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Guide to Pet Health in 2019

Pet owners no longer consider pets as property. Instead, they are now valued members of the family, often receiving gifts on holidays and birthdays, specially prepared meals, and alternative treatments such as acupuncture and chiropractic care to keep them healthy. Aging Baby Boomers now find themselves to be empty nesters, with plenty of time to dote on their precious fur-children. Millennials are more holistically-minded than previous generations, searching for healthy food to fuel their exercise-stoked bodies. Holistic living focuses around good mental, physical, and emotional health, not just freedom from disease. As pets are treated more as family members, they also enjoy holistic living.

The average life expectancy of a medium-size dog in the 1970’s was seventeen years. Just fifty years later, that average has been cut in half, to just nine years. Cancer is now commonplace; over half of the pets that live past age ten will succumb to this. Changes in pet food ingredients away from the meat and scraps-based diet of farm-raised animals, increased use of vaccines, and increased application of chemicals to decrease parasite load, may all be contributors of this sad decline.

The old adage “you are what you eat” is particularly true for our pets. By feeding a healthy, species-appropriate diet pets can live a longer, healthier, more vibrant life. Processed foods are no better for dogs and cats than they are for humans. Many pet foods are filled with grains, sugars, dyes, salt, and preservatives. Cats are obligate carnivores and should not be fed a grain-filled diet. Dogs fare better on an omnivorous diet than cats, however optimal health is achieved with a diet that is more meat-based. Fresh foods contain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that are destroyed in the high heat processing of many pet foods. Recent recalls for pet foods laden with pentobarbital (euthanasia solution), heavy metals, and amino acid deficiencies leading to heart failure, have made pet owners question the use of processed pet food. Many are turning to feeding raw food diets or home-prepared whole food diets to improve overall pet health. Others are willing to spend more on pet foods labeled holistic, natural, and organic.

Antivaccination sentiment is prominent in the United States, in large part due to the controversial and hotly disputed link between immunizations and autism. The same parents who worry about vaccinations in children also fear side effects of vaccinations in pets. Unfortunately, for decades veterinarians have been recommending annual vaccination boosters for cats and dogs. Research has proven the core vaccinations for distemper, parvovirus, and rabies last a minimum of five to seven years, and possibly for the life of the animal, eliminating the need for annual vaccinations. Holistic veterinarians advocate for the use of blood titer testing, which is a simple test to determine whether antibodies against disease are still circulating in the bloodstream. A positive titer test eliminates the need for re-vaccination. Unfortunately, over sixty percent of veterinarians still recommend annual vaccinations.

Holistically minded pet parents are moving away from the use of chemicals to treat and prevent parasite infestations. Heartworm, flea, tick, and intestinal parasite prevention using monthly oral or topical medications year-round has been pushed by the veterinary and pharmaceutical fields for the past few decades. Pet owners are now looking more intently at the chemical load to which their pets and families are being exposed and many are opting out. There are thousands of herbal, essential oil, and natural products available that minimize chances of side effects and poor health related to chemical toxins.

Pet owners are willing to spend more time and money to keep their pets healthy. Acupuncture, cold laser, stem cell implantation, and physical therapy are commonly employed to heal injuries and arthritis in older pets. Over $69.5 billion was spent on pets in the US in 2017, according to APPA (American Pet Products Association). The largest growth area was veterinary care, as owners are willing to apply a level of care equivalent to human medicine. One of the largest growth areas in veterinary medicine is the field of holistic care.

Techno-gadgets that allow pet owners to check in while away from home are becoming more popular. Interactive toys that offer treats to the pet while the owner is away, activity trackers, and electronic pets that will entertain dogs are available to help alleviate pet-parent-guilt of leaving pets at home alone.

Many restaurants, hotels, and vacation resorts are offering pet friendly packages, as today’s pet parents often travel with their fur-kids, rather than leaving them in a boarding facility. Pet spa packages are available for the truly pampered pets.

As pets are treated more like family members, holistic health becomes more important. Pet owners want physical health for longevity, but also want their pets to be mentally and emotionally well balanced.

Dr. JudyMorgan, the 2018 Woman of the Year in the Women in the Pet Industry Network, is a certified and accredited veterinary acupuncturist, chiropractitioner, and food therapist. Based in southern New Jersey, she currently operates two award-winning veterinary hospitals. She is a sought-after speaker at dog shows, pet expos, and veterinary conferences, as well as a best-selling author of four books on holistic pet care and feeding including the recently released title Yin & Yang: Nutrition for Dogs, a holistic cookbook for pets that encourages the healing power of whole foods.   Her weekly Naturally Healthy Pets radio show can be heard on DreamVisions7Radio. She can be reached at