When the pandemic hit, many of us rushed to the local shelters to get a pet. Months into it, out popped the funny memes of overwalked dogs, or cats miffed by having no quiet time on their own.
Jokes aside, what stood out was our pets’ enduring love during difficult times. It’s only fitting that we give back by making sure their needs are met. But meeting their needs is not an easy feat with the huge array of options in America’s growing pet industry.
The complex pet menu
Pet food comes in myriad options nowadays, and that’s both great and daunting. It’s not unusual to find pet owners lost as they peruse store shelves and freezers. You can find pet food in a variety of different forms, including kibble (dry food that can be grain free or whole grain—but avoid refined carbohydrates), canned, raw, dehydrated, freeze-dried, or home-cooked food.
Is raw good for your pet?
Feeding raw can be controversial, either because such diets can be lacking important nutrients or because they present a risk of pathogen infestation, especially from raw meat, for pets and humans.
However, some argue that raw food is often made by small companies using locally sourced, quality ingredients, which means fewer potentially deleterious compounds that are formed during industrial processing.
If you prepare your pet’s food, either raw or cooked, make sure to follow verified recipes or check with your vet about the appropriate nutrition.
Can my pet be vegan?
At the other end of the pet food spectrum are vegan options. Wait, what? Established carnivores can dine on vegan fare and like it? Yes, they can. A full vegan can be complex and takes careful planning and execution, but an easier plan is to incorporate a vegan meal here and there for interest and versatility.
Moderation is key—with pets, too
As with us humans, avoid overfeeding your pets. Up to 60 percent of dogs, 40 percent of cats, and approximately 50 percent of horses (yes, really!) are obese.
Excessive weight gain increases the risk of chronic illnesses such as arthritis, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. It also hastens our pets’ aging process.
What about treats?
You can still use treats “just because” or for training, but opt for the least processed (think dry sardines or freeze-dried liver) or make your own using simple ingredients.
The rule of thumb in choosing premade foods and treats is to go for products that have a short list of ingredients and no ultra-processed fillers, specifically starch, which is easily broken down into simple sugars.
On the other hand, a certain amount of resistant starch (think cooked legumes and sweet potatoes) can lead to the formation of beneficial byproducts by the microbiome.
Your pet’s grooming needs
Anyone who has taken a clean dog to the beach only to have them roll in a slimy fish carcass knows that there is a deep, unresolved discrepancy between our idea of best BO versus theirs.
Watch for reactions to ingredients
Some grooming products may smell nice (to you) and render your pet’s coat shiny, but certain ingredients can irritate their noses, and their skin too, causing them to develop allergies or eczema. Always keep an eye out for excessive scratching or dry skin patches.
Choose fragrance free when possible
Because of their exquisite sense of smell, cats, but dogs especially, may be unimpressed by what you perceive as a nice scent. Going scent free or choosing a mildly scented grooming product (some essential oils are deemed safe in small amounts) is often the safest way to go.
Castile soap is often suggested as a safe alternative to commercial soaps and shampoos for pets, but always check your pet’s reaction to any grooming product, no matter its reputation.
The world they inhabit
Our furry friends are always in close contact with the home and yard environment. It’s especially important to keep their space safe.
Use pet-friendly household products
Buy green cleaning products (or make your own), including laundry detergents that are used for their bedding, clothing, and towels. Avoid incense and air fresheners, and if you must use pest control products, make sure they are pet safe.
Many of these chemicals can irritate your pet’s respiratory airways and increase the risk of allergies, while others can be downright toxic (DEET-containing pest control products, for example).
They get stressed too
Pets love routines. The reason behind that is simple: predictable means safe. Major events such as moving, the death of a beloved human, bringing a new baby home, or adopting a new pet can drastically increase their stress levels.
Tips to help pets cope with stress
- Maintain a regular routine for feeding, outings, and playing.
- Provide them with a place to retreat when life becomes too much (that includes visitors and enthusiastic children).
- Prioritize playtime—it’s a great stress buster for you and your pet.
- Manage your own stress to avoid transferring it to your pet.
- Swaddle them or play calm music if they find fireworks or thunder stressful.
Taking care of a pet may seem daunting at times. It’s an evolving process where every positive change counts. From their perspective, though, quality time together is what matters most.
Supplements for your pet’s best health
In an ideal world, neither humans nor pets would need supplements. But health maintenance or recovery from illness can benefit from extra help.
Supplement Benefit omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation; beneficial for osteoarthritis, heart disease, and during cancer treatment probiotics may improve digestion and manage allergies glucosamine may be helpful in osteoarthritis, but research is still ongoing turmeric may help prevent cancer growth and reduce inflammation bee pollen rich in antioxidants and nourishing (beware of possible allergic reaction) multivitamins opt for a high-quality, vet-recommended product that matches your pet’s health needs