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Secrets to a happy, healthy pet.

Secret #1 - Understand what your pet is eating. Science has shown that the average size cat has the genetic potential to live 30 years and the average size dog 25 years - yet we lose them far earlier. Quality nutrition is one of the key elements to your pet living a long and healthy life.

Unfortunately, more than 80% of all pet foods don't provide the quality nutrition that is needed for your pet to thrive. The good news is that 20% of pet foods do.

While there is a HUGE amount of information to consider in order to completely compare one pet food to another, the following highlights should provide you with a foundation in order to make healthier choices for your pet… 1. Please don't base your choice of pet foods on advertising! For a quality pet food, base your product decisions on the ingredients of the food. 2. Ingredients on a pet food/treat label are listed in pre-cooking order – heaviest ingredient to lightest ingredient. Concentrate on the first five ingredients which is the majority of the food. 3. Avoid any pet foods that list any of the following within the first five ingredients… • 'By-Products' which can consist of hooves, feet, feathers, and other discarded animal parts from the human food industry. • ‘Meat and Bone Meal' or ‘Meat Meal' or ‘Animal Digest' – these ingredients can contain rendered meat from incredible inferior sources including but not limited to euthanized dogs and cats (horrible, but true). • ‘BHA/BHT or Ethoxyquin' – these are chemical preservatives linked to tumors and cancer. • More than two grains of any variation within the first five ingredients (ex: Ground Corn, Whole Grain Wheat, Soy Oil, Brewers Rice, Corn Gluten, and on and on). If you find more than two grains listed within the first five ingredients, you can assume this food is providing your pet with grain proteins versus an optimal meat protein.

Don't feed strictly a canned/soft/moist diet. All canned/soft/moist pet foods are mostly water – anywhere from 70% to 85% water (check the Guaranteed Analysis on the can/pouch for moisture percentage). Feed a quality kibble or a combination of a quality kibble and a ‘good ingredient' filled canned. And it's best to feed your adult pet two meals per day.

Always check with your Veterinarian before changing foods!

Secret#2 – Know what is normal for your pet. It is ‘normal' for one of my dogs to miss a meal, actually even two meals in a row. However, for another one of my dogs – if he missed even a crumb of food I would be alerted something was wrong.

Take note of what is normal behavior for your pet. When you know what's normal, an unusual behavior could be the first signs of a health concern.

Secret #3 – Clean up. As un-popular as this secret might be, daily pick-up of your pets' waste is another important key to monitoring their health. Again, knowing what is normal in the elimination department can alert you to something more serious.

Secret #4 – Exercise your pet daily. Along with quality nutrition, daily exercise is vital to your pet's health. Exercise is not only good for them physically, but it stimulates the brain as well. If you think about it, all dogs were designed to work – while cats are natural hunters. Home life has removed the opportunity for our pets to perform the jobs that Mother Nature trained them in.

For dog owners, you've got many options for exercise. Throw a tennis ball, Frisbee, or squeaky toy across the yard for 10 to 15 minutes a day. Or better yet, take a daily walk around the neighborhood. For cat owners I think the best exercise toy is one of those wand toys. Most cats love them. Mine also loves those balls with a bell inside.

For senior pets – please consult your veterinarian before starting any type of exercise program.

Secret #5 – Household safety. OK, this isn't much of a ‘secret'. Most pet owners are aware of common dangers around the house. Please make yourself familiar with all possible toxins for your pet from the ASPCA website ( but here are some common concerns – Alcohol, Chocolate, Coffee, Macadamia Nuts, onions, grapes, garlic, Anti-freeze, ice melting products, rat and mouse bait, moth balls, pennies, and human medications.

As well, there are concerns with electrical cords and thread or ribbons. If your dog or cat is even tempted to chew on electrical cords, you might try bundling the cord and wrapping it in foil. Most pets will not chew on foil.

And if your dog likes to drink from the toilet, please be careful with drop in the tank toilet bowl cleaners. Most would be toxic to pets. I'd suggest changing to a flushable cleaner and keeping the lid closed as best as possible.

If you think your pet has eaten something harmful – contact your Veterinarian immediately. The ASPCA has a 24 hour poison control center - (888) 426-4435. A $55 consultation fee may be applied to your credit card.

Secret #6 – Car safety. Just the same way a seat belt keeps us humans safe in the car, the same holds true for our pets. For dogs, a great investment is a seat belt harness. Most all pet shops have them in various sizes to fit your pet. Typically there is a wide soft strap that runs down the chest, and a big loop in the back to run the seat belt through. All of my dogs wear them. It's quite a site when I load up my 3 dogs in my convertible, all seat belted in, convertible top down and off we go to the dog beach! But they are safe - that is the important part. For cats, if you crate them in the car, simply run the seat belt around the crate and through the handle.

Please, oh please, don't let your dog hang its head out the car window! For one thing, they can jump out that window before you know it. I've seen it happen right in front of me two times. The results aren't pretty. And even if you only have the window open enough for their head to hang out, there are still dangers. Small debris and gravel can be flipped up from the car in front of you and can injure your dog. Don't take the chance.

Wishing you and your pets the best.

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About The Author: Susan Thixton Pet Behavior and Nutrition Consultant Email:

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