Pet Smarts: Keeping Family Members of the Canine and Feline Variety Healthy

You do everything in your power to keep yourself – and your family – healthy, but is there more you could be doing for your four-legged friend?

The following is a list of tips on how to keep your pet in tip-top condition.

Let’s Get (a) Physical:

Just like humans, pets need regular check-ups! In addition to giving pets an opportunity to get their routine vaccinations, the check-ups allow vets a chance to record any subtle changes in appearance and behavior that may be indicative of a larger health problem, and allow them to take preventive action if it appears a problem is developing.

Insurance Assurance:
Anyone who has ever taken care of a sick pet knows that their medical bills can accrue at almost the same rate as those for humans! To keep costs down, invest in pet insurance. The plans, which are available through a number of reputable agencies (the ASPCA offers one!), vary in cost depending on the level of coverage, but will generally cover most, if not all, major medical expenses. If you’re not sure which plan would work best for your pet, consult your veterinarian.

Getting Canned:

Last march, controversy erupted over contaminants in various canned and dry pet foods (of both the canine and feline variety), sending many pet owners back to their kitchens to cook up broiled chicken and rice! Today, pet food manufacturers have stepped up their game and implemented more stringent quality and safety controls. The verdict? Pet food is now generally safe, although we recommend logging on to The Human Society of the United State’s website for tips on how to protect your pet, a complete list of recalled items, and other updates.

Menu Selection:

When selecting a pet food, ask your veterinarian what percentage of your pets diet should come from protein, veggies and grains (or other carbohydrates) and look for foods that meet those recommended ratios. Beware of food sources that list a lot of fillers (even if they don’t hold the number one spot on the ingredient list) or a lot of preservatives (specifically BHA, BHT and Ethoxyquin), which some veterinarians warn might cause cancer. If in doubt, opt for holistic formulations, which contain “human grade” ingredients or turn to your own kitchen to rustle up homemade varieties. Popular ingredients include ground turkey or beef, organ meat (ick!) or eggs for the protein component, oatmeal, pasta, brown rice or potato rice, quinoa for the grains, and vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, celery, green beans and spinach.

Working It Out:

You wouldn’t advise your grandmother or your toddler to follow the same workout routine as you, and the same should go for your pet. When devising a workout plan, consult your veterinarian, who will factor in your pets age, expected range of physical activity and climate (with some pets, because of their coat or other factors, limited in how much they can workout in certain weather conditions) to come up with a routine that will keep your pet happy and healthy.

Shape Up:

Turns out it’s not just people that are getting fat – our pets are also piling on the pounds! To keep your pet in peak shape, combine a varied workout routine with a sensible diet and reserve treats for exceptional circumstances as opposed to regular snack intervals.

Puppy Proofing:
When a child first learns to walk, parents are quick to record the moment, shower their offspring with praise and then rush around like maniacs to “baby-proof” the house. But how many people can honestly say that they have puppy- (or kitty-) proofed their house? Some changes you should consider are removing or (simply moving out of reach) certain houseplants that can be poisonous if ingested (hyacinth and mistletoe to name a few), adding covers to electrical cords (which many puppies like to use as a chew toy) and closing the doors to bathrooms (where there’s a plethora of “tasty” bath and cleaning products!)

Purse Snatcher:

You might have forgotten about that candy bar, roll of antacids (or worse, bottle of pills) or other snack stowed in your backpacks, purse, or school bag, but your pet certainly hasn’t! Avoid having your pet come into contact with harmful substances (chocolate being a big no no) by stowing purses and other bags out of the reach of pets or (even better) behind closed doors!

Road Trip:

Yes, it’s adorable when you’re driving down a road and you see a puppy hanging its head out the window. But what happens when that same puppy (or rather, the owner of that puppy) gets into a car accident? The short (and not so sweet) answer? That puppy becomes a missile, a missile that, when frightened or injured, could lash out at the very people trying to help it (either you or another first responder). The solution? Invest in a pet harness that plugs directly into the seatbelt buckle, back seat barrier or other restraining device to keep them safe while riding in the car.

What are your tips to keep your furry family members in good health?

MR38, merfam, ebertek, TangoPango, *phototristan, Lasdary, Fillmore Photography Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Top 10 Reasons to Stay Healthy

Wisebread: Make Homemade Dog Food with Your Slow-Cooker

WebMD: Owning a Cat Good for Your Heart?

Natural Cat Diet

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18 thoughts on “Pet Smarts: Keeping Family Members of the Canine and Feline Variety Healthy”

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  1. Aaron,
    Thanks for writing about this, Love It!
    One thing i did is put those plugs in the electrical outlet,(the ones you buy when your children are small and curious to put their fingers into the electrical outlet) if you have those, your dog can NOT put his “curious” paw into the outlet.

    Last week Lacie ( my little girl ShihTzu) was scratching alot, brought her to the Vet and they gave her a shot for allergies and follow medication.-Cured!

    I asked my Vet “What” was not good for dogs to eat. He gave me a list of “people food” that’s toxic to dogs. It’s important to know. Example-6 Macadamia Nuts could kill a dog fast. I’m very careful what NOT to feed my ShihTzu, even grapes, raisins,avocados,milk/dairy, yeast dough, the list goes on, ALL this is toxic to dogs,
    OH, did you know- Tomatoes are toxic to “cats.”

    Another thing i did was i brought her to Obedience classes, This really brings a close bond to you and your pet, it’s fun and a great learning experience.

    GROOMING- I put Lacie on my lap every night and brush her out real good. She loves to be brushed and i love to brush her. Since she was scratching so much from her allergy,one night i found a BIG KNOT, what a job to untangle that! Brushing your dog “DAILY” keeps their coat tangle free!

  2. “organ meat (ick!)” ????? Uh, oh, I feel a rant coming on. 🙂

    Um, organs are what carnivorous animals like cats and dogs need and in the wild, what they go for first. Organ meats are chock full of nutrients and taurine, so crucial for felines, is found especially in heart muscle. Perhaps you meant ick! to animal byproducts, like chicken feathers and beaks, which are processed and added to many pet foods to boost the protein content.

    And asking vets for nutrition advice is often futile and sometimes even dangerous, though it is hard ot imagine, I know. Vets learn about animal nutrition in vet school from the pet food industry basically, which has a vested interest in selling us highly profitable, nutritionally inferior, and inappropriate pet foods made from the end of the food waste system (even if it claimed “human-grade, that is no assurance of wholesomeness). Excess grain products, animal byproducts, and waste of all kinds, combined with various individual nutrients to make up for the lack of natural nutrients is what commercial pet food is these days.

    That fat cat in the photo was probably free-fed meat-flavored kibble, which despite still being recommended by many vets (and even sold by some!!!) is *not* a good source of food for cats (obligate carnivores). Also, the labels are clearly marketed to human interests: I saw “granny smith” apples listed on canned cat food once. Last time I saw a cat in an orchard it was chasing rabbits and field mice, not climbing the trees for an apple. And I also see silly ingredient for cats such as sweet potato and flax seed. Both can be sources of betacarotene and a precurser for Omega 3 FA for humans, who can convert those into the needed form (not very efficiently but I’ll let that go), but cats, being evolved to eat fresh small animals for all their nutrition, cannot convert those precursers; they need them in the form of Vit A and Omega 3 PUFA.

    My advice is to find a vet who knows how to truly feed an animal properly, with a species appropriate diet, homemade being one option (for dogs and cats), but there are a few fresh good options in commercial foods, too (usually frozen). Don’t take diet advice from a vet who only knows about the commercial pet food options, because nearly all of those are made with profit and owner convenience in mind, not optimal animal nutrition for a long healthy life, free from chronic disease (which companion aminals are getting in proportion to the rise in commercial pet food use).

    For instance, cats are not evolved to eat more than the approx 3% carbohydrate content found in small rodents, yet dry cat food is mostly grain, which they do not metabolize well at all (goes right to fat storage, not oxidation). And the vast majority of the commercial pet foods, cheap and premium alike, are made from the worst waste and highly processed ingredients imaginable, from whatever happens to be cheapest at the time, used restaurant oils and fats, even rendered road kill and euthanized animals from shelters (yes, it’s true – look into it).

    Dogs have some more latitude, so they are somewhat omnivorous and can eat some veggies and non-meat foods, but cats need a high quality meat-based diet, similar in proportions found in small rodents. Not just muscle meat, but bones as well, for proper mineral balance, and moisture %. My older cat (11 yrs) went from years of mysterious health decline (with increasing signs of Chronic Renal Failure in blood tests) on a dry kibble and then a premium canned diet to a healthy, energetic, and CRF-free cat in just one week after I started giving him a homemade, nutritionally balanced raw ground chicken diet. Two+ years later he remains disease free (I get his blood tested) and in much better shape. I did my research (& starting lab values) to make I wouldn’t do more harm than good, finding very good advice at, and despite my vet’s warnings, the cat has normal blood values now, and is in pretty good health. Sure, taking an hour every ten days to make cat food for two cats is a pain sometimes, but I just can’t go back to commercial food. And the homemade food is cheaper than the expensive “premium” canned food I was buying. The older cat starts limping and hobbling on canned food within two days. He is in the best shape of the past 6 years on homemade raw food (he’s almost 12 yo).

    Another friend had a kitten with severely loose bowel problems from every dry commercial cat food she tried. It cleared right up on some of my cat food. Now she makes her cat food, too, using the same recipe I use from (non-profit). Her cat is thriving at a year old.

    Vets can be valuable resources when a pet is sick or injured, but not very many of them really are good sources for diet advice. Too many people either are too bothered or have been convinced that they cannot feed their pets well without commercial products. With all the bad pet food news, and the increasing amount of chronic animal disease (the same diseases we are getting from our SAD foods) it makes a lot of sense to do the right thing for our companion animals and feed them an optimal diet, one appropriate for their species and physiology, not just what is on sale at the grocery store or can be left in a bowl for days without spoiling. It’s part of responsible pet care-giving.

    1. I have carnivorous pets (cats and dogs and ferrets) and they all eat what they are supposed to eat: raw meat, meaty bones, and insides of animals (sorry my English is pathetic, don’t know the names of those parts)
      Dogs sometimes eat veggies, fruits and our leftovers, but mostly RAW MEAT, and that’s how they never go to the vet for any “chronic disease” ^^

  3. Another thing i do to keep Lacie healthy, i give her a daily vitamin from the Vets office, and i break a vitamin E and pour it on her food.

  4. Hi Donna, what a good mom you are!

    My dog gets grass-fed meat and is very healthy. When out of town and someone else feeds him, I try to find good quality pre-made stuff(usually has grain). Unfortunately, he starts to get fat. He does beg for broccoli and peppers, go figure.

  5. Heeeey Crystal,
    Thank You, yeah, i try very hard at being a good ole’ “mother-hen” to my “dog”.
    Crystal, you’re a great mom,too!!!
    You’re doing all the right things for Skippy.

    I have a neighbor that has 2 cats, and she feeds them tuna twice a week, they love it, she used to work for a Vet and he says tuna is good for cats.
    She’s a mother hen, too, her cats are HEALTHY!

    WATER- I always make sure Lacie has water available at all times, very important!!

    Crystal- i’m so glad to see ya, missed ya!

  6. Applying “Frontline” every month to your dog or cats shoulder blades keeps fleas, ticks AWAY!

    Also, keep your pet de wormed!

  7. Great post! Pet are so much more than just a pet…they really are family. I am diligent about vet appointments, I started using a doggie seat belt for any highway driving, and I am being swayed on switching to organic or holistic foods like Taste of the Wild that don’t have lots of fillers. The only thing I can’t pull the trigger on yet is the pet insurance but I haven’t ruled it out!

  8. What do I do to keep my cats healthy?

    I feed them raw turkey, chicken and rabbit. I do not vaccinate them or give them drugs. When they become sick, I leave them alone and let their immune systems deal with it.

    I’ve had three 16-year-old cats fast up to 8 days because of upper respiratory (brought on by a stressful move and a month of canned food) and recover without any veterinary interference. My three-year-olds have never been sick, except for Sophie who had distemper as a kitten and recovered (with vet treatment) after three days.

    Generally, I avoid the vet whenever possible. When I see one, it’s only for diagnosis, seldom treatment. Oh, and occassionally I deworm.

  9. I like to take my dog out for long walks with the occasional sprint in the park. Then I reward him with some raw meaty bones. He loves his offal too!

  10. Love this website for good tips. I was a bit surprised the Paleo primal rules weren’t emphasized for pet diet in the same way it is recommended for humans on this site. What I do for my 2cats:
    * Feed them twice a day raw meat (chicken, turkey, rabbit)w/ supplements made for pets (such as Natures variety Instinct) (grain-free and 95% meat)
    * Every other day or so I feed them some whole animals (defrosted lab mice)outside or in the garage with an open door (wearing a harness)
    * Once or twice a week I give them some grain-free canned food or a few freeze dried treats to spoil them or reward them (I check to make sure it is 90% or more meat for my pets’ carnivorous teeth)
    * I only use litter made of plants, usually wheat and I’m switching to wonderbox (made of recycled paper) instead of plastic litter liners as it seemed my boy’s paws were getting irritated from scratching the plastic bag.
    * Every 1-2 weeks I sprinkle some catnip on their scratch rug and let them go nuts for stimulation.
    * NEVER dry kibble-cats have low thirst drive and will be dehydrated if fed kibble-even when they drink more water to make up for it.
    * I give them a bit of coconut oil (abt a teaspoon a day for 2 cats or less depending on their appetite) in a dish that they can graze on throughout the day-they have shiny coats and no hairballs and it helps w/ skin conditions. I noticed they strongly differentiate between diff’t qualities of coconut oil so I try to give them organic virgin, the one they like best.
    * I give them lots of toys, either store-bought or made from egg cartons, toilet paper rolls etc and hang strings (made for cats, you don’t want them needing surgery cause they ate a string) around the house they like to jump and attack.
    * I make sure they get some fresh air almost every day, even in the winter-either by putting them on open window sills for some time or by taking them out on a leash & harness. I simply can’t leave them out unsupervised due to the packs of coyotes and other wild animals that live in the neighborhood. I trained them for the harness as kittens.
    * I spend some time daily petting them and/or brushing them and/or doing some interactive play with them and/or running around the house together with them. I also sweet talk to them and that seems to help make them better behaved kitties. In return they jump on my lap or give me the squinty eyes which is supposed to mean “IAs a result, thank God, my cats are both healthy, active, playful, well-behaved, free of chronic conditions and of a healthy weight unlike many American pets.

  11. The bottom of the previous comment was cropped, here is the full thing:
    * I spend some time daily petting them and/or brushing them and/or doing some interactive play with them and/or running around the house together with them. I also sweet talk to them and that seems to help make them better behaved kitties. In return they jump on my lap or give me the squinty eyes which is supposed to mean “IAs a result, thank God, my cats are both healthy, active, playful, well-behaved, free of chronic conditions and of a healthy weight unlike many American pets.

  12. The bottom of the previous comment was cropped, here is the full thing:
    * I spend some time daily petting them and/or brushing them and/or doing some interactive play with them and/or running around the house together with them. I also sweet talk to them and that seems to help make them better behaved kitties. In return they jump on my lap or give me the squinty eyes which is supposed to mean “I love U” in cat language.
    * I am pretty strict when it comes to setting boundaries, they can only scratch certain things, they cannot eat human food (unless I occasionally leave a drumstick or so in their plate for them to chew on), they are to eat and finish their own plates before they can get their next meals, they are not to play with cords or plants, etc. Once they learn and accept the rules, they implement it w/out fuss and if they try to bend the rule, a “shshshsh” often suffices to let them know “Mom/dad is watching” 🙂
    * I take them to the vet for their tests, vaccinations and if they appear sick. If the vet prescribes antibiotics I give them colloidal silver instead. I make it at home, it’s less harmful and more effective and the illness doesn’t keep coming back as it does with prescriptions. I did make the error of giving them the prescriptions before, so I give them digestive enzymes (pre&probiotics) with their food to make up for the damage.
    * I make sure to use biodegradable cleaning products and refrain from air freshener type sprays-especially around the kitties.
    —>As a result, thank God, my cats are both healthy, active, playful, well-behaved, free of chronic conditions and of a healthy weight unlike many American pets.

  13. Our 13 year-old cat’s condition definitely went from good to poor when we switched from fresh meat and dry food to canned and dry food for a few months last year. Switching back from canned to fresh food this year his fur and energy improved very quickly. His favourite is kangaroo steak – well, he is an Aussie and it’s good to eat locally sourced produce! He can be fussy – fresh liver and kidneys get rejected. I will try lamb heart. I heard table scraps can be a good way to give a more varied diet, and I often leave him a small portion of what we are having (last night it was the fatty skin from some smoked fish) just to see if he’ll try it. I hadn’t thought to leave veges, but maybe they’re ok providing not of a type toxic to cats (thanks for the tomato tip!). And I never give cooked chicken bones as I heard they can splinter and choke the cat. He tends more to underweight than over, and needs encouragement sometimes. I hadn’t thought to drop the dry food as he likes it as well. Very interested to see how else I can improve his diet, so thank you for the article and to other posters for their thoughts.