5 Ways to Destress Your Pet this Holiday Season

The Holidays are upon us and many of us are scurrying hither and thither in preparation for all the celebration.  Do you have relatives coming?  Are you traveling?  Planning a party?  Shopping ’till you drop?  The Holidays can be a stressful along with all that good cheer – especially for our furry or feathered companions who don’t really understand what all the fuss is about.

Traveling, extra visitors, more time spent alone and all the extra commotion and change of routine that comes with the holiday season can take a toll on our pets.  If you notice that Fido is a bit clingy, Fluffy is hiding under the bed more, or Polly is picking her feathers; consider helping them de-stress.

“You” Time
Spending a little quality time with your pet will reduce both their stress and yours.  Walking the dog, playing with the cat, or having a chat with your bird are excellent ways to practice “living in the moment” and leaving the holiday hassles behind for awhile.

Romie fell asleep chewing his Big Bully Stick

Gnawing Anxiety Away
Dogs can be given chews and bones to help reduce stress – chewing is a great stress reliever.  It is not uncommon to see a dog fall asleep right after a vigorous chew session on a bone; or as in Romie’s case – during a chew session.  Stock up on bully sticks and other long-lasting chews for the Holidays.   Natural Chews for Dogs

Soothing Sounds
Many animals can be soothed with calming music.  While Christmas tunes are fun, consider some calming music like Pachelbel’s Canon or Josh Groban’s Christmas Album.  When you must leave your furry family members home alone, try a Heartbeat CD designed to sooth your companion: Canine Lullabies.  These CD’s are especially effective for puppies.

Pre-guest Preparations
If during the holidays your companion will not have access to some rooms or parts of the house he is used to spending time in, don’t wait until the guests arrive to make the transition – that only doubles the stress.  Block them away from the “to be restricted” areas a week or so before the guests invade their territory.  This will at least give them time to adjust.

Private Space
Insure that your companions have a quiet place to retreat to when you have guests, such as a bedroom or even a closet if they like to hide away.  Just remove your shoes or other items to a higher shelf for the holidays and make them a little nest or resting place.

Extra Stress Support

Flower essences are an excellent way to support your companion’s emotional stability through the holidays or any stressful time.  Flower essences are safe and effective for birds, cats and dogs.   Flower essences are easy to administer in several ways – in the drinking water, rubbed in the skin or with a spray bottle – and they can be used as often as necessary; no overdosing worries at all.

Calm Down Herbal Remedy contains complimentary herbs that sooth the nerves and support a dog or cat’s emotional well-being.  This can be used alone or in combination with Flower Essences for those extra-stressful times.

Homeopathic combination remedies are another very safe way to assist your companion in dealing with stress. HomeoPet Anxiety Relief is a good all around stress reliever, HomeoPet Travel Anxiety is great for trips, and HomeoPet TFLN is a must-have for New Years Eve fireworks and revelry.

Pet Naturals of Vermont Calming Chews for Cats and Dogs are an excellent treat to have on hand for holiday stress or any stressful situation that may arise.

Pheromone Sprays and Diffusers are an easy way to soothe a pet’s anxiety or frazzled nerves.  Perfect for use in their “safe space” set up just for them – or for use at the boarding facility.

Boarding Your Pet
Some companions may be boarded outside the home or will be traveling with their guardians.  Don’t forget to take along a stress soothing remedy for them: Holiday Stress Reducing Remedies.    Consider combining remedies – giving both Calmin Chews AND Flower Essences; the synergistic effect of more than one remedy can be very beneficial.  Give specific instructions for dosage and administration of remedies. Two easy ways to administer flower essences are to simply add the remedy to the drinking water and/or make up a spray bottle containing the remedy and ask the caregiver to spritz the cage 4 or 5 times a day.  Remember to give the animal whatever remedy you choose for at least 2-3 days before you are scheduled to leave.  This will allow time for the remedy to build in their system.

Supporting your companion through the stress of the holidays will likely reduce your own stress level as well.  By planning ahead and keeping your companion’s needs met you can avoid the high level stress of accidents and animals acting out their stress in destructive ways.

How to Recognize and Treat Dog Skin Infections

Your dog’s skin is actually a protective organ – the largest organ in the body.  When this barrier is compromised, the stage is set for infection.  There are three types of organisms that can cause skin infections – bacteria, fungus and yeast.  Often there will be an underlying health issue that sets the stage for skin infections, so be sure to address the primary cause when you treat for a skin disorder or you will find yourself dealing with a chronic problem that continues to return – possibly worse every time.

Underlying conditions can be allergies – particularly to parasites, hormonal imbalances such as hyperthyroidism, immune deficiencies or autoimmune conditions.  Anything that makes your dog itch intensely can set the stage for infection – if they scratch or chew their skin enough bacteria or yeasts can reach the deeper layers of skin and grow out of control – causing more itching and scratching and a vicious cycle begins.  Proper diagnosis is important so you know exactly what you are treating.

Bacterial Infection

Healthy skin is teaming with bacteria; it is only when there is an underlying health issue as discussed above that pathogenic bacteria can take over and cause infection and lesions.  Staph bacteria are the most common organisms found in infected areas of a dog’s skin.  These bacteria are not contagious to you or other pets – they are already present on the skin and only become an issue when things get out of balance.

Symptoms
Typically you will see itchy, yellowish raised areas.  The skin often looks red and irritated around the pustule.  Eventually they erupt and become crusty –  leaving a red, irritated patch of skin beneath.  As the condition progresses you will notice a foul smell and patches of missing fur.

Sores can appear anywhere on the body, but frequently appear first on the trunk – eventually spreading to the legs and neck.  Infection can also set up between the toes or in the ear.

Treatment
Both the external lesions and the internal immune imbalance must be addressed.  Allergies are often the original culprit – so be sure to follow the steps outlined for treating itchy skin: Dogs with Itchy Skin – Why They Itch and How to Help.

  1. Healing the external lesions begins with a bath.    Visit your veterinarian for an anti-bacterial shampoo and rinse.
  2. After the bath when the fur has dried you will need to trim the hair around every lesion to allow good air circulation.
  3. Apply a topical antiseptic such as diluted Apple Cider Vinegar, Povidone Iodine, or my personal favorite – Bee Propolis Tincture mixed with coconut oil.  Treat twice a day until the lesions heal completely and watch for any developing lesions and treat before they erupt.

After the initial healing is complete, keep your pet’s skin in good health with weekly baths using a gentle, soothing shampoo such as colloidal oatmeal or itch-busting tea tree oil shampoo. Contrary to what many pet owners believe, frequent bathing will not dry out your companion’s skin if you use the proper shampoo and rinse.  For dogs with sensitive skin that are prone to infection, a weekly bath can be the one thing that prevents re-infection and the vicious cycle of the itch.

Yeast Infection

Malassezia pachydermatis is a yeast commonly found on the skin and in the ears of dogs. When a dog’s immune system becomes stressed, Malassezia yeast can multiply until it becomes pathogenic in susceptible dogs.

Symptoms
Yeast overgrowth results in itchy, oily, or scaly skin, hair loss, redness or blackening of the skin, thickening of the skin, and an offensive greasy odor.  The ears and skin can both become infected.  The dog may also be lethargic and lack energy.

Treatment
As with bacterial infections, yeast infections must be treated both internally and externally.  An anti-fungal shampoo and rinse (Selsun Blue works) along with a tea tree oil based spray or ointment to treat affected skin are the first step externally.

Internal treatment follows the same course as treatment for candidiasis – which is the same protocol we follow for allergies (see Dogs with Itchy Skin – Why They Itch and How to Help).  Grain-free food is best, and home-made would be ideal.  Invest in a high quality, high potency probiotic supplement as this will be a key component to healing the digestive tract – along with enzymes and essential fatty acids.

In addition to the above, adding anti-fungal herbs such as Olive Leaf Extract and coconut oil – which contains the yeast-killer caprylic acid, to your pet’s regimen will speed the healing process.

Detoxifying herbs are also very helpful and will ease your companion’s healing process.  As the candida organisms in the digestive tract die, they release toxins that can tax a dog’s already compromised immune system.  Herbal support to aid detoxification can hasten healing and keep your companion more comfortable through the process.

Fungal Infections

Ringworm is by far the most common fungal infection in dogs.  There is no actual “worm” involved – it is strictly a fungus.  Ringworm is contagious – both to you and other animals in the household so take precautions when treating your companion.  Don’t let children pet an infected dog until he is completely healed.

Symptoms
Ringworm infection causes circular areas of hair loss, with dry scaly skin in the center and a red ring at the outer edges. Lesions tend to gradually increase in size. In dogs, ringworm is most frequently seen on the face, ears, legs and paws, tail and/or base of the tail. Ringworm does not always cause itching and scratching, but it may.  If left untreated for long, a secondary bacterial infection can invade the irritated skin and cause further problems.

Treatment
Ringworm occurs more often in puppies with undeveloped immune systems and dogs under stress with a compromised immune system, so immune support is an essential part of treatment.

  1.  Tea tree oil is effective in treating ringworm, so start with a bath using a tea tree oil shampoo.  Add additional drops off tea tree oil to the shampoo to increase the anti-fungal action.  (Tea Tree Oil should not be used on cats).
  2. Rinse the affected areas with Apple Cider Vinegar, which is also anti-fungal.
  3. Clip the hair around the lesion(s) and treat them directly with tea tree oil.
  4. Support your companion’s immune system with herbal or nutritional remedies such as IMMUNITY by Organic Pet Superfood.

After several days you should notice the patches shrinking and looking more normal.  Once the lesions have completely disappeared, continue to treat for another day or two to prevent any lingering fungal cells from reproducing.

Dogs with Itchy Skin – Why They Itch and How to Help

Incessant itching and scratching is one of the top reasons guardians take their dogs to the veterinarian.  Many complain the itching is so bad, the dog is keeping them up at night.  So if your pup’s itching is driving you nuts – think about what it must doing to her.  Time to figure out the itch!

The most common reasons for dogs to scratch are:

  • Parasites
  • Dry Skin
  • Food Allergies
  • Environmental Allergies
  • Skin Infections

Parasites

The most likely culprit, of course, is fleas.  So step one in investigating any itchy skin problem is to do the flea test:

Flea Test:

  1. First detangle your pet’s fur with a brush.  Over the hips near the base of the tail is a good place to test.
  2. Run the flea comb through your pet’s hair and gather a bit of hair & “dirt”.
  3. Then put this between two damp white paper towels and press them together – if the “dirt” creates rusty looking spots on the paper towel, then there is a flea somewhere – most likely a family of fleas – on your companion.
  4. If you persist with combing, you will likely trap some of them in the comb.  Drown them in SOAPY water – fleas have been known to jump out of plain water.

Got fleas?  Read these:  A Natural Approach to the War on Fleas and How to Get Rid of Fleas Naturally.

No fleas?  Other parasitic possibilities are mange and ticks.  If you see bald patches where your dog has been itching, take them to the veterinarian for skin tests to rule out mange.  Tick bites will generally go away on their own unless the tick was infected with Lyme disease – in which case a trip to the veterinarian is definitely in order.

Dry Skin

If you have ruled out parasites, take a look at your dog’s skin – does it flake when you brush him?  Does his coat appear dull?  Many dogs suffer from dry skin in the winter months when the heat is up indoors and the air is dry.

Add Essential Fatty Acids to their diet through the use of fish oil, flax or sardines.  The essential fatty acids DHA and EPA nourish and add moisture to the skin and coat.  Feed up to twice the recommended dose on a bottle of fish oil to give your companion a therapeutic effect.  If you see loose stools, reduce the dose a bit.

Another beneficial fatty acid to help improve skin elasticity is GLA – found in Black Current Seed Oil, Evening Primrose Oil and Borage Oil.

Food Allergies

With generations of dogs growing up on chicken, grain and beef based diets we are seeing an ever-increasing number of food allergies.  There are three essential steps to treating food allergies and sensitivities:

  1.  Switch to a grain-free diet or an allergy formula diet.  Avoid chicken and beef as protein sources in favor of duck, venison or fish.  Chicken and beef are the most common protein allergies in dogs.  It’s a good idea to stick with one protein source when you begin the new diet, and then switch to another if symptoms do not begin to subside after 10 – 14 days.
  2. Add digestive enzymes and probiotics to every meal.  Enzymes improve the breakdown and release of nutrients from the food and reduce the likelyhood of too-large molecules being absorbed and setting off an allergic reaction.  Probiotics improve digestion and provide the first line of defense for the immune system.
  3. Add Essential Fatty Acids to their diet through the use of fish oil, flax or sardines.  EFA’s reduce inflammation (allergies are an inflammatory response), nourish the skin and coat, and help heal the digestive tract and improve digestion.  (See Balancing Omega 6 and Omega 3 Fatty Acids for more information on Essential Fatty Acids).
  4. Help their detoxify and calm their system with herbs.
    • Herbs such as Nettle, Burdock, Red Clover, Licorice and others support the organs and immune system to modulate allergic reactions.  (see Herbal Remedies for Allergies)

Environmental Allergies

While dust mite and grass allergies may make humans sneeze and wheeze, they often make dogs feel itchy.  Their coat may seem dry or can be oily or greasy.

Clinical research has shown that high-potency probiotics given to puppies can help prevent allergies from developing as the dog matures.  Valuable insurance against expensive vet bills down the road!  However, if your mature dog is itching it is not too late.  Probiotics can still help – though you will likely need to continue giving them for the long-term.

The treatment for Environmental Allergies begins with the same steps as those for treating food allergies –

  1. Switch to a high-quality grain-free diet
  2. Add digestive enzymes & high potency probiotics
  3. Add Essential Fatty Acids
  4. Provide additional support with herbs and supplements to reduce inflammation and allergic reactions
  5. Homeopathic remedies including sulphur, rhus tox, and uritica urens can help reduce symptoms (see Homeopet remedies for allergies)
  6. Antioxidants such as vitamin E and B vitamins are also helpful.

Skin Infections

Bacterial, yeast and fungal infections can all cause itching and scratching in dogs.  If you see lesions of any sort on your dog’s skin – suspect and infection of some type and take action quickly.  In our next post we will be discussing the different types of skin infection, how to recognize them and how to help your companion heal.

Puppy Care Basics

Falling in Love

Nothing seems to pull at the heart strings as powerfully as a fluffy little puppy .  That adorable little bundle of fur, however, comes with a BIG bundle of responsibilities.  Though the first six months are the most intense, the responsibility of guardianship lasts for the lifetime of your dog – 12- 15 years.  Here are some helpful tips for starting off on the right “paw” with your new best friend and a list of essentials to have on hand.

Selecting “The One”

Researching breed characteristics is a must.  Choosing a puppy  to match your lifestyle is critical for the long-term success of your relationship.  If you are an apartment dweller without much time for long romps in the park, a  breed of dog that is small or needs less exercise would be more appropriate.  Perhaps a Yorkshire Terrier or Pug would be well suited, but breeds such as Beagles or Australian Shepard’s would not.  No matter how much you fall in love with a particular puppy, if his heritage and breed characteristics are not right for your lifestyle – it’s best to keep looking.

Visit shows and local breeders to get a better feel for the breed you are interested in.  Consider contacting local rescue organizations if you are set on a particular breed, or the local shelter.  Litters of puppies are often left at shelters in need of “forever” homes.

Accommodations

 Once you have chosen your new companion – or rather, she has chosen you; prepare her new home in advance.  She’ll need places of comfort and safety.  A cozy bed of her own is a must, even if she’ll be sharing yours some of the time.  For puppies, a large crate or corral is essential for any times she will be unsupervised.  Learn about proper crate training before you bring her home.  If you start out by leaving her for too long or without a proper set-up, she may learn to fear confinement.

For any puppy, traveling and acclimating to a new home is quite stressful.  You can help immensely in setting the stage for a smooth transition for your companion by supporting them with Flower Essences, Pheromone products and other calming remedies:

Pet Essences New Home / Group Living is designed to help support your little companion’s emotional state as she settles in.  These can be added to the water or massaged into the ears or paws.

Calming pheromones are natural “scents” produced by nursing mother dogs and cats that soothe and calm puppies and kittens.  Comfort Zone spray can be used in the carrier or crate and car prior to travel, as well as spraying directly on bedding and around the house to help reduce stress.  Diffusers can be plugged into any outlet for continual release of pheromones in the room where your new companion will spend the most time.

Routine, Routine, Routine

Puppies thrive on routine – and  is especially important for proper house-training.  Feeding at regular intervals along with taking your puppy out on a schedule is THE BEST way to avoid a long, drawn-out house-training process.  If you follow a routine from day one, you’ll have him trained far more quickly and with fewer “mistakes”.  Read a good book on training such as The Other End of The Leash or Don’t Shoot the Dog.

Separation anxiety is normal for many animals and can be managed and curtailed by working slowly; gradually getting your pet accustomed to being alone.  Start with short departures – as little as 10 or 15 minutes, until you see how your puppy reacts.  Gradually increase the time you are away until your little friend can be alone for up to several hours at a time.  Again, using calming remedies such as HomeoPet Anxiety Relief and/or Lonliness / Home Alone Flower Essence can help support your pet through the learning process.

Puppies, especially, should not be left for an 8 hour work day as they are pack animals and do not like to be alone for such long stretches – not to mention there is no way they can hold their bladders that long.  Consider a dog walking service, a friendly neighbor, doggy daycare or a combination of solutions.  When he is left alone – make sure he has an “approved area” for elimination with puppy pads or newspaper.  Do not crate him for more than an hour or two until he is older.  A general rule of thumb is that he can hold it for as many hours as his age in months – so a 2 month old can go for two hours at the most between potty breaks, a 3 month old 3 hours, etc.

Healthy Food & Treats

Start your companion out with a top quality diet to support his growth and development and build a strong immune system.  The fresher the foods we eat, the healthier we are and the same holds true for our four-legged friends.  Easy to prepare Dehydrated or Freeze Dried foods are a good way to provide optimal, highly available nutrition for your young companion .  Using these along with a good quality canned or dry food for puppies will provide all their growing systems need.  It is not necessary to feed a bag or can of food labeled “puppy” as long as you are feeding a top quality diet.  Please see How to Choose the Right Pet Food for more information.

Feed your little charge frequently in the beginning – 3 to 4 times per day.  At 5 to 6 months you can slowly transition to 2 meals per day by gradually reducing the amount of the mid-day meal and increasing breakfast and dinner a bit.  Keep in mind that at around 6 months their growth process will begin to slow down, so watch your companion’s waistline and start to slowly reduce the amount you feed if need be.  Overfeeding your puppy can set them up for health problems once they mature such as joint issues and obesity.  Puppies should be trim and fit, not chubby and round.

DO NOT leave food out free-choice unless you cannot find a way to provide a mid-day meal when you are at work.  Free-choice feeding is a set-up for unhealthy eating and elimination habits.  If you must leave food out when your  puppy is younger, be sure to eliminate free feeding once he is old enough to transition to 2 meals per day.  Not only does free-choice feeding frequently lead to overweight pets, it is also a strain on their developing immune and digestive systems.

Vitamins & Supplements for Optimal Health

Diet is the foundation of any animal’s health – but what can you do in addition to a healthy diet to insure your puppy’s or kitten’s optimal development and strong immune system?  Provide supplements tailored to her needs:

Colostrum
Puppies are more vulnerable than mature animals to parasites and disease because their immune systems are still developing.  In addition, they are under a good deal of stress as they leave the safety and familiarity of their mothers and try to learn the ways of living with a human family.  Most holistic veterinarians highly recommend supplementing all puppies diets with colostrum to help boost their immature immune system for at least a month or two after weaning.

Digestive Enzymes
To support the proper digestion of foods nature wisely endowed every vegetable, fruit and animal food source with enzymes that help break it down.  These enzymes are destroyed, however, by heat and processing.  Every dog or cat that is eating a processed food (anything other than raw or lightly cooked) diet should receive digestive enzymes with each meal.  This will not only improve digestion and the assimilation of nutrients, but it will also help protect against the development of allergies and immune disorders such as IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) which can be caused by poor digestion.  (See The Importance of Digestive Enzymes to Your Pet’s Health for more information)

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
EFAs are required in the diet – they cannot be produced by the body (hence the “essential” in the name).  These essential fatty acids are necessary for proper formation of cell membranes, are precursors for prostaglandins (hormones), aid in proper cardiovascular function and nourish the skin and coat as well as the lining of the digestive tract.  They support brain and eye development in growing kittens and puppies.  Fish oils are the best source of EFAs and puppies love the taste as well.  (See Balancing Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids for more information)

Multi-Vitamins
Many of us take a daily multivitamin to insure we receive a basic amount of important vitamins and minerals.  Even the best diet for our dogs and cats of fresh raw foods can be lacking in some essential vitamins and minerals.  Much of the vitamins and minerals in packaged dog and cat foods are destroyed during the processing.  Even when sprayed back onto the food after processing, the vitamins and minerals break down rapidly when exposed to light and air.  The first bowl of kibble from a bag may contain most of what the label claims, but each time the bag or container is opened, the nutrients are affected.

Think of a multi-vitamin supplement as health insurance:  Insuring the body has everything it needs for proper cell function and growth will keep your little friend’s health at its peak, possibly reducing your veterinarian visits and costs in the long run.

Choose your pup’s veterinarian with care – don’t just go to the closest clinic.  Ask at the local shelters, pet stores and dog parks to find out who the best vets are in your area.  You can check the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association’s Referral Page for a list of holistically trained veterinarians near you.

Related Post:  To Vaccinate or Not To Vaccinate

How to Tell if Your Pet’s Teeth Need Cleaning

Healthy Teeth and Gums

Did you know your pet is five times more likely to have periodontal disease (also called gum disease), than you are?

Over 80% of dogs over 3 years of age have periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease can be painful and has been shown to contribute to the development of other disease problems internally. The gums have a rich blood supply and as infection in the gums enters the bloodstream, it spreads throughout the body, and infections of the kidneys, liver and heart can occur. These problems may take years to develop, and maintaining proper dental health can delay or prevent their onset.

Animals can be in great pain from periodontal disease but will not necessarily show it.  Our pets have evolved to hide chronic pain as their base instincts push them to never show a sign of weakness.  Even with bleeding gums or abscessed teeth your dog or cat may continue to eat normally.  That’s why it is critical for you to keep a close watch on their oral health and be consistent about prevention.

Dog with Gum Disease and Tartar

  1. Sniff test – bad breath is the most obvious sign that something is amiss in the mouth.
  2. Examine ALL the teeth – pull up the lips toward the ears so you can see the back teeth better rather than trying to pry their mouth open.
  3. Teeth should be white and smooth.  Brown discoloration and or a gritty coating means a cleaning is in order.
  4. Any teeth that are broken or cracked need to be seen by a veterinarian.
  5. Gum tissue should be pink and form a smooth line at the base of the teeth.  If gums are red or inflamed, or if you notice any blood or puss at the base of the tooth – call and make an appointment right away.

Cat with Gum Disease

Very unhealthy teeth will need extraction – they will not get better on their own.  Proper dental care can add years to your pets life.

Other possible signs of gum disease or tooth decay:

  • Unwillingness to eat
  • Avoiding hard food or treats
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at the face
  • Blood on toys

Very unhealthy teeth will need extraction – they will not get better on their own.  When your veterinarian urges a teeth cleaning, it is wise to listen.  Proper dental care can add years to your pets life.

5 Steps to a Healthy Immune System for Dogs and Cats


Immune System Basics

The immune system is an intricate network of specialized tissues, organs, cells, and hormones.  The lymph system and lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, and thymus gland all play a role, as do lymphocytes (specialized white blood cells), antibodies, and specialized proteins.

There are two main types of immunity; innate and acquired.  Innate immunity is the body’s built in system of resisting disease including the skin, lining of the gastrointestinal tract, mucous secretions, and stomach acid.

Acquired or adaptive immunity involves the immune system’s further defenses against invaders created as the body is exposed to different pathogens through exposure, illness or vaccination.  The immune system develops a memory of each disease it fights and is able to quickly recognize and defend against the pathogen the next time it appears.

Symptoms of a weakened immune system include skin infections, recurring parasitic infections, and initially mild infections or illnesses that progress into serious health issues when the body cannot build a strong enough response to defend itself.  For cats, frequent upper respiratory infections are also indicative of a weak immune system.

 

Building a Healthy Immune System

  1. Diet is always the first line of defense.  High quality, nutritious food is the first step in building a strong immune system.  If your companion is consuming food containing inferior protein sources such as by-product meals, corn and soy, cheap fillers such as beet pulp and pea fiber, and includes any number of toxins such as chemical preservatives, food dyes, and additives; his immune system is being depleted daily just to cope with his diet.  Every extra penny you spend on better quality food saves you hundreds in veterinary bills.  Many people wait until their animal has a serious or chronic illness such as cancer, kidney disease or allergies to finally change their diet.  Prevention is so much kinder and immeasurably more effective.  Please see the article about How to Choose the Best Pet Food for more information about proper diet.  Feeding a varied diet that includes as much fresh food as possible does take a bit more effort than scooping kibble out of a bag, but it is truly worth the effort in the long run.
  2. Healthy Digestive Tract: One of the benefits of a healthy diet is a healthy gastrointestinal tract.  If the digestive tract is weakened by inflammation from allergies, inflammatory bowel disease or other digestive disorders, even the nutrients in a healthy diet are harder to process and absorb.  Healing and maintaining the digestive tract is vital to overall health and immunity.  Digestive enzymes, probiotics and essential fatty acids all play a role in gastrointestinal health and proper digestion.
  3. Exercise must also be mentioned for its role in helping build and maintain a strong immune system.  Moderate exercise has been shown to improve immune factors in humans and animals.  You both need the exercise – so go for a good long walk every day.
  4. Weight control is also key – overweight animals are much more susceptible to chronic and acute diseases and infections.  Proper diet AND exercise are needed to help with weight control.  (See How to Tell if Your Dog or Cat is Overweight)
  5. A good quality daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement is a simple way to help bolster the immune system.  I like to alternate the vitamin supplements I use for my cats and dogs to provide a more varied source of extra nutrition.  For instance, I often give a regular multi-vitamin at one meal and a “greens” supplement at another meal.  Please see the article Daily Supplements for a Healthy Companion for more information.

Antioxidants for a Power Boost

Antioxidants help prevent oxidation, help increase immune function, and possibly decrease the risk of infection and cancer. Antioxidants exist as vitamins, minerals and other compounds in foods.  They act as scavengers, helping to prevent cell and tissue damage by destroying free radicals.  Free radicals are highly reactive molecules and fragments of molecules that can damage the body at the cellular level, leaving the body susceptible to cancer, heart disease, and many other degenerative diseases.

Vitamins A, C and E are the most commonly known antioxidants.  Vitamin A is found in the liver and other animal tissues.  It is abundant in fish liver oils such as cod liver oil.  Carotene is a precursor to vitamin A found in plant material.  Dogs can convert carotene to vitamin A by way of an enzyme found in the wall of the intestine.  Cats, however, do not convert carotene well and must receive adequate vitamin A from animal sources.

Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system by making white blood cells that destroy harmful bacteria and viruses.  Vitamin A also helps maintain the integrity of skin and mucous membranes, which also function as a barrier to bacteria and viruses as well as protect against shedding of cells into the urinary tract which can lead to the formation of stones and cause urinary tract problems.

Vitamin C is the most abundant water-soluble antioxidant in the body and is manufactured in the liver and kidneys of dogs and cats.  It is available from fresh or lightly cooked fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C is especially good at combating free-radical formation caused by pollution.

Vitamin E is the most abundant fat-soluble antioxidant in the body.   It is present in many foods including vegetable oils, cereal grains, greens, liver and eggs.  It is particularly helpful in protecting against oxidation, especially in fatty tissues.

Other powerful antioxidants include green tea, selenium, Co-Enzyme Q10, bioflavonoids, N-acetylcysteine, proanthocyanidins (pycnogenol) typically derived from grape seed extract or pine bark, quercetin, soy isoflavones, and zinc.

Herbs, Mushrooms and Nutraceuticals for Extra Support

Chinese Herbs are available in a variety of combinations for immune support.  Astragalus is one of the more commonly found Chinese herbs in immune formulations.  Selecting the proper Chinese herbal formula is not always straightforward since a variety of conditions need to be considered before deciding on the best combination, so sometimes the guidance of a trained holistic veterinarian is important.

Green tea contains polyphenols which target cancer cells for destruction and helps eliminate free radicals.  It also supports the production of a protein that protects healthy cells.

Circumin, or turmeric root, has very powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  It has a wide range of uses for both chronic and acute illnesses and is an excellent cancer preventative.

Echinacea stimulates the immune system to fight bacterial and viral infections.  It is a good choice for acute conditions but is not recommended for continual long term use.  Echinacea works best when given as a preventative – to help an animal avoid contracting an illness or infection they may be exposed to.

Mushrooms such as Maitake, Reishi and Shitake stimulate T-helper cells (which are integral to a strong immune response) and powerfully boost the overall immune system. Cordyseps is a Chinese mushroom with antioxidant, antiviral and cancer fighting properties.

Colostrum is the first milk produced by mothers.  Most colostrum commercially available is from cows.  It has many immune boosting properties including factors that support T-helper cells.  It may also play a role in the metabolism of essential fatty acids.   Useful for acute and chronic disease including autoimmune disorders.

Cat’s Claw (Una de gato) has anti-oxidant and immune enhancing properties as well as anti-hypertensive effects (lowers blood pressure & supports circulation).  Cat’s Claw is derived from a vine found in South America.  It is often used in combination with other herbs.  It can be useful in treating a wide variety of illness including parasites, colitis, gastritis, leaky gut, tumors and for acute conditions such as viral and respiratory infections.

Again, prevention is the best course, but should your companion fall ill, extra support for the immune system through nutrition, herbs and supplements can give her the upper hand and aid in her speedy recovery.

Halloween Fun – Pets and Costumes

Half the fun of Halloween for grown-ups is dressing up our kids, or – our pets!  Some dogs love the fun and attention, some not so much.  Pugs are just designed for dressing up; and most seem to have the sense of humor to go with the costumes.  Cats, well… we humbly apologize in advance to our feline friends for any temporary humiliation they may experience.  And, as all feline-owned-humans know, they’ll barely keep it on long enough for us to snap a picture.

Today, we have gathered some of the best of the web for some Halloween dress-up fun.  Just remember when dressing up your own four-legged friend; keep it safe and make sure your dog or cat is not feeling stressed by all the fuss.  Pets of a more sensitive personality type are best left in their “birthday suits” for Halloween.