By Kristin Clark, Founder and President, Canine Health Promotion
As good pet parents, we continually do everything we can to make sure our beloved pets are happy and thriving. However, how do we really know whether our animals are healthy? Sadly, it’s become true that people often think their dogs and cats are in a state of health when really they aren’t. However, because the signs that their bodies are not operating at an optimal level—indicators like skin allergies; a dry or dull coat; bad breath; tooth decay; smelly, soft, and excessive poop; and obesity; to name just a few—are so common, we don’t even blink anymore when our pets experience them. Further, when our pets are young, they may seem to be healthy, but there is a breaking point (which is different for each animal) that they experience where their bodies can no longer handle the toxins that are being flooded into their systems, and they present with disease, illness, and/or chronic pain. In this post, we explore this topic by going over some of the ways you can do a wellness assessment on your dog or cat, to ensure that they are in optimal health. This is a helpful exercise to get in the habit of doing on a regular basis, and to do no matter how you feed your pets or whether you choose to apply traditional preventives (such as flea and tick treatments or heartworm medication) or not. My point is that every single animal should exhibit wellness in all of the following areas, and if they don’t, you need to adjust something to help them rebalance and come back to a state where they can thrive.
Remember, our animals are not machines. Their bodies are continually working to maintain homeostasis, or balance. That balance is affected by every single thing that goes into their bodies—the food they eat, the pesticides on the grass they run through, the preventives that they receive—as well as things like their quality of sleep, the amount of exercise they get, their owner’s mood, and so on. What this means is that you must continually attend to the clues your dog or cat is giving you to determine whether they are thriving or if something needs to be tweaked. It doesn’t have to be a daunting task, either. Once you are in the habit of regularly looking at them, noticing their energy level, and paying attention to what they feel like when you pet them, you will find that you are doing these mini “Wellness assessments” every day. In fact, it will become so second nature that you won’t even notice you’re doing it, but you will notice if something is a bit “off” and you need to help your dog or cat rebalance.
So, what should you start training yourself to look for and notice? Remember that you know your pet better than anyone else, and pay attention to your intuition if something just doesn’t seem right. Beyond that, though, there are some good indicators to be able to tell if your pet is thriving. These are especially useful if you are new to thinking this way, and maybe have a pet that has some of the common issues we frequently see crop up in our companion animals. If that’s the case, you may be so used to these issues that your brain doesn’t notice them anymore, so when you start looking at your pet to really assess their wellness, step back a bit and practice looking at them objectively.
A dog or cat that is thriving should have a shiny, soft coat. When you pet them, you shouldn’t come away with an excess of oily residue on your hands.
While they will still shed according to the dictates of their species and breed, the shedding is usually reduced. The skin will be supple and in good condition, and it will be free from hot spots, allergies, and excessive itchiness.
When a dog or cat is in optimal health, its eyes are clear and bright. No matter what breed your dog or cat is, and whether they are a purebred or a mix of many breeds, their eyes should not be weepy or runny.
A dog or cat with a strong, balanced immune system doesn’t suffer from flea and tick infestations, even when you don’t use conventional flea and tick preventives (such as Frontline). While they may pick up a flea or tick every once in a while, particularly in areas where those insects abound, it never gets out of balance.
A dog or cat that is at the peak of health is lean and muscular. When you look down at them from above, you should be able to see a narrowing in their waist. When you touch them, you should be able to easily feel their ribs. Additionally, they don’t have excess fat on their chest or back.
A healthy, vital dog or cat’s teeth are sparkling white and clean, and they don’t have bad breath. The gums are not excessively red or inflamed, and there isn’t a buildup of plaque or tartar.
A dog or cat that is balanced and thriving doesn’t have a strong odor—in fact, they don’t have much, if any, smell at all!
Stool and Anal Glands
A thriving dog or cat has small, dense, compact stools, and they move their bowels less frequently than an animal that isn’t thriving. Because they have to strain a bit to defecate, their anal glands are kept clean, clear, and in good working order—without frequent trips to the vet or groomer to have their anal glands cleared.
Dogs and cats that are truly healthy are neither lethargic nor hyperactive, but instead have an appropriate amount of energy for their species, breed, age, and individual character.
Healthy, thriving dogs and cats have incredible mental capabilities. Their brains can function at their optimal level, right along with their bodies and their spirits, which means they are extraordinarily perceptive and able to focus.
When dogs and cats are properly supported, they have lots of endurance within the parameters of their individual and breed characteristics. This is especially nice for performance animals, such as dogs that are used for agility, showing, and hunting.
Dogs and cats that are flourishing do so even when they’re what society terms “senior”—9, 10, 11, or 12 for dogs (and in fact, well beyond those ages), and 14, 15, or 16 (or more!) for cats! They still have energy, are mentally sharp, and exhibit all the other qualities of a thriving animal.
Take some time to really assess your pet each day, until it becomes habit. Remember, you know them best, and there are lots of ways to check to make sure that they are thriving. These are some of the biggest ones, and once your pet is thriving, you will notice big changes in all of these areas, no matter what age, breed, species, or gender they are.
Kristin Clark started Canine Health Promotion so she could help dogs thrive. Serving clients whose dogs range from top performance dogs to beloved family pets, Kristin is passionate about helping all dogs live their best lives. She truly understands this journey, because she walks it herself every single day. With four dogs of her own, she knows just how hard it can be to find help for health issues using conventional means. Kristin is board certified by the American Council of Animal Naturopathy as a Carnivore Nutrition Consultant and a Small Animal Naturopath, and devotes a great deal of time to researching how best to help dogs live their optimal lives. Kristin also writes for, edits, and publishes Raw Pet Digest, an international online magazine devoted to helping dogs and cats live and thrive naturally.
By Cara Armour, Product Manager Pro Pet Hero
While online learning has been proven by the US Department of Education to be a more effective way to learn, it’s only as good as the actual material, mode of presentation and instructor. YouTube videos are fine and dandy but is that information correct?
Learning how to save your pet’s life and knowing how to react when something is wrong is crucial to anyone that spends their life with pets. This includes pet owners and pet care professionals such as dog walkers, pet sitters, trainers, groomers, dog daycare operators and even vet techs. Did you know that vet techs – the nurses of the veterinary field are never taught cat or dog CPR in their training to become a certified veterinary technician? Crazy right?
You Care Enough to Know How to Save Them
You’re reading this post so you are already intrigued about knowing what to do. It is pretty easy to just dash off to the ER vet, or even your regular vet. I can get an appointment for my dog or cat much faster and easier then I can for myself at my own doctor’s office. That is wonderful but sometimes the added stress and cost of being able to do that isn’t always the best for you or your pet – certainly not your wallet.
The Cost of Veterinary Care
Even with pet insurance the cost of veterinary care is no joke. Depending on your insurance coverage (if you have it), you may still have to pay a good portion of the bill. Pet insurance does not work the same as human coverage – you pay up front, submit the claim, then wait for reimbursement; with monthly premiums this can all add up.
Please do not get me wrong, you are going to the vet for many issues, this is not to dissuade anyone from going and in fact the course teaches you about knowing when to go and what information to have to help the vet help your pet. Knowing when to go or even more importantly, what you can do before you head to the vet can be crucial for your pet’s survival.
The Big Picture of a Pet First Aid and CPR Certification Course
The title of the course doesn’t even begin to sum up the vast skills and knowledge that you will learn. Beyond the sheer volume of over 40 topics you will also learn what to do, what to look out for, and how to act.
If you are going to take the time to learn how to keep your pet safe or recognize issues before they become more serious – most importantly, get their heart beating again when it stops – then you will want to make certain you are learning the life-saving information from a qualified person.
Who Teaches Me How to Save My Pet in an Emergency?
Credentials are extremely important; I wouldn’t want to take a cooking class from someone that has never cooked, so why take a class about pet CPR from someone that has never used it to save lives? ProPetHero is an online cat and dog first aid and CPR certification course taught by a board certified ER vet, Dr. Bobbi Conner DVM, DACVECC. She also happens to be a professor of veterinary medicine and critical care; so she’s saved a few hundred lives in her life and she teaches up-and-coming vets how to do the same.
It’s important to have the right tools in your toolbox; or in this case first aid kit. I hope you never have to use them but in my 30 + years of sharing my life with pets and working with them, I’ve used the skills and knowledge more than I would have liked.
So for less than a night out and less than most wellness exams you can learn from an ER vet on how to help your pet. There are no animal EMT’s so your pet depends on you. Even if you just learn when to recognize when something is not right because you paid attention to when it was – you are on your way to making your pet’s life better.
A typical vet visit is 20 minutes, don’t you wish you had more time to learn from them, now you do and for a lot less than the time it would take! So set aside a little time, the course is under 2 hrs but you can take it in bite-sized chunks. It always remembers where you left off so you can take it at your own pace and place that is most convenient for you. After you complete the learning you’ll have the confidence to act in an emergency and take the best care of your pet. You have 2 years access to review the videos to keep the information fresh in your mind and have the correct information at your fingertips.
In 2003, Cara Armour co-founded Active Paws Inc., a professional pet care business based in the greater Boston, MA area that has expanded to grooming and operating a holistic pet supply store. Cara won Pet Sitter of the Year, the industry’s highest honor awarded by Pet Sitters International and collected many other accolades over the years.
Since 2003, Cara has been trained by the American Red Cross as well as several veterinarians in Pet First Aid and CPR. In 2011 she completed an instructor training course and became a certified pet 1st Aid and CPR instructor. When she found the training online by an ER veterinarian, she decided to join the ProPetHero team, the pet first aid and CPR division of ProTrainings. She is also a volunteer and foster home for The Boxer Rescue Inc, a health conscious breeder of Boxers, as well as an active member of several kennel clubs. She has been a mentor to many in the pet industry as well as those in the small business world.
Cara spends her free time traveling to agility, lure coursing and conformation trials. When not at a trial or finding a good home for a Boxer through the rescue, she’s training with her pups or playing in her garden.