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.

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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.

Baxter--my

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.

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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:  http://www.irenefross.com

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.

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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: http://www.irenefross.com/as-the-wellness-pro-also-for-our-4-legged-furry-friends

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.

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!

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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: http://www.irenefross.com/as-the-wellness-pro-also-for-our-4-legged-furry-friends

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.

Should You Take Your Cat for her Routine Vet Visits?

A recent survey by the American Animal Hospital Association has revealed an alarming trend:  Only 28 percent of cats go to the veterinarian for routine examinations.  Dogs fare only slightly better at 58 percent.

Of course all pets–cats and dogs–need routine vet care.  I’m certainly not dismissing the need for dogs to receive medical examinations, but cats do seem especially neglected in this area; this figure is alarmingly low. Many mistakenly feel that cats don’t need veterinary visits.  Maybe it’s the myth of the self-sufficient cat. Maybe cats just hide their symptoms better.  Maybe some try to avoid stressing their cat out with any kind of travel. Or maybe it’s the result of a bad economy where many have financial concerns.

It’s penny-wise, pound foolish, though, because if you avoid veterinary care, you could possibly end up spending more since a small problem could easily turn into a bigger, more expensive one.

For instance, one of the things the vet will ask is about is your cat’s appetite, an extremely relevant question; if cats suddenly stop eating the body begins to use fat stores as fuel; they’re sent to the liver, to be broken down to supply nutrients. The liver sometimes can’t unable to process this fat as quickly as necessary, so the fat builds up in the liver, which interferes with normal function. The result is an illness called “Hepatic Lipidosis,” which can lead to dehydration and death.

Bottom-line, cats just can’t live for very long without food.

Here are some other reasons to take your pet–cat OR dog–for their checkups (excerpted from one of my January 12, 2012 post):

1. It’s easier to prevent the blaze rather than to extinguish the fire.  When a problem is still small, it can be less complicated and less expensive to manage. “I see this a lot with dental care,” says Michael Farber, DVM, of West Chelsea Veterinary in New York City.  “Sometimes people will wait until the tooth is abscessed before they come in, but if the problem was caught three or six months prior, that tooth probably could have been saved.”

2. You’ll learn how to keep your pet lean and fit:  If you think your pet’s extra pound or two isn’t a big-deal, think again:  A couple of extra pounds on an animal is comparable to 30-50 pounds on a human.

In the U.S., roughly half of dogs and cats are now considered to be overweight or obese, and that costs owners millions, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. When your pet is overweight it puts her at risk for chronic conditions, including diabetes, joint problems, and heart problems and more.. “The veterinary costs for these diseases can be sky-high,” said Farber. In fact, according to Healthy Pets at Mercola.Com, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VIP) said Americans paid $25 million in 2010 in veterinary bills for obesity-related problems, such as asthma, disc disease and ligament ruptures.

3. It will focus on prevention: Routine pet check-ups detect serious underlying problems, such as heart or kidney disease and, as with humans, early detection can help prevent a major, sometimes fatal, problem.

If you have financial concerns, the best thing to do, advises Farber, is not to ignore it, but to have an honest discussion with your pet’s doctor.  “Discuss your financial concerns and see if you can make a plan to prioritize those things that should be done immediately, what can wait—and for how long it can wait.”

National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day was this past August 22.  To commemorate, please take it to the vet if you haven’t already.

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Irene Ross, CHHC, AADP is a nutrition and wellness expert for both the 4-legged and the 2-legged.  A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, she received her board certification from the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.

To learn more about her human practice, please visit:  http://www.irenefross.com.

Irene’s free, twice-monthly newsletter “Power Wellness” is full of tips and suggestions for healthy eating and lifestyle (for the 2-legged).  You can subscribe here.

Five Ways Cats Provide Health Benefits

As a nutrition and health coach who also loves animals, I like to say that I specialize in wellness–for BOTH the 4-legged as well as the 2-legged, especially since they experience many of the same illnesses and challenges we humans do, including colds, allergies and even stress.  (Did you know German Shepherds are one of the most stress-prone canine breeds around?)

Most of all, it’s no secret that pets keep us youthful and can even boost our immunity; in fact, there was a recent study in Finland that showed that kids who were around animals at an early age were less likely to develop ear infections than those who weren’t. (Read the full post, as well as the CNN story where this appeared, here.)

While kids did experience benefits from either cats or dogs, the ones with dogs fared slightly better.  So in the interest of fairness–and not wanting to give our feline friends short-shrift–here are five ways cats provide health benefits to humans:

1. Reduced stress levels

“I could be having the worse day ever,” said Karen O., “but I’ll instantly feel calmer when I walk in the door.”

2. Reduced blood pressure

At least one study suggests that, especially since cats help to lower stress and  blood pressure, they could actually lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

3. Lower cholesterol levels

4. Reduced risk of depression

5. Companionship

“They have such special little personalities,” said Nancy, who used to be the human parent of two cats.  “Just watching them play and interact gave me hours of fun.”

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Irene Ross, CHHC, AADP, is a certified health and nutrition coach as well as a professional copywriter and public relations consultant.

Author of the forthcoming book, 25 Ways to Fire Up Your Day:  Increase Energy, Get More Done in Less Time, you can learn more about her either as a health coach or communications specialist by clicking either link and they will take you to her websites.