Holistic health options for pets

Sound Consumer December 2014 | by Debra Daniels-Zeller

Healthful choices for pets have increased exponentially in the past few decades. Raw food, grain-free kibble, joint supplements, digestive enzymes, homeopathic remedies and herbs — so many choices can make pet owners wonder where to start.

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Healthy food

Good pet health begins with good food. Lower-quality foods filled with corn, soy, unidentified meat byproducts and preservatives may trigger allergies and even cause nutritional deficiencies over time. Higher-quality foods offer human-grade and organic ingredients. Some holistic veterinarians suggest making your own pet food.

Dr. Anna Maria Gardner, a holistic veterinarian on the Olympic Peninsula at Pet Synergy (PetSynergy.com), recommends a balanced, grain-free, raw food diet. For a transitional diet, try steamed grains, cooked vegetables and meat. She says dogs can eat a carefully planned vegetarian diet, but “cats are naturally carnivorous and have a higher protein requirement.” Before making your own pet food, she recommends reading “Dr. Pitcarin’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.”

Dr. Richard Panzer, a certified veterinary acupuncturist (richardpanzer.com), cooks for his dogs and cats. He says, “Dogs have eaten leftovers for thousands of years.” His preference for cooked foods also is based on traditional Chinese medicine, which favors eating with the seasons. Dr. Panzer’s animals eat a soupy mixture of meat, potatoes and seasonal vegetables, with a little seaweed and yogurt. He often includes sweet potatoes or pumpkin, and for cats, cooked smelt.

Homemade diets may be ideal, but many pet owners prefer packaged foods. If you choose a processed food, check ratings at petfoodratings.org or dogfoodadvisor.com. Dr. Gardner says to steer clear of BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin, and artificial flavorings in packaged foods. Major brands at PCC include AvoDerm, Castor & Pollux, Newman’s Own Organics, Wellness, Precise Pet Products and PetGuard. These are whole-foods-based pet foods, some with organic ingredients. 

Many people supplement packaged foods with leftovers, which include steamed or raw vegetables and fruits. Even cats like cooked squash. Carrots and celery as treats can be a benefit and a treat for overweight pets. Raw apples and carrots, cooked pumpkin and sweet potatoes make good choices. Dogs and cats also like to munch on grass, including wheatgrass.

Foods to avoid for pets include: onions, grapes, raisins, seeds and pits from apples, pears and stone fruit. Never share food made with xylitol (an artificial sweetener that can be used in baked goods). Just a little can cause liver failure in dogs and cats. Dogs and cats also should not eat raw Northwest salmon, which contains parasites that can be fatal.

Homemade pet food recipes

Buckwheat-Pumpkin Biscuits


Cats especially like these treats.
(Makes about 200 biscuits)

4 to 5 cups buckwheat flour
1 cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon kelp or dulse flakes (optional)
1 15-ounce can pumpkin or 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked, mashed pumpkin
1 cup peanut butter
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup extra virgin olive or sesame oil
1 cup apple cider or water
Water to make a dough

1. Blend buckwheat flour, tapioca flour, cinnamon and salt, in a large bowl. Mix well.

2. Combine pumpkin, peanut butter, molasses, olive oil and apple cider in a blender.

3. Mix flour and pumpkin-mixture together. Stir until a stiff dough forms. Adjust liquid or flour measurement. The dough should be like a stiff cookie dough, but it will be fairly sticky. Set the dough on wax paper, cover, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Roll dough to ¼-inch and cut into desired shapes. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Turn oven off and allow biscuits to get crisp.

Sweet Potato Chews


(Makes about 9 chews)

All you need to make these treats are an oven and sweet potatoes.

3 Sweet potatoes or yams

1. Preheat oven to 200 °F.

2. Slice sweet potatoes lengthwise, about ¼ to ½-inch thick. Place flat on a baking sheet and bake from 8 to 12 hours.

Natural remedies

Many home remedies for pets can be found in your pantry. For serious ailments, consult with a veterinarian.
Consider holistic treatments for:
Anxiety or fear of fireworks or lightening:
Bach Flowers Rescue Remedy — a few drops every 15 minutes have an immediate calming effect. A few drops of lavender oil on a collar, or chamomile tea given with an oral syringe, can calm stressed pets.

Digestive issues:

Slippery elm bark is a safe, nontoxic herb that coats and soothes the mouth, throat, stomach and intestines. High in fiber, it normalizes intestinal action. Give as a capsule or mix with pureed pumpkin, which is good for digestion for dogs and cats. “The Complete Holistic Dog Book” and two clinical studies on cats in 2013 suggest including probiotics, especially after a round of antibiotics. Plain yogurt is an option for most dogs and cats.

Flea repellents:

Try essential oils of lavender, tea tree or citronella — diluted 10 to 1 in water ­— and spray on coat or fur. A mixture of garlic and brewer’s yeast added to food can deter fleas. A teaspoon of apple cider vinegar added to water or sponged onto the coat or fur also can repel fleas. Diatomaceous earth, applied to carpets, is a more natural way to kill fleas. Use a mask when applying it since the particles are not safe to inhale.

Skin support:

Add essential fatty acids — flax seeds or fish oil — to food. For minor wounds, scrapes, burns and hot spots, try aloe vera from leaf or gel, or calendula ointment or oil. Wet chamomile tea bags can be applied topically to soothe skin irritations. For yeast infections in the ear, Dr. Panzer suggests a tincture of propolis diluted in water.

Whether you change brands, make your own pet food, or try a natural remedy, document everything. Learn what works or doesn’t work for your pet. Every animal is different, but every pet can benefit from healthy alternatives.

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