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.

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