opposed position, comes this report from: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2011/03/11/Warnings-on-vegan-diets-for-dogs/UPI-53751299872868/

Warnings on vegan diets for dogs

People putting their dogs on vegan diets thinking it's healthy for them are not doing the animals any favors, U.S. veterinarians say.



While a vegan diet may provide a number of health benefits for humans looking to lose weight and lower their cholesterol and blood pressure, veterinarians say that going meatless may not be the best thing for dogs, the New York Daily News reported Friday.


"People feel it's good for their pet because it's good for them," Dr. Benjamin Davis, a vet at NYC Veterinary Specialists, said. But, he said, "dogs and cats, they're carnivores and they do eat meat as part of their natural diet."


Some pet stores have begun stocking vegetarian-based product for pet owners wanting to take the meatless route for their animal companions.


But there can be disadvantages, some store owners say.  "There are a number of health benefits, but there are health detriments as well," Phil Klein, a co-owner of Whiskers Holistic Pet Store in the East Village, said. "It depends on the individual animal and the reason the dog is being put on a vegan diet.


"If it's well thought out, it could be OK. We do an awful lot of work with allergenic animals and sometimes will recommend a vegetarian or vegan diet because the majority of allergies are due to particular proteins."


However, Davis said, for most dogs there is little advantage to going vegan, as even animals suffering from food allergies risk missing out on essential proteins, vitamins and minerals that come from meat products.

If you have been considering a vegetarian diet for your pet and, after considering all this input, would like to take that step, here are some suggestions:

How to Put Your Dog on a Vegetarian Diet



Unlike a cat, dogs are actually omnivores, not true carnivores. This means that they can be healthy without eating meat, but you must make sure your dog is getting enough protein and all the other nutrients he needs.


  • Buy a natural health book for dogs or, better yet, one that specializes in vegetarian diets. Follow the diet given.
  • Make sure your dog is getting enough of all the amino acids he needs and vitamin B-12. For this reason it's important to follow a prescribed diet.
  • Speak to your vet about testing your dog's urine periodically. You can do it at home very simply, and there are products on the market for this purpose. A vegetarian diet can make a dog's urine more alkaline; this may predispose them to urinary tract infections.
  • Give your dog cranberry capsules if the urine is too alkaline. This will make it more acidic and help prevent urinary tract infections.
  • Buy a prepared, high-quality vegetarian dog food. This is a good alternative if you're unsure what to feed your dog or don't have time to properly prepare a homemade meal.
  • Supplement with veggie dog treats and biscuits. These are available at most health food or pet stores.
  • Find a veterinarian who supports your decision and who is knowledgeable about vegetarian diets.
These suggestions are from: http://www.ehow.com/how_5339_dog-vegetarian-diet.html

From a historical perspective, here is an account of a dog skeleton found amongst human remains from 7000 years ago
Burial remains of a dog that lived over 7,000 years ago in Siberia suggest the male Husky-like animal probably lived and died similar to how humans did at that time and place, eating the same food, sustaining work injuries, and getting a human-like burial.



"Based on how northern indigenous people understand animals in historic times, I think the people burying this particular dog saw it as a thinking, social being, perhaps on par with humans in many ways," said Robert Losey, lead author of a study about the dog burial, which has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.


"I think the act of treating it as a human upon its death indicates that people knew it had a soul, and that the mortuary rites it received were meant to ensure that this soul was properly cared for," added Losey, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alberta.


"Just like the humans in the cemetery, the dog was buried with other items, (such as) a long spoon made of antler," Losey said.


The dog was carefully laid to rest lying on his right side in a grave pit that, at other levels, also contained five partial human skeletons.


DNA and stable isotope analysis determined the animal was indeed a dog and that he ate exactly what humans at the site consumed: fish, freshwater seal meat, deer, small mammals, and some plant foods.


The canine's life, as well as that of the people, wasn't easy, though.


"The dog's skeleton, particularly its vertebrate spines, suggests that it was repeatedly used to transport loads," Losey explained. "This could have included carrying gear on its back that was used in daily activities like hunting, fishing, and gathering plant foods and firewood. The dog also could have been used to transport gear for the purposes of relocating settlements on a seasonal basis."


Additional fractures suggest the dog suffered numerous blows during its lifetime, possibly from the feet of red deer during hunting outings. The researchers cannot rule out that humans hit the dog, but its older age at burial, food provisions, and more suggest otherwise.

As indicated, this particular dog most likely was on the diet of an omnivore, eating both plant and animal tissue.  This report is from: http://news.discovery.com/animals/ancient-dog-burial-siberia-110228.html

The bottom line on this topic is still properly educating yourself as to the nutritional needs of your pet and then acting on your findings.  Read material from credible sources and talk it over with your veterinarian as part of your preparation.


To put the finishing touch on this debate, watch this dog go to the refrigerator, open the door, and score itself a piece of pizza: http://www.urlesque.com/2011/03/25/dog-steals-pizza-fridge/?icid=main%7Chtmlws-main-w%7Cdl8%7Csec3_lnk2%7C207474
We'll probably never know whether this was a veggie pizza or had a big helping of sausage or pepperoni....
One last tongue-in-cheek mention is necessary, in that certain parts of the USA will be more likely to accept the vegetarian/vegan approach.  Desperado and Helpful Buckeye spotted this bumper sticker in the parking lot of the Phoenix Zoo last week

On an unrelated but previously covered topic, the Georgia State Legislature has decided to not enact legislation that would allow the collection of a tax on veterinary services
Thanks to the determination of Georgia’s pet owners and veterinarians, the proposed tax on veterinary services has been deleted from pending legislation.



The 2010 Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians (otherwise known as that bipartisan committee determined to tax every service in the state) has deleted the “vet tax” from a revised bill. The tax would have driven up veterinary costs between seven and eight percent. Veterinarians would be the only health professionals targeted for taxation in Georgia; doctors and other health professionals’ services are exempt.


Since animal health and human health are intertwined, a vet tax could cause owners to neglect routine care for their companion animals. That, in turn, increases the number of zoonotic diseases passed between pets and human.


While the professional services rendered by veterinarians won’t be taxed, it’s not clear if other animal services will be exempted from the tax reform measures. Often, pet illnesses are caught first by observant groomers and trainers. From lumps and bumps to slight behavioral changes, others in the pet industry are important guardians of our pets.

This report is from: http://northeastcobb.patch.com/articles/vet-tax-axed-2

SPORTS NEWS
The LA Dodgers have finished the first full week of the season by taking 2 of their first 3 series against division opponents, the Giants and Padres.  Another series with the Giants awaits us this week.



PERSONAL STUFF

Many of you sent in guesses about the number of 1-dollar bills that line the walls of the Superstition Saloon in Tortilla Flat, AZ.  The guesses ranged from $1000-$125,000.  According to the manager on duty when Desperado and Helpful Buckeye ate a great lunch there, the total is right at $103,000...with the bills stacked 3-deep in a lot of areas!  That's a bunch of 1-dollar bills, huh?  Jenny, from Mesa, AZ, guessed $100,000...which was the closest guess.  I'm wondering if she has eaten there....


And, speaking of "bills," I also asked our readers what that curious projection was on the bill of the White Pelican.  All adults, male and female, have this outgrowth of bill tissue as part of their breeding plumage.


Desperado and Helpful Buckeye have an interesting day trip planned for this week to a very remote part of Arizona that is characterized by these 3 quotes
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”--John Muir

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”—Iris Murdoch

“To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.”—Helen Keller

This location is not very easy to reach and we'll give you a report on it next week.

In closing, you'll recall Holly's comments about this blog.  I have just learned that her son, Evan, has been recently deployed to the Middle East.  Helpful Buckeye hopes that all of our readers will join in keeping Evan in your thoughts for a safe return.

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~
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