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.

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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

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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.

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Shelby Semel is a certified Dog Trainer in NYC (www.shelbydogtraining.com). 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 🙂
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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

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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:  http://www.irenefross.com.

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.

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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.

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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:  http://www.irenefross.com.

Pet Obesity is a Huge (Pun Intended!) Problem

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You often hear me speak of the pet obesity problem and how serious it is; pet waistlines are expanding as quickly as humans.

This leads to chronic problems, such as diabetes and pre-diabetes; heart problems; arthritis and more. In general, a possible shortening of the lifespan of 2.5 years.

Take a look at this video from “Good Morning America.” It’s only three years old, but the pet obesity rate in this country was 40 percent; now it’s estimated to be over 50 percent, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. That’s how fast it’s increasing.

February is National Pet Health and Dental Month

Has it been a while since you’ve taken your 4-legged furry friend for a health or dental checkup?  If so, this is a good way to celebrate; remember, February is also the MONTH OF LOVE–what better way to show that than giving the gift of health?

That said, this is a post that was written last year–and certainly just as relevant today!

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In a down economy everyone tries to make cuts–but your pet’s health shouldn’t be one of them.

Just as with humans, early detection is best.  Regular pet checkups will monitor your animal’s overall health, focus on prevention and education—and, quite possibly, save you money in the long-term. Please remember also that your pet can’t tell you when it’s in pain; what you might think is just routine bad behavior can actually be an acting out for a tooth-ache, stomach-ache, or something else. Ever hear the story of the cat that urinated in the bathtub?  Turns out the cat only wanted to bring her urinary tract infection to the attention of the owner.

Here are three good reasons not to skip your pet’s checkup:

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.

Here’s the problem, though. Many people just don’t know how a fit pet should look, but a veterinarian will teach you how to monitor your pet.   You’ll also most likely get advice and suggestions to help your pet lead the healthiest lifestyle possible.

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.”

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Irene Ross, CHHC, AADP is a certified nutrition and wellness coach who helps people alter unhealthy habits so that they can balance their lives.  Irene focuses on “The Wellness-Centered Family,” which includes both the 2-legged human and 4-legged furry children. “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:  http://www.irenefross.com.

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.

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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:  http://www.irenefross.com

 

 

PETS, PEOPLE AND THE FLU

We’ve all heard the stories about the flu epidemic among people and, even though it’s not all that common, pets can also get the flu.  Know also that it can be highly contagious among animals, so shelters, boarding kennels, daycare facilities, etc.can be hotbeds.

Remember 2009?  People got the H1N1 virus from pigs–and then gave that virus to cats and dogs who often fell ill or died.canstockphoto7741255pethealthsign

Bacteria and viruses have zoonotic properties.  Zoonotic means simply that it can be passed back and forth between people and pets.

So here’s what to look out for in your dog or cat: Labored breathing and cough, whether wet or dry, are common symptoms.  So is lethargy or discharge from the nose or eyes. Gastrointestinal tract problems can also occur, so if you see them, check for any additional symptoms, above.

A healthy lifestyle–plenty of sleep, high-quality food and plenty of fresh, clean water, is critical always, but especially now.  Also check that your pets’ vaccinations are up-to-date.  If you board, groom, or send your pet to day-care, ask them about their health policies, particularly regarding the flu.  Since it is so contagious among animals, keep yours away from any cat or dog who looks sick.

You should also discuss any other preventative measures with your vet.

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Irene Ross, CHHC, AADP, is a certified health and nutrition coach who specializes in wellness for the entire family, including the 4-legged furry children.  “Everyone absorbs the energy of each other, so it’s best to coach as a family–and animals are just as vulnerable to the same things as people, including obesity (which is now up to 54 percent in this country), arthritis, stress and lifestyle-based diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

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:  www.irenefross.com