By Dr. Becker
With 2012 about to kick off, many of us -- even if we don't make formal resolutions – keep a mental list of things we'd like to do differently in the New Year.
Since every dedicated pet owner is interested in helping their cat or dog live a long, healthy life, I thought I'd review a few of the basics I talk about all the time here at MercolaHealthyPets.com.
Much of it involves helping your captive feline or canine live as natural a lifestyle as possible.
Our furry companions, once we bring them into our homes and families, are utterly dependent on us to make the right health decisions for them.
So if there's room for improvement in your pet's lifestyle, now is a really good time to think about what you can do differently next year to help your four-legged family member enjoy better health and longevity.
5 Great Ways to Have a Healthier Pet in the New Year
- Allow your pet outside only under your control or supervision.
Generally this means your dog is in either a fenced yard or on a leash, and your cat is on a leash or in an enclosure he can't get out of, and other animals can't get into.
(Check out these deluxe 'catios' built to allow housecats safe access to the outdoors. A couple of them are fabulous!)
There's a lot to be said for allowing animals to roam free so they can express their innate drive to explore, run, climb, hunt prey, and be their natural selves.
But on the flip side, we should remember our pets' wild counterparts spend the majority of their lives seeking what your Fluffy or Fido already enjoys – a secure, warm home with safe food to eat and clean water to drink.
Allowing a pet dog or cat to roam free in a city or suburban neighborhood, while it might seem healthy in theory, is actually inviting trouble. That trouble can come in the form of predators, traffic, temperature extremes, rotten food in outdoor garbage cans, poison bait, toxic chemicals, polluted water sources, all kinds of diseases that pass easily and quickly from one animal to another – the list is endless.
Unless you live in a unique situation like author Ted Kerasote, or you have neighbors like the ones described here, I don't recommend you allow your precious dog or cat out of your yard or your sight.
There are certainly as many creative ways to give your pet safe access to the outdoors as there are people to come up with them, but simply putting your pet outside to fend for herself isn't among them.
- Feed your dog or cat a species-appropriate diet.
When it comes to helping your pet live as nature intended, one area where you can exercise enormous control is with the food you feed your companion.
There are dozens of videos and articles here on the site that provide detailed information and tips on how to feed your dog or cat balanced, species-appropriate nutrition.
If you're just beginning to explore the topic of pet nutrition and don't know the quality of food you're feeding your pet, take a look at 13 Pet Foods -- Ranked from Great to Disastrous to see where your pet's diet falls on my scale of best-to-worst.
If you already know you want to upgrade your pet's current commercially prepared diet, watch this video and part 2 where I take you on a tour of a pet boutique and point out what to look for in high quality pet food. In order to make good decisions about which food to buy, it's important to be able to read pet food labels like a pro.
If you're considering a raw diet or making your pet's meals at home, I've co-authored a cookbook, Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats. In addition to recipes you can prepare raw or cooked, the book includes suggestions for how, where and when to shop to get the most value for your dollar. It also covers supplies, equipment and storage essentials.
- Don't allow your pet to become overweight.
Tragically, obese pets are becoming the norm. It's such a widespread problem many pet owners don't even realize their dog is grossly overweight, or their 'cute' chunky kitty is at risk for a long list of obesity-related diseases.
Feeding too much food and the wrong kind (biologically inappropriate) is how the problem starts. Dogs and cats are carnivores. The foundation of their diet should be animal muscle meats, organs and bones. Unfortunately, the foundation of most popular, affordable commercial pet diets is grains, carbs and fillers – the exact types of food dogs and cats can't even process well. This isn't species-appropriate nutrition and can contribute not only to obesity, but also to a long list of illnesses and diseases.
Lack of adequate exercise is also a big risk factor in creating a too-heavy cat or dog. Every animal is designed to be physically active for optimal health. Not only does lack of exercise help to pack on the pounds, it can also cause extreme boredom and lack of mental stimulation, which in a dog in particular, can result in a whole host of behavior-related issues.
- Refuse unnecessary vaccinations.
By unnecessary I mean yearly re-vaccinations of the core vaccines (distemper, parvo, adenovirus for dogs; panleukopenia, calici, herpes for cats), or any non-core vaccines your pet doesn't absolutely need.
Over-vaccinating can create serious short and long-term health problems. Yes, many pets have enjoyed long lives despite yearly re-vaccinations, but many others have developed vaccine-associated sarcomas, autoimmune disorders, and other life-threatening diseases. In fact, we may never know how many conditions seen in today's pets were caused by too many vaccines.
Vaccine-related illness is almost entirely avoidable, because as more and more pet owners and vets are coming to understand, there's simply no need to re-vaccinate for the same diseases year-in and year-out.
According to the new American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) vaccination guidelines for 2011, yearly re-vaccination of the cores is no longer recommended. And in fact, the AVMA has acknowledged immunity lasts at least five years for distemper and parvo, and at least seven years for adenovirus.
Read this article for a thorough discussion of the latest AAHA vaccination guidelines, followed by Dr. Ronald Schultz's vaccine protocol and mine. Our vaccine recommendations are even more conservative than the new AAHA guidelines.
In addition to the information found at the above links, there are many other videos and articles on this site about vaccines, the dangers of over-vaccinating, titering vs. automatically vaccinating, and how to properly vaccinate kittens and puppies to achieve immunity for a lifetime.
- Perform at-home exams and schedule regular wellness visits with your vet.
Dogs, and especially cats, are stoic when they don't feel well. And of course your pet can't talk to you and tell you she hurts or feels sick. That's why it's so important for pet parents to do routine at-home wellness exams on their companion animals.
This is a great way for you to learn what your pet's body feels and smells like normally, so you can detect any changes as soon as they occur, and take appropriate action. It's also a great bonding opportunity for you and your dog or cat.
Often pets aren't seen by a vet until an illness is in an advanced stage. This usually means the animal has been suffering for some time, and sadly, it often means there's no way to stop or reverse the progress of the disease. Not every condition can be detected by a physical exam, of course, but you'd be surprised how many potential health crises have been averted by an alert pet owner who detects a problem and makes an appointment with the veterinarian.
My recommendation for veterinary wellness exams is twice yearly in a healthy pet. Pets with chronic conditions may need to be seen more often. If two visits a year isn't feasible for you, I strongly urge at least an annual wellness visit to your vet. This is especially important as your pet ages.
I also encourage you to have a holistic practitioner on your pet's health care team. There is a lot that can be done to improve the health and quality of life of your companion beyond the traditional Western medicine model of drugs and surgery.
A holistic vet, an animal chiropractor, a veterinary acupuncturist, an expert in physical rehabilitation for pets -- these practitioners can offer a wealth of healing therapies to relieve the suffering of sick animals and keep healthy pets well.
I hope I've given you some things to think about as we take on the challenges of 2012 together.
Happy New Year to you and your furry family members!