THE READER
August 2004

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Pet Health
Dogs and Cats
Ingrid Gulliksen
WSGC Staff


For many of us, our dogs and cats are a vital part of our lives and of our families. We love our companion animals and want to provide them with everything they need to live a happy and comfortable life. We want to make the best possible health and lifestyle choices for them, just as we do for our family members of the two-legged variety.

Fresh air, regular exercise, annual health check-ups, a cozy and comfortable sleeping area, love, affection, and companionship: these basics are all necessary and important for our pets’ well-being. In addition, our pets of course need fresh water and delicious and nutritious food just as much as we humans do. And to paraphrase renowned spiritual teacher Louise Hay, because animals are so “open” to their surroundings, they are especially susceptible to the emotional environment in which they live. Our pets can and do reflect our own human emotions and they react to our fear, anger, and sadness just as they do to our feelings of joy, happiness, and inner peace. A calm and happy household is naturally conducive to a calm and happy companion animal.


Food
There is a lot of conflicting information available about what is the best diet for our companion animals. Some veterinarians feel that a superior diet is one which mirrors what a dog or cat would naturally eat in the wild: raw meat plus a small amount of raw grain, raw vegetables and fruits. Others disagree and feel that high-quality, chemical-free, minimally-processed pet food is best. Some years ago I was intrigued by the “in-the-wild” feeding method and patiently and gradually tried it several times on my own cat. However, he just would not accept this change, and refused to eat it! However, other cats and dogs have transitioned into this feeding method very well and have thrived on the “in-the-wild” diet. Do some research, read varying points of view, consult with veterinarians you trust, and then make the most intelligent choice for your particular situation and your pet’s individual needs.


Exercise

Like we humans, dogs and cats need daily exercise in order to maintain optimum health and well-being. According to holistic veterinarian Dr. Ihor Basko of Honolulu, Hawaii, one-third of dogs and cats in this country are overweight because they don’t get enough exercise. Without exercise, dogs’ and cats’ joints don’t stay lubricated and the animals are then more susceptible to joint problems. In addition, dogs and cats that do not have appropriate exercise outlets in which to expend their energy are prone to aggression, frustration, and destructiveness, states Dr. Wayne Hunthausen, a veterinary behaviorist in Westwood, Kansas and author of Handbook of Behaviour Problems in Dogs and Cats. It is vital to our pets’ health to provide them with adequate exercise in whatever form is most suitable both for them and for us. For dogs, the most effective, most enjoyable form of exercise is walking. However, there are numerous options and factors to consider for both dogs and cats, so it’s a good idea to ask your veterinarian for help in planning the right exercise program for your companion animal.


Grooming and Massage

Regular brushing of your cat’s or dog’s fur is a pleasant and healthy experience. Brush your pet’s coat at least twice a week and daily if possible. From a practical standpoint, this prevents troublesome and painful hair mats from developing. And in a more holistic view, regular brushing provides wonderful touch therapy for both the animal and his or her human. Speaking of brushing, cats’ and dogs’ teeth should be brushed ideally at least twice a week, according to holistic veterinarian Dr. Anne Lampru, of Tampa, Florida. One method for accomplishing this is with a toothbrush (one especially made for pets, or a soft baby toothbrush) and pet toothpaste. Another way is to simply rub the outer surfaces of your animal’s teeth with a piece of gauze. Both methods are effective in the removal of plaque and the harmful bacteria that it contains.

Dogs and cats need regular “pedicures” (or is that “peticures”?) to guard against overgrown, cracked, or splintered nails. Holistic veterinarian Dr. Donna Starita of Boring, Oregon advises that most cats will need nail-trimming once a week, most dogs once every two to three weeks. If nail-trimming is begun when the companion animal is a puppy or kitten, he or she learns early on to accept and even enjoy this grooming routine. Purchase special nail clippers at any pet-supply store. If you feel unsure of the proper clipping technique, consult your veterinarian or veterinary technician for helpful hints or a demonstration. Most cats and dogs love being touched, and regularly massaging your animal can be done either for general well-being or for treating a particular health condition. For help with and suggestions for massage techniques, consult a holistic veterinarian or do some pet massage research on your own by visiting a bookstore or library or doing an Internet search.


Keeping Your Pet Safe
Poisonous substances such as herbicides and pesticides can be just as harmful to our pets as they are to us. Dogs and outdoor cats can pick up toxins on their feet and fur and can then ingest them while grooming themselves. If your pet has been exposed to chemically-sprayed grass, for example, be sure to wash his or her paws, followed by a wipe-down of the animal’s coat as an extra precautionary measure. In addition, keep all toxic-to-children-and-pets household products stored safely away where pets cannot reach them. Quite a number of plants are poisonous to pets; some of these are: angels’ trumpets, autumn crocus, azalea, bleeding heart, castor bean, Chilean potato tree, delphinium, dumb cane, foxglove, German primrose, Golden chain tree, laurel, lily-of-the-valley, locust, lords and ladies, monkshood, oleander, pokeweed, rue, wisteria, and yew. For a complete list, please see www.vetnetwork.com. Do not let cats or dogs play with string or string-like substances such as yarn, ribbon, or tinsel, or with any obstructive material that could be swallowed. Swallowing these substances may not be just dangerous, they can be deadly. For your dog’s safety, do not transport him or her unsecured in an open truck bed. If your dog absolutely cannot travel up front with you, be sure that he or she is on the open truck bed inside a firmly secured, well-ventilated crate. And for safety’s sake, be sure to provide your dog or cat with an identification tag showing full information including your current address and telephone number.


Traveling With Your Pet
Many hotels permit guests to bring their pets with them, and some airlines allow small pets (contained in carriers that will fit under the seat) to travel in the cabin with their owners. Generally, dogs adapt to traveling much more readily than cats, who tend to be happier and feel more secure in the familiarity of their own homes. So should you take your pet traveling with you or should you leave him or her back home, in the care of a professional pet sitter or other trusted individual? Every travel situation is unique, so carefully evaluate your particular circumstances and make the wisest choice for both your and your companion animal’s happiness and peace of mind. And as in so many situations involving our beloved companion animals, seeking the advice of a trusted veterinarian is always a good idea.


Keeping Your Pet Cool
The same common sense “keeping cool” rules that apply to humans apply to our dogs and cats as well. On those broiling summer days, pets need to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and they need to avoid overexposure to direct sunlight by spending ample amounts of time in the shade when outdoors. They need to avoid over-exertion, and like our bodies, our pets’ bodies tell them when it is time to rest. They should spend adequate time indoors in the refreshing, relaxing coolness of air conditioning or the air circulation provided by fans. In addition, in warm weather, please do not leave your pet in an enclosed vehicle in direct sunlight. Cracking the windows does not prevent the temperature from rising to a deadly level in a shockingly short period, causing horrendous suffering. For our pets’ and our own well-being, leave animals at home or in the care of someone you trust while you are out and about on hot days.


The Truth about Cats and Dogs
We pet owners just can’t imagine our lives without our dog and cat companions! We want to do everything we can to provide our animals with a happy and healthy life. In return, our pets make our own lives healthier and happier by the enriching presence of their companionship and by their unconditional love and acceptance.


SOURCES
Books:
New Choices in Natural Healing For Dogs and Cats
by Amy D Shojai and the editors of Prevention for Pets
Medical advisor: Susan G. Wynn, D. V. M.
Natural Cat Care by Bruce Fogle, D. V. M.