Dos and Don'ts of Holistic Digestion for Your Animal Companion

Dos and Don'ts of Holistic Digestion for Your Animal Companion


Keep your four-legged family members from developing digestive issues by following these holistic and spiritual pet tips from animal chaplain Sarah Bowen.

Is there anything worse than waking up and stepping into an unidentified wet mess at the end of your bed? Sensitive stomachs and eating accidents can lead not only to digestive discomfort for cats and dogs but also frustration for the humans cleaning up after them. Here are some tips and resources for promoting digestive health in your four-legged family members.

Don’t get fooled by great package design or misleading marketing.

  • According to a study by Chapman University, pet foods are commonly mislabeled. Of the 52 samples they studied, 40 percent contained an ingredient not included on the label, and one even contained “a non-specific meat ingredient that could not be verified.”
  • “Organic” pet foods are subject to certification, so many pet food companies will instead use the term “natural” (which is not subject to federal regulation). Natural pet foods are not necessarily any safer or less processed and may still contain synthetic additives.
  • Ensure your pet’s food has not been recalled for salmonella, listeria, or other problems by checking out the USDA’s “Recalls & Withdrawals” list.
  • If you are concerned about the welfare of animals outside your home, too, check out the ASPCA ShopKind Helpline for assistance finding more humanely-produced, planet-friendly pet foods.

Don’t overfeed your animal companions.

  • Avoid free feeding your pet (leaving a bowl of food out). Instead, most vets recommend feeding once or twice a day and being very judicious about any treats. Often, we misread our pet’s appeals for attention as requests for food. Or, we may use food to quiet down pets who actually need play or affection instead.
  • According to a study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 59.5 percent of cats and 55.8 percent of dogs were classified as overweight or obese. Check with your vet to understand how much your companion should be eating and use labeled measuring cups (rather than, say, a spare serving spoon) to ensure precision.

Do hydrate your pet.

  • Make sure to have plenty of fresh water available, which you replace daily, after washing the bowl and rinsing it clean of any soap residue. (Especially for cats: You’ve seen them put their litter-filled paws in the water bowl, right?)
  • In the wild, cats ingest moisture mostly from their prey (sorry, mice, they are obligate carnivores). Indoor cats fed solely dry kibble can be prone to dehydration, urinary tract disease, stones, or kidney disease. Most cats will benefit from a diet based on wet food rather than dry.
  • Resist placing your cat’s water bowl next to their food bowl. Cats are sensitive to keeping their water clean and may avoid water too close to savory-smelling food, for fear it is contaminated.
  • Of course, dogs need to stay hydrated too and are keenly aware of familiar versus unfamiliar water sources. When traveling, make sure to bring water from home.
  • Sometimes dogs will stop drinking from a particular bowl if they have associated pain with it (like when their tail was stepped on). If your dog stops drinking, try a different bowl location or a new bowl to avoid dehydration.

Do pet-proof your kitchen.

  • Be careful about offering animals a meal from your own dinner plate; beware of people foods such as chocolate, citrus, coconut-based oils, grapes, milk, onions, garlic, chives, and salty snacks, which can be disastrous to your pet’s digestion or even their life.
  • Sweep your floor after cooking to ensure pets don’t hoover up unintended food bonuses they find on the floor—such as pesky onion skins or bits of nuts and other toxic foods.

Don’t unintentionally poison your animal roommates.

  • More than 700 plants have been identified as potentially poisonous to animals. Survey your house to reroom (or rehome) any of these offenders.

Do check your pet’s poop.

  • Dr. Barbara Royal, DVM, notes that nearly 70 percent of what happens in the GI tract results from other organisms’ actions, production, and reactions. Royal suggests that many digestive disorders are caused by the “increased use of antibiotics, herbicides and pesticides, as well as species-inappropriate, sterile processed foods.” If your dog or cat is pooping more than twice a day, it is likely they are eating too much, or their food has too many fillers.
  • Consider sending some of their poop to the folks at AnimalBiome or NomNom, who will test gut health and provide suggestions for addressing any imbalances. (Then review the results with your vet.)

Do look to food to solve other ailments.

  • Animal protein is a top allergen for dogs. If your dog is itching, plant-based pet food may help relieve your canine’s skin problems. Talk to your vet about switching to a kibble such as V-dog or Halo Vegan Dry Dog Food.

Don’t forget the emotional and spiritual needs of your pet.

  • Anxiety can also lead to digestive issues. Nervous pets may get back on track if you introduce calming activities such as meditation, reiki, acupuncture, or massage into their days.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to remember that human energy influences our animal companions. Grounding our own being provides a stable environment for them. Being mindful of the speed of our walking and loudness of our talking can ensure our homes are a place of peace for all. As Eckart Tolle wisely reminds us, “Because dogs and cats still live in the original state of connectedness with Being, they can help us regain it.”

Want more? Read 10 Ways Pets Improve Mental Health.

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