Healthy Pets, Naturally

Black_DogProviding premium pet care doesn’t mean serving Fido or Fluffy a feast on fancy china. In fact, taking good care of your pet is a lot like taking good care of yourself — it’s best done with the help of a like-minded healthcare practitioner and natural, healthful everyday choices.

Your pet’s needs are very individual, so finding a good veterinarian is an important step. In addition to a full physical every year (more often for younger pets or those with special needs), you’ll want to talk with the vet about vaccinations and other preventative measures, food and supplement choices and grooming. You may also want to explore homeopathy, herbal remedies, and other holistic care options.

Nutrition and Supplements

Choose wholesome food for your pet. Eating unhealthy food can cause inflammation and allergies, intestinal problems, skin disorders, kidney and liver problems, cancers, and other chronic disease.

Pet food recalls have resulted in more people reading pet food labels—an important skill for a pet owner.

Here’s what to look for:

• The first ingredient on the label is the product’s main ingredient. For most pets, this should be a high quality meat source like beef, chicken, turkey or lamb. While some pet owners have raised vegetarian animals, most experts agree that cats and dogs, at least, thrive as carnivores and are not efficient at digesting plant materials as their source of protein. Look for pure meat proteins rather than processed meats and byproducts (meat meal is a good protein source).

• Look for whole grains, but make sure they are not the main ingredient. Grains provide energy, but are sometimes used as inexpensive filler.

• Avoid plant and animal “byproducts,” hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup and other sugars, steroids, fillers, sodium, artificial flavors and additives, and chemical preservatives like ethoxyquin, BHA and BHT. Look for natural preservatives like vitamins E and C.

• Keep in mind that words like “natural” and “premium” don’t mean much on pet food labels (or people-food labels, for that matter), as these words are not industry defined or regulated. With well-defined standards set by the USDA, organic pet foods contain no antibiotics, pesticides, hormones, preservatives, artificial ingredients, or genetically modified ingredients.

• Look to see that the food will provide your pet with adequate nutrition — including vitamins and minerals, and the right amount of fats — based on his size, age, and how much food he’ll be consuming. “Complete and balanced” means that the food meets nutritional requirements set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials and the FDA.

• Consider supplements for your pet’s particular needs. There are special supplements for young pets and old, pregnant pets and pets with specific ailments. Glucosamine chondroitin might be useful for a pet with arthritis, for example, while zinc, selenium and saw palmetto might be perfect if you’re concerned about your pet’s prostate health. Other useful supplements include antioxidants, probiotics and omega 3 fatty acids. Some pet foods are fortified with supplements, but most can be given separately, too.

• Some pet owners like to supplement pet foods with fresh cooked vegetables, grains and meats from their own kitchens in order to provide good variety and nutrition. Keep in mind, though, that not all human food is good for pet consumption.
You’ll also want to watch for recalls of pet foods. Two places to find recall information are the FDA’s pet food recall database and the American Veterinary Medical Association’s webpage of recalls and alerts

Remedies and Grooming

There are natural pet care remedies for everything from anxiety and arthritis to bad breath and ear problems. Pet homeopathic remedies are one choice. Herbs are another. And there are plenty of natural, healthful grooming options, too.

You’ll want to avoid toxic shampoos, like those with chemical pesticides designed to repel fleas and ticks. Instead try a safe, nontoxic shampoo (a plain castile liquid soap is one good choice). If you like, you can add appropriate essential oils (like rosemary for fleas) to the soap, but check with your vet first to determine amounts and to make sure the oil you’ve chosen is safe for your pet.

For added flea control, regularly vacuum and dust at home, and wash your pet’s bedding in hot water. Comb your pet with nontoxic, natural flea powders; there are many herbal options available (don’t use flea collars, which are toxic). Ask your vet about dabbing a nylon collar with essential oils like eucalyptus and rosemary instead. Or discuss adding a little garlic or brewer’s yeast to your pet’s meal.

If your pet has dry skin, simple home remedies such as humidifying the air can help. And again, look to supplements: adding an omega 3 fatty acid or flax oil to your pet’s diet might provide amazing relief. Your vet can tell you what’s safe, in what amounts.
To keep your pet’s ears healthy, clean them regularly. If you’re battling mites, talk with your vet about using a mixture of almond or olive oil and vitamin E. Also ask about green tea, which is a gentle astringent for moisture-prone ears.

Be sure to use biodegradable kitty litter. Clay litters aren’t biodegradable, but there are plenty of natural, eco-friendly alternatives. Some are made of corn or wheat, others of shredded pine and/or old newspaper.

It’s fun to find natural ways to pamper your pet, too — with healthful treats and safe toys, for example. Like you, your pet will thrive on natural TLC.

Article provided by the National Cooperative Grocers Association News Service

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