Spring cleaning can be a perfect time to do things like change lights and smoke alarms. At that time, I was living in a building with very high ceilings–and I’m terrified of heights– so I had someone change the light for me, but he didn’t screw it on tightly enough. So eventually the light came crashing down, causing glass to shatter all over the floor.  Luckily, my dog was in another room, but if he had been there he would have been very seriously hurt–or worse.


Here’s the point:  We can just never be too careful.  Even something as innocuous as a rake can fall down and injure a five-pound cat.

Raking is a big part of garden clean-up, but it can fall and injure a small cat.

Raking is a big part of garden clean-up, but it can fall and injure a small cat.

Even the prettiest shrubs and flowers can be toxic to animals; in fact, all versions of the lily can cause kidney failure in cats, the Seattle Post was told in 2011.  For more information, please visit:

As for our canine friends, well, just a few poisonous plants are hyacinths, hydrangea, oleander and lily of the valley.

.Here are some other toxic items:

  • Anti-freeze:  Dogs love the sweet taste so they can be naturally drawn to it.  Put that, and any automotive products out of reach
  •  Pesticides, extermination fluid, some types of glue
  •  Fertilizers, weed and snail killers, herbicides and chemicals

You can get a complete list of toxic items from your local ASPCA–and, of course, discuss all concerns and questions with your veterinarian.

About Irene:

Irene Ross, CHHC, AADP, is a certified integrative nutrition and holistic wellness coach.  Also a writer, she has written numerous articles on pet nutrition and wellness and has now developed a program called, “The Wellness-Centered Family” that focuses on health for all children, whether they have two or four legs.

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:


Pets, our health and happiness: 3 things animals teach people

I first wrote about this subject last March.  I’ve been doing an enormous amount of thinking about it lately, especially since I’m constantly drawing correlations between the health needs of humans and non-humans alike. Health experts are constantly telling us about the health benefits of pet ownership and there have been numerous studies and scientific evidence.  They can teach us at least 3 things–but maybe more.


I read a thought-provoking article recently on the Purely Puppy blog from PetMD. A client brought her new puppy in to the vet for a first visit. The vet kept trying to conduct a health history, but the conversation just kept circling back to the owner’s past pet who, apparently, was perfect. This isn’t unusual, the vet says, because when pet owners suffer a devastating loss of a past pet, they often try to project those memories on the new animal, often leading to disappointment, unfairness and discomfort.


This article really made me think hard. My dog, Baxter, a Westie, was the perfect dog; he was healthy, happy, smart, funny and loving. He was also ultra calm; even the vet commented that nothing ever seemed to upset him.

When Baxter passed away, it was a long time before I could ever think of getting another pet. I finally began to look at other Westies, but this article made me wonder if I was just trying to reproduce another Baxter. Would be a better idea for me to go with a completely different canine breed–or maybe even a different species, like a cat?

It also made me remember how I once tried to project those “perfect-pet” memories on Baxter. It was grossly unfair to Baxter, overwhelmingly sad for me and, I’m sure, very uncomfortable for those around us.

You see, Baxter’s predecessor, Dudley, a Cairn Terrier, was another “perfect pet.”  I was devastated when he died. Dudley and I had many wonderful, sweet memories, but the most poignant one was this: Every Saturday morning, Dudley and I went to puppy kindergarten class and later, weather permitting, we’d go into a nearby park for a walk, play and fun.

I brought Baxter home only two weeks after Dudley’s passing. Westies and Cairns are very similar in breed; in fact, the American Kennel Club once considered them the same breed. I immediately enrolled Baxter in the very same puppy kindergarten class, and planned to play with him in that same park afterward. I mistakenly thought I could produce those same exact memories, but all it did was flood me with crushing sadness. I was unfocused, distracted, and even burst into tears during the class. It was at that moment that I learned that Baxter and I needed to create our own memories, not just ride on already-existing ones.

There are many ways to honor a memory.  Actually, this blog is one of them, because it’s dedicated to both Baxter and Dudley.  Other ways to honor might be to volunteer at, or donate to, a shelter. You can even volunteer at a rescue; maybe a local veterinarian needs some volunteer help.  You can also be an “aunt” or “uncle” to a canine or feline neighbor. I used to take care of a neighbor’s dog; Kris worked long hours outside of the home. I have a home office so I’m often around.  Kris’ dog had his own toys, bowls and treats at my house, so he probably just thought of it as his second home.

Meanwhile, the veterinarian and author of the article, urges us to think of all our animals and what they contributed to our lives; my cairn, Dudley, taught me patience, because he would constantly test me and try to outsmart me.  Baxter taught me about happiness, because he had one mood only: sheer joy–and that tells me you really can find something positive in almost any situation. Duchess, my childhood dog, was always my “protector.’  A cousin’s cat, Meow-Meow, started life in the most horrifying way, but is now healthy, happy and very well-adjusted; that makes me think we should always be hopeful, even in the most dire situation. Another cousin’s dog, Logan, taught me about courage and loyalty–especially when he protected his family be chasing a bear away from the house and into the woods (He’s totally okay–came back completely unscathed.)

This is Logan, who put himself in grave danger last summer when he chased a black bear off property to protect his little (human) brothers.

This is Logan, who put himself in grave danger last summer when he chased a black bear off property to protect his little (human) brothers.


About Irene: Irene Ross is an integrated nutrition and wellness coach.  She works with both humans and non-humans to help them alter unhealthy habits so they look and feel great and finally get off that diet roller coaster!

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:

The cute, cuddly puppy–and 5 things every new dog owner must do right away

Editor’s note:  Puppies are adorable but, just like children, they require care to grow and thrive.  Unfortunately, a lot of people just see those cute big brown eyes–and then get overwhelmed, even resentful, at the care involved. That means the puppy, unfortunately, can end up in a shelter.

So what are some simple things to do to ensure a smooth transition?  Who better to answer this than my friend (and a member of my board of directors), Shelby Semel.


Shelby Semel is a certified Dog Trainer in NYC ( Her goal is to help owners understand how to become trainers for their own dogs.
Shelby lives with her two pups, Taz & Xena, whose behavioral issues help keep her skills up to par 🙂

Congratulations! You’re the proud parent of a brand new puppy. But often time the days that follow can be hectic and confusing, leading owners to go into a bit of a frenzy.

While you should always talk to a professional if you need clarity, here are five things every new dog-owner should do right away.

#1: Head to a professionally led puppy class and/or get some one on one playdates with your friends who have friendly dogs. Your pup needs to learn to play with dogs of all shapes and sizes so they don’t develop fear, fear-based aggression, or become the dog park bully. This needs to start as soon as your pup has its FIRST round of vaccinations and given a clean bill of health.

#2: Take your dog to a new place or two each day. Sit on a bench or stairwell outside with a bag full of goodies. Teach your puppy to adjust to new sights, sounds and people while they are still impressionable and moldable! Each time something unusual passes (for example, an ambulance, a woman in an electric wheelchair, a dog walker with two Great Danes) praise and treat your pup.

#3: Practice putting on the leash and collar and harness a couple of times a day and walk around your home or have some playtime. Use a piece of chewy treat as you put that harness and collar on so your pup isn’t wiggling around and spray bitter apple on your leash if your pup has a tendency to chew on it.

#4: Crate or pen your dog. For the next decade, your furry friend will be living in your home, and there will be times you need to be able to isolate them (friend who is allergic or scared, illness or injury). If you’ve adjusted them to this as a puppy, there will be no stress when the time comes to manage this sort of situation.

# 5: Introduce your pup to young kids.  Pick children (one at a time) that you know well and are above the age of 5 and can follow directions. Have the child do simple commands with the puppy or just drop treats


About Irene:

Irene Ross, CHHC, AADP is an integrative nutrition and wellness coach who helps people alter unhealthy habits so that they can balance their lives. She works with both people and pets because, “Our pets are prone to many of the same things we are, from the obesity epidemic to lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Author 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 Find a Reliable and Professional Pet Sitter

This is National Pet Sitters Week, and you want to be sure you always have the best in mind for your little fur-baby. If you haven’t already, it’s a good time to think about what you’d want in a pet sitter. Even if you have a trusted friend or family member, he or she may not be available if you have to take a sudden overnight trip–and the last thing you want to do is scramble to find someone, especially if their quality is sub-par, at the last-minute.


The first thing you should know is that there are two kinds of pet sitters: One is a dog-walker or cat feeder who comes into your home once or twice a day. Ask if they’ll also do things like pick up newspapers, remove trash or rotate the curtains.  The downside with this is that your pet will be alone much of the time.

The other is a house sitter who, just as the word implies, moves right into your home while you’re gone. While a little more pricey, it provides the least disruption to your pet; there is constant supervision and, of course, your house is always occupied.

The second thing you should know is that you shouldn’t be afraid to interview several candidates or ask a lot of questions. If the person seems abrupt, discourteous or unprofessional in any manner–or if your animal appears not to like them (and, remember, animals are great judges of character)– that won’t be the person for you to hire. Also, it’s a red-flag if the person shows up late–would that mean the person would skip times to come in for walking and feeding??

Third, check with your local ASPCA or Humane Society to see if they have guidelines on selecting a pet sitter.

Here are some guidelines when interviewing:       canstockphoto3465918dogcockerspanielonleaves

  • Ask for referrals: This includes veterinarians, groomers and neighbors.
  • Check fees and services: Sometimes a pet sitter will also take animals to the vet or groomer–but be sure to ask if it’s included as part of the overall package or if it’s an additional fee.
  • Ask if they are members of organizations such as NAPPS (National Association of Professional Pet Sitters) or PSI (Professional Pet Sitters International).  If the candidate is certified in animal CPR, that just adds more marketability!
  • Ask for references, and check them. Be sure to ask any reference whether they have a cat or dog, because you don’t want someone who’s inexperienced with your species; for instance, you wouldn’t hire a dog sitter if the person’s only experienced with cats–and vice versa.
  • Find out if he or she insured and bonded. This is a legal agreement and gives an element of trust when deciding to hire a pet sitter. Liability insurance to protect the client’s pets or homes in the event of an accident, as well as insurance that covers bodily injuries while caring for a pet. Remember, this person will have full access to your home. They can easily get it through NAPPS or PSI.
  • Get everything in writing. It’s a good idea to have a contact to avoid any misunderstandings.
  • Once you go, leave detailed instructions, with your’s, your vet’s and a family member’s contact information.


About Irene:

Irene Ross, CHHC, AADP is an integrative nutrition and wellness coach who helps people alter unhealthy habits so that they can balance their lives. She works with both people and pets because, “Our pets are prone to many of the same things we are, from the obesity epidemic to lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Author 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:

Wouldn’t you be grouchy if you had a toothache that wasn’t treated?

February is both National Pet Health Month and National Pet Dental Month.  What better way to celebrate than to take your furry little child to the vet for a check-up?canstockphoto5976994dogcat

A lot of people tend to ignore pet dental disease;  in fact, I remember the time when a former co-worker overheard me booking a dental cleaning for my cairn terrier, Dudley.  “Oh, come on,” he said, “That really isn’t necesssary.”

Oh, but it is! The fact is, pets suffer from the same things we do–cavities, gingivitis and the like.  And, just like us, an untreated tooth infection can lead to other problems–like the heart.

So get your pet used to brushing at a very early age; the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) recommends once daily–but if that isn’t possible, at least do it several times a week.  There are special toothpastes and mouthwashes made just for pets (NEVER use human toothpaste as it contains substances that can be toxic. And don’t use a toothpaste formulated for cats on your dog and vice versa, because one species might have a stronger reaction to something that another).  There are also dental foods and treats that are formulated to help reduce tartar.

And don’t forget about professional cleaning and X-rays!  Discuss a schedule with your vet.


Irene Ross is a certified nutrition and wellness coach.  Her core program is called “The canstockphoto8139755petscookiesWellness-Centered Family”–and that includes everyone, even the 4-legged furry children. “Everyone in the family absorbs the energy of each other, and pets are just as prone to things, such as obesity, stress, flu, arthritis and more.”

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:



The Holidays: Remember That Pets and Fire Don’t Mix

Costumes can be cute on animals, but they’re also fire hazards, especially if they get too near lit candles.

Any pet, whether wild or domesticated, can start a house fire.  (Even mice have been known to chew electrical wiring). According to the National Fire Protection Association, pets are responsible for at least house fires per year–and the American Red Cross says over 500,000 pets are affected by fires per year.

It’s especially appropriate to talk about this during the holiday season, because there is probably a lot of cooking and baking going on–and dogs accidentally and frequently turn on stoves. The dog looks for food, jumps on the counter, sees an appealing item on or near the stove, the paw slips and the knobs turn. Yes, it really happens! According to the National Fire Protection Association, a stove or cook top is the number one piece of equipment involved in your pet starting a fire.

Dogs and cats can chew through Christmas tree lights, or knock over lit candles and space heaters with their tails.

And those dancing flames and crackling embers in fireplaces are fascinating!

Play it safe:  Remove stove knobs–and even better, train your dog not to counter surf; keep lit candles out of reach or, better yet, use the flameless ones; and supervise and secure your animals when you’re not home.


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.

Keeping Your Pet Healthy and Stress-free During the Holidays

Parties, long days, late nights, house guests, travel, separation from owners, and more can wreak havoc on the well-being of our pets during the holidays.  Signs of stress might include stomach upset, scratching, shedding, growling, restlessness and avoiding eye contact. Also be mindful of that very slow, low-hung tail wag (cats do it, too), because that can mean something is going on with them–not every tail wag means happy.

Here are five tips to help you get your pets through the Thanksgiving to New Year’s period happily and healthfully.

1.  Keep their routine as close to normal as possible.  Make sure they get plenty of sunlight and stimulation.  If you know you’re going to have a long day, ask a trusted friend, someone your pet knows and likes, to walk him or her, or even use your lunchtime to go home to spend a little time with them.  You can also employ a pet sitter, but just be sure the animal knows him or her beforehand.

2. Plan Ahead. “This isn’t the time to introduce someone new to your pet,” said Jillian Pagano, DVM, West Chelsea Veterinary in New York City.  Be sure to plan ahead.  If you think you might need some help during the holidays, be sure your pet is familiar with any pet sitters, groomers, dog walkers, or day care.  Ask a lot of questions and leave instructions and phone numbers.  Don’t be embarrassed about asking questions–pet sitters expect it– but if anyone seems annoyed by them, you have your answer to not use them!

3.  Make sure there’s a special room, or area, where your pet can go to get away from it all if you have house guests or if you’re having a party.  Include any special items, such as blankets, toys, water, a few grains of dried kibble, maybe an article of your clothing.

My Westie, Baxter, loved his crate so much I always kept it with the door ajar so he could go in and out as he pleased. Baxter saw the crate as his room, a place of his own where he could get away from it all.  Once I had a house full of guests so he just let himself into the crate and shut the door with his nose.  “Did he just do what I think he did?” asked one of my guests.

4.  Monitor diet.  Avoid table food, and a good alternative is to put a handful of dried kibble in your pocket so you can give a grain as a “treat.” “They really only care about being rewarded” said Dr. Pagano, “They don’t care about the types of food or the amount; the reaction will always be the same.”

When you buy pet biscuits or treats, read the labels as you would for your human family.  You want to be sure the crude fat content is very low, or non-existent.

It’s not just weight gain we need to think about.   Added Liz Luboja, the practice manager at West Chelsea:  “Overeating can also lead to things like pancreatitis, and we often see an upsurge of this on the days after Thanksgiving or Christmas.”

Whatever you do, don’t forget also that some food items can be toxic to an animal, namely chocolate, onions, raisins, grapes and macadamia nuts.  Chocolate-covered nuts are often in those boxes of holiday candy so be sure your pet can’t get into it. Ask your veterinarian or local ASPCA for a complete list of harmful items. Some Christmas plants, like Amaryllis, or Yew trees (an evergreen) or holly berries are toxic. Play it safe; again, ask your veterinarian or local ASPCA for a complete list.

5.  Exercise.  This is a must, both physically and mentally, as it will help stimulate them and get them through any stress.  How much should your pet exercise?  “It really depends on the breed and the health of the animal,” said Dr. Pagano.  Generally, you may want to walk your dog ½ hour or a full hour a day. If it’s a cat, try to aim for five to 15 minutes of play.