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  • #119377 Report Abuse

    Hey all, I’m new here and I apologize if this is a redundant question (I did some lurking and found some related topics, but I wanted to bring up some specific issues here–hope that’s OK). In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that I’ve been working at a Pet Valu (the company that makes Performatrin) for a few months, and that learning a little about pet nutrition in my job training has motivated me to learn more so that I can (hopefully) help my family’s dog and give better advice to customers, too. :3

    So, background: I live with my spouse’s family and their dog, a yellow Labrador Retriever who’s about 6-7 years old. He gets really bad ear infections pretty regularly, and even when they’re not infected, he seems to be constantly itching, chewing on his paws, and just generally uncomfortable. (He’s not very vocal but he makes grumbly noises when we touch his ears.) Apparently the vet told my in-laws he has “winter allergies,” but the problems seem to occur year-round and we’re not sure what he’s allergic to. He’s also somewhat overweight and just recently (I’d say within this year) developed some hip problems where he’ll be limping on his back legs and can only be active for a little while before he starts panting and seems to be in pain. This makes exercise a bit difficult–the vet suggested swimming as we have a pool, but the water also aggravates his ear problems.

    Until recently he was on the Hill’s Science Diet Large Breed Light, but after some research and discussion with my co-workers, I tried switching to Zignature turkey formula (grain-free, limited ingredient). We also have been giving him an omega-3 supplement (salmon oil) and a hip and joint supplement with glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM, but I haven’t noticed much of a difference since he started taking these. Being a Lab, he’ll eat pretty much anything, so switching him to a new food hasn’t been an issue, but he has gained some weight on the Zignature and again, it doesn’t seem to be making any difference in his skin problems. He’s only been on it for about 3 weeks, though.

    I spoke to our vet last week about his diet and she recommended something fish-based for his skin, plus a taurine supplement of 2000 MG per day if he stays on the grain-free diet.
    I’ve been considering switching him to either Nulo Freestyle Senior Trout & Sweet Potato or one of the Performatrin Ultra varieties, but I’d very much appreciate any advice or recommendations.

    Thank you (and sorry for the long-ish post)!

    #119380 Report Abuse

    Regarding the skin issues, I would make an appointment with a veterinary dermatologist.


    Regarding the “hip problems” have x-rays (hips/spine) been done to rule out hip dysplasia and other anomalies? Don’t assume it is age related arthritis until other causes have been ruled out.
    Swimming is the best for dogs with arthritis, also good for weight management.
    In fact, if you have pet health insurance hydrotherapy may be covered as a prescribed treatment.

    The supplements mentioned are okay, but they are not medication.
    If you want to get to the root of the problem often a specialist is indicated and/or more testing $, otherwise the vet has no choice but to recommend bandaid remedies.

    #119384 Report Abuse

    Thank you for the advice, anon101! Now that you mention it, I believe he may have hip dysplasia or something like it–the vet didn’t mention that term specifically, but they did X-rays and found that his hip joints were oddly shaped and didn’t fit together correctly. I’m guessing weight loss and/or surgery would be the most effective treatment in that case?

    #119385 Report Abuse

    Yes, I would put a call in to the examining vet, ask for clarification on the dog’s diagnosis?
    See what he recommends.
    Consider taking his x-rays to an orthopedic specialist. In fact, you can ask for all his records
    There is good care out there, unfortunately it’s not cheap.
    Good luck

    PS: What about pain management? Ask the vet what the options are.

    #119390 Report Abuse

    Hi doginlaw-

    Zignature is pretty high in fat and calories. I’d get him on a lower calorie food to lose weight. That will help immensely!

    I have chubby labs and I try to keep their kibble on average at 350 calories per cup. Fromm has a senior/reduced activity recipe that you may want to look into. Also, more often than not, grain free food does not cure allergies. Especially, if they are environmental.

    Swimming is an excellent idea! Good luck with your pup!

    #119395 Report Abuse

    I second the Fromm, but if you need a fishy food, I’d look at their Whitefish and Potato formula. That was always a hit with heavy set dogs that were needing a fishy food

    #119399 Report Abuse

    I’m sticking with Zignature. We avoid all potatoes. Cheap starchy filler.
    I think the trick is to use the kibble as the base, add a bit of real protien and a splash of water.
    So far that has worked…

    #119416 Report Abuse


    I’m not sure how adding a bit of protein and a splash of water to a high calorie food will help with weight loss? But, the fish and potato formula that Tyrionthebiscuit mentioned is only 360 calories per cup. It might be worth checking out!

    In addition, I also feed Purina Pro Plan, Purina One, Eagle Pack, Authority and Victor weight management kibble with success. Some of these may not have potatoes if you are trying to avoid them. My dogs do fine with them.

    Again, I think weight loss would really benefit your pup.

    Best wishes!

    #119425 Report Abuse

    If the dog needs surgery, no amount of diet changes will help. Pain is pain.

    #119429 Report Abuse

    Hi Doginlaw-

    Most if not all of the issues your Lab is dealing with can be alleviated with weight loss. Including hip dysplasia, if that is indeed what the dog has. Acupuncture is also something that could be of help in conjunction with pain medication.

    I use Victor at the moment, which has a weight control formula. However, I got my Lab to lose weight on Pro Plan weight management. We cut out all treats and increased his exercise as well, which is really important. He is 11 yrs old and can still play fetch and run as fast as my 4 yr old bully mix.

    #119430 Report Abuse

    Anon do you know what peas are? A cheap starchy filler of which zignature is made mostly of ;).
    I would change to a lower cal food. Fromm is great. Also I’ve had people tell me whole earth farms weight management has really helped their dog. Weight DOES effect the joints. It may be too late to reverse what might be happening but it definitely doesn’t do joints any favors being weighed down by extra fat.
    I live with some family who has a lab on canidae life stages. He is 7 this year and weighs 68 lbs. lean mean barking machine is what I call him. He gets 3 cups of life stages a day. And is moderate activity level. He loves to retrieve a tennis ball and go on walks. As far as exercise is concerned I would get some pain relief first then try with the exercising. First I would reduce calorie intake to start the weight loss.

    #119431 Report Abuse

    “but they did X-rays and found that his hip joints were oddly shaped and didn’t fit together correctly”

    Yep, that says it all. As the dog ages the pain and discomfort will increase.

    Discuss treatment options with the examining vet. Best of luck

    #119432 Report Abuse

    Who knows? Maybe the dog will still need surgery. But, losing weight would be a good start. If you do go the swimming route, make sure to dry his ears afterwards really well. Even try to keep them folded back for a while. I think mine look really cute when I do this. LOL! I also try to check their ears regularly and clean them with Zymox ear cleaner if necessary. If they already have an infection, you probably will need a prescription to clean them out.

    Labs are notorious for ear issues. Especially, if they like the water!

    #119433 Report Abuse

    Umm, if the dog is in chronic pain (due to hip anomalies confirmed by x-ray) then forcing him to exercise may not be a good idea.
    Pain management may be a priority.
    Again, the expertise of a veterinary healthcare professional that has examined the dog is indicated (imo).

    Also, starving the dog so that he will lose weight is not a good idea either. I hope the poster is able to work with the vet and come up with an effective treatment plan.

    #119434 Report Abuse

    Who suggested starving the dog? While pain management is important, so is encouraging the dog to move.

    #119435 Report Abuse

    No one suggesting starving the dog? What? Obesity is a disease and is not healthy, especially for a dog with hip dysplasia, but even for dogs with no bone issues. My Lab has arthritis and it helps him a lot to keep moving. We limit his exercise, but we do not just not exercise him at all. We also helped him lose weight which made a big difference. Didn’t have to starve him to do it.

    #119436 Report Abuse

    Umm, it was actually her vet that recommended swimming since they have a pool.

    Doginlaw, I’m curious about the taurine supplement your vet recommended if you stick with a grain free food. Is that something that you buy from the vet? Or did he/she recommend a certain brand or place to buy it? Taurine deficiency seems to be the latest hot topic.

    #119440 Report Abuse

    Thanks, everyone! 🙂 I know it can be challenging to figure out what works best for you (and your pets) individually, so I really appreciate all the input and discussion. I’m definitely going to try putting him on a lower-calorie diet, and hopefully cut back on the Zignature in the meantime. My sister-in-law is usually around to feed him, and she told me she gives him 4 cups a day, which was probably OK with the Science Diet Light, but the Zignature is something like 160 calories more per cup (457 vs 297, I believe), and combined with his limited mobility, it’s probably a lot more than he needs. I’ll talk to her about reducing it until we can get him on a lighter food.

    I have been wary about making him exercise too much because of his joint pain. I don’t want to make it worse, but I was told by the vet that losing some weight would help with it. For now I’ve been taking him on short walks (usually 8~10 minutes) and letting him play in the pool for as long as he wants, until he loses interest or starts getting tired. I try not to force him if he’s not up for it. The vet also prescribed 100 MG of Rimadyl, but he doesn’t take it every day. He’s kind of a couch potato for the most part–not sure if that’s a side effect of the pain or a factor in his weight issues, or both. I do want to get in touch with the vet about his medical records and treatment options for his skin and joint issues in the long term, and see about possibly getting him to a specialist.

    crazy4cats, re: taurine, the vet suggested getting a human-grade supplement over the counter at a drugstore or health food store. I had to check a few places before I found it at a local holistic/natural pharmacy. The only brand they had was Designs for Health, which I have at least seen listed on pet-specific websites (another brand I saw mentioned was Thorne Research). I’m not personally familiar with either of those sites, but they’re among the first that came up when I googled “best taurine supplement for dogs.” I got the taurine in capsule form (the powder seems like it’d be less wasteful, but they didn’t have it in stock), and I’ve just started giving it to him by breaking open the capsule and mixing the powder with something he’ll eat/drink. (Despite his propensity for eating almost everything, he’s very good at spitting out pills. 😉 ) Hope that helps! I’ll try to keep you posted. 🙂

    #119449 Report Abuse

    Sounds like the pup is in good hands! Thank you for the info on the taurine supplement. I am feeding a Whole Earth Farms grain free kibble right now and may look into adding taurine as well. I was wondering if it was recommended to give it on an empty stomach in order for it to be absorbed better? I have bought a supplement made by Thorne before. They are pricey!

    #119455 Report Abuse

    I’d keep swimming him and ignore the odd comment suggesting people think you should starve him.
    Swimming is low impact, which is excellent on oddly shaped joints, and muscle building.
    Building muscle while removing fat is critical here. Swimming will help this along but his stamina will need built which can take a few months, but can certainly be done.
    Swimming helps MUCH than walks for weight loss/muscle gain, and is way more fun for most water dogs.
    (Don’t go by the scale alone. Take pictures and date them, and take pictures every 2-3 weeks if you have to. One of his entire body side view, and one viewed from above..his back/waist, etc. GOOD weight loss is slow and steady til a plateau hits. Bad weight loss is rapid and is usually water/muscle loss, not what you want with a dog with poor hips. Good muscle supports poor joints.
    It may be so gradual that you won’t notice, but in 6 months you may see the original photos and be shocked.)

    Most serious dog people who have performance dogs swim them for these reasons.
    Think of human PT and physical rehab. Most start with swimming because of the low impact for injured/unwell joints and muscle/calorie burning properties, vs. taking a walk or 30 minutes on a treadmill.
    Letting him self regulate as you’re doing IMO is one of the best things you can do. When he’s tired, let him quit, then see if he wants to go again in another hour or so. He’ll build endurance.

    #119456 Report Abuse


    One minute of swimming is equal to 4 minutes of running! And easy on the joints.

    #120013 Report Abuse

    Thank you again for the advice and suggestions! He has an appointment with the vet on Monday and I’m going to ask about his diet and some of the other things we discussed in this thread, particularly the joint issues, which seem to be giving him the most difficulty at the moment. My sister-in-law says she’s seen him limping on one of his front legs and thinks it’s due to a lump on his elbow; the vet thought it was just a fatty deposit but it does seem to be painful to the dog, in addition to the problems with his hips/back legs.

    He does seem to enjoy light swimming, though. Sometimes he’ll fetch his toys and other times he just wants to sit and rest on the steps or ledge (I’m guessing maybe it takes some weight off his legs and helps him feel better?), so I usually just try to pay attention to whatever he’s up for.

    I was wondering if it was recommended to give it on an empty stomach in order for it to be absorbed better?

    That’s a good question, and I’m going to ask the vet about that too! I had been giving it to him either with his food or mixed in with some salmon oil or Honest Kitchen powdered goat’s milk, but I’m not sure if there’s a better or more effective way to do that.

    At the moment he’s eating a mixture of Nulo Freestyle Senior and Adult Trim because it’s lower in calories than the Zignature, but I might look into some of the recommendations here after I talk to the vet.

    #120212 Report Abuse
    Sydney N

    I also have a full blooded lab who has suffered endlessly with skin issues and itching. I would recommend a environmental allergy test. But I just have found the solution to her food. I feed her vegatarian natural balance wet canned dog food. This is the dog I’ve taken to the vet at least 50 times in 3 years with food, skin, ear issues. We tried signature, ultamino, royal canin, and multiple other foods. Turns out she is allergic to all meat protein which is common in some full blooded dogs. She also was allergic to dust mites and storage mites (also found in bagged food). I would try to switch your dog to the wet food and see if that helps. It did wonders for mine, her ears are crystal clear (never been able to say that before in her life). I am so happy with this product and hope your baby gets better soon!

    #120623 Report Abuse

    Thank you! I’m glad your dog is feeling better on the wet food! I talked to the vet about possible allergies and I still want to get him tested for them eventually. The other thing the vet mentioned was that the last time he had blood work done, his thyroid levels were low but they couldn’t tell if that was due to hypothyroidism or something else. (He’s also had some difficulty losing weight, even with a reduced amount of the Nulo senior food, but again it’s hard to tell if that’s his thyroid or he just hasn’t been active as much because of his hip dysplasia.) They took some blood for a thyroid panel so we’re waiting to hear back about that. I have heard that hypothyroidism can cause skin issues in dogs as well.

    I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to ask about the best time to give him the taurine supplement, but the vet did recommend 1000 mg twice a day and mentioned “adding taurine to his meals” so I’m guessing it’s OK to give with food. (As an aside, something I’ve learned working at Pet Valu is that they do test the nutrient levels in their private brand, Performatrin, and they add taurine to their dog food if it doesn’t already contain a certain amount. We’ve had a few customers come in worried about grain-free food and heart disease and that was the company’s answer, so I thought I’d share that too in case it’s useful to anyone.)

    The other thing the vet recommended was keeping him on a fish-based food because of the omega-3s. He’s crazy about anything with fish, so hopefully no problem there. 🙂

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