Holistic Pet Care: 2 Steps You Can Take at Home

Welcome to Part Two of our Holistic Pet Care series!  This is where we start to talk about some simple ways you can begin transitioning your pet to a more holistic, and healthier, lifestyle. If you haven't yet read Part One, please do, as it will introduce you to holistic pet care and the holistic veterinarian. And don't miss our free eBook, the Holistic Pet Care Resource Guide!  It has over 30 pages of great information that will ensure a healthier lifestyle for your pet, including several treat recipes!

If you're reading these articles, we hope it's because you want your pet to live a happy, healthy life, one you can enjoy with him for many years. Sometimes our best intentions end up not being the best for our pet, and over time we begin to see recurring health issues, obesity, or just a lack of energy.  If that's the case, then perhaps you've decided it's time to make some changes.

The holistic veterinarian, of course, has a host of tools at his disposal, including chiropractic, homeopathy, acupuncture, massage, herbal medicine and nutritional therapy, among others. He also has a wealth of knowledge as well as years of training and experience that we average pet parents simply do not have!  However, there are many simple holistic steps you can take at home.

As you explore holistic pet care, don't be overwhelmed! Transitioning to this very natural, even common sense approach to pet care is a gradual process that you can take one step at a time. Choose what makes sense to you, what fits your budget and what suits your lifestyle.  Even small changes can make a big difference to your pet!  Here are two simple steps for you to consider.

1.  Proper nutrition – the key to a holistic lifestyle 

Holistic vets will tell you that proper nutrition is the most important factor in a pet’s health. There are far too many of us, they say, who are feeding our pets food that has very little nutritional value. Is it sufficient to sustain life? Perhaps. Is it promoting robust, vibrant health? Holistic vets would answer with an emphatic “no!”  What’s the solution?

Our Holistic Pet Care Resource Guide will give you lots of resources that will help you make wise choices about what to feed your pet.  In the meantime, here are some general guidelines.

The less adventurous, and perhaps more busy, of us may always need to depend on commercially-prepared food for our pets. There are definitely “poor,” “better” and “best” options when it comes to commercial pet food; but, thankfully, there are also some simple guidelines for making good choices.  Check out our article, “Pet Food Labels—the Key to Choosing the Best Pet Food to learn what to look for on a pet food label. To help simplify your search for the best food for your pet, our Holistic Pet Care Resource Guidewill link you to two resources that provide lists of high quality, natural, healthy commercial foods for both dogs and cats.

Homemade: a holistic option

If you’re the more adventurous type, you may be ready to try making some of your own pet food.

If so, some words of caution:  First, do not feed your cat only a homemade diet, as cats have unique dietary needs. However, you may certainly supplement a good quality canned cat food according to the advice given below.  You can more easily meet your dog's dietary needs with a strictly homemade diet, but you still need to do your homework to be sure he is getting all the protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, etc. that he needs. Best advice: talk to a holistic vet before you begin. If you don’t find one in your area, many are glad to do phone consultations.

With those precautions in mind, here are some encouraging words from Dog's Naturally Magazine:  ". . .dogs fed a homemade diet, consisting of high quality foods used from their owners' meals, versus dogs fed an industrial, commercial pet food diet, had a life expectancy of 32 months longer--that's almost 3 years!"  That sounds like motivation to me!

Your veterinarian may have her own recommendations for "pet cookbooks."  There are a lot of them out there, particularly for dogs. The authors, of course, should be committed to a holistic approach to animal care.  Our Holistic Pet Care Resource Guide will give you a great list of recommended books and websites.

What about raw?

Many holistic vets recommend a raw food diet; and while both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and conventional vets have expressed concerns about salmonella, etc. in raw eggs and meat, my research suggests that lots of pet owners have raised lots of healthy pets on raw food.  Respected holistic pet experts Mary Straus, Dr. Martin Goldstein, CJ Puotinen and Dr. Richard Pitcairn (names to remember!) all recommend feeding pets at least some raw food.  It’s a diet worth looking into and perhaps combining with cooked food or canned food; but, once again, this is best done under the guidance of a holistic veterinarian.

Perhaps the best of both worlds

Even if you prefer to avoid things like raw meat and eggs, you can safely supplement a good quality, natural commercial food diet for both dogs and cats with cooked meat, grains and fresh produce.  When I first started adding small bits of cooked chicken, eggs, rice, broccoli and a bit of shredded cheese to our cat’s canned food, I was beyond surprised to see her gobble them up! Here is a sampling of foods you can safely add to your pet’s meals, taken primarily from CJ Puotinen’s The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care(small quantities, please…remember, dogs and particularly cats are carnivores!):

  • Grains and legumes: lightly cooked beans, rice or other grains or legumes
  • Vegetables: finely grated, pureed or juiced raw carrots, parsnips, zucchini, cucumbers, sweet peppers, celery, peas, sweet potatoes, sprouts; lightly cooked broccoli, corn, peas, potatoes, green beans.
  • Finely minced herbs.
  • Fruits:  grapes, apples, blueberries, mangos, bananas, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, plums, pears,  dates, avocado.
  • Seeds and nuts:  sprouted sunflower seeds and chia seeds; Brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts. Grind or puree.
  • Cheese (begin with small amounts for cats, as many are lactose intolerant) and peanut butter (also in small amounts for cats).
  • FOODS TO AVOID!  Never feed your dog or cat onions , chives, or chocolate. It's best to avoid grapes and raisins as well, particularly with cats. I've seen garlic given the thumbs-up in small amounts and also an emphatic thumbs down, so it's best to check this out with your holistic vet first.

For more tips about healthy eating and a couple of simple recipes to get you started, check out our other articles: Safe and Natural Treats for Pets; andObesity in Pets--It's Time to Help Them Trim Down.

2.  Exercise

In our busy, over-committed, always-on-call culture, there is less and less time for us to exercise. That means our pets are getting less exercise, too!  Our own physical and emotional health and theirs depends on making regular exercise a priority.

Dogs, of course, can always be taken on a walk or a jog on a leash at least once a day, or allowed to run in a fenced yard or dog park. Like children, dogs benefit from fresh air, sunlight, and room to run free, so provide these in generous amounts.  Outdoor cats get plenty of exercise; indoor cats, on the other hand, are less apt to get vigorous exercise. Keep in mind that it's normal for even very healthy cats to sleep 15 to 20 hours a day!  Nevertheless, exercise should be part of their daily routine. Here is just a sampling of suggestions to make sure kitty gets her daily workout:

  • If you have the space, the time, and the inclination, try your hand at a DIY cat condo or tower. Cats love to climb, and there are actually some aesthetically-pleasing ways to accommodate them that won't make your home look like a gymnasium for cats.  Click here for one great site I found simply by Googling "DIY cat towers."
  • Perhaps you've tried the dangling feather or piece of yarn as I have with limited success.  While some cats will bat around things like crumpled paper or empty toilet paper rolls for minutes at a time, ours tends to give them a swipe or two and move on, as if to say, “Really?” But it’s worth giving them a try.
  • What our cat does love is to stalk and chase a beam of light. A small flashlight may do, but a laser pointer is perfect.
  • If you want less effort on your part, you can buy an electronic version of the hanging feather, or an automated laser cat toy, or a motorized remote control mouse (really??). Just Google “electronic toys for cats” and you’ll find hundreds. There are, of course, lots of non-electronic toys for cats as well. Experiment a bit and see what works.

In short, find whatever will get your cat moving!

As we move on to Part Three of our Holistic Pet Care series, we will have some serious things to say about the dangers of exposing our pet, and other family members, to toxic chemicals.  There are several simple steps you can take that will ensure a healthier indoor, and outdoor, environment for you, your children, and your pets.  Be sure to download our free eBook, the Holistic Pet Care Resource GuideThis handy resource will give you lists of websites, articles, and books on holistic pet care as well as several recipes for pet treats and snacks you can make right at home.  It's our way of helping you ensure that you and your companion have many healthy years together!