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Life-lengthening health tips for your pet

It was one of the most heart-breaking moments of my life.

Kristin Castner is a certified health and lifestyle coach. She teaches women who feel bloated, tired and out of balance how to improve their health and experience more energy, mental clarity and confidence, without adding to their already full plate.

Story by Kristin Castner  +  Photography by Anne

Away from home for a long weekend, we woke up to an early morning call from our dog-sitter. Something terrible had happened. Irie (pronounced eye-ree), our 9-year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, had died in her sleep. I fell to the floor in tears as I tried to comprehend what I was hearing. My heart broke into a million pieces. It wasn’t just that she was gone, but that it was so sudden, and I wasn’t there by her side in her final moments.

How could this have happened? She was fine when we left – wasn’t she? I loved that dog more than life itself. How did I not know something was wrong?

Irie’s name came from the Jamaican phrase “everything is irie,” which translates to “everything’s good.” But everything wasn’t good. She left us after just nine years. Her sister, Marley, died two years earlier at the age of 8. The average lifespan of this breed is 9.75 years. We were doing something wrong in raising our pups. And I made it a priority to change that for our future fur babies.

It starts with food

It’s absolutely the case with humans, so why wouldn’t it be the case with our pets? Food can be medicine or it can be poison. Most dog food and treats are highly processed, full of preservatives and fillers, high in calories and lacking in nutrition. I look back at pictures of Irie now and realize that she was probably double the size she should have been. Tiki and Ziggy, our current pups, are fed a human-grade diet of beef, sweet potatoes, peas and rosemary. Their food and treats get delivered every other week from Ollie ( Since putting Tiki on this diet, she has lost weight and nearly stopped snoring. Even better, she runs around like a puppy again. Think about what you spend each month on pet food, treats and vet bills. If it’s more than $50, seriously consider looking into human-grade food alternatives. There are many options available both locally and online.

Things you can do to keep your pet healthy

1. Keep your pet at a healthy weight.
2. Exercise your pet.
3. Feed your pet a balanced, nutritious diet.
4. Have your veterinarian examine your pet at least once a year to make sure your pet is healthy and to help detect problems earlier.
5. Vaccinate your pet against potentially deadly diseases such as distemper, parvo, panleukopenia and rabies.
6. Keep your pet free of parasites (fleas and ticks, heartworm, etc.). Consult your veterinarian for the best product for your pet.
7. Spay or neuter your pet.

Source: American Veterinary Medical Association

Know your pet’s business

You can tell a lot about a dog’s health by paying attention to what’s happening at potty time. In New York, we had a fenced yard, so as long as the pups weren’t having accidents in the house, we just assumed everything was “irie.” Since we don’t have a fenced yard here, Tiki and Ziggy only go out on a leash. I know their potty routines, including how often they go, what it looks like, and whether they are having trouble eliminating. Peeing more than usual? Could be a sign of a UTI. Having trouble pooping? Maybe they need to be getting more water. Eating habits and bowel movements are some of the first things a vet will want to know about if you bring your pet in for an issue. Walk them at potty time. It will keep you involved in your pet’s potty habits and give everyone a little exercise!

Get to the root

In our current healthcare system, treating symptoms instead of the root cause is common, and costly. A perfect example of this is taking high blood pressure or cholesterol pills for life without ever changing your diet. Watch for this same costly mistake with your pets. For years, we invested in antihistamine pills for our dogs to treat seasonal allergies that would flare up so badly it would keep all of us up at night. It all changed when we started adding an Omega-3 supplement to their diet. Eventually, we no longer needed the antihistamines because their skin was so much improved from these beneficial fatty acids. When your pet develops an issue, make sure you are asking about what caused it, and talk to your vet about how to treat the cause. It’s fine to treat the symptoms while you are figuring it all out. But you’ll save money and your pet will be better off if you take the time to get to the root of it.

Losing Irie hurts my heart to this day, but I can also recognize the gift that it was for all of us. Without our health, we have nothing, and this goes for our pets, too.

Long live pets

We all wish our pets could live forever. While this dream is elusive (until we discover the Fountain of Youth) we can still help our pets live longer and more fulfilling lives by following a few basic steps.

For dogs: Train them
Training your dog isn’t just to improve their behavior in social situations or to make them work for their snacks. It can also be life-saving. Training your dog to listen and come on command can save them from running into the road after a squirrel or being attacked by a wild animal. With a little bit of effort, you can train your dog and ensure that they don’t engage in behaviors that could endanger their life.

For cats: Keep them indoors
Indoor cats tend to have a much longer lifespan than outdoor ones, simply because they encounter fewer life-threatening dangers. Outdoor cats are exposed to a whole host of risks, including other animals, the elements, potentially harmful diseases, and fast-moving vehicles. Keeping your cat indoors can help them avoid these dangers and extend their life.

For birds: Buy a bigger cage
To give your pretty bird the longest lifespan, purchase the biggest cage you can afford and fit into the room. Fill the cage with plenty of perches and play areas, and be sure to give them plenty of time outside of the cage each day. Give your bird lots of attention while you are there. When you are not there, leaving on the TV or the radio to help keep your bird entertained.

For fish: Replace aquarium water
To keep your fish feeling its best, change 25 percent of your aquarium water at least once a month. Use a gravel vacuum to siphon out water and debris. Buy a pH test kit and use it to check the pH level. Freshwater fish thrive when the pH level is between 6.6 and 7.8, depending on species.