Although some of today's commercial pet food is nutritionally balanced, veterinary nutritionists have taken a second look at the produce aisle to improve your pet's quality of life and stave off illness. Ensuring that your pet gets all of the nutrients it needs can be as easy as mixing in some of your own favorite foods with your dog or cat's next meal, according to Mindy Bough, director of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' pet nutrition and science advisory service in Urbana, Illinois. Fruits and veggies from the farmers' market can improve your pet's cognitive and immune function in addition to providing valuable vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, Bough says. When they're in season, pick up an extra pound of carrots, broccoli, apples, yellow squash, pumpkin, or oranges for your furry friend. "If your pet likes these kinds of treats, definitely share them! My Chihuahua Honeybear shared carrots sticks with me at lunch," Bough adds. Fruits and veggies can be served steamed or raw, either as a special treat or mixed in with store-bought food. Just be sure that they make up no more than 10 percent of the animal's total caloric intake.
Don't get too carried away, though; many foods beneficial to humans may cause your dog or cat major health problems. Such foods include raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, dark chocolate, milk, caffeine, and garlic. Also, fruits, such as apples, should be served without seeds, which are difficult for animals to digest and can lead to bigger problems down the road.
And take it slow, cautions Rob Silver, a holistic veterinarian at Boulder's Natural Animal, in Boulder, Colorado. "Introduce these foods gradually" he says, "watching for digestion and appetite changes. Over time, you can gradually increase the amounts."
Creatures of Health
To supplement commercial pet food, veterinarian Rob Silver says that animals can benefit from the same probiotics, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids that humans use.
Dose: 2 to 10 billion units of active bacteria daily.
Good Stuff: This pro-biotic promotes healthy gut flora, strengthening immunity to disease and allergies.
How to: Mix powder into dry or wet commercial pet food, or give as a capsule.
Dose: 1/4 cup liquid daily.
Good Stuff: Contains antioxidants, which are believed to protect against heart disease and cancer.
How to: Steep a tea bag for 45 seconds in a little boiling-hot water. Drain and discard the tea, and then add 1/4 cup more hot water to the bag. Pour over food.
Dose: For dogs, give 1/2 teaspoon of flaxseed oil or meal per 15 pounds of body weight. Cats need just 1/4 teaspoon.
Good Stuff: Provides omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids for overall health. Flaxseed meal is a good source of plant fiber.
How to: Mix oil into dry or wet food, or give it in a gel cap. If using flaxseeds, run them through a clean coffee bean grinder.
Kelp Powder, Nutritional Yeast and Lecithin
Dose: Give cats 1/4 teaspoon of the mixture twice a day; dogs can have 1 teaspoon twice daily.
Good Stuff: Another source of antioxidants, which are believed to protect against heart disease.
How to: Combine the powders in equal parts and store in the fridge; mix into dry or wet food.