Faithful Old Friend
Gotta dog for a buddy or a cat for a confidante? If so, you’re not alone—an astounding
number of households in this country harbor furry “children.” Lucky for both of you that
proper nutrition and holistic healthcare can help keep four-footed family
members healthy and happy as the years go by.
She greets you cheerfully after a long day of work, and doesn’t mind that you’re a bit crabby after that meeting with your boss. She understands when you’re busy with the seemingly endless tasks of everyday life, and waits patiently for your attention. She doesn’t care that your hair’s a mess and your breath is not so fresh first thing in the morning because she loves you unconditionally. And you feel the same about her. No, we’re not talking about your mother—although hopefully there’s equal adoration for her—we’re referring to your family’s beloved four-legged companion.
For most pet owners, companion animals really are like another member of the family and they treat them as such. According to figures from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 63% of American households own a pet. Those 71.1 million homes are estimated to spend over $40 billion this year on pet products. If the billions we happily spend on our pets is any indication of our feelings towards them, we obviously love them an awful lot and we want them to be as happy and healthy as they can be for as long as possible.
As an Energy Times reader, you’re already aware of the importance of a healthful natural diet, immunity-boosting supplements and complementary medicine for your own whole-body well-being; it just so happens that our furry friends benefit greatly from a holistic approach to health as well. By providing Fido or Fluffy with natural, unprocessed food, eliminating unnecessary medications and vaccinations, and maybe even treating her with massage, acupuncture or homeopathy, your pet can live happily and disease-free well into her twilight years.
As you may have suspected, a fresh, wholesome diet is likely the most important factor in an animal’s ability to ward off illness and disease. Contrary to what the pet food industry wants us to believe, processed commercial food is not necessarily the healthiest choice. Besides using difficult-to-digest grains as filler (dogs, like humans, are omnivores; cats, especially, are carnivores), commercial pet food is full of preservatives, salt, artificial flavors, residues from chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and questionable “meat” products. “Most of the non-natural foods on the market use waste products from the animal and plant processing industry that are not fit for human consumption,” says Shawn Messonnier, DVM, a holistic veterinarian based in Plano, Texas (www.petcarenaturally.com). Messonnier explains, pet food companies can use slaughterhouse scraps such as feet, beaks and feathers (labeled as byproducts), road kill, euthanized animals and diseased tissue in their pet food; not that they all do this, but legally, they’re entitled. Add in the recent melamine scare—the industrial toxin discovered in wheat gluten that resulted in the recall of 60 million packages of pet food—and we have no idea what we’re really feeding our four-legged family members.
By becoming a savvy label-reader, you’ll have a better understanding of exactly what is going into your dog’s or cat’s body, ensuring they receive the nourishment they need to be healthy. When shopping for either kibble (dry) or canned food, look for ingredients like natural beef, chicken, turkey and fish (meat should always be the first ingredient) and organic oats, millet, whole wheat, brown rice, and fruits and vegetables to a lesser degree. Avoid BHT, BHA, ethoxyquin (all are preservatives), byproducts and sugar, which could lead to diabetes and obesity.
Some concerned owners opt to take even greater control of their pet’s diet by serving only home-cooked meals containing meat, eggs, vegetables and the like. It may sound a bit overindulgent, but pets really do benefit from eating whole food, just like us humans. Messonnier’s book The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats (Three Rivers Press) contains recipes to get you started. Another option still is feeding a raw diet of meat, bones and some vegetables. Although this might sound dangerous in our bacteria-obsessed culture, it’s actually the most natural way for dogs and cats to eat. Holistic vets often recommend adding a calcium supplement to raw diets because of the higher amount of phosphorus, which will leach the calcium out of bones.
Whatever diet you decide is best for your pet, Jill Elliot, DVM, a holistic vet located New York City (www.nyholisticvet.com) and co-author of Whole Health for Happy Dogs (Quarry Books), suggests blending the old and new food together for a few weeks, slowly adding more of the new to less of the former food. “Animals are sensitive; they can get diarrhea or other things from switching their diet,” she says. “So if you want to make a diet change, you want to do it slowly.”
Supplements are another way to ensure your pet’s health is at its peak. “Once you have a senior pet, it’s important to have a good multivitamin, so you know you’re getting all your vitamins in case the food is lacking,” says Elliot. “I don’t believe in doing 20 different supplements. My philosophy is that everything that goes through the animal’s mouth has to get clarified and come out through some organ—through the kidneys or the liver—so if you’re putting in a million things, those organs are working very hard to clarify all that stuff. Pick and choose the things you think are important and give those.”
You may recognize most of these pet-friendly supplements because, like whole foods, they’re good for humans too. Omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in cod liver oil, are anti-inflammatories helpful in fighting heart disease, allergies, arthritis, cancer, kidney disease and auto-immune disease. Probiotics, found in yogurt and kefir, are beneficial for the digestive tract. Glucosamine and chondroitin are good for arthritic joint pain (for arthritis-fighting herbs, see the box on page 50). Vitamin- and mineral-based supplements benefit overall health and well-being. Messonnier recommends supplements that combine vitamins and minerals, coenzyme Q10 (supports the immune system, heart and oral health), enzymes (aid in digestion), glucosamine and colostrum (for immune system support). There are a lot of quality supplements on the market; just be sure to read the label carefully and talk to your vet about correct dosages.
To Vaccinate or Not?
This debate has been raging for a while now. The purpose of a vaccination is to deliver a small amount of a microbe into the body in order to build the immune system, but if a body is healthy to begin with, it’s much more capable of fighting a disease naturally.
Both Messonnier and Elliot agree that vaccinations should be kept to a minimum—only what is absolutely necessary, such as rabies, which is mandated by law in the US, and the core vaccines, such as parvo and distemper, that are administered to puppies and kittens. Other vaccinations should be given based on exposure risk. “There’s no pet that needs every shot given every year,” asserts Messonnier. Instead, both doctors recommend asking for a titer test, which measures antibodies in the animal’s blood and will determine if a vaccine is needed or not. “Vaccinosis,” a term coined by natural vet Dr. Robert Pitcairn, is the expression of chronic disease brought on by over-vaccination, leading to a host of health problems, including allergies, diabetes, cancer and arthritis.
In addition, Elliot discontinues all vaccines for housecats over three years old because cats are particularly susceptible to fibrous sarcomas—tentacled tumors caused by over-
vaccination, which are virtually impossible to remove. (To learn about the controversy surrounding vaccinations in human children, see “A Shot in the Dark” on page 34.)
Mid-life and Beyond
Our pets experience many of the same afflictions humans have to deal with in their golden years—failing eyesight, arthritis, even Alzheimer’s disease—but by eating a wholesome diet and avoiding unnecessary chemicals such as vaccinations, you’ll know that they’re living the best life possible. Elliot recommends getting baseline blood work done by the time the animal is in middle age; this serves the double purpose of possibly catching early stages of disease and will provide a source of comparison for tests done later in the animal’s life. Complementary treatments can improve their quality of life as well: Acupuncture restores balance, aids circulation, eases pain and increases blood flow to injured areas, speeding the healing process; massage increases circulation and relaxation and promotes overall well-being; and homeopathy promotes total health.
If your little buddy usually has a shiny coat, bright eyes and clean teeth, you’re probably going to have many happy years together. However, if your pet is acting differently than she normally does, get her checked out by a vet. “Most of the time it won’t be serious,” says Messonnier, “but it might be and you’re catching it early. It’s a good thing to do.” And if something should go wrong, “get second and third opinions” says Elliot, who treats her cancer patients with homeopathy. “There are things that can be done.”
After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A whole-health approach is the best way to ensure you and your special friend will have a long and happy life together. It’s never too late to start taking better care of your furriest family member.