Poisonous pips and pits: Dangerous for dogs or urban legend?

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In an earlier post I mentioned that our dog, Dane, loves apple cores more than life itself and in the following comments womencyclists mentioned that apple seeds are considered toxic and potentially harmful for dogs.  Feeling a strong mixture of alarm (OMG! Have I been poisoning my dog?!!) and luck (thank God he hasn’t died yet!!!) I dove into the world wide web to see what I could find on the subject.

Research is a little like a tic for me.

An initial Google search of apple seeds poisonous for dogs provided around 700,000 hits from blogs, media outlets, pet websites and forums, Yahoo answers, veterinary websites, etc.  And each one that I read confirmed that apple seeds contain a compound called amygdalin, a cyanide and sugar compound which…under the right conditions…can degrade into hydrogen cyanide.  Hydrogen cyanide is the bad thing.

A wave of realization and horror washed over me, followed by a wave of relief, followed by another question.

(Always a niggling question.)

“Does a real dog eating a real apple core provide the right conditions to convert amygdalin to hydrogen cyanide?”

I wanted to see the studies, read the case histories of all the actual dogs poisoned by actual apple seeds.  Or people for that matter…poisoned people would do.  Or poisoned rodents or monkeys or song birds or cats or other mammals who would joyfully ingest apple seeds given half a chance only to vomit a few times, fall into seizures, or even roll over and die.

Frankly, this information proved harder to come by…even on the Internet where you can find just about anything.  In fact, after about an hour and a half of searching all I came up with was a woman blogging about backyard chickens who said that she fed her girls some apple seeds and a few hours later discovered one dead.

Not the most definitive case of cause and effect but still, it made me nervous until I read through the following comments where a number of other chicken-holders mentioned that they fed their birds apple cores regularly (some in substantial amounts) with never an ill effect.

It was at this point that I started to wonder.

(Always the wondering.)

Is the bad reputation of apple seeds really due to the actual, tragic loss of scores of fruit loving dogs worldwide?  Or is it more the result of theoretical chemistry being applied to theoretical dogs in a way that theoretically harms them?

Where are all the bodies?  I need bodies.  And preferably not just an unlucky dog here or there with a rare disorder that predisposes it to amygdalin synthesis.  I need numbers of injured animals that are statistically significant enough to warrant picking out the seeds.

Dane’s been eating an abundant and steady supply of apple cores for seven years now with no signs of anything but occasional gas.  For that matter he scavenges a good daily dozen windfall peaches from under our backyard tree during the season and peach pits are supposed to be more toxic still.

And yet…he thrives.

(He will also graze tomatoes, cilantro, and spinach, dig up carrots and turnips, and chew zucchini to the stem given the chance, not to mention wolfing down small birds and animals.  He was feral and starving before the Humane Society finally caught him and I’m afraid seven years has not been long enough to erase those memories.  A pox on people who abandon helpless, frightened pets into the wild.)

I’m reluctant to curb one of his few great pleasures without compelling evidence that it’s absolutely necessary.  Is there somebody out there with first hand experience of apple seed toxicity in dogs?  Especially vets?  Or any veterinary journals with studies I can read?  I’d be grateful for any contributions.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

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The Darling Slob

I just served up dinner for Dane the Mangy Rescue Mutt and had to laugh.  He was, as usual, beside himself with anticipation, and even more so because he saw me place the core of the apple I’d just been eating into his bowl before scooping his dog food in on top of it.

Apple cores have become a serious problem in our household, so much so that we can no longer eat an apple at all if Dane is near enough to hear the crunch.  We have to put him in a bedroom, or outside, or in the garage, because he has overactive salivary glands and, when stimulated, they produce enough drool to solve a small municipal water crisis.

And for some reason nothing…I repeat, nothing…stimulates his glands like an apple core.  Go figure.  It’s not so bad with popcorn or miscellaneous kitchen scraps.  He doesn’t do it for chicken skin, carrot ends, squash rinds, browned lettuce (lettuce!) or any of the other produce whittlings that I toss him while cooking.  But an apple core…a fucking apple core…triggers something in his perpetually starving little imagination that sends us into hazmat suits.

So we attempt retraining.  We no longer give him apple cores from our hands, right after the last bite.  No ho.  We take them out to the garage and place them into his out-of-reach dog bowl to be incorporated with his next meal.  We’re determined to teach him the value of delayed gratification no matter how much he dislikes the concept and, even though his dragging body/droop eared/tragic-eyed reproach is disconcerting, I think we’re making progress.

He dines in the garage and only in the garage.  Today’s dinner consisted of said apple core and dry kibbles with a spoonful of digestive enzyme powder dumped in a clump and then a generous drizzle of stinking salmon oil over all.  He gazed at me in adoration as I slopped it all together, prancing around and shaking his head a few times to make sure all the long drool tendrils wrapped firmly around his face and then, once I set the bowl down, offered up a small puddle of slime oblations to the garage floor while waiting for the actual command to eat.

He always does this.  Always.  I don’t know why it struck me as so funny today but it did.  Sometimes I have to shake my head and wonder why we love these ridiculous, slobbering, undignified creatures…who lick themselves and eat each other’s shit no less…so much, but there you have it.  Their disgusting habits even endear them to us…which is so weird I can’t even think about it.

But really, what in the world would I ever do without this guy?

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copyright Dia Osborn 2013

Dane the Mangy Rescue Mutt And A Surprising Miracle With Homeopathics

Poor guy.  Poor us.  It’s been a struggle since May.

Dane is a big, black, mixed breed, Humane Society adoptee that we’ve had for (let me get the paperwork out to check) five and a half years now.  He’s almost seven years old and weighs in at over a hundred pounds.  He’s smart as a human toddler, playful as a puppy, imaginative (seriously…he pretends), loves children, kills small animals, is a mortal danger to cats, is cooperative and good natured, can’t get enough of people, and is constantly underfoot because he likes to be in on all the action (unless he’s sneaking tomatoes out in the garden at which point he becomes all but invisible).

He’s also had more medical problems than any dog I’ve ever owned.  We’ve dealt with everything from excessive drooling, incontinence, and hair loss to multiple accidents and epilepsy.  It’s always something with him.  Always.

But this year has been the worst.  He blew out his back knee in May, which was kind of catastrophic for both he and I because we haven’t been hiking together since.  His recovery has been complicated and slow, and I’m trying to come to grips with the fact that he’ll probably never be able to romp across hills and mountains the way he used to.  (Of course, said romping is probably what destroyed his knee in the first place, but still.)  If he can someday at least sniff and explore along trail-sides, I’ll consider us very lucky.

Around the same time our orthopedic problems were developing, we also lost control of his epileptic seizures.  Dane has grand mals and, not only was their frequency drastically increasing, they were beginning to consistently cluster in multiple events.  For those who don’t know, clusters are bad because they don’t give the brain enough time to cool off in between seizures, which can lead to brain injury and even death.  This was happening in spite of a drastic (and I mean drastic) increase in medication.  The seizures also contributed to re-injury of his leg, and the pain levels from that were growing increasingly difficult to manage.  He was losing his appetite, refusing to eat and, sometimes, even refusing to take his (many, many, many, many) meds.

The situation was clearly Spiraling Out Of Control (SOOC) and it was at this point I decided to change vets.  Old Doctor had been our vet for sixteen years so switching wasn’t easy.  However, other than surgeries and continuing to increase the dosage of his meds, (which clearly, to me anyway, wasn’t working), Old Doctor had no other options in his tool kit.  And when I asked him if he was willing to work with me in looking for other options, he told me no.

Wha…excuse me?  No?  Just…no

I was admittedly a little nonplussed but still appreciative of his honesty.

So I plunged back into the searching-for-a-new-vet world with a heavy focus on alternatives and eventually discovered our new vet, Dr. Out-There.  (You want options, baby?  I’ll give you OPTIONS…)  This woman was a banquet…a freaking cornucopia…of other possibilities, and after walking up and down the buffet line a few times I settled on a couple of new treatments to try.

You know what she suggested for his epilepsy?  A homeopathic remedy.  A small blue bottle of some kind of tincture with a dropper as delivery system.  Now, I’m not unfamiliar with homeopathics.  I’ve occasionally used them over the years on myself and the kids, with varying degrees of success.  But for advanced epilepsy?  Frankly, it seemed like a stretch.

However, I dutifully went home and administered the required dosage (plus a little more because one or two dropperfuls just didn’t seem like nearly enough) and, lo and behold, Dane has not had a seizure for 42 days!  Not one.  Which has floored me.  They were coming nine days apart in clusters but now?  Nothing.

(So far anyway.  Knock on wood.  I hope I’m not jinxing this by writing about it.)

It’s been like a miracle.  I can’t begin to describe the relief we’ve been feeling around this house since they stopped.  We’ve also had an orthopedic brace custom-made for his leg and it’s made a huge difference in terms of protecting his knee from re-injury and giving the joint support while it slowly heals.  (It’s also kind of sexy looking.  People keep walking up and telling us that, from a distance, they thought he had a bionic leg.)

The pain is still an issue but we’re able to manage it with a fairly low dose of acetaminophen.  And as for his appetite?  Well, it’s still off but it turns out that has nothing to do with pain.  Far from it.  No.  Our boy isn’t eating his dog food because he’s eating gallons of garden tomatoes instead.  (And yes, gallons is a literal measure.)

At first, I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t gotten one ripe tomato off of five heavily-bearing plants all summer long.  Then I started finding the chewed-on but uneaten green ones he left lying around because he’d eaten so many by that point he’d actually grown picky and would only eat the red ones.  (He’d turned into a connoisseur.) That was when I realized what was really going on.  He wasn’t hungry for his dog food because he was engorged from grazing in the garden.

Well this clearly had to stop so, after erecting a bewildering maze of barriers (which utterly failed), Dane was placed on strict house arrest with only monitored visits to the backyard.

But he’s still refusing to eat.  You see, he got used to the chicken bouillon and other moist and delicious tidbits we were putting in his food to try to get him to eat and now he’s not interested in plain dog food anymore.  He’s become a picky eater.  He walks up to the bowl, sniffs a couple times, then turns and walks away to the backdoor where he collapses and lies looking longingly out at the tomatoes.  (Did I mention he’s dramatic, too?)

But…ha ha!  Little does he know he’s dealing with a mother who nipped the picky eater tendency in the bud with her other two human children early on in their little lives.  This cunning mother has a technique called hunger and, given enough time, it always, always works.

I’ll admit that he’s still wining so far because I think he’s sneaking windfall apples back behind the straw bales when he’s supposed to be pooping.  But it doesn’t matter.  I’m patient.  Unlike Dane I know that, sooner or later, this other food source will dwindle and then, my friends, he’ll be at my mercy.

Oh yes.  He’ll eat his dog food again.  And like it.  This, I promise.

To close, here’s a little video of him in his better days. 

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Right Up There With the Discovery of Fire

And now, a brief break from dying to tell you about a discovery I made last year that, in my humble opinion, was nothing less than a huge leap forward for mankind.  (Or at least for the part of mankind that gardens or cooks.)  But first a couple of garden-related shots:

I spent a glorious afternoon yesterday planting garlic, spreading compost, pulling up the bedraggled remains of marigolds and pepper plants, laying in some straw, and harvesting my first-ever crop of Brussels sprouts.  There were eight plants and this is what I got.

It wouldn’t feed a duck.

There should have been a bumper crop of carrots as well but Dane the mangy rescue mutt discovered where they were planted and that, as they say, was that.  He pretended to be sorry as I dragged him over to the scene of the crime, pointed at the ravaged soil, and yelled No!  Dammit, no!! but he wasn’t really.

Dane’s long established motto is, “Better to ask forgiveness than permission”, and secretly he was feeling smug.  He also showed great interest in the garlic I planted yesterday so that bed now has a top dressing of wire mesh across the top.

The cold frames are full of lettuce in readiness for colder weather and now all I have left to do is build a compost pile from the autumn debris.

There.  Enough of that.  Now for the meat.

What I really wanted to share here is no less than one of the greatest discoveries of my lifetime:

Powdered vegetables in baked goods.

That’s right, my friends.  I’ve found something that could change the world.  It may well rival the discovery of fire or the invention of the wheel.  You know all those baskets of extra cucumbers every year that you don’t know what to do with?  Or the zucchinis that get away from you and morph into baseball bats over night?  Well, I’ve discovered a way to turn them into something that’s not only edible and nutritious, it’s scrumptious.

Impossible, you say?  Too good to be true, you exclaim?  But au contraire, I waggle my finger in front of your face.  Please read on first, then decide.

I figured it out last year when I was struggling with the biblical flood of pickling cucumbers coming off the six (six!) vines I’d planted.  (Please, please, in the name of all that’s good and holy, don’t ever, ever plant six cucumber vines for two people.) Their yield thrilled me in the first month, daunted me in the second, and swept me out to sea by the third.  I had north of fifty jars of pickled products by the end of the summer and the little abominations were still coming on.  The neighbors refused to take anymore.  Even Dane wouldn’t eat them.  So I began desperately combing the internet searching for new ideas.

I came across a backpacker’s forum of all places, with numerous testimonials swearing to the edibility of cucumber chips.  Simply slice and dehydrate them for a light weight, refreshing, nutritious snack on the trail, they said.  Delicious! one backpacker claimed.  Better than potato chips! sang another.

A day’s effort later and I stood looking down at a large, plastic bowl full of the nasty little things.  One bite and I realized too late that these were backpackers for godsakes; hungry, dirty, tired people with no access to real food.

However, I was desperate.  While I had no idea what I’d eventually do with the things, dehydration at least preserved them.  It bought me time until I could figure out something else.  So dry them I did until the first freeze finally, finally! came and killed off the mother ships.  Then later, because the bags of dried chips took up so much frigging room, I decided to put them through a coffee grinder (beware of cucumber dust!) and store the resulting powder in jars for the sake of efficiency.  At the time I had vague thoughts of making salad dressing with the stuff, or flavoring vegetable dips or cold soups.  It actually took another month for the lightning bolt to strike.

It came to me on a night that I’d made soup for dinner and needed a fast bread.  I was too tired to make biscuits or cornbread, didn’t have time for muffins or a real loaf.  So I opened the cupboard searching for another option and there they were; a jar of freshly ground cucumber powder and a package of whole wheat pancake mix, sitting side by side.  Suddenly, a brilliant light shone down from above, angels burst into song, and I heard the voice of God:

Yo, He boomed.  Check it out…a flour alternative.

And that was that.  History officially began.  I made my first batch of pancakes substituting cucumber powder for a third of the mix.  I fried the batter in olive oil, we dipped the patties in our bowls of lentil soup, and they were…I kid you not…out of this world, drop dead, fantastic.

A year later and I’ve expanded the vegetable repertoire to include zucchini, yellow squash, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, winter squash, and what would have been a lot more carrot powder had Dane not been such a successful root predator.  I’ve used the powders in pancakes, muffins, cornbread, the bread machine, biscuits, and I plan to try it out in pretzels, crackers, cake, and cookies as well.  (Cucumber and zucchini are quite sweet.)  The finished products are a little more dense than usual, and additional liquids are required as the powder sucks up moisture like a sponge, but the nutritional value is superior to canned goods and, for those seeking regularity, the fiber content is off the charts.  (Just sayin’.)

Final note:  I actually discovered a few months ago that I’m not the first human being to figure this out after all.  Bummer.  Long before coffee grinders were invented people used mortars and pestles to grind stuff.  In a fascinating book called The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide by Linda Runyan, she describes how during her years of homesteading she used to regularly grind up dried, wild plants and use the powder in breads and other dishes.  However, my disappointment in learning I was not the first was mitigated by the knowledge that there’s a whole helluva lot more edible stuff out there than just the fruit and veggies I grow in my garden.  You wouldn’t believe it!   The weeds growing in the lawn alone are a veritable buffet; clover, dandelions, crabgrass, and more are all edible. (Only those you haven’t first tried to kill with chemicals of course.)  So there’s plenty more experimentation available in the years ahead.

Bon apetit.


copyright Dia Osborn 2010