Probably one of the most common questions I get in my practice is, “How do I get started?”
A lot of people find me (or my site) because they’re looking for guidance on how to help their pets live natural and healthy lives or searching for some alternatives to the standard medical approach of pharmaceuticals and surgery. With so much information out there, and very few veterinarians advocating for holistic care, it can feel a bit overwhelming to find the help you need when you’re first starting out.
But the good news is that getting started is easy!
Just follow these five simple steps and you’ll be well on your way to helping your pet live a longer, and healthier life.
1. Stop Using Chemicals
Avoid Common Household Chemicals For Cleaning
When you really think about it, we subject our pets to a lot of chemicals on a regular basis.
We put chemicals on and in their bodies (flea and tick preventative, heartworm preventative, shampoos, etc.), and we also clean their environments with household chemical products (Chlorox and Lysol are the worst!).
But what many people fail to realize is that there are a lot of alternatives we can use instead, like white vinegar, essential oils, lemon juice, and “eco-safe” products.
Because animals are low to the ground, and dogs sniff everything; they can inhale toxic chemical residues that we would not be aware of. Cats may lie on these surfaces and pick up the chemicals on their fur which they will eventually lick up and ingest during their grooming process.
As for cleaning products, make the switch for your whole family, and use natural cleaners instead.
I like Bio-Kleen, Method, or Mrs. Meyer’s for most cleaning jobs. And this includes your laundry detergent and dish soap as well!
You can also make use of Dr. Bronner’s soaps (it’s very versatile!), and I often use the Peppermint version as the base for many of my shampoos.
Determine How Often Your Pet Really Needs Pesticide Treatments
By assessing your pet’s risk and exposure level of picking up fleas or worms, you can use these pesticides only when necessary.
For example, if your dog doesn’t frequent areas heavily populated by other dogs (i.e. the dog park or doggie daycare), and spends most of his time indoors, then the risk of picking up fleas and ticks is probably minimal and you can manage fleas and ticks using other (safer) methods.
Also, be aware of the seasons and temperature changes.
Your pup won’t need heartworm preventative when the temperature is too cold for mosquitoes to thrive. If your area has experienced heavy rains and flooding, then be prepared for an abnormally high amount of mosquitoes and biting flies when the weather warms up.
Again, you need to assess your own dog’s lifestyle and environment. Is your pup primarily indoors? Is the climate cold? As evidenced by this official statement by the American Heartworm Association, they recommend giving heartworm preventative every month year-round, not because it’s the best option for your pet, but because they don’t trust you to be responsible and careful about when you start and stop the dose.
Is it really worth giving your pet these chemicals each month just so you don’t have to “think about it?” In general I would recommend giving heart worm preventatives from May through September in temperate zone climates.
- If you must give either flea, tick, or heartworm preventatives, NEVER give them all in one day. It is best to stagger long-acting chemicals by 2 weeks: e.g. give heartworm pill and wait 2 weeks, before using a flea or tick product.
- As insurance to prevent reactions and to protect the liver, give milk thistle extract (called silymarin) for 3 days prior and 5 days after application. Doses will range from (200 to 600 mg, depending upon the size of the dog) once a day.
A healthy diet will improve the immune system function, and will enable most animals to naturally repel fleas. Bathing a dog twice a week with a nutritious skin conditioning shampoo will keep your house clean, and keep the fleas and ticks at controllable levels.
On that note…
2. Bathe Regularly
Give Your Dog a Bath Once a Week
Giving your dog a bath regularly can have a number of benefits.
- Your dog will be cleaner and smell great!
- You’ll keep the roaming fur to a minimum.
- You’ll have the opportunity each week to check your pet’s body for lumps, bumps, scratches, or pain spots.
- And bathing weekly will also help you manage fleas and ticks without the need for chemical pesticides.
Groom Your Cat
You probably aren’t going to get your kitty into a warm bath anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on the grooming!
Grooming your cat can have the same benefits we listed above. Brushing your cat with a flea comb every 1-2 days can help you keep an eye out for stray pests, and allow you to deal with a flea or tick issue before it becomes an infestation!
3. Reduce The Frequency of Vaccinations
Most pets vaccinated as puppies or kittens with an adult booster will be protected for life.
An antibody titer (blood) test can be done in subsequent years to see how well your pet is protected. This blood test will determine the level of antibodies present in your pet, and can help you decide whether you should vaccinate or not.
Exposure to diseases is a reflection of your environment and neighborhood. Each individual will be living in a different situation and therefore recommendations for the “masses” or “generic dog” might not work or may cause harm.
You’ll have to assess your own pet’s risk level. For some pets, the risk of exposure to a harmful disease is minimal (especially if, for example, your cat is indoors 100 percent of the time). But if your dog tends to go swimming in river water fairly often, you may want to keep him current on his Leptospirosis vaccination.
Just be careful to avoid over vaccination.
Over vaccinating can lead to diseases of the immune system. Many vaccines contain thimerosol (mercury), alum, antibiotics, and adjuvants like squalene which may create toxic reactions in the bodies of sensitive and susceptible animals.
- Never vaccinate pets that are currently taking steroids, have a fever, are weak, are about to undergo anesthesia, are undergoing chemotherapy, or are immune suppressed (for example, FIV, FeLv)
- Don’t buy into the hype that you need to keep vaccinating your pet every year (or every six months)!
Many of the widespread vaccination recommendations (i.e. “Vaccinate every year!” “Vaccinate your dog before going to day care”) are not based in science, but are instead motivated by financial gains and the desire to avoid legal liabilities.
Here are some interesting, short videos that may help give some insight on the current research with vaccinations:
Young puppies and kittens:
4. Feed High-Quality, “Human Grade” Food
As with people, good nutrition is very important!
A healthy diet is the foundation of good health, and the best thing you can do is feed home-cooked food (instead of offering pre-made commercial diets).
But it doesn’t have to be complicated! You may have heard of all kinds of diet options — gluten-free, the raw diet, the BARF diet, vegan diets, and might be confused about which, in fact, is the best fit for your pet. Each breed and each individual will have different needs. Ask for a consultation with a trained professional and be wary of anyone who just recommends that you feed commercial food to your pets each day.
Just remember this: Feed whole foods (not processed foods) in equal parts: starches / protein / veggies, and feed a variety (try going for what is seasonally available in your area).
Commercial diets fed long-term just aren’t healthy (we go into detail why in this article and this article). And even those premium “organic” dog foods simply aren’t enough to create lasting health in your pet. Labels can be misleading, and recalls are fairly common.
You may have a lot of concerns or apprehension about home-cooking for your pet, but the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of cooking. Home-cooking really is one of the best choices you can make to secure your pet’s health and longevity.
5. Encourage Play and Movement Daily
Without exercise and being out in the fresh air and sunlight, the health of your pets will gradually disintegrate over the years. Exercise improves blood flow and circulation; improves muscle strength and coordination; prevents muscle loss, obesity, and metabolic diseases; and extends life expectancy.
In general, 20 minutes twice a day of brisk walking is ideal for little dogs, whereas 40 minutes twice a day is necessary for large breed dogs, especially when they are adolescents.
A “walk for life” will improve both your dog’s and your own health.
And cats need play and movement too — be sure that your cats are allowed time to sit in the sunshine each day, and have an opportunity to climb up various objects, chase things, and flex their muscles. A cat wand toy is a great way to get your kitty moving and playing.
Just Take It One Step At A Time
I know a lot of this is probably new to you, and can be overwhelming.
Please remember that this is a lifelong process — and you don’t have to get everything perfect right away.
Just do your best, and make small changes to the way you care for your pets, and you’ll help extend their lives by YEARS.
Growing older doesn’t have to mean getting sick, falling apart, and living in pain. Take these steps to ensure that your four-legged best friend lives out their golden years happy, healthy, and thriving. And as a bonus, in the process of improving your pet’s health, you will find your own health improving also.
It is never too late to start. :)