4 Simple Changes to Help You and Your Pet Live Longer and Healthier Lifes!
By Inna Shekhtman
“Every day is another chance to get stronger, to eat better, to live healthier, and to be the best version of you” – Unknown
For many pet guardians, our pets are a valued part of the family! The human-animal bond we share is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship that positively influences the health and well-being of us both. So, if you made a new-years resolution this year to improve your health, why not enlist your most faithful furry companion to be your partner in this health-seeking journey. After all, pets and people suffer from many of the same diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and cancer. Perhaps the biggest lesson we can learn from each other is how to overcome and even prevent these health challenges together!
The specific lifestyle choices that I will focus on today are:
- Social Connectivity
- Eating a Healthy Diet
- Stress Management
How many of these healthy lifestyle choices are part of your life?
The good news is it is never too late to change your lifestyle or habits and each incremental change, no matter how small, can have a significant impact on your health! This also holds true for our pets! Implementing one or two healthy lifestyle strategies for your pet, even one that’s senior, can make a huge difference in their quality of life. These changes can mean less pain, improved mobility, improved digestion, and increased happiness and enjoyment of daily activities. You are in charge of your pet’s health! The silver lining is that when you make decisions that improves your pets’ health, it will likely improve your health too!
We all love cuddling, playing and relaxing with our furry companions! Not only do these activities feel great, but they impact our health! Studies show that a simple act of petting our dog or cat activates our oxytocin system. Oxytocin is a hormone that plays a key role in childbirth and infant development, but recent research found that it can also impact heart health, digestive health, improves mental health, and reduce certain inflammatory factors that can slow healing. So, the next time your dog brings you a toy to play with or your cat demands a belly rub, put down your phone, turn off the TV and just take a moment to be fully present and engaged with your pet – its one of the best things you can do for you own health, and the best part is its free!
Our pets love to move – its in their DNA! They are designed to run, jump, hunt and do countless other physical feats that their wild counterparts relied on for survival. While our domesticated dogs and cats are pretty laid back compared to their wild counterparts, they need exercise to maintain their physical and mental health! While at times, this may seem like a chore, why not come up with a fun way you can exercise with your pet! Your pet can be a great workout buddy, and you can both get the physical activity you need daily!
Here are some fun exercises you can do with your dog:
- Jogging, hiking or walking
- Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing
- Swimming, kayaking or stand-up paddleboard
- Dog yoga
- Tracking or agility classes
Cats might require a bit more imagination, compared to dogs. You can take your cat along in a backpack for an outdoor activity or try yoga or weight training with your cat! And don’t forget to have fun!
Eating a Healthy Diet
Food is a powerful and acknowledged means of preventing disease and illness. When it comes to our pets’ food, there are four key areas where many commercial foods leave room for improvement:
- Moisture: Our pets need moisture for digestion, and in an ideal world that moisture would come directly from their food. This is especially critical for cats, who are not capable of drinking large volumes of water. Cats on dry food don’t get enough moisture (even if they drink water) to support all their bodily functions and essentially live in a constant state of low level dehydration, which can lead to bladder and kidney disease and urinary tracts crystals. Kidney disease is one of the major reasons for premature aging and death in cats today and most instances are completely preventable. Unlike kibble diets, fresh food like meats and vegetables contain an abundance of moisture.
- Protein: Our pets, like their wild counterparts, are designed to get most of their nutrients from animal protein and fat. Unlike plant proteins, protein and organs from animals contain balanced amino acids, vitamins and minerals for dogs and cats. Most commercial dry foods, even grain-free ones, do not contain the amount and quality of protein that they would get from unprocessed animal protein. Instead, our pets are getting most of their calories and nutrients from carbohydrates and fats – a significant deviation from their natural diet. We know from studies of their gut microbiome that this impacts their overall health.
- Fat: A proper amount of balanced fats is critical for the health of our pets. Fat impacts our pets’ cognitive function, eye-sight, hearing, skin, coat and much more. In fact, a recent study suggests that feeding your pet Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplements in early life can prevent obesity in our pets. Most dogs eating a commercial diet do not get balanced fat in their diet, especially some fats like DHA which are very unstable. This results in an epidemic number of dogs and cats presenting with skin and coat issues, immune issues, and many other health issues that could be prevented. The good news is that if you can’t get these fats in the diet, you can add them to your pets bowl as a supplement. In fact because these fats are so fragile, the best way to get them to your pet is fresh in their bowl, right before serving.
- Fresh Food: We intuitively know that eating a variety fresh, minimally processed food is healthier for us. The same principal applies to our pets. In fact studies have shown that feeding your pet even a few tablespoons of fresh greens a day can significantly reduce the risk of cancer.
- Beneficial Gut Bacteria: When I was growing up, bacteria were considered the enemy – we were taught from the early age to destroy it with hand sanitizers, household cleaners, and every other means possible. We now know that some bacteria are beneficial for us – they are often referred to as probiotics. Due to recent studies into the microflora (our gut bacteria), that bacteria is actually the missing ingredient in food today! The intestine of all animals (dogs, cats, humans) is populated with a variety of bacteria – good and bad. These bacteria are critical to our health: they are involved in digestion, immune system and many other functions in the body. These bacteria need to be in balance to perform these vital health functions and the primary to maintain that balance is by eating foods rich in probiotics such as fermented vegetables and kefir.
Unless you are already feeding a diverse and balanced biologically appropriate (raw) diet, there are several simple things you can do that will likely make their current diet better.
- Add some broth to your kibble! Bone broth is rich in minerals that support the immune system and contain healing compounds like collagen, glutamine, glycine and proline. Whether your pet is eating kibble or raw, bone stocks provide minerals and essential amino acids while hydrating and alkalizing the body. And making your own broth at home is easy and a small daily dose is enough to do wonders for your pet!
- Add Omega-3 essential fatty acids to your pet’s diet. These fats are very unstable and go rancid very quickly, so it is best to add them on top of the food right before consumption. I suggest adding one or more of the following to your pets’ food: Flaxseed or hempseed, canned salmon or sardines. Coconut oil is another great addition to periodically add to your pets’ meals.
- Give your dog some probiotics. Some ideas for how to help your pup improve their microbiome: Kefir (coconut or dairy), fermented vegetables, raw milk, high quality probiotic supplement. It is best if you rotate between these, to provide your pet with as much diversity of bacteria as possible.
- Give your dog a bone to chew on. Bones are nature’s toothbrush as well as a great source of minerals such as calcium. In addition, it provides great mental and physical stimulation for your dog.
- Add fresh veggies to your pet’s dish. Some ideas for veggies: blended spinach or lettuce, broccoli – steamed or raw, butternut squash and yams – cooked or blended, blueberries.
- Add some meat to your pet’s diet (cooked or raw).
- Feed your pet a raw diet with a variety of meats and vegetables – if you can’t do it every meal, then do as many meals as you can.
Eating better does not have to be all-or-nothing. Each change will have a measurable impact on health for both you and your pet. You can make as few or as many suggested changes as you feel comfortable with. You can also rotate between a few different options to provide your pet with diversity and variety.
Benefit to you: Your pet will feel better and have more energy, which you can spend together on some fun activities, including exercise! After all, the better your pet feels the more they can help you feel better!
Relax! I really mean that. We live in a high paced world and are often exposed to stress in both our work and home lives. We even stress out about getting healthy and getting our pets healthy. Stress produces a stress hormone called cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol have a huge impact on our health, including increasing weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, risk of heart disease, lowering immune function and much more. Often our pets will feel our stress and anxiety, with the same health consequences. So not only does stress not help the outcome of whatever you are stressing about, it can have serious health consequences for you and your pets. Practice mindfulness and mediation. There is no “right thing to do” – you cannot control the outcomes or what happens tomorrow, so just enjoy the present with you pet! Love, laugh, cuddle and relax!
Contrary to the proverb “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and it’s never too late! Making lifestyle changes is possible at any stage in your life and making these healthy habits part of you and your pet’s daily routine will help you both live longer and feel better. Start today!