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Casper Critters

A Healthy Pet is a Happy Pet!

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02/01/2012 - By Gayle M. Irwin

Since the New Year began, many people have resolved to eat healthier and get into better shape. Although numerous resolutions are broken within a short time, perhaps your pet can help with your plans to become healthier if you do some things to help your furry friend along the same path.

Just as people need nutritious foods to keep them healthy, so do our pets. Just as there are a wide variety of foods we can choose to eat or not, so, too, are there many types and brands of foods from which to choose for our pets. Whether you go to your vet's office, shop at a grocery or big box store, or buy your pet food from a pet supply store, you are bombarded by the endless flavors, brands and special diet foods. With such numerous options, it can seem overwhelming to tackle the question, "What should I feed my pet?"

The best starting point is research. Look at the brands in the store and discuss with the staff. Inquire of trusted friends who are pet owners what they feed their animals, and of course, talk with your vet, especially if your dog or cat has a health issue like as diabetes. Then, get on the Internet and read about the company from its website as well as learn more about pet food from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (http://www.petfood.aafco.org/). Ask your pet food supplier for samples to try as you explore what food is best for your furry friend.

We've all been told to read labels. However, the order of ingredients on a pet food label is often based on the precooked weight (water and its contributing weight), not on the finished product weight. For example, if chicken is listed as the first ingredient, which we all think is good thing, how much chicken is really in that kibble? Processing chickens to create dry dog and cat food takes the moisture out of the meat and carcass. What is the percentage of chicken actually in the product – 10 percent, 25 percent, 40 percent, more than that? How much corn meal or wheat does the product contain? Some pets are allergic to wheat and corn. Are there synthetic vitamins and minerals in the food? And where is the food processed? Never forget the pet food recall involving melamine, China and pet deaths in 2007!

In addition to good food, exercise will also keep your pet healthier (and most likely you as well!). Perhaps you and your dog can take more walks together, become running partners, or get involved with the local agility club – or simply conduct agility in your own backyard. Cats, too, need exercise, so provide tunnels, climbing posts, and toys to help keep them active. Wiggling a feathered "fishing pole" may not seem like much exercise, but having your feline chase the feathers around the room keeps your kitty alert and agile. Animals need stimulation; exercise stimulates them physically as well as mentally.

Another way to have a healthier, happier pet is to ensure they are current on their vaccinations. You may think vaccinations are expensive, but it beats the cost of treating your pet for a disease obtained from another unvaccinated animal, especially for something preventable, such as distemper. Plus, the emotional stress on both you and your pet should your special furry friend become gravely ill is a significant factor to consider.

As the second month of this new year takes shape, perhaps you and your pet can take on a healthier shape and a happier attitude together… and have fun sharing the experience!

Gayle M. Irwin is a writer, author and speaker. Her works include stories about her dogs that contain strong, positive life lessons for children and adults. She has also written stories for Chicken Soup for the Soul and the nature magazine Creation Illustrated. Mrs. Irwin plans two new book releases in 2012. Visit www.gaylemirwin.com to learn more.

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