If you’re a frequent Barkery shopper, you’re probably doing just about everything you can to keep your pet happy and healthy. Here are a few tips from holistic veterinarian Dr. Judy Morgan to improve your pet’s health naturally.

1. Minimize Vaccinations

The core vaccines for dogs and cats, including Distemper virus, Parvo virus, Adeno virus (Hepatitis) and Panleukopenia, may provide protection against disease for many years, or even a lifetime. Most vaccine companies guarantee effectiveness of their vaccines for a minimum of 3-5 years. There is no need to have your pet jabbed every year, causing stress to the immune system, which can lead to chronic disease, cancers, endocrine problems, and allergies.

Vaccination for Leptospirosis and Lyme disease may be unnecessary, depending on your pet’s exposure. Currently, it is unclear how long the Lyme vaccine lasts or whether it contributes to a worsening of disease after exposure.

Vaccinating for kennel cough may cause your pet to have symptoms of the illness and allow shedding the virus to other pets. This is not a life-threatening disease and timing of vaccination is important, if it is going to be given at all.

Canine Influenza vaccine may not be necessary, or even helpful, as the influenza virus can mutate just like human influenza.

Feline Leukemia is spread by direct cat-to-cat contact with an infected cat. Indoor cats have no exposure to this disease and should not be vaccinated. Test any new cats prior to introduction to the cats you already own.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus vaccine is problematic and should not be given.

Tumors at injection sites are occurring with higher frequency, and fewer injections means less potential for tumor reactions. Multiple vaccinations should never be given at one visit. Pets that are sick or undergoing surgical procedures should not be vaccinated until healed.

More complete information regarding vaccines may be found here. Don’t forget, you should always titer test before revaccinating.

2. Minimize Chemical Exposure

Dr. Morgan recommends checking stool samples for parasites, rather than deworming on a set routine basis, and using heartworm preventative only during the seasons when exposure can occur, which depends on geographic location.

Chemical heartworm preventatives work by attacking different migrating larval stages of the heartworm. Some medications have longer duration than stated on the label, while others are given in dosages higher than necessary to prevent heartworm.

Injectable heartworm preventative chemicals have proven to be highly toxic. This product should not be used in cats. Cats with a strong immune system will generally not develop adult infestations.

Highest incidence of adult heartworm infestation in the US occurs in the southeast, Texas, and Mississippi River Valley Region. The American Heartworm Society posts annual maps showing heartworm cases per state in the US.

3. Minimize Flea & Tick Prevention Chemicals

Fleas and ticks are not active in all parts of the world on a year-round basis. While fleas and ticks should be prevented in our area, using a harmful pesticide chemical can have deadly consequences. We recommend using a nontoxic flea and tick preventative, such as Seresto or Wondercide, rather than a topical or oral chemical flea preventative.

4. Feed a High Quality, Species-Appropriate Diet

As the old saying goes, “you are what you eat,” and this is equally true for our pets. Their lifespan is shorter than ours, meaning they age more quickly. By feeding a healthy diet, your pet can live a longer, healthier, more vibrant life.

Not all pets are created equal and there is not one diet that fits the needs of all dogs or cats. In general, dry kibble and processed canned foods are of lower quality than frozen or freeze-dried foods. Our nutrition specialists are happy to help you find the best diet for your pet to fit your budget, lifestyle, and individual needs.

5. Provide Daily Mental Stimulation and Physical Activity

Most pets enjoy interaction with their humans and other animals in their pack. Even solitary cats, although aloof, enjoy playing with their humans.

If your pets are left alone for long periods of time, they most likely show excitement when you enter your home. Make sure you take time to pet, play, and engage your pet. If the weather is bad, try hiding treats around the house or using interactive games to stimulate your pet’s thinking. Keeping your pet active and stimulated will decrease unwanted behaviors and separation anxiety.

6. Have Your Pet Examined by Your Veterinarian 1-2 Times a Year

Depending on your pet’s overall health, we recommend having your pet examined at least once a year, if not twice. While many vets have stressed “shots” as the reason to bring your pet in, this is really the least important part of the visit. The full physical exam is the most important part of the visit. By having your pet examined by a qualified veterinarian at 1-2 times per year, you may be able to find early warming signs of disease. Small lumps and bumps can be detected before they have a chance to grow and cause problems.

A stool sample, urinalysis, and blood testing should be performed at these visits to detect any early signs of disease or failure. By being proactive, you may save your pet’s life. Interested in finding a holistic veterinarian? Check www.AHVMA.org.