Healthy Pet:

Seven Things Your Dog or Cat Wants and Needs to Stay Healthy and Disease-Free

by Shawn Messonnier, DVM

As a practicing veterinarian, I know that all pet owners try to do their best for their pets. However, if your pet could talk, what would he say he really needs to stay in great health? Having worked with pet owners for many years to devise a health plan for each pet, there are several essential components that must be addressed to maximize health and minimize disease.

Here are 7 things your pet would ask for if he could talk.

  1. "Feed me a healthy diet." Feeding the proper diet is the foundation upon which any integrative pet care program begins. Simply put, your pet is what he/she eats. Most pet owners feed whatever is recommended by their veterinarians, pet store consultant, or whatever food seems good based upon an advertisement. However, many of these foods contain by-products and chemicals which are not healthy for your pet and which may pose a risk to your pet's health (see "What's Really in the Diet You Feed Your Pet?" at the end of this article.) Your pet wants to eat a healthy diet, designed to maximize his ability to fight off diseases by minimizing inflammation in the body. The best diet is a natural food, free of by-products and chemicals, and loaded with healthy protein, carbohydrates, and fats, and containing antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Foods containing enzymes and probiotics deserve an extra look as well.
  2. "Vaccinate me to prevent disease, but only when absolutely necessary." Current research shows that most dogs and cats do not need annual immunizations. Most veterinarians are moving towards an alternative approach, such as vaccinating pets every 3 years. However, I believe a more individual approach involves the use of an annual blood antibody test called a titer test. This test measures your pet's antibodies and determines if and when your pet might need vaccinations. If the titer is low, your pet can be vaccinated; if the titer is normal, no vaccine is needed. This approach allows only those vaccines that are absolutely necessary to be given when needed.
  3. "Please keep parasites away from me, but only use those medications that fit my needs." It's important to prevent problems like heartworms, fleas, and ticks, as these parasites cause various diseases. While oral monthly heartworm preventive medication is important (I have not found any proven natural preventives,) most pets do not need year-round chemical flea and tick control. Short-term use of flea and tick preventives can be used when needed, or a more natural approach may even be a better and safer alternative.
  4. "I know that you take supplements to stay healthy. Please make sure I get what I need as well." Daily supplements can provide your pet additional nutrients to stay healthy and help ward off diseases. Giving your pet supplements containing antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and probiotics improve digestion, decrease inflammation, and maintain a normal digestive tract. Depending upon your pet's age or physical needs, giving him choline, glucosamine, fish oil, ginkgo, or ginseng may also be helpful. Vim & Vigor by Pet Togethers ( is my basic starting supplement. Your veterinarian can determine what additional supplements will be most beneficial in order to maximize your pet's health.
  5. "I like to exercise too!" Maintaining proper weight, joint and muscle function, digestion, and overall attitude are just a few of the many benefits of regular exercise. Most dogs can easily keep up with their owners during various exercises including walking, jogging, or playing catch. For those dogs with arthritis, supervised swimming is an excellent alternative that's enjoyed by many dogs. And exercising with your dog increases the human-animal bond that strengthens your relationship with your furry friend. Most cats also enjoy playing a game of chase with the owners in the house.
  6. "After you brush your teeth, don't forget about mine." As I mention in my books, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats (Prima) and 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog (Rodale,) dental disease is the most common infectious disease in dogs and cats, affecting over 85% of dogs and cats 2 years of age and older. Regular care, including brushing, is important to maintain healthy teeth and gums. Most pets need an annual cleaning at the doctor's office to remove tartar that accumulates despite regular home care. If you neglect your pet's teeth, not only will he suffer from the pain that always accompanies dental disease, but the infection from his mouth will wreak havoc with the rest of his body. Don't neglect a disease that is so easily prevented and treated.
  7. "I'm a good looking dog. Help me stay that way." It only takes a few minutes each day to make sure your pet looks as good as he feels. Most pets can be easily taught to accept daily brushing, ear cleaning, and nail trimming. Doing these grooming chores is more than cosmetic: keeping your pet's coat and ears clean and nails trimmed can prevent skin and ear infections and overgrown nails.

You love your pet and want him to live forever. Following the tips in this article will help you keep him healthy, reduce veterinary visits for illness, and increase the enjoyment you share with your four-legged buddy. The easiest way to get started is to take this article with you the next time your pet is scheduled for a doctor's visit. Your pet's veterinarian can put together a plan designed to fulfill everything your dog wants and needs. And for an even more comprehensive health care program, check out my book, 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog for an easy-to-follow 8 week plan for maximum health!

What's Really in the Diet You Feed Your Pet?

Do you ever wonder what makes up the "by-products" that are in your pet's food? Is this something your dog wants and needs, or might they actually contribute to your pet's poor health? The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO,) which oversees pet foods, has defined what constitutes the various ingredients in your pet's food. Here are some of the most common protein sources that might be listed on your pet's food label.

Meat: Clean flesh from slaughtered animals limited to skeletal muscle or muscle found in the tongue, diaphragm, heart or esophagus, with or without accompanying fat, sinew, skin, nerve, and blood vessels. If meat is of a descriptive name (example, chicken,) it must correspond to that species (if the label says chicken, the meat should be chicken and not another animal species.) This is a desirable ingredient as it is the best source of protein for your dog or cat.

Meat meal: Rendered (a process where the fat and water are removed) mammal tissue without added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure and stomach contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It can contain meat from "4D" animals (dead, dying, diseased, or disabled,) which comes from animals condemned for human consumption. However, meat meal can also come from dehydrated meat (meat without the water content) and can be of high quality (some manufacturers of higher quality natural dog and cat foods make their own meal,) making this designation somewhat nebulous and confusing. As a rule, it should be avoided unless you contact the manufacturer to find out what exactly is in the "meat meal."

Meat and bone meal: Rendered (fat and water removed) mammal tissue including bone without added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure and stomach contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. This is a by-product with variable amounts of meat and bone (differing between batches) and variable protein quality. Like meat meal, it can contain meat from 4D animals (dead, dying, diseased, or disabled,) which comes from animals condemned for human consumption. This is not a good source of protein for your pet.

Meat by-product: Non-rendered (contains fat and water) clean parts other than meat, including lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, uterus, stomachs, and intestines freed of contents. Meat by-products cannot contain hair, horns, teeth, and hoofs. While this protein source may be more wholesome than meat meal or meat and bone meal (since it comes from non-rendered tissue and from slaughtered animals rather than from carcasses of already dead animals,) there is no way to tell by reading the label how much of which "by-products" are included in the food. Once again contacting the manufacturer is needed to determine what is contained in the meat by-product. Sometimes the by-product is healthy organ meat (liver,) and sometimes it might simply be intestines (not so healthy.)

Animal by-product meal: Rendered mammal tissue without added hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure and stomach contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. This definition is used to cover tissue products that do not meet other definitions and is not intended to be used to label a mixture of animal tissue products.

As you can see, the most desirable source of protein for your pet is generally meat and not anything containing by-products.

About the Author
Shawn Messonnier, DVM, is the author of 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog, The Allergy Solution for Dogs, and the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats. Dr. Shawn's website can be visited at... Pet Care Naturally.

Disclaimer: Throughout this entire website, statements are made pertaining to the properties and/or functions of food and/or nutritional products. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and these materials and products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.