Six Ways to Keep Your Pet Healthy and Happy in the New Year

I heard some great advice today and it went like this:  “What you would do for yourself or your child is what I’d recommend you do for your dog or cat.”

Those words came from Phil Klein, vice president and primary consultant at Whiskers Holistic Pet Products in New York City.  He was responding to my question about maintaining your pet’s health in the New Year.

1.  Food.  Make sure you read labels on pet food, says Klein–and he reminds us that the primary protein source, whether it’s chicken or beef, should be listed as the first or second ingredient.  It also needs to be specific, not read as something vague like “meat meal.”

Be mindful that many nutrients and food items can appear under different names (sugar has at least 10 names) and could, therefore, actually be included in the ingredients many times over. So, for example, if your pet needs to be on a low carbohydrate diet, be sure you know which food items are classified as carbohydrates.  And so on.

Never leave food out all day for ‘self-feeding’ purposes, says Barbara Eisner, DVM, CVA, and one of the owners of Northside Veterinary Clinic in Brooklyn, NY. “It seems to be more of a practice with cat owners–but cats are not grazers so they’ll just eat and eat.  It would be like us snacking all day on cookies or some other treats.”

You may also want to cook for your pet, added Dr. Eisner. There’s nothing wrong with human food, she says, but you must follow a recipe and it must have a good ratio of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and other nutrients, such as fish oils.  (When my Westie became ill, I was advised to take him off dry food.  Every day he got freshly cooked chicken with sweet potatoes, parsley, probiotics and immunity boosters. It was minimal time for me, but maximum benefit for him–even at the height of his illness, he’d try to play with his toys.)

2.  Exercise:  It does depend upon the animal’s breed, personality and health, but as a general rule, cats need indoor play (there are a lot of climbing posts on the market today) and dogs need to go out for real walks–not just stops to relieve themselves.

3.  Dentistry:  “I can’t emphasize enough how important this is,” said Dr. Eisner.  “First, like humans, tooth and gum disease could possibly lead to other illnesses.  Second, they can’t tell us when they have a toothache, so if they’re snapping and growling, they could be in some kind of pain.  Of course they’d be grouchy!”

4.  Protection from elements.  In winter, protect paws with booties.  If the animal won’t let you put on boots (as my Westie wouldn’t!), thoroughly wipe (remember, salt gets between the toes) the feet when you come in.  If your dog has short hair, you might want to use a coat.  Anti-freeze has a sweet taste, so dogs can be drawn to it, but it’s poisonous so keep it out of their reach. Never leave an animal in a parked car in the summer.

5.  Adequate water.  Make sure the water dish is always full.  Cats don’t drink as often as dogs, so Dr. Eisner suggests putting a tiny, tiny bit of water in your cat’s food, whether it’s dry or canned.

6.  Be mindful of pet poisons.  Some foods, like chocolate, grapes, raisins and onions, can be highly toxic to a pet.  Many plants can cause digestive upset but some, such as some cactus varieties, can be downright poisonous if chewed. Tinsel is another culprit.  Always err on the side of caution and talk to your vet, if necessary.

And, remember, when holiday time rolls around again, pets can overindulge just as humans can.  Liz Luboja, practice manager at West Chelsea Veterinary in Manhattan told me recently that they see an increase of things like pancreatitis on the day after Thanksgiving or Christmas.

‘Tis The Season–To Adopt An Animal

During the holiday season we see many articles suggesting best gifts for the dog or cat.  The pet stores are stocked full of cute, safe, and practical toys, play and exercise systems, beds, garments or dishes.  Gourmet and organic treats make great stocking stuffers.

The very best gift, though, is to adopt a dog or cat, most of whom are just waiting to become part of a warm, loving family.  Visit your local shelter or ASPCA.

Some cities even have special events, such as New York’s Whiskers in Wonderland holiday pet adoption event. Hosted at the Metropolitan Pavilion by the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, the event–known as the largest of the season–features hundreds of cats, kittens, and rabbits.

Here are the details for the Whiskers in Wonderland 2011 event:

December 17 &18, 2011

Noon–6:00 p.m

Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street, Manhattan


Irene Ross, CHHC, AADP  ( also works with humans as a board certified wellness and nutrition coach.  She helps people alter unhealthy habits so they can bring their lives into balance.  The author of the forthcoming book, 25 Ways to Fire Up Your Day:  Increase Energy, Get More Done in Less Time, Balance Your Life, is also an Ezine Expert Author.

Pet Obesity: Keeping Your Pet Lean and Healthy

Pet obesity can really sneak up on you. Many times, what we think is too skinny, is actually healthy, says Dr. Catherine Reid, DVM.

Dr. Reid is acting director of the Vet Tech Program at New York’s LaGuardia Community College.  She works weekends at New York’s East Side Animal Hospital.

Obesity and overweight have increased dramatically over the past two decades for humans, as well as our four-legged furry friends. In fact, says the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over half of U.S. dogs and cats are now considered to be overweight or obese, contributing to a wide range of health problems, including diabetes, joint problems, heart concerns and, in general, a shortening of your pet’s life.

Education is key.  Know what a healthy pet looks like, says Dr. Reid.  “A good standard is the Body Condition System by Purina.  In fact, it’s what most vets use,” she says.

Look at your pet from all angles, side and top.  The pet should have a “waistline” and you should be able to feel the ribs. Run your hand over the animal’s back and you should feel the spine.

If you still aren’t sure, though, it’s always wise to consult with your vet.

“As a beautician for the four-legged, I always recommend that people consult first with their vet if I suspect a problem,” said Katina Alton, proprietor of the Hell’s Kitchen Groom Room in New York City. “It’s important to have your vet examine the animal to be sure there are no health problems caused—or causing—the overweight problem.”

Remember that animals only eat for survival, added Dr. Reid.  “They only care about being rewarded–and you can do that without treats or table scraps.”

As for exercise, the amount always depends upon the animal’s breed, health and personality.  Just as people should check with their doctors before embarking on an exercise program, so, too, should you with your dog’s vet.

When Lauren Moore of Canine Styles needed to help her dog lose five pounds they walked and walked—“usually about two miles every other day.”  Moore also fed her dog only organic and every treat was high-grain,low fiber.


Irene Ross, CHHC, AADP is a board certified wellness and nutrition coach for humans.  She is author of the forthcoming book, 25 Ways to Fire Up your Day:  Increase Energy, Get More Done in Less Time and Balance Your Life.  Her website is:

An Ezine Expert Author:, she also writes “Power Wellness,” a twice-monthly newsletter that can be subscribed to from her website.

Five Reasons To Consider a Mixed-Breed Dog

Today is Friday, December 2, National Mutt Day, so I thought it only appropriate to post a tribute to the mixed-breed dog.

National Mutt Day was started in 2005 by Colleen Paige, a pet expert and animal welfare advocate. This day is about educating people and raising awareness to the plight of the mixed-breed dog, who is often homeless, lives on the streets, or is placed in shelters where he/she faces the very real possibility of being euthanized.

Let’s be clear:  All dogs, whether purebred, designer, or mixed, are wonderful.  Mixed-breed dogs, however, are just as cute, well-behaved, and healthy as their purebred counterparts.  They can also lead a long and happy life.

When I was a kid, our dog, Duchess, was part  Labrador Retriever and part terrier.  She lived on the streets, and one day followed my father home–first, by foot, and then, when she felt her point wasn’t made clearly enough, she jumped into his car when it was stopped at a light.  Duchess quickly became part of the family. She had a gorgeous labrador-like face, was extremely loyal and protective (especially to me) and had the distinctive terrier personality–fiesty, energetic, clever and tenacious (hence, the jumping-in-the-car.)

The point of this story:  Don’t discount the mixed-breed dog; there are many reasons they make great pets, but here are just five reasons why should should consider bring a mixed-breed dog into your home:

1.   They often inherit the best traits of their family tree.  Some people even insist that mixed-breeds are healthier; it’s never really been proven, but think about it:  If purebreds are prone to certain diseases, and if your dog possesses fewer of that breed’s genes, it does make sense.

2.  They are often already trained.  In many cases, these dogs already had an owner, but they might have been given away for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with the dog. Especially today, with the financial crisis that often leads to high levels of foreclosures, many are forced to move into quarters that do not accept dogs.  My neighbor’s dog came from a shelter; the dog was friendly, well-behaved, trained, socialized. “Someone clearly look very good care of this dog before you got him,” I said.

3.  They adjust easily to most homes.  Many breeds are known for specific temperments, traits and other issues; for instance, we should think about whether or not they make good pets for households with kids, or if they make good companions for the elderly–or any number of things. Mixed-breed dogs, though, have fewer of their lineage’s genes–and that makes it much easier for them to adjust in most homes.

3.  They can still be service dogs.  At one time, we only thought of certain breeds for service, but a mixed-breed is just as effective and appropriate, especially if they have specific genes in them.  For instance, labradors are known for their guiding skills and poodes for their intelligence.

4.  You can skip the puppy period.  Raising a puppy is worthwhile, but hard work.  It requires a lot of time, patience and energy–and some just don’t have that, and would rather skip this stage.  With a mixed-breed shelter dog, you can.

5.  Good karma.  You’re saving a life.  Period.