Creating Health & Wellness for Your Dog & Cat

Written by: Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian, DVM

Most of us understand the basics of creating wellness. Health begins with a sound diet, exercise, and having fun with our loved ones. Our pets are important family members, like us in many ways, but with their own unique animal needs and abilities. Our pets give us so much - the unconditional love, joy and pleasure they offer us through their loving companionship enhances our lives and makes us healthier people. But it's easy in the hectic nature of our lives to take our pets for granted and miss opportunities to nurture them for their optimal wellness. Creating wellness requires that we meet the basic needs we all share, and to honor the special needs of our pets.

Meeting Your Pet's Nutritional & Health Needs

Pets have special nutritional needs, and are far more limited in their physical ability to deal with a poor diet and the toxins in our environment. With shorter life spans and smaller organ systems, its important to give them the best diet we can that suits their animal physiology and to limit their exposure to toxic chemicals in their food, and in so many household products we use. Consider choosing non-toxic household cleaners, natural cat litter, and safe non-toxic bath products to limit your pet's exposure to toxic materials.

From the holistic perspective, the foundation of good health is a good diet. Dogs and cats need different food from what we eat, and many pets, particularly cats can have trouble digesting the grain-based fare (like that found in most commercial pet foods) that humans can tolerate. When their nutritional needs are met, pets have great vitality and abundant energy, and have better digestion and can maintain their appropriate weight, which are both causes of so many health problems of pets today. For more information on quality food for your pets, click here to read our article, "What You Need to Know About Your Pet's Food."

A good diet provides energy for a healthy activity level, meaning daily exercise. It's easy to neglect the exercise and play needs of our pets, but the consequences can be severe. Beyond the impact on their health, too little physical activity can create a host of inappropriate behaviors and creates a great deal of stress for our pets. Dogs need daily cardiovascular exercise in the form of a walk or run. If you are not walking your dog because their on-leash behavior is a nuisance, consider getting a harness. There is even a kitty harness to take your cat out for a safe outing in the great outdoors. Both dogs and cats need fun toys to stimulate their desire to play and stay fit. Many dogs love a good game of fetch and there are many great fetch toys available to provide a fun workout. Cats stay fit with interactive toys that stimulate their hunting instincts, and a good scratcher is a must to help them stay limber.

Honoring Your Pet's Personality

Another way we can honor the unique needs of our furry friends is to consider their species-specific characteristics. Understanding the unique qualities of the feline and canine natures can help you create a home where your pet feels at ease and reduces their stress levels. Most cats crave freedom and autonomy. They want a safe space of their own and the ability to direct their own activities. Cats that feel thwarted in their ability to play, sleep, explore and interact on their schedule can experience health-damaging stress and develop some bad habits that create stress for everyone.

Dogs thrive on routine and want the stability of a secure hierarchy in the family "pack." You are your dog's leader, and when you don't demonstrate this with consistent rules and routines that establish your leadership, dogs can become anxious and insecure about their role. Most dogs instinctively recognize our natural right to lead (after all, we control the food and their access to fun experiences). Lead your dog with calm authority and your dog will be much happier and healthier for it. Dogs that show over-protective tendencies, pace, or bark excessively are showing signs of stress that could be impacting their health as well as disturbing the harmony of your home.

There are many excellent reference books and books on training to help you understand and work with your cat's or dog's natural tendencies. If your pet is experiencing severe behavior issues, consider a consultation with a qualified animal behavior or training specialist.

Understanding the Link Between Stress & Health in Pets

Beyond a good diet, exercise, and reducing exposure to toxins, the single best thing we can do for our pets (and ourselves) is to minimize the stress they experience. The mind-body connection has been well researched in human health, and emotional stress has a well-documented impact on our well-being. This is no less true for our pets, though the idea is not generally taken into account from the traditional veterinary perspective. Taking steps to reduce your pet's stress can go a long way to creating wellness.

Some pets seem to be more naturally "high-strung," which may be a breed specific quality or may result from their life history - a common story with rescued companions. Stress comes in many forms, including major life changes, stressful situations, and daily stress in our home and relationships.

Major life events like the addition of new pets or human family members, death of loved ones, house renovations, or moving can trigger stress in many pets, and the impact can be felt for many months after the change occurs. Cats can be particularly sensitive to these changes - even getting new carpet can cause a strong stress response in cats. Dogs are often particularly sensitive to events that cause shifts in relationships. It's important to provide the "security blankets" our pets need during these times. Make sure the cat's favorite pillow or blanket isn't packed in a box when you move, and be sure each pet has their favorite toys available. When introducing new family members, spend extra time with your dog to confirm their continued high status with you and to insure that they don't feel neglected.

Many pets experience repeating but occasional situational stressors, like going to the vet's office, car travel, thunderstorms, boarding, family vacations, or visitors in the home. For major life events and situational stressors, there are many effective remedies that can help your pet cope with the emotional aspects of the situation. Just Relax Spray can work well to soothe pets during stressful times, and can be great for spraying on bedding or in crates during travel. For pets prone to extreme physical reactions like crying, nausea, vomiting or trembling, you may wish to consider herbal remedies for stress to help calm them physically. There are also several homeopathic stress remedies that work well, especially for pets sensitive to herbal products.Dogs that experience separation anxiety get much stress relief from interactive toys that keep them busy and distracted while you leave the house, which can help curb anxiety.

Worth special mention areflower essence products, which provide a great approach for many animals for a wide range of stressful situations. Each flower essence blend is specifically formulated with the essences most appropriate to address a specific emotional experience of the animal. Bach Rescue Remedy is the classic remedy for trauma and acute life stress. Pet Essences has a remedy for Travel Anxiety, and Spirit Essences offers a great line of flower essences, including a remedy for Separation Anxiety and the excellent Peacemaker set for helping soothe relationships between aggressive and submissive pets. For more information on flower essences, please see our article, "What Are Flower Essences and How Do They Work?".

Natural Ways to Reduce Your Dog & Cat's Stress & Anxiety

While stressful major life changes and trips to the vet (we hope!) are few and far between, one of the most profound sources of stress for your pet is perhaps the easiest to overlook - the stress that our pets absorb from us on a daily basis. One of the greatest gifts our pets give us is the comfort they provide to us every day. People with pets are generally healthier and live longer, because our pets not only provide companionship, but they literally absorb our stress.

Our pets are quite emotionally sensitive and are highly attuned to our moods. Animal communicators tell us that part of our companions' "spiritual mission" is to help us cope with our emotions. It's important to recognize that our own stress level is very obvious to our pets and can impact their wellness greatly. Many pet owners report that their pets share their emotional stress, and often share the same physical symptoms that stress creates for their own health. With that in mind, making a commitment to reducing your daily stress level is one of the best things you can do for your pet's health.

Dr. Anyes Van Volkenburgh, a noted veterinarian, intuitive, and energy healer has created a unique set of healing and stress-reducing tools to help you learn to better manage your stress and create wellness for your pet through meditation and visualization. These tools have been used worldwide for creating better health for people, and Dr. Anyes has combined her veterinary and intuitive skills to help us enhance the health of our pets. Meditation is an excellent tool to reduce stress and create the focused state of mind that paves the way for healing and vibrant health. Visualization is a powerful tool for using the power of mental imagery and intention to maintain health or to address specific health problems.

Wellness is the result of many factors, and especially for our pets, nearly every one of those factors is under our control. Making sound decisions for our pets with regard to diet, exercise, and activities creates the foundation for vibrant health. Adding the essential element of reducing stress can help you give your pet a more joyous, healthier and longer life. With everything our pets do for us and our well-being, we owe it to them to return the favor and create harmony for them in every way we can. The time we have with our animal companions is precious in so many ways, and we have it in our power to honor that special bond through our commitment to harmonious living.