By Dr. Becker
As a proactive integrative veterinarian, my primary goal is to help people keep their pets well. If a pet becomes ill, my job is to help the owner return the animal to good health.
As your pet’s guardian, his health and quality of life are in your hands. Your vet lends expertise and guidance as necessary, but at the end of the day, your dog’s or cat’s health is your responsibility.
I encourage every pet owner to find a proactive practitioner they can partner with to help create a healthy lifestyle for their dog, cat or other companion animal. You can’t expect to have all the answers. That’s why it’s important to team up with, for example, a holistic vet, a pet nutritionist and/or an animal chiropractor to help your pet live a long and healthy life.
Some pet owners tend to define preventive health care as an annual exam by a veterinarian. While regular wellness checkups are an important element of preventive health care, they are far from the only thing necessary to ensure a pet’s well-being.
Proactive Prevention and the Three Pillars of Health
I practice preventive care of the animals at Natural Pet and with my own pets according to what I call the three pillars of health. The strength of these three pillars forms the foundation of a long, healthy life for your pet:
- Species-appropriate nutrition. The diet you feed your pet should be balanced and biologically appropriate for the species. Biologically inappropriate foods cause metabolic stress. Foods that generate the least amount of metabolic stress are whole, raw, unprocessed, and in their natural form. Foods that have not been dehydrated or processed are the most assimilable for your pet’s body.
Species-appropriate for your dog or cat means a food that is high in protein in its natural form, and low in grain content. Your pet is a carnivore – dogs are scavenging carnivores and cats are obligate carnivores. Carnivores need to eat animal protein and fat in order to be healthy.
I recommend serving your pet food in its natural state to provide needed moisture, and to insure the highest level of biologic assimilation and digestion. Proper nutrition will benefit the two other pillars of health below.
- A sound, resilient body. This aspect of your pet’s health involves maintenance of the frame, which includes the body, musculoskeletal system and organs.
There are a number of ways to help your pet keep her body in great condition. Regular, consistent aerobic exercise is a great way to maintain good physical conditioning. Keeping your pet from becoming overweight or obese is also extremely important.
Massage, chiropractic, acupuncture and other forms of physical therapy, depending on the individual requirements of the animal, are also excellent methods for maintaining a sound frame and organs as well as for managing joint pain and healing injuries.
Also, don’t overlook the importance of a healthy mouth. Keeping your pet’s teeth and gums in good shape through regular brushing at home and as-needed professional cleanings by your vet is a very important key to good health for a lifetime.
- A balanced, functional immune system. The goal is to keep your pet’s immune system in balance. It should protect against pathogens, but not be over-reactive to the point of creating allergies and other autoimmune conditions.
One of the keys to keeping your dog’s or cat’s immune system strong is to avoid over-vaccinating. The role of vaccines is to stimulate the immune system to respond. Repeated vaccinations beyond puppy or kitten shots can send your pet’s immune system into overdrive, which can result in autoimmune disorders. Your dog or cat doesn’t need yearly re-vaccination any more than you do, so I encourage you to work with a holistic vet to titer rather than vaccinate.
Other keys to balanced immune function are to avoid overuse of drugs like antibiotics, steroids, chemical pest repellents and parasite preventives. The more toxins build up in your pet’s body, the less effective the immune system will be.
I recommend regular at-home wellness exams. And for healthy pets I suggest preferably two (especially important if your pet is over 8 due to exponential aging), but at least one wellness checkup with your veterinarian per year. Yearly vet visits should not be about re-vaccinations. The purpose should be to proactively review the status of your pet’s health, not address illness.
These exams will allow you and your vet to stay on top of any changes in your pet’s health so you can take appropriate action sooner rather than later.
Also, regularly reviewing your pet’s diet, supplement protocol and exercise habits with a health care practitioner insures you’re meeting your pet’s dynamic healthcare needs. My patients’ wellness and nutritional goals change yearly and over the age of eight can require fine tuning every four to six months, depending on their vitality.
This is especially important if your pet is getting up in years. Cats, in particular, are very good at hiding illness and pain, so it’s not a good idea to wait until there seems to be a problem.
If you have a cat who wants nothing to do with leaving the house, there’s a lot you can do to help her cope with regular visits to the vet. Unfortunately, lots of cat owners rarely or never take their pet for checkups because of the stress it causes the kitty. This approach ends up spelling doom for far too many precious cats. Using a mobile veterinary service can also help reduce the stress on cats.
What we want to do is keep your pet in the white zone of good health and out of the black zone of disease. In between those two zones lies the grey zone, which is where dysfunction in the body begins and gradually moves the state of your pet’s health in the direction of full-blown disease. In order to reverse or stall dysfunction in the grey zone, we have to deal with it there, which means we must regularly check your pet’s health status.
I can’t stress enough the importance of proactive health care to help your pet live a long, vibrant life.