canstockphoto5976994dogcatFor years we’ve been hearing that pets are good for our health and, today, 62 percent of all households in the United States own a dog or a cat. That compares to 56 percent in 1988. In 2011, pet owners spent a total of $51 billion–and that number is expected to increase in 2012. Of course, a big reason is there are just more pets–but, overall, they’re now, more than ever, seen as part of the family.

Everyone in the family absorbs the energy from each other so, in effect, their problems become ours, whether it’s a spouse, 2-legged child or 4-legged one. As one vet recently said, “If someone comes in with an overweight pet, 9 times out of 10, the owner will be overweight as well.”

So why have pets become such a big part of the family?

  • Americans have about a third fewer close friends today than they did 20 years ago — averaging two rather than the three they had, on average, in 1985—and pets fill those vacuums. Other interesting stats include:
  • Nearly a third of all pet owners say they’d rather rather chat with their cat after a long day than anyone else, and 39% say their cat is more likely than a romantic partner to pick up on their current mood.
  • Almost 95% of pet owners say their pet makes them smile at least once at least once a day and there have been multiple studies showing that pets lower blood pressure, alleviate depression, and boost mental and physical resiliency.
  • In 1994, roughly 15% of Americans reported increased anxiety in their lives. By 2009 that number had risen 49%, and it’s predicted to be even higher now. Want the SCIENTIFIC reason why pets help us reduce stress? It’s simple, really. When we cuddle, play with, and even just look at our pets we get a hefty boost of oxytocin, our body’s naturally occurring feel-good, stress-relieving, emotional-bonding hormone. So do our pets, by the way. Which makes all parties more relaxed and happy, and more deeply bonded.


When it comes to wellness, humans and non-humans aren’t really that different. Our pets get many of the same illnesses we do, from the simple common cold to the very common arthritis–and the even more serious illnesses like cancer. They also get stressed-out; many don’t think that can happen but, truthfully it does–did you know the German Shepherd is one of the most stress-prone animals around? Animal waistlines are expanding as rapidly as pet ones; in fact, according to the AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR PET OBESITY PREVENTION, 54 percent–that’s 88.4 million cats and dogs– of all pets in the United States are classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarians. Simply, that means pet waistlines are expanding as rapidly as human ones.

So let’s think of everyone, pets included, when considering family wellness and nutrition!


About Irene:

Irene Ross is a certified nutrition and health coach who helps people alter unhealthy habits so they can balance their lives.  A wellness educator, for both the 2-legged and 4-legged, she conducts speeches, lunch ‘n learns, workshops, groups and individual classes.

Author of the e-book, Sugar’s Sour Story and of the forthcoming book, 25 Ways to Fire Up Your Day: Increase Energy, Get More Done in Less Time, Balance Your Life, her website is:


How to keep your pet healthy and happy during the short, dark days of the season

It’s Thanksgiving, a time to give special thanks to our wonderful furry friends.  What better way than to think of ways to keep them healthy and happy during the season?

Tip #1: Keep pets safe and secure during  those shorter autumn and winter days

Many of us will have to walk our dogs in the darkness for the next few months, and reduced light makes it more challenging for drivers to see animals (and people) in driveways, sidewalks, and roads.

If you walk your dog or if you have an outdoor cat:

  • Supervise as much as possible and exercise control by using a leash and collar or chest harness; those long, retractable leashes can make it pretty tough to stay in command, so you might want to avoid them.
  • Keep pets confined to a closed space so they can’t sneak out through opened doors if you are cleaning up after a storm. Outdoors pets love to roam and they just won’t understand how unsafe it is after a major storm.
  • Wear bright, easy-to-see clothing when walking your dog.
  • Use tags and microchips–everything possible to ensure their safe return if they do get lost.
  • This might also be a good time to teach your dog and cat the “come” obedience command if you haven’t already.  Yes, cats are trainable, too!  An added benefit is that even the shortest training session requires a lot of focus from your pet–so it will really exercise his or her brain and tire him or her out.

If you have any questions, talk to a professional dog trainer; your vet can make a recommendation.

Tip #2: Keep pets confined indoors while you are doing your yard work. 

One of my happiest memories was jumping into a pile of raked leaves (which, needless to say, vexed my father no end). It’s not all good, though, because piles of moist leaves can harbor bacteria and fungus–and that can be toxic to animals if they swallow/eat any of those substances from licking the ground or their paws.

You might burn leaves as part of your fall clean-up, but smoke and plant oils can irritate your pet’s eyes, nose, throat, lungs, and skin.

All animals can be started by noises, but cats get especially spooked, so be mindful if you’re using leaf blowers or mowers and other yard gadgets.

Tip#3:  The days are shorter, but don’t skimp on exercise.

  • True, they won’t be able to go out as much, so compensate with some extra play to keep both their minds and body fit.  If you have a dog, you may want to invest in a dogwalker or have a trusted friend or family member take them out every day. If you have a cat, make sure they can access a sunny (but closed!) window.  Remember, animals need sunshine, too!


About Irene:

Irene Ross is a certified nutrition and health coach, a wellness pro for both the 2-legged and 4-legged.

For the 4-legged, she writes frequently on the topics of pet wellness.

For the 2-legged, she helps people get off the diet roller coaster–to lose the weight, keep it off and love their healthy and happy bodies so their “fabulousness” shine.

“Healthy weight is a lot more about simply walking away with a list of so-called good foods and bad foods. It’s about a lot of things. Like learning how to balance blood sugar and knowing about the connection between hormones and processed foods and the adrenals and thyroid–among other things. And they need to know that everything feeds us; for instance, career, relationships, self-care, because if just one thing is out of balance they’ll always be, well, hungry.”

To learn more about Irene:

She is author of the forthcoming book, 25 Ways to Fire Up Your Day: Increase Energy, Get More Done in Less Time, Balance Your Life.

Her twice-monthly, free newsletter, “Power Wellness,” is full of tips, recipes and information for healthy nutrition and lifestyle.  To subscribe, click here.

Hypoglycemia in Pets

I have a really strong memory from childhood: My diabetic father always carried hard candy or little sugar packets in case he’d experience a sugar drop. Once, when walking through a business district, he witnessed someone seizing and shaking, immediately recognized it as a hypoglycemic attack and gave that person a hard candy.The symptoms immediately stopped and the person was taken to the hospital. EMTs told him he had saved a life.

Yes, hypoglycemia is a serious medical emergency that can lead to death–for the 4-legged as well as the 2-legged. Recognize the symptoms in both dogs and cats; the cause of hypoglycemia can range from something as simple as not eating enough during the day to a side effect of medication to a serious underlying condition–but a visit to the vet is always warranted.

“Any adult dog that is having hypoglycemic episodes should be checked thoroughly by a vet including blood work and abdominal ultrasounds to rule out pancreatic cancer, insulin producing tumors or other conditions that could result in abnormal blood sugar regulation,” said Dr. Catherine Reid, D.V.M.

The severity of symptoms depends upon the amount of the glucose drop.

In dogs: lethargy, weakness, disorientation, stupor, wobbling when walking, unbalance, excessive hunger,restlessness, shivering/shaking, convulsions or seizures and coma.

In cats: sleepiness and inability to wake, glassy eyes, drooling, coughing, excessive meowing or crying.  Sometimes they’ll even get aggressive.


Irene Ross, CHHC, AADP is a certified health and nutrition coach and she is a wellness expert for both the 4-legged and the 2-legged.  For more information, please visit her website:  She also writes a free, twice-monthly newsletter, “Power Wellness,” with information, suggestions and recipes for healthy nutrition and lifestyle.  To subscribe, click here.

Do Thunderstorms Send Your Dog Into a Panic?



One of my dogs, Dudley, a cairn terrier, used to get so panic-stricken whenever there was a thunderstorm that he used to pace, drool, salivate–and then eventually calm down just enough to go into a room that had no windows.

Like many dogs who are afraid of thunder, Dudley was afraid of ALL noises, whether they be honking cars or fireworks.  The July 4th holiday was always a nightmare; although I’d try to distract him with recreational bones and toys–and I’d always stay nearby–he’d become so anxious that he’d chew through anything, including one of my chairs!

My neighbor, Nemo, another cairn terrier, was once staying with me.  One day there was a threat of a storm and, although the thunder, lightening or rain hadn’t even started yet, he must have noticed the darkening sky and raced over to the foyer and stayed by the door.  He wouldn’t budge!

My Westie, Baxter, couldn’t have cared less about thunder.  In fact, if he could have spoken, I always imagined him saying something like, “yeah, whatever.”  Still, he loved his crate and saw it as his own room, a safe place–so I’d always put him in it just in case.

Do you have one of those dogs afraid of thunder?  If so, here are some things you may try, from the newsletter of Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, resident proactive and integrative  wellness veterinarian of You can learn holistic ways  of preventing illness in your pets by subscribing to,  an online resource for animal lovers. For more pet care tips, subscribe for  FREE to Mercola  Healthy Pet Newsletter

  • Make a “safe room.” This is a place your dog can escape to when a storm is approaching, and it should be available to her at all times – especially when you’re not home. The idea is to limit her exposure to as many aspects of thunderstorms as possible. The room would ideally have no windows, or covered windows so the storm can’t be seen. If necessary, sound-proofing wallboard can muffle the noise of a storm. Put a solid-sided crate in the room with the door left open, along with a bit of food, water, treats and toys.

As part of your dog’s therapy, get her used to the room before she needs it by associating it with fun activities, food treats and gentle, soothing massage. Some owners use a head collar to calm the dog and more easily put her into a relaxed down position.

As the storm approaches, turn on the lights in the safe room so lightening flashes won’t be extremely obvious, and turn on calming musici,ii.

  • Pheromone diffusers. Species-specific pheromones are chemical substances that can positively affect an animal’s emotional state and behavior. Dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) is a synthetic form of a pheromone secreted by the mammary glands of nursing dogs. Studies have shown DAP diffusersiii are effective therapy for dogs with firework phobias and separation anxiety.
  • Behavior modification. One type of behavior modification for storm phobias is to engage your dog in a behavior that earns a reward. Ask your dog to perform a command he’s familiar with and reward him if he does. This technique distracts both of you – the dog from his fear of the storm, and you from the temptation to inadvertently reinforce your pet’s phobic behavior by petting and soothing him while he’s showing anxiety.

Another type of behavior modification involves trying to get your dog busy with a more pleasant activity than storm watching. Play a game with him or give him a recreational bone to gnaw on. Be aware that if your pet’s response to storms is intense, you may not be able to engage him in another activity early in his treatment program.

  • Desensitization. This therapy involves using a CD with reproduced storm soundsiv to attempt to desensitize your pet. It’s best to do this during times of the year when actual storms are few and far between.

Unfortunately, desensitization isn’t always as effective with storm phobias as it is with other types of anxiety disorders. That’s because it’s difficult to mimic all the various triggers that set off a fear response in a storm-phobic pet – in particular changes in barometric pressure, static electricity, and whatever scents dogs notice with an impending change in the weather. In addition, desensitization has to be done in each room of the house, because a new coping skill your dog learns in the living room will be forgotten in the kitchen. These problems make desensitization more of a challenge in treating storm phobias.

  • Storm jackets. There are a number of different brands of storm jackets to choose from these days, and they have proved very helpful for some dogs with thunderstorm phobias. Storm jackets are designed to be snug-fitting to mimic the sensation of being swaddled, a feeling that is comforting to dogs. You might also consider a calming capv.
  • TTouch and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). TTouchvi is a specific massage technique that can be helpful for anxious pets. EFTvii is a tapping technique that can be used to deal with a wide variety of emotional and physical problems.
  • Natural supplements and remedies. Talk to your holistic vet about homeopathic, TCM and other natural remedies that may help relieve your dog’s stress. These should be used in conjunction with behavior modification. A few I like are the nutraceuticals l-tryptophan, valerian, GABA, homeopathic Aconitum and the TCM formulas that Calm the Shen.

A U.K. study evaluated a treatment program that used two self-help, CD-based desensitization and counter-conditioning programs, plus DAP diffusers, plus a “safe haven” for dogs with fireworks phobia. The severity of the dogs’ phobias was significantly improved, as was their generalized fear.

If nothing you attempt seems to help your storm-phobic dog, don’t despair. Talk to your vet about a temporary course of drug therapy (usually with anti-anxiety meds or anti-depressants) in conjunction with behavior modification and some of the other recommendations outlined above.


What Dog Breeds Are Good With Kids?

In his mind, my cousin’s dog Logan–a pitbull mix–just sees himself as one of the boys, constantly playing and protecting his two little brothers.  In fact, not so long ago, the dog chased a bear (!) off the property to protect the kids (who were safely inside and nowhere near the animal)

My own dog, a westhighland terrier, never made the list of “best breeds for kids.”  Yet, he loved children and would pull at the leash whenever he saw any kid–so he could go over to greet him or her..  “He has the sweetest, kindest eyes,” a mother once told me. Baxter (the dog) was small, but strudy so he could withstand any rough play.

Some insist that mixed-breeds are the way to go–that makes sense, espdecially if it has genes from a kid-friendly breed (Logan’s is part Pitbull–which has made the list–but we don’t know his other breed is.)

The point is that, while certain breeds are always highlighted as the best for kids, breed-alone isn’t always a true indicator.  Sometimes environmental factors come into play.  I’m sure in Logan’s case, he’s always been treated as an integral part of the family so he knows no other way.  I know Baxter’s breeder had several young kids–who I’m sure always played with him.

In these cases, the dogs make positive associations.

That said, these breeds are also considered good with kids.

1.  Bulldog.  This dog is really sturdy, quiet, friendly and loyal.

2.  Beagle.  This breed does shed a lot–but it’s sturdy and cheerful.

3.  Bull Terrier.  This one is very active and needs a lot of play–so it’s especially good for large families.

4.  Collie.  The collie’s long hair does require a lot of brushing and grooming–but this is a very gentle breed.

5.  Newfoundland.  This one does have a tendancy to drool (a lot), but it’s gentle, patient and kind.

6.  Pit Bull.  The American Pit Bull, especially, is known for its love of children–the dog is loyal, protective and devoted.

7.  Labrador.  This breed has consistently been ranked as the #1 favorite in America.  it’s protective, playful and loyal.

8.  Poodle.  They don’t shed, so they’re good for kids with allergies.  Smart and gentle.

9.  irish Setter.  Playful, energetic, loves being around people.

10.  Golden Retriever.  Kind and smart.

Spring Cleaning: For Your Home, Garage, Yard–and PET

Keep your pet healthy and happy all year round. Put all toxic substances, like anti-freeze and garden chemicals, fully out of reach.

Happy Springtime!  This is when we clean out our homes, garages and yards–but let’s not forget our furry friends.  Many items are toxic and should be placed out of reach.

If you’re really not certain if an item is poisonous or not, err on the side of caution–and put it out of reach anyway.  As always, discuss any questions or concerns with a veterinarian.

Here are some places you’ll want to check, to be sure items are out of the reach of your pet:

  • Garage:  Dogs love the sweet taste of anti-freeze, but it’s extremely toxic.  Put that, and any automotive products out of reach
  • Laundry, utility room, pantry:  Pesticides, extermination fluid, some types of glue
  • Garden: Fertilizers, weed and snail killers, herbicides and chemicals