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Holistic Pet Care:

It All Begins with Food


Dr. Sue Swanson sees a large variety of health issues with pets as they come into her cats-only veterinary clinic. It’s no surprise to her that most of the issues stem from diet. “Food is the foundation of health, so if they’re [pets] not on a good diet or they’re on a diet to which they may be allergic, then they’re going to have problems.” She speaks from personal experience.

During Swanson’s first eight years of practice, she used conventional care. Early in her practice, she was diagnosed with allergies to cats, dogs and horses which, as you can imagine, would make a veterinarian’s job difficult. She was on medications for eight years before she realized they were causing more problems than the animals were, so she discontinued them and began an elimination diet. A last-minute decision to attend a holistic class at a convention connected the dots for her as she thought, “I should be using holistic care for the animals—not just for me.”

Undertaking the vast study of nutrition for herself, she realized it paralleled closely for pets. What is often good for us is also good for them.

What Food is Best for My Pet?

Just like our food, the less processed, the better. Dry food is the most processed with canned food a close second. A little less processed and a better option is freeze-dried or dehydrated food. The best choice in most cases is raw food. If you're not comfortable with raw food, there is a “cooked raw food” option available.

Quality of food matters as well. Generally, your cheaper pet foods are going to have food coloring, artificial preservatives, BHT and animal byproducts. The USDA defines animal byproducts as “the part other than meat which has been derived from one or more cattle, sheep, swine or goats that have been U.S. inspected and passed and is fit for use as animal food.” Many animal byproducts can be multiple species. Poultry byproducts might be chicken, turkey or any fowl that's available. This makes it difficult to discover any food sensitivities a pet may have. Besides, byproducts are difficult to digest, so pets are not meeting their nutritional needs. You’re not saving any money if you have to feed them twice as much of the cheaper food rather than purchasing quality food in the first place.

Swanson generally recommends grain-free food for both cats and dogs. Grains have a tendency to enhance inflammation. Inflammation can cause issues from skin irritations to itchiness, arthritis to joint issues. Adding nutritional supplements such as glucosamine can also help reduce inflammation. Probiotics is another supplement that is easy and simple to give your pet and can benefit them holistically.

Swanson also cautions against fish-flavored pet foods. Besides from a sustainability point, seafood is often contaminated with a variety of toxins, including plastic particles. The fish used in pet food is not of high quality, increasing chances of toxins. If your pet is a seafood lover, reduce toxins by choosing fish that are lower on the food chain like sardines, heron or mackerel versus salmon and tuna.

A high quality, minimally processed food is the biggest step towards your pet living a healthy, holistic life.

How to Start a Holistic Diet for Your Pet

If you have a kitten, Swanson recommends starting with raw food. It's what they eat in nature and is going to keep them healthy. If you are considering switching your cat’s or dog’s diet, she suggests trying only if your pet is less than 10 years of age. Sometimes when they've been on dry food for so long, they don't have the digestive power to handle raw food. You can also try a gradual transition by moving from dry, then wet, to cooked raw, then finally raw food. Stop at any point you find something that works well for you and your pet.

Keep in mind, each pet is an individual and will respond differently to diet changes and food types. When you begin to incorporate holistic care for your pet, pay attention to their behavior, appearance and cat box. Anything that is abnormal can be an indication of an issue and should be addressed with your veterinarian.

Diet is the foundation of taking care of your pet holistically. With any big change in our own diet, it’s important to consult with a professional. So when it comes to taking care of our pets, consult with a veterinarian you trust to help make the best decisions for you and your pet.

Cat Care Clinic is located at 1524 Mahtomedi Ave., Mahtomedi. For more information, house visits and appointments, call 651-429-4153 or visit 

Rebecka Lassen is an author, writer, professional speaker and holistic healer. For more information, visit 

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