5 Ways to Take Care of Your Dog Naturally
As soon as I decided I wanted to get a dog as an adult, I started my research on how to best take care of a dog naturally. I grew up with dogs my whole life, and we always had more than one dog in my family for as long as I can remember. But just because I had so many dogs growing up, who lived long, healthy lives, did not mean I knew much about the health side of pet care, other than the obvious feed them, give them water to drink and take them to the vet. I truly knew more about training dogs (really important when you have puppies and want them to be potty-trained and have some manners) than I did about what’s important for peak dog health.
While you can do your own research and find endless articles on pet care recommendations, I have put together the 5 main ways to best take care of your dog that I’ve learned from countless hours of my own research, talking with my incredibly helpful veterinarian, and our interview with Dr. Lauren Beaird, DVM for our episode about holistic vets and pet care. Pro tip: Taking care of your dog naturally is A LOT easier than you may think. In many ways, you can apply general holistic wellness advice given for humans to dogs with slight adjustments. Here’s how I approach my dog’s health and well-being.
Daily Exercise for Your Dog is Important
As an adult, I’ve never had a fenced in backyard, so I’ve always had to walk my dog for her to go to the bathroom and to get exercise. And I’ve come to learn that this “drawback” of living in the city is actually a major advantage for my dog’s health as she is guaranteed twice daily exercise. Just like humans, dogs need to move their bodies daily, regardless of the breed. While activity levels/requirements will vary by dog breed, all dogs need exercise every day. This doesn’t always have to be in the form of a walk, but the critical thing is to make sure it happens. This often means that you need to participate in your dog’s exercise in some way, whether that be playing fetch, taking them for a walk/run, or taking them to doggy daycare where they play with other dogs. Unfortunately, just letting a dog outside into a backyard often ensures that they aren’t getting enough exercise as most dogs don’t engage in activity when you let them out alone. (There are definitely exceptions to this as I have friends and family with incredibly active dogs that can go outside and play by themselves or with their dog siblings without any human interaction, but this is typically the exception and not the rule.) Long story short: all the veterinarians I’ve talked to or read their articles online agree that daily exercise is important for your dog’s health. As a general rule of thumb, the recommendation is a minimum of twice daily activity sessions lasting at least 30 minutes. (If you think this sounds like too much for your dog’s breed, absolutely talk with your vet.)
Take Care of Your Dog's Mental Health
Until our conversation with Dr. Lauren Beaird for the podcast, I never really thought much about taking care of my dog’s mental health. I knew my dog had separation anxiety from me (likely from her experiences prior to me adopting her when she was around 3 years old), but I just thought there was nothing I could do about that. Plus, I figured that if I was giving her enough exercise, showing her enough love, and keeping a somewhat consistent schedule of my comings-and-goings, then she would mentally be “okay.” It turns out there are more “hands-on” ways to pay attention to your dog’s mental health that are also simple and straightforward. Here are Dr. Beaird’s top recommendations:
Daily exercise (see, I told you this was easy): reference the previous section
Different experiences: this can be as simple as walking your dog on different routes or taking them to the pet store with you to buy their food or treats. (Even though I get my dog’s food delivered, I still make it a point to buy treats from my local pet store so I have an excuse to take my dog there.)
Play: this can be with games like fetch and tug-of-war or with training games like sit and stay. I’ve found that my dog loves to pay hide-and-seek, where I tell her to sit and stay while I go to another room or duck behind the kitchen counter. Then I call her name, and she comes to find me to claim her treat. (Note: if your dog isn’t currently able to sit and stay, then work on this first.)
Socialization: this can be with other dogs or other people. My dog personally is very “particular” about other dogs and gets grumpy when other dogs invade her personal face space. So I focus on socializing her with people and friends’ dogs that I know. But do what works for your dog! Until our conversation with Dr. Lauren Beaird for the podcast, I never really thought much about taking care of my dog’s mental health. I knew my dog had separation anxiety from me (likely from her experiences prior to me adopting her when she was around 3 years old), but I just thought there was nothing I could do about that. Plus, I figured that if I was giving her enough exercise, showing her enough love, and keeping a somewhat consistent schedule of my comings-and-goings, then she would mentally be “okay.” It turns out there are more “hands-on” ways to pay attention to your dog’s mental health that are also simple and straightforward. Here are Dr. Beaird’s top recommendations:
Nutrition and Diet is Important for Dogs Too
Just like people, nutrition is an important factor in your dog’s health. This is a topic that I recommend you talking with your vet if you think your dog might need a special diet or if you have questions. The rabbit hole of nutrition for pets is deep, and you will get the clearest answers from your vet rather than deep diving on the internet. If your dog is healthy, and you are looking for some general guidance, here is what I’ve learned from doing hours of my own research, talking with my vet, and interviewing holistic vet Dr. Beaird:
Kibble food is generally 30-60% carbohydrates, which isn't what dogs need.
Oven baked kibbles are better than extrusion processed kibble. (Make sure to specifically look search for oven baked rather than baked. You will often notice that they highlight that there kibble is baked at lower temperatures over a longer time, which often signifies that there kibble is in fact oven baked.)
Food that already has the moisture in it or intended to have it added back in are best (eg. dehydrated food or raw food). I feed my dog dehydrated food as it is cheaper and easier to make than raw food. My dog LOVES dehydrated food, and it only takes me 2-3 minutes longer to “prepare” than when I fed my dog kibble.
While raw foods for dogs seems to be popular these days, Dr. Beaird recommends buying from a company that makes it rather than making it on your own. This ensures that the food is still properly cooked, and your dog is getting the macronutrients it needs.
How to Approach Your Vet Visits
You may have (hopefully) been given the advice that you should go prepared to ask questions of your doctor when you have an appointment, even if it’s just a well-visit and nothing is wrong with you. This is the same advice that you should use with your pet and visits to the vet. If there is nothing wrong with your dog, here are some questions you can ask at your next appointment:
Does my dog need ALL the vaccinations you are recommending? (There are some vaccines that are recommended, but not necessary for all dogs depending on their living situation. For example, until my dog groomer required it, I never got my dog the canine flu shot since she is the only dog in the household, doesn’t go to doggy day-care, and doesn’t interact with other dogs often.)
Are there any medications that you are recommending that my dog doesn’t need at certain times of year? (My dog is on a heartworm preventative all year-round, but she only gets a flea and tick preventative in the summer and fall months when we go hiking in forest preserves.)
How much exercise do you recommend for my dog? (Even if you think your dog gets enough, it’s always good to ask as this may bring up follow-up questions about your dog’s behavior that indicates they need more exercise.)
What recommendations do you have for taking care of my pet’s mental health? (I love this question because it gives me new ideas every time I talk to my vet of different games I can play or training techniques I can use that keeps my dog mentally stimulated.)
What Alternative Medicine Options are Available for Dogs
I remember when I first heard about physical therapy for dogs; being totally honest, I rolled my eyes at it and thought it was ridiculous. I now know how valuable it is as I’ve had multiple friends take their dogs to physical therapy and seen major improvements in their dogs’ mobility, strength, etc. So this gets me to my final point on taking care of your dog naturally - what “alternative medicine” options exist for your pet. The options are almost as plentiful as there are for humans, and I expect that even more will be available in the future. Besides physical therapy, I know that dogs can get chiropractic care, acupuncture, and homeopathy. We learned from Dr. Beaird that acupuncture is a great tool to use on pets as they aren’t susceptible to the placebo effect, it either works or it doesn’t. Through working with my vet, I’ve also started using a fish oil supplement and plant medicine (in this case, CBD) to help with my dog’s arthritic hips. I will also be taking her to swim lessons as I did this in the past and found that the swimming, with a trained instructor, helped to strengthen her hips. All of this to say, do some investigating and talk with your veterinarian about alternative modalities to help your dog as there is so much out there, more than I’ve mentioned. And know that it’s o.k. to put your dog on medicine if it’s needed AND it’s o.k. to ask for other, non-pharmaceutical options to treat your pet. Just ask the questions and be aware that options exist.
Perhaps the biggest thing I missed when pulling this all together is to mention holistic veterinarians. These are vets that have the same schooling as traditional vets, but have done extra research, continuing education, and training to be considered holistic. Generally speaking, a holistic vet will often spend more time with you during your appointments (just expect the pricing to reflect this extra time spent), will focus more on diet and nutrition, will individualize the care to your pet, and will have more of an openness to alternative treatments. What I love about my holistic vet is that he isn’t just referring to the standard guidelines when it comes to my dog; rather, he asks lots of questions, explains all of the options, talks through the recommended vaccines and medications (including which ones might not be necessary for her so I can choose not to skip them), and answers all of my questions. What I love about this approach which makes it worth the extra money for me is that I feel empowered in taking care of my dog and her health. Ultimately, even if your veterinarian isn’t labeled as holistic, you can still ask questions at your appointments to educate yourself more and use the above tips to take care of your dog naturally.
Want to dive deeper?
Check out our episode with Dr. Lauren Beaird, DVM - Episode 42: How Holistic Vets Can Help You & Your Pet
To find a holistic vet in your area: https://www.ahvma.org/