The Holistic Pet

Raising Your Dog or Cat Naturally

By Lara Evans Bracciante

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, August/Winter 2005.

Pets are part of the family. Raising them to be healthy and happy is not only important, it’s the responsibility pet owners accept when they bring companion animals into their homes.

To this end, holistic pet health provides a wellness plan for our companions, so owners can enjoy their company for as long as possible. Following are tips for raising your pet healthfully and naturally.

A Dynamo Diet

Without a doubt, one of the most important, long-term aspects of your pet’s health is nutrition. While commercial grocery store products may tout their added nutrients, careful ingredient review often reveals additives, artificial colors, by-products, fillers, low-grade meats, salt, and sugar, all of which can cause allergies and may even contribute to nutrient depletions and chronic illness.

According to holistic medical doctor Andrew Weil’s website,, “Your beloved pet may be subjected to antibiotics and drug residues, dyes from coal-tar derivatives, toxins, molds, powerful preservatives, pesticides, herbicides, heavy-metal contaminants, and various wastes from slaughterhouses — including fecal waste. The animals used to make many pet foods are classified as ‘4-D,’ which stands for dead, dying, diseased, or down (disabled) when they arrive at the slaughterhouse.”

Premium foods, including organic and all-natural varieties, are available to meet the nutritional vacuum of cheaper brands. But dry kibble — even the good stuff — isn’t necessarily the best option. Generally speaking, dry kibble is still a processed food and a far cry from the type of diet best suited for canines and felines. In fact, diets filled only with kibble have been linked to chronic health problems, including urinary tract issues, kidney disease, diabetes, and obesity.

According to veterinarian Carvel G. Teikert, executive director of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, “A homemade, raw foods-based diet is the best, although it’s very important to get the right blend of nutrients. It can take a lot of time and energy to do it correctly.” If you like the idea, but aren’t interested in mixing such a culinary creation, there are many frozen raw-foods options now available. Teikert recommends finding a holistic veterinarian in your area for local guidance on diet options.

Savvy Pet Supplements

Just like humans, pets need the proper amount of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients necessary for good health and longevity. Diet and specific health conditions determine how much or how little supplementation may be required. “If pets are on a good diet, they probably don’t need supplements,” Teikert says. “Otherwise it depends on the particular needs of the animal.”

Following are necessary nutrients for good pet health:

--Antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, help build immunity and support overall health.

--B vitamins promote growth and healing, help process fat and protein, and provide metabolic support.

--Essential fatty acids, also called omega-3 fatty acids, support a healthy heart, coat, skin, vision, and joints as well as promote overall immunity.

--Probiotics and digestive enzymes help animals maintain a high functioning gastrointestinal (GI) tract for proper nutrient absorption and healthy digestion.

--Glucosamine, MSM, and chondroitin all work to ease arthritic, stiff joints, and hip dysplasia, especially common in large purebreds.

--Flower remedies treat a variety of physical and behavioral issues and are well-suited for animals, as they are extremely gentle.

Fido Fitness

Exercise is as important for pets as it is for people,” Teikert says. For dogs, a daily walk or run in the park is necessary for fitness. More active breeds may need even more exercise, while senior pets may need less. For cats, provide stimulation in the form of toys (turkey feathers are always a hit) and indoor play. In addition to joint mobility and muscle tone, exercise is important to maintain a healthy weight for your pet.

As a general guideline, you should be able to easily locate your pet’s backbone and ribs underneath its coat, but the ribs should not be obviously visible. Pet obesity can lead to chronic conditions and an increased risk of disease, so be sure to keep your pet fit with proper exercise and food consumption.

Vaccination Overkill

In 1996, a professional task force found a strong correlation between vaccinations and feline sarcomas. Researchers also speculated that annual vaccinations could be behind the cause of other chronic conditions and autoimmune diseases in both cats and dogs. In response, the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital changed its vaccination protocol in 1998, recommending that pets receive initial puppy/kitten vaccinations followed by a one-year booster and should only be vaccinated every three years thereafter. Several other university teaching hospitals and the American Association of Feline Practitioners followed suit in their recommendations.

“In a dog, and sometimes in cats, the ideal protocol is titers,” Teikert says, referring to tests that measure immunity to a certain disease, and, thus, can help determine if vaccinations are necessary. “But in some places, titers are outrageously expensive,” he says. If expense is an issue, Teikert recommends the three-year protocol.

Bodywork and Natural Remedies

A variety of bodywork therapies and natural remedies have proven extremely helpful in treating pet illnesses and maintaining good health. The following are examples:

--Acupuncture helps establish correct energy patterns in the body and has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including GI, musculoskeletal, respiratory, and urinary disorders.

--Healing Touch for Animals, an energy therapy, also helps balance energy flow in the body to help modify behavior and induce healing.

--Homeopathic remedies (extremely gentle treatments) address the underlying cause of dysfunction, including physical and behavioral issues.

--Massage improves joint mobility and muscle tone, increases circulation, and helps animals recover from injury.

Annual Vet Visits

As a responsible pet owner, it’s important to spay or neuter your pet. (In several regions, you must have a permit to have an intact animal for breeding.) Pet overpopulation is a significant problem, and the Humane Society of the United States estimates 3 million to 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized every year in this country.

In addition to spaying/neutering, which usually occurs when kittens and puppies are about six months old, owners should take their pets to the veterinarian at least once a year for a wellness checkup. “I think annual exams are really important,” Teikert says, “especially in older animals. In fact, some older animals dealing with chronic disease need to come in two to three times a year.”

As dogs and cats enter their senior years (7 and older), veterinarians may recommend blood work, first to determine a baseline, and then to keep an eye on any changes or irregularities. “We tend to do that as animals age. Big dogs age faster and harder, so we start doing blood work on them earlier,” he says.

Natural lifestyle options and holistic veterinarians help build a foundation for lifelong health and vitality. “I’m a holistic practitioner,” Teikert says, “I use everything that works in the case. If my dog has a broken leg, I want an orthopedic surgeon. And,” he adds, “I will include things like homeopathy, chiropractic, and other techniques to aid in the healing process.”

For referral information for holistic veterinarians, visit the American Holistic Veterinary Association’s website at