By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Part of cherishing the beloved cats and dogs in our lives is keeping them as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Here are some effective ways to do it.
Know Your Animal
This point is so important, and often so overlooked, that it belongs right on top of any strategy you may have for your pet (and we thank Carvel Tiekert, DVM, a Maryland veterinarian and the founder of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, for sharing it)…
Whether you have a new or an old animal companion you can help protect your pet’s health by knowing your animal. Check out your pet from front to back and top to bottom on a regular basis. Look at the ears, the teeth, and between the toes. Look underneath. This simple examination allows you to become familiar with the nature and health of your pet, so that when you see changes or signs of something not right you can act promptly and bring your animal to a veterinarian. If you see something abnormal, it’s based on your familiarity with what you know as normal.
Involvement in your pet’s health requires that you know your pet and watch for signs of problems. By thus empowering yourself you become your animal’s advocate and better able to protect his or her health in a timely manner.
If you see a problem, make an appointment with a veterinarian. By delaying, a condition may become worse and harder to treat.
Feed Your Pet Well
Constantly feeding low-quality, processed commercial food continuously for months and years is a ticket for ill-health. Holistic veterinarians, with a keen interest in nutrition, recommend minimizing commercial pet foods that commonly contain questionable ingredients and chemical additives. Pet food is perhaps the most highly-processed food on the planet, they say.
If your pet currently eats store-bought commercial food only, consider shifting slowly to a healthier diet with more wholesome and fresh food. Homemade meals with as high quality meat and vegetables as you can afford is obviously the best way to go. But if you don’t have time to prepare foods, then look for frozen raw or fresh cooked meals at pet and health food stores and buy enough to last a week. If that doesn’t work for you either, purchase top-of-the-line, ready-to-eat kibble or canned products available at health food or pet stores. These items are usually available without artificial flavors, dyes, and other chemical additives that your pets do not need and that can cause reactions in sensitive animals.
Avoid products featuring meat byproducts on the label. You’re getting little meat and mostly inferior ingredients − such as ground up beaks, feet, and even diseased tissue.
Cats are naturally meat-eaters and may not do well over time with commercial dry grain-based kibble diets. They are designed to get the bulk of essential moisture from food. Ideally, they should eat meat and vegetables, either canned or otherwise.
As far as nutritional value in pet food is concerned, you get what you pay for. A cheap product generally means cheap, inferior ingredients.
Many holistic veterinarians recommend the gradual addition of raw meat (one to four ounces) a day, such as ground hamburger, for both dogs and cats. Oxtails are also great for dogs, and chicken wings and necks are good for cats.
Add any raw or lightly steamed vegetables that your animals may like to eat. Dogs seem to prefer broccoli, carrots, and string beans. Cat tastes vary.
Holistic, nutritionally-oriented veterinarians routinely recommend supplementing pets with a variety of supplements to help optimize health, similar to what many health-conscious pet owners do for themselves.
The more removed animals are from a solid, wholesome diet the more they actually need supplementation, and adding selective supplements can quickly manifest as increased vitality and energy, and a healthier looking coat.
I strongly recommend seeing a holistic veterinarian who can customize your pet’s dietary and supplement program. Among common beneficial supplements are multivitamin and mineral formulas, digestive enzymes (particularly for older animals), essential fatty acids such as found in a fish or squid oil softgel, and vitamin C.
Pet specific products are available in pet stores and health food stores as well.
Don’t Over-Vaccinate Your Pet
Current veterinary research indicates that there is generally no requirement for annual booster shots. Immunity to viruses persists for years or for the life of the animal and successful vaccination for most bacterial pathogens produces long-term protection as well. Over-vaccination contributes to many side effects and chronic problems veterinarians treat in dogs and cats.
Protecting the Health of an Older Pet
Veterinarians say they commonly see very sick older pets brought in by pet owners who haven’t visited a veterinarian in years. Because of the lapse of time, the conditions are often in an advanced stage and may be difficult, if not impossible, to treat. Frequently, they are conditions that could have been prevented or readily treated at an earlier stage.
Just as we humans should have periodic medical checkups, so, too, our animal companions should get them as well. Spending a bit of money on prevention can potentially save you a lot of money on treatment costs, and save your animal a lot of suffering.
Environmental Toxins for Dogs and Cats
This is a major problem, and because pets live closer to the ground than humans; like children, they appear to be highly vulnerable to many common chemical pollutants.
A detailed 2008 report by the national health advocate organization Environmental Working Group, spells out the danger: “dogs and cats face chemical exposures that in some ways are similar to those of infants and toddlers…who play close to the floor and put their hands and household objects in their mouths far more often than adults. For pets as for children, exposures are greater and the resulting health risks are higher,” including cancer, neurological disorders, and gastrointestinal reactions.
The EWG review of scientific literature identified studies that demonstrate many links between chemicals exposures and health risks for pets. From pesticides and insecticides to lead-based paints and flea repellants, medications, and common environmental toxins, the potential exposure is widespread.
Obviously, if your pet develops an acute reaction, such as vomiting, seek veterinary attention immediately. And if your pet develops any sign of illness, it is possible that the problem could be toxicity-related, and here, too, you’ll need to work with a veterinarian to try and diagnose the cause.
Holistic veterinarians often treat toxicity problems with a variety of natural strategies. They say that the better the nutritional status of the animal the greater its ability to counteract environmental contaminants.
For more information specific to your individual pet, I strongly recommend you seek the services of a holistic veterinarian near you. Holistic veterinarians use many alternative strategies in addition to conventional approaches. You can find a holistic veterinarian on the website of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.
Keeping Pets Healthy and Safe during the Holidays
Many people experience the holidays as festive, partying times. For any pets in the house, though, there’s the potential for trouble: they may fall victim to merry-making, well-intended, but misguided celebrants.
Consider these five tips to keep your dogs and cats out of harm’s way:
- Don’t feed them candy. Sweets can sicken and overstimulate animals. Chocolate is a particular no-no.
- Keep an eye out so that pets don’t get into trash bags or overfilled garbage containers with greasy and spoiled food that can cause an infection, nausea, or diarrhea.
- Locate any candles and other flammable objects so a pet cannot knock them over, for instance, with a wagging tail.
- Some people like to dress up pets over the holidays. If you are one of them, be sure the costume isn’t constricting, doesn’t obstruct vision, and isn’t stressful for the animal. Monitor a dressed-up pet as much as you can because costumes may have a choking effect or get caught on something or perhaps cause a heavy object like furniture to topple over.
- Festivities with a lot of people may be stressful for some animals. Think about putting a sensitive animal temporarily in an out-of-the way room until the party’s over. Some pets can become overexcited and snap or scratch. It’s a good idea to be especially cautious when children are present.
For some very expert advice on how to care for your pet, I suggest a copy of Martin Zucker’s The Veterinarians’ Guide to Natural Remedies for Dogs or The Veterinarians’ Guide to Natural Remedies for Cats (Three Rivers Press), available in additional-resources/dr-sinatras-books-amazons or on Amazon.com. These practical books are based on interviews with dozens of holistic veterinarians and contain great how-to information.
- American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association Vaccine Position Paper, 2009.
- Environmental Working Group. “High Levels of Toxic Industrial Chemicals Contaminate Cats and Dogs.” 2008.
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