Pet Longevity: Strategies To Keep Our Non-Human Companions Healthier
Our non-human companions, just like their wild counterparts, have evolved to thrive on a natural diet that suits their biological needs. As pet parents, it's our responsibility to provide them with the best possible nutrition to support their overall health and longevity. Let’s explore the importance of natural diets and other strategies for our furry friends and discuss how we can improve their ability to thrive in a modernized world.
The Evolutionary Diet of Nonhuman Companions
Dogs and cats share a common ancestry with wolves and wildcats, respectively. These wild ancestors survived and thrived on diets primarily composed of fresh, unprocessed meat, bones, and organs. This natural diet provided them with essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals necessary for optimal health.
Emulating the Wild Diet
While it may not be practical to feed our pets a completely raw diet, we can still incorporate elements of their ancestral diet into their meals. High-quality commercial pet foods that prioritize animal-based ingredients can be a good option. Look for products that include real meat as the first ingredient, not meat “meal”. Ensure that the company you purchase from uses human-grade ingredients, as these are of higher quality than what some sources will sell as pet food only.
Dogs in the wild would have enjoyed a variety of fresh meats, and would munch on assorted plants from time to time. They need the protein and nutrients from whole animals, and are able to digest and use some nutrients from plants as well.
Cats, on the other hand, are obligate carnivores, meaning they derive virtually all of their sustenance from fresh kills, meat, bones, organs, and all. While they can have some plants in their diet, and for certain health conditions plant-based nutrients can be helpful, it’s essential that the vast majority of their food be from animal sources.
There was a time when vets and pet parents believed that processed kibble, or dry food, was the best and healthiest way for pets to eat. This was during the same time when processed foods were being heavily pushed for human health as well. Today we know that processed foods are some of the worst things we can consume, and that goes for our pets too. If dry food is the only option for one reason or another, read the ingredients carefully and as stated above, choose foods that prioritize whole protein sources. A big problem with many types of kibble is their grain content. While the debate still rages on about how much grain should be included in human diets, neither cats nor dogs digest grains well, so avoid grains in the foods you feed your four legged companions.
Wet food, which is typically canned but sometimes comes in pouches, is usually a better choice. Pets, especially cats, don’t have as much of an instinct to drink water as we do, so wet food not only is closer to its natural state, but provides valuable hydration that can promote kidney and urinary health, two issues that crop up frequently as our pets grow older.
Raw food is an option that more people are turning to, and it’s a great way to provide complete nutrition to our pets. Advocates argue that this type of diet, often termed a "biologically appropriate" diet, closely mimics what dogs and cats would naturally eat in the wild. By providing fresh, uncooked meats, vegetables, and some roots and fruits, raw diets ensure pets receive optimal levels of vitamins, enzymes, and nutrients, which sometimes get lost during the cooking process in commercially prepared pet foods. Many pet parents report that after switching to a raw diet, their pets have shinier coats, healthier skin, higher energy levels, and better dental health.
Some veterinarians, both conventional and holistic, voice concerns to those beginning to feed their pets a raw diet. If not carefully curated, a raw food diet can lack essential nutrients, leading to health issues in the long run. For example, feeding only muscle meat could deprive pets of calcium and other vital minerals, which are usually found in bones. This is especially problematic for cats. Their bodies require high amounts of taurine, found in abundance in the hearts of prey animals, but only present in small quantities in muscle meats.
Raw diets can be significantly more expensive than commercially prepared pet foods, especially when sourcing high-quality, organic, or specialty meats. Moreover, preparing a raw meal requires time, dedication, and proper storage to prevent spoilage, unlike the convenience of scooping kibble from a bag.
The Importance of Play for Exercise and Cognition
Pets, just like humans, require regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight, promote cardiovascular health, and stimulate their minds. Playtime is not only a fun bonding activity but also a crucial part of their overall well-being.
Engaging in regular physical activity helps keep our pets fit and active. Dogs benefit from daily walks, runs, or play sessions at the park. Dogs often tell us when they want to play, and their communication is clear. Cats, on the other hand, can be encouraged to play with interactive toys or engage in hunting-like activities that mimic their natural instincts. Cats also tell us they want to play, but this can look like chewing on cords or knocking items off of tables. Take note of when your cat does these things, and engage them with toys they like instead.
In addition to physical exercise, mental stimulation is equally important for our furry friends. Puzzle toys, treat-dispensing toys, and interactive play sessions can keep their minds sharp and prevent boredom. Engaging their cognitive abilities through training exercises and learning new tricks can also provide mental stimulation. Try training them to use the FluentPet buttons to communicate. It’s awe-inspiring to see how quickly our pets can learn to communicate with us, and a much deeper way to understand the inner world of our pets’ minds.
Regular Vet Checkups: Ensuring Optimal Health
Regular checkups with a veterinarian are essential for maintaining the health and well-being of our non-human companions. While our pets may not be able to communicate their discomfort or pain, veterinarians are trained to observe subtle signs and symptoms that may indicate underlying health issues.
Importance of Early Detection
Early detection of health problems can significantly improve the prognosis and increase the chances of successful treatment. Regular checkups allow veterinarians to perform comprehensive physical examinations, monitor vital parameters, and conduct necessary diagnostic tests to identify any potential issues.
Routine preventive care, such as flea and tick prevention, heartworm prevention, and dental cleanings, are crucial for protecting our pets from infectious diseases and maintaining their overall health. Your veterinarian can create a personalized preventive care plan based on your pet's specific needs and lifestyle.
Exploring Vet Options: Western Medicine, Holistic Approaches, and TCM
When it comes to veterinary care, pet owners have options beyond traditional western medicine. Holistic approaches and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can offer valuable alternatives or complements to conventional treatments.
Western medicine, also known as allopathic medicine, is the mainstream medical approach used by most veterinarians. It focuses on diagnosing and treating diseases using evidence-based practices, medications, and surgical interventions. Western medicine provides effective solutions for a wide range of health conditions and emergencies.
Holistic veterinary care takes a more comprehensive and integrative approach to animal health. It considers the physical, emotional, and environmental factors that contribute to overall well-being. Holistic veterinarians may incorporate alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, herbal medicine, and dietary changes alongside conventional treatments. These approaches aim to support the body's natural healing abilities and promote long-term wellness.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
TCM is a holistic medical system that has been practiced for thousands of years in China. It encompasses various modalities such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, diet therapy, and Tui Na massage. TCM approaches veterinary care through the lens of balancing the body's energy, known as Qi, to promote health and prevent diseases. Many pet owners find TCM beneficial in managing chronic conditions or supporting overall well-being and improved longevity. You might be surprised how well your pet tolerates acupuncture as well, as many times they have an intuitive sense that the slender needles are helping them heal.
Engagement with the Natural World: Walks, Parks, and Adventures
Our non-human companions thrive when they have opportunities to engage with the natural world. Regular outdoor activities and adventures offer physical exercise, mental stimulation, and a chance to explore their surroundings.
Taking your dog, or your cat if they like it, for daily walks not only provides them with exercise but also allows them to experience different scents, sights, and sounds. It's an opportunity for them to engage with their environment and socialize with other dogs and people.
Visiting Parks and Nature Reserves
Exploring parks, nature reserves, or pet-friendly hiking trails can provide a stimulating and enriching experience for both dogs and cats. The sights, sounds, and smells of nature can awaken their curiosity and provide a break from the monotony of indoor environments. Dogs naturally love this activity, and there are options for harnesses and backpacks that can make this fun for cats as well.
Adventures and Travel
Planning pet-friendly adventures and travel can create lasting memories and strengthen the bond between you and your furry companion. Whether it's a camping trip, beach outing, or a visit to a pet-friendly attraction, these experiences allow them to explore new environments and engage their senses.
Beneficial Supplements for Common Ailments and Longevity
Supplements can play a supportive role in maintaining the health and well-being of our non-human companions. They can address specific health concerns, support joint health, improve coat condition, and promote longevity. However, it's important to consult with a veterinarian before introducing any supplements to ensure they are appropriate for your pet's individual needs.
Supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids can support joint health and mobility, especially in older pets or those with joint conditions. These supplements help reduce inflammation and promote the regeneration of cartilage.
Coat and Skin Health
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, can improve the condition of the coat and skin, reducing dryness, itching, and inflammation. These supplements provide essential fatty acids that support overall skin health and can alleviate certain skin conditions.
Antioxidants and Immune Support
Antioxidants like vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, lysine, and selenium can help support the immune system and protect against oxidative stress. They play a vital role in combating free radicals and reducing the risk of chronic conditions.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that promote a healthy gut microbiome. They can improve digestion, enhance nutrient absorption, and support immune function. Probiotic supplements are particularly beneficial for pets with gastrointestinal issues or those on antibiotics.
Advancements in Pet Longevity Research
The field of pet longevity research is continually evolving, with scientists and organizations dedicated to understanding the factors that contribute to longer, healthier lives for our furry friends.
The Dog Aging Project
One notable initiative is the Dog Aging Project, a research study that aims to understand the biological and genetic factors influencing the aging process in dogs. By studying a large cohort of dogs of different breeds and ages, researchers hope to uncover insights that can benefit the health of all dogs. The project examines various aspects of aging, including genetics, environmental factors, and the effects of potential anti-aging interventions.
TriviumVet and Other Research Efforts
TriviumVet, a biotechnology company, is also focused on extending the lifespan and improving the health of companion animals. They are developing innovative therapies that target aging pathways to address age-related diseases and promote longevity in pets. They have a program for cats that is similar to the Dog Aging Project.
These research initiatives and others contribute to the growing body of knowledge surrounding pet longevity. Their findings may lead to advancements in veterinary medicine, allowing us to better understand and address the aging process in our non-human companions.
Providing our non-human companions with a natural diet, regular exercise and mental stimulation, routine vet checkups, and access to holistic and alternative veterinary care options can significantly contribute to their overall health and longevity. Engagement with the natural world and the use of beneficial supplements further support their well-being. As advancements in pet longevity research continue, our understanding of how to optimize the health and happiness of our pets will continue to expand. By prioritizing their well-being and making informed choices, we can help our furry friends live their very best lives by our side.
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