By Seana K. Davidson, PhD
National Holistic Pet Day is a day to highlight the importance of whole pet health, considering your pet’s wellness in both body and mind. A holistic approach emphasizes preventive medicine by helping to decrease the risk of illness before the illness appears.
By doing things like feeding your pet a high quality diet, providing regular opportunities for exercise, promoting a healthy gut and good oral hygiene, you are helping to support optimal whole body functioning within your pet.
Just as more humans are becoming interested in preventive health for themselves, many pet parents and veterinarians are considering the benefits of complementary holistic approaches in addition to conventional medicine for dogs and cats.
To celebrate National Holistic Pet Day we offer some great (trustworthy) pet health tips to consider when thinking about the wellness of your fur-baby.
Defining holisticWe see the word “holistic” often - but what does it actually mean? Simply put, holistic approaches consider all the parts of a body as interacting together, not as separate entities. Emotional and mental state influence the body, and the health of the body influences mood and functions of the brain.
Holistic pet careThe number of veterinarians practicing holistic medicine, as well as research studies to support alternative practices, such as acupuncture and massage for pet pain relief is growing. Most holistic veterinarians use a combination of both conventional lab tests and medications as well as alternative (complementary) treatments.
Tip 1: Optimize diet to help prevent disease
Good nutrition is one of the cornerstones for overall health, and can help prevent common illnesses, boost the immune system, and positively influence the gut microbiome. Not all pet foods are created equally, and the best way to find a healthy, nutritious food for your pet is by reading the label on the back of the package. In general, selecting foods that contain more meat ingredients and few grains, starches, and vegetables is a great start. There are a number of choices available now, including raw foods (fresh, freeze-dried or frozen), home-delivery services, and high-quality wet and dry foods that minimize carbohydrates and maximize animal proteins. Some pet parents make their own food from cooked meats, grains and veggies.
One of the most important ways that a healthy diet helps your pet is by supporting a healthy gut microbiome. If a pet is not fed a properly balanced diet, the bacteria in the gut may shift and become unbalanced, which can contribute to health issues. Because the gut bacteria play a vital role in so many aspects of your pet’s health, from digestion to immune and brain function, when your pet’s gut microbiome is poorly balanced or is missing key bacteria, they are at a greater risk for developing health conditions that can quickly become serious.
Tip 2: A healthy gut supports overall pet health
Sometimes, a high-quality diet may not be enough to balance your pet’s gut microbiome. Providing certain dietary supplements might be helpful too. Oral probiotics provide your pet with a boost of beneficial bacteria, many of which have anti-inflammatory and/or anti-cancer properties. Probiotics are the actual live bacteria that take up residence in your pet’s intestines; an equally important component is prebiotic supplementation. Prebiotics are typically sources of fiber, like raw leafy greens or psyllium husk powder, that are indigestible to your pet but are extremely nutritious for some of the most beneficial bacteria in your pet’s gut.
If your pet suffers from more severe digestive symptoms, like chronic diarrhea, vomiting, and/or constipation, commercial probiotics and prebiotics may not be quite enough to get their gut health back on track. One holistic approach to these cases is with a
Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT), which involves taking fecal material (that’s right - poop) from a healthy cat or dog, and transplanting it into a sick pet. These procedures have been shown to be highly effective at treating a whole range of conditions, from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) to skin conditions like atopic dermatitis. AnimalBiome offers carefully-screened fecal material from healthy cats and dogs in the form of convenient oral capsules that you can administer at home.
Tip 3: Be aware of oral health
For both dogs and cats, poor dental health can make it hard for them to eat and cause serious health problems that are, for the most part, preventable. Brushing your pet’s teeth regularly helps reduce bacterial growth and keep tartar from building. In addition, providing your pet with safe chews gives them an opportunity to clean their teeth while also enjoying a tasty treat.
Tip 4: Fresh air and exercise keep pets happy
Your pet's overall health is also affected by their emotional and mental states. Exercise is a great way to keep your dog or cat feeling good and healthy. It also helps to keep your pet at a healthy weight, which can help prevent diabetes, reduce stress on joints, and fight certain cancers. Your dog will enjoy moving around, chasing toys, and going for hikes on trails. An added benefit of exercising your dog is that you also get to exercise.
Indoor cats are at increased risk of becoming obese. Your veterinarian can help determine the ideal body weight for your cat, and give suggestions for adjusting your cat’s diet. If your cat is strictly indoors, encourage active play with cat toys, laser pointers, and a durable scratching post to help wear down their claws and relieve pent-up energy. Cat 'trees' are great for offering climbing and hiding places.
Other holistic therapies for pets with special needs: aging pets, injuries or anxiety
A nice massage may help senior pets relax and relieve muscle aches. Here’s a guide to massaging your dog for helping different ailments. Recent clinical studies have found that acupuncture combined with massage was effective in improving mobility and reduced pain for dogs, as was therapeutic swimming for treatment of arthritis pain.
Anxiety can be treated with a number of methods. It's important to understand the source of anxiety and then find a solution with your veterinarian. Cat or dog specific soothing sounds (pet music) can be relaxing for some pets. Sometimes brushing your pet can be soothing for them. There are also certain areas that act as pressure points for calming pets, such as the top of the head and paws.
Keep in mind, when considering holistic pet treatments it’s important to do your due diligence. This is not an inclusive list of the many effective holistic treatments out there. However, considering the above tips is a great place to start thinking about holistic pet health. Before making any changes to your pet’s diet or care, please consult with your veterinarian first.
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