Human Health

Mental Spring Cleaning

This year, more than any other year I can recall, I am really eager for spring to arrive.  It’s been a very long and snowy winter here in the Mid-Atlantic.  There are still some dirty snow piles left from the back-to- back blizzards we had the beginning of February.  So when I saw the first crocuses on my walk the other morning, I felt a seemingly disproportionate amount of joy – I can’t ever remember being this happy to see a little yellow flower emerge from the ground!

Spring is a time of new beginnings, of renewal.  Nature renews itself, at first slowly, like those first spring flowers peeking out from underneath the dull winter grass, and eventually bursting into full bloom as the days become longer and warmer.  Spring can also be a time for mental and spiritual renewal, and for this, we can take our clues from nature.  It’s time to emerge from the darkness of winter, time to open windows and doors to let the spring breezes in, both physically and in a larger sense.  

For many people, this is also traditionally a time for spring cleaning – there is something very satisfying about airing out rooms that were closed up for most of the winter months, clearing cobwebs out of forgotten corners, and getting the dust bunnies out from under the bed.  Clearing the clutter and getting organized for the new season on a physical level can also help clear your mental and psychic energy.  Cluttered environments drain our energy.  Just think about the last time you organized your desk or cleaned out a closet – remember how you not only felt a sense of accomplishment, but how you also felt somehow lighter? 

So why not do some mental and spiritual cleaning this spring?  The following suggestions can help you with this:

  • Clear out old beliefs that no longer serve you.  A belief is only a thought you keep thinking, and you have the power to change your thoughts.  Replace old beliefs that hold you back with new ones that are in alignment with what you want for yourself and your life.
  • Let go of limiting self-talk.  Frequently, we’re not even aware that we’re putting ourselves down, since it’s often done jokingly, but just like old beliefs, these little jokes can be insiduous and get stuck in your energy field.  Start becoming aware when you put yourself down, or talk about why you can’t do something, and redirect your thoughts.
  • Get rid of a pattern of negative thinking.  Do you like to complain, or participate in conversations with others who are complaining about how bad things are?  Do you tend to focus on what’s going wrong rather than on what’s going well?  Thought patterns can be deeply ingrained, and it takes time to become aware of them.  Focusing on what’s not working keeps you stuck in negative energy.  Once you realize that this is your pattern, you can begin to turn your thoughts into a more positive direction.

Just like nature, spring is your opportunity to grow and blossom into a life filled with light, color and joy.  Mental spring cleaning is a great way to start this process.

Amber says she doesn’t understand why humans hang on to all of this mental clutter.  She thinks that humans could learn a lot from cats – they live in the moment and don’t waste time thinking about the past or worrying about the future.

Meditating with Your Cat

Guest post by Stacia D. Kelly, PhD, MHt

My husband thinks it makes for a funny picture whenever I sit down to meditate. In our house, I usually have a cat or two as I sit cross-legged on the couch in my lap or somewhere nearby purring happily and meditating right along with me. Of course, said husband also freely admitted a week or so back that our girl Bella laid right down on his chest while he was listening to a Nancy Georges hypnosis session – shame on him for not listening to one of mine! 😉

Bastien, our youngest rescue, is learning to be a great hypnosis assistant. He’ll either curl up in my lap or next to my clients during a hypnotherapy session to settle right down for the 40 minutes or so, purring the entire time. And while he irritates his sister felines, Bella and Bijoux, since he’s so young, he is such a momma’s boy that he tries to do whatever I’m doing. If that means meditating, he’s right there with me. And, thankfully, my clients love him.

I wish I knew what’s going thru their minds when they curl up with me, but I know the soft purr and warm body only help to enhance my focus. Somehow, they just know the right spot and the right level to help you achieve that perfect moment of Zen.

Mine never interrupt; none of them ever have.

I’m not sure what the trigger is…the breathing, the music, the sudden calmness? Sagesse, an angel kitty now, was the only one who helped me through those late nights as a first time mom. She’d learned how to calm and meditate with me when she was a kitten, so, when I needed it most, she was right there next to me vibrating that same purr, in the same spot. She helped me make it through those first weeks. Gabe, our hunter, hit the same note when it was time for me to let him cross over. I wasn’t ready, but he was, and he let me know with that soft purr on just the right note.

So, how do you meditate with your cat? (I haven’t tried this with dogs, but please do and let us know the results!) Some are naturals…some require some guidance. Thankfully, mine have all gravitated right to it, but that may be because we make it such an intrinsic part of our household or it’s such a part of my nature, I only attract those who are inclined to be good about it too.

First, create a space for yourself that you are going to use consistently to meditate. This is a must, whether you’re trying to get your 4-legged to cooperate or not. It helps to set your subconscious up for success when you’re ready to sit down to focus. I use my couch and a cross-legged position. My body naturally falls into a receptive mode and starts to relax. My husband will meditate in bed and the cats are fine with it. (They refuse to participate if I’m in bed and meditating…instead I get the meows and the growls.) Wherever it is, make it consistent.

Next, start to introduce soft music when you’re out of the house, and they are more naturally at rest. Use harps, strings, nature sounds. Note: DO NOT USE music with BIRDS! They start stalking the CD player or the TV. I’ve watched it happen!

Next, use that same music they’ve been listening to during day for your relaxation/meditation sessions. You will see they start to quietly unwind and come to curl up next to you as your breathing evens out. Most will want to touch you in some way, so they may lie in your lap or next to you. Do NOT give in to to the need to acknowledge their presence. NO petting. If you must, lay a hand on them and keep it still. Remain focused on your meditation.

And, just breathe.

Open your eyes whenever you’re ready.

You can see our cat family at http://catklaw.com/kittens/ – this is our hidden yet dedicated site to all those who are familiar in our lives. I don’t post up often, but they are integral to our family.

For those interested in a Guided Meditation with their feline family members, please, post up! I’ll create one to share!

Stacia D. Kelly, PhD, MHt takes a whole mind-body-spirit approach to health and well-being and teaches her clients to do the same. She is the Mind-Body-Fusion Specialist. Breathe. Focus. Achieve. She is a Master Certified clinical hypnotherapist, a 1st degree black belt, and spends way too much time with her nose in a book. She writes paranormal romances with a very hypnotic style and tries to inject humor in all her non-fiction writing. She plays doorman (woman) to three cats while the young one is off to school and the husband is all over the state for either the day job or a band. Stacia is also the founder of CatKlaw, Inc., a Creative Solutions Company, and Mind-Body-Spirit Works, a Holistic Health Practice.

Stacia is offering one of her guided relaxations titled Relax Into Being as a free download.

Help for The Winter Blues

We’ re reaching that time of year where, even though the days are getting longer, winter just doesn’t seem to want to end, and the longer days of spring and summer seem ages away.   While this is felt by most people to some degree, some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and crave sweets and starchy foods. They may also feel depressed. This is known as the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  While severe cases may require treatment by a physician, here are some tips that can help until spring arrives.

  • In addition to the obvious things like eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep, make sure you schedule activities that get you outside, no matter what the weather.  Even a few minutes of natural light a day can make a difference in how you feel.
  • Put more light into your life.  Having a lot of lights on in your house may not be a substitute for natural sunlight, but it can raise your spirits.  When it’s dark outside, a dark, gloomy house just contributes to a low mood.  Replace ordinary light bulbs with full-spectrum bulbs.  For severe cases, consider getting a lightbox.
  • Reframe your thoughts about winter.  Even if it’s not your favorite time of the year, find something to appreciate about the season.  If it wasn’t for fall and winter, we wouldn’t enjoy spring as much. 
  • Reiki has been proven to help with depression by putting the body, mind and spirit into a deep state of relaxation.  Even one treatment can provide immediate relief.

When all else fails, curl up with a good book, a cup of hot chocolate and your favorite pet, and enjoy the cold, dark days from a warm spot on your sofa!

Health Risks of Anti-Bacterial Soaps

cat at sink

With fears of H1N1 running rampant, it seems like everywhere you turn, there’s antibacterial gel, antibacterial soap and other antibacterial cleansers.  But are these cleansers really necessary, not to mention safe, or do they actually post health risks?  Today’s guest post addresses these questions.

Guest post by Woody McMahon, Sequoia Health and Fitness, Inc.

In an effort to fulfill the age old saying “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” the use of antibacterial soaps is on the rise. The liberal use of soap is a good thing, but antibacterial soaps present several major risks.

As early as 2005, researchers at Virginia Tech found that the active chemical ingredient in antibacterial soaps, triclosan, can cause two major health problems. First, consumers who use the soaps may be exposed to significant quantities of the cancer causing substance chloroform. Also, long term use of these soaps creates an unhealthy balance of antibiotic resistant bacteria on the skin. They found bacteria resistant to some of the more popular antibiotic drugs like chloramphenicol, ampicillin, tetracycline and ciprofloxacin.

Dr. Peter Vikesland, an environmental chemist at Virginia Tech had this to say about antibacterial soaps: “This is the first work that we know of that suggests that consumer products, such as antimicrobial soap, can produce significant quantities of chloroform. There are numerous potential exposure pathways that can be envisioned, such as inhalation and skin exposure, when using antimicrobial soaps to wash dishes or when taking a shower. There is also risk of exposure when using triclosan laden moisturizers as they may also react with chlorine in the water.”

What is Triclosan?

Triclosan is a synthetic antimicrobial agent found in a wide variety of products. Its broad spectrum, bacteria fighting ability has made it popular in an ever increasing number of personal care products, cosmetics, antimicrobial creams, acne treatments, lotions, hand soaps, and dish soaps. Triclosan goes under the trade name Microban®, when used in plastics and clothing and Biofresh® when used in acrylic fibers. Even though Triclosan is effective at killing bacteria, it is registered as a pesticide with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pesticides are chemicals designed to kill some type of life form. The EPA considers triclosan a high risk for human health and the environment.

What is Chloroform?

When triclosan, the active ingredient in antibacterial soaps, reacts with the chlorine in the tap water, chloroform is created. Chloroform is a central nervous system depressant and cancer causing compound. The U.S. Department of Labor has strict guidelines when it comes to contact with chloroform. Chronic inhalation of chloroform may cause psychiatric and neurological symptoms, including depression, hallucinations and moodiness. In one study, liver enlargement was demonstrated in 17 of 68 workers exposed to chloroform at low levels for 1 to 4 years. Alcoholics are more at risk from chloroform because ethanol increases chloroform’s toxic effects.

Healthy Bacteria

The bacteria on your skin serve as a part of your skin’s natural defense mechanism. Your skin uses healthy bacteria to keep colonies of unhealthy bacteria at bay. Without the healthy bacteria, the unhealthy ones can take over and create infections and other skin problems. Destroy all the healthy bacteria with antibacterial soap and you set yourself up for big problems. The constant use of antibacterial soaps is similar to using antibiotics for every little cold or sneeze. All antibacterial products should be used sparingly so that resistant strains of bacteria do not develop. Using antibiotics only when necessary ensures they will remain effective when the need arises. 

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

When bacteria are exposed to long term, low doses of antibiotics, some of them can develop antibiotic resistance. Resistant bacteria must be treated with other, sometimes stronger antibiotics. In rare instances, there is no known medication that will kill the bacteria. It is wiser to use antibiotics sparingly and for shorter duration. The constant use of antimicrobials, as in the antibacterial soaps, creates a real long term health hazard; one that is easily avoidable with regular soap.

Living a healthier lifestyle is easy with one of Sequoia Health and Fitness, Inc.’s Fresh Start programs.  They provide the plan, implementation, motivation and accountability necessary for your success. To see all of their programs, visit  http://www.sequoiahealth.com.  They offer a no-cost consultation.  For more information, please e-mail Woody McMahon at Woody@SequoiaHealth.com

How To Stay Healthy During Flu and Cold Season

sneezing cat

With flu season upon us, we’re all looking for ways to stay healthy.  This year, many of us are particularly worried because of the H1N1 swine flu.  It’s hard to know which information is simply media hype, and which information is based on fact and can be trusted.  I offer the following tips to help you navigate the flu season with your health, and your sanity, intact.

Vaccinate or Not?

First of all, don’t panic, no matter what the media tells you.  Humanity has dealt with the flu for thousands of years.  Flu viruses change from season to season, and while a flu vaccine may be necessary and even effective for some people, keep in mind that this season’s flu vaccine is based on last year’s virus and may not offer complete protection.  Additionally, the new H1N1 vaccine was brought to market much faster than vaccines of the past, and there is, as of yet, no information on potential long term side effects.  The decision on whether to get vaccinated should be an individual decision and take your health history as well as your risk of exposure into consideration.  While your physician should always be your ultimate source for health information, keep in mind that not all physicians take a holistic view when it comes to preventive health care.  Do your homework, and get educated.

Common Sense

Common sense precautions against the flu have not changed over the years. Frequent hand washing is still the best precautionary measure against the flu as well as colds.  But don’t waste your money on antimicrobial and antibacterial soaps – they don’t work against viruses and provide no added value over soap and water.  In fact, they may contribute to the spread of resistant bacteria.  Don’t touch your face unless you’ve just washed your hands – that’s a direct route for viruses to get into your respiratory tract.  So far, the common wisdom is that the H1N1 virus is airborne, so listen to what you mother taught you:  cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and throw the used tissues away – don’t leave them for someone else to deal with.

Boost your Immune System

  • Take a good multi-vitamin.  Do your research and make sure the brand you take has good bio-availability.  Most grocery store brands do not meet this requirement.
  • Take extra vitamin C.  I regularly take 1000mg a day, and I double or triple this when I’ve been exposed to someone who is sick.
  • Sip warm fluids.  Sipping hot tea can make your mouth unfriendly to microbes and reduces your risk of getting sick even after you’ve been exposed.  Gargling with warm salt water can have the same effect.
    Use a Neti Pot (nasal saline rinse) regularly to flush your sinuses before microbes have a chance to get a hold in your system.
  • Avoid inflammation promoters such as sugar, alcohol and tobacco.
  • Optimize your vitamin D levels.  Generally, the more optimal your vitamin D levels, the less your chances of getting the flu or a cold.  Ideally, you should have your vitamin D levels tested, but if you live in the Northern hemisphere and don’t want to pursue testing, experts feel that it’s safe to take at least 1000-2000 IU’s of vitamin D during the winter months.
  • Support your intestinal flora with probiotics.  It may seem odd that your intestinal tract’s health has anything to do with flu and cold prevention, but most inflammation begins in the gut, which in turn, affects your immune system.
  • Get enough sleep.  This is one of the best ways to keep your immune system rested and healthy.
  • Exercise regularly.  Better yet, exercise outside.  
  • Listen to your body.  We all get early warning signs when we’re about to catch a cold or come down with the flu.  For some, it may be a tickle in the throat, for others, a mild stomach ache, nausea, or simple that “just ain’t right” feeling.  Gargle with warm salt water, use your Neti pot, increase your vitamin C and D supplementation, and get some rest.  Sometimes something as simple as slowing down can boost our immune system enough to ward off a cold or the flu in the early stages.
  • Maintain a positive attitude.  If you constantly worry about getting sick, chances are, you will get sick.  Picture yourself healthy with a strong immune system, and don’t stay glued to the news reports of flu outbreaks and pandemics.

H1N1 and Your Pets

Most pet owners are worried about whether their pets can contract the H1N1 swine flu.  Since this is an evolving story, it’s not possible at this stage to have a yes or no answer to this question.  So far, there have been reports of ferrets and birds as well as several cats who contracted the virus.  It’s important to know that in all the cases of the cats, the virus was transmitted from humans in the households who were sick with the virus to the cats, and not the other way around.  There has been one report of a dog being infected with H1N1 in China.  It appears as though in this case, too, the virus was passed from human to dog and not the other way around. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) maintains an information page on their website with the most recent information on H1N1 and how it affects pets.

Until we know more about how H1N1 affects pet, take the same common sense precautions you would with a human family member if you do get sick:  follow proper hygiene and sanitation measures to prevent the spread of the disease.  Try to isolate the sick family member from others as much as possible, wash your hands frequently and wipe down common surfaces with a good cleaner or sanitizer.

I hope these common sense precautions put your mind at ease and help protect you and your family members, both human and furry, from flu and cold viruses.

Tips to Control the Holiday Food Madness

Thanksgiving_Cats

While these kitties are dreaming of their turkey dinner, I thought this would be a good time for some helpful advice for us humans as we enter the holiday food season.  Today’s guest post gives lots of helpful  hints on how to get through the season without letting go of all of the good eating and exercise habits we’ve cultivated throughout the year.

And coming Monday on The Conscious Cat:  how to keep your pets safe from holiday foods that may not be good for them!

Guest Post by Woody McMahon

No Need to Struggle

If you are struggling with food or your weight, the next few weeks can be a bit overwhelming. This is the season for food overload with all the football games, Thanksgiving, holiday parties, Christmas and New Years all lined up in a row. Just makes your mouth water doesn’t it? This is a challenging time for even for the most health conscious individuals. So what does a reasonable minded person to do when faced with such a seemingly daunting challenge? An old saying comes to mind, “When the going gets rough, the tough get going.”  Here are some suggestions on how to be “tough.”

Stay Active

This is a social time of year. Sometimes you are forced to be more social than you might like. Instead of stopping what has helped you feel so good all year, integrate. If for example you have company coming to town, invite them when you go to the health club, Pilates or Yoga class. They may never have been bold enough to try it on their own or have been admiring you thinking “I wish I could develop a healthy habit like that.” What a great opportunity to do something good for yourself and set a good example while sharing some healthy time with a loved one.

Avoid Overeating

Why do you want to ruin a year’s worth of good work just to overeat right now? Overeating is a unhealthy habit; a habit that is learned and can be unlearned.  The typical party is full of distracted eating (eating while talking) and over grazing leaving you with no idea of how much you really ate. Instead of grazing all night, take a plate and put a reasonable amount of food on it. Go and sit down and enjoy your food. This is a much better way to enjoy the party and not hate yourself in the morning for being a glutton.

Adopt a Positive Attitude

Take the time to be thankful for what you have and your accomplishments. Determine what’s really important in your life and how you plan on making next year better than this one. What does this have to do with food? Well, if you are struggling with food, now is the time to tell yourself next year is going to be the year you end the struggle. Take the time to look behind your overeating. Figure out why food is all consuming and has such a hold on you. How are you going to break the bonds that are keeping you from enjoying life more? Understanding the “why” can help solve the problem and allow you to get on with enjoying life more.

Keep Stress Low

Work diligently to keep your stress low during this time of year. Reducing stress keeps overeating to a minimum. Also you don’t have to accept every single invitation to a party. You know people always invite more guests than they expect. So don’t feel bad if you can’t say “yes” to all the invitations you get. If you can’t accept an invitation from someone you really enjoy, then suggest a lunch or tea after the New Year. You’ll spend much better quality time with your friend and it will help you manage your holiday stress. Try these simple holiday strategies and start your New Year off right.

Exercise is one of three important lifestyle habits essential for good health. If you have special needs then a health and fitness expert with special training is essential as well. Contact Woody McMahon to discuss how Fresh Start can help make the most of your exercise time by building a stronger body the right way.  With his unique program, you’ll improve balance, strength, flexibility, energy and stamina while feeling and looking your best. Contact Woody McMahon at 703-464-5171 to schedule your no cost Fresh Start consultation, or email Woody@SequoiaHealth.com.

Make a Conscious Choice to Be Healthy

cat-in-bed

With flu season looming, or, if media reports are to be believed, already in full swing, we are all looking for ways to boost our immune system and stay healthy. Nobody wants to catch the dreaded flu. Even a cold can lay us flat for a few days, or at the very least, make us miserable. The media has done a good job to make us afraid of this season’s latest threat, the swine flu (read my post Afraid of the Swine Flu? Don’t Be. for my take on how not to get caught up in fear-based thinking around this issue).  So what can we do to stay healthy?

On a physical level, there are many different ways to boost the immune system.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Don’t let the cold weather stop you from getting your exercise.  Just 30 minutes a day of light aerobic exercise can help keep your immune system healthy.
  • Wash your hands frequently.  Studies have shown that nothing prevents a cold better than thorough and frequent handwashing.  If you can’t get to a faucet, use anti-bacterial gel or wipes.
  • Limit your intake of sugar and highly processed foods – both have been shown to depress the immune system.
  • Take a good daily multi-vitamin.  Do your research and make sure the brand you take has good bio-availability.  Most over the counter brands don’t.
  • Take extra vitamin C.  I take 1000 mg a day, and if I’m around anyone who’s sick, I double that dose.
  • New research shows that probiotic supplements contribute to a healthy immune system.  As with all supplements, be sure you research the brand you use to make sure it really contains quality ingredients.
  • Make sure you get enough vitamin D.  While the best way to get your vitamin D is through 15-20 minutes of unprotected sun exposure each day, those of us living in the northern hemisphere may find it challenging to get that much during the winter months.  If you are taking vitamin D supplements, you may want to get your vitamin D blood levels tested periodically.
  • Look into holistic or natural products you can take to prevent colds, or at the early stages of a cold to lessen the duration and the severity.  Products containing zinc can be very effective.  There are also a number of homeopathic products that work well.
  • Eat chocolate!  Dark chocolate contains lots of anti-oxidants and is actually good for us (in moderation!).
  • Reiki and other energy therapies can help boost your immune system by alleviating the damaging effects of stress.  Stress is the major culprit when it comes to weakening our immune system.

But beyond these physical immune boosters, there’s another way to boost your immune system and stay healthy this winter, and it’s available to all of us at no charge.   Your mindset plays a major role in your overall health.  Cutting edge research by scientists such as cell biologist Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. has shown that our thoughts can actually alter the cells in our bodies, down to the level of changing our genes.  So why not use this powerful tool to our advantage rather than disadvantage?  Instead of worrying about getting sick, why not focus on being healthy and having lots of energy?  Make a conscious choice to be healthy!

Stress and Your Pets

catanddog

We live in challenging times and external stressors abound.  The economy, the news, and often just getting through the day all present a source of stress for people.  It’s been long proven that owning a pet has beneficial effects on our health.  Studies have shown that even a few minutes of petting your cat or dog can lower your blood pressure and release endorphins that put you in a better mood.  Pets are the greatest source of stress relief and masters at showing us not only how to relax, but how to live in the moment without worrying about the future. 

So we know that our pets help us be less stressed.  But did you know that your stress can make your pets sick? 

People and pets often mirror each others’ physical and emotional states.  Animals are natural healers and sometimes take on their person’s problems, often in an attempt to heal them.  This happens because of the deep bond shared between a pet and his or her person.  Because of the shared energy in such a close relationship, energetic imbalances are shared as well. 

Unfortunately stress has the same detrimental effect on our pets’ bodies at it does on ours.  Since pets are so sensitive to our emotions, they can become sick as a result of our stress. 

Dr. Fern Crist, of The Cat Hospital of Fairfax, says: “As a veterinarian, I frequently see cats who are urinating outside the litterbox.  While this undesirable behavior may be caused by a variety of medical problems, it can also be caused or exacerbated by stress.  It may be the cat’s stress, such as having a new cat to adjust to in the house; but it can just as easily be the owner’s stress.  The emotional turmoil brought on by such difficulties as household financial problems, frequent job travel, marital differences, new babies, and home remodeling can affect our cats in very tangible ways.  Our stress can induce undesirable behaviors in our cats, such as inappropriate urination. More importantly, our stress can also influence the development of actual physical illness in our cats as well as in ourselves.  As responsible owners, we sometimes need to take a good look at ourselves when we ask why our pets are having problems.  Stress relief for pet owners won’t solve every pet health problem, but can go a long way toward alleviating many of them.” 

All of this shows us that stress relief is not only important for our own health and well-being, it’s also good for our pets.

The Lowdown on Nutritional Supplements

vitamins

This article was provided by Nancy Kay, DVM.  Dr. Kay is a Diplomate of the  American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.  She is the recipient of the American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award and author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life.   The article was written for pets, but it applies just as much to supplements for humans.

The nutritional supplement industry has become big business as people are looking for more natural ways to care for the health of their pets.  For example, a person might be inclined to try glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate for their dog’s arthritis pain rather than a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (the equivalent of doggie Advil).

The number of nutritional supplement manufacturers has grown exponentially.  Unfortunately, the quality of products hitting the market is somewhat hit or miss.  There is no FDA approval process for nutritional supplements, and incidents of contamination with heavy metals, pesticides, or other unsavory ingredients have been reported.  Additionally manufacturers are not required to comply with specific formulations for their products- the strength or concentration of the active ingredient may be inadequate, too much of a good thing, or just right.

Knowing this, how in the world can the average consumer purchase a product that is safe and effective?  Certainly query your vet for his or her recommendations.  We veterinarians are taught to use the ACCLAIM system (described below) to assess nutritional supplements.   You too can use this system to make educated choices about these products for yourself and your four-legged loved ones.

A = A name you recognize.  Choose an established company that provides educational materials for veterinarians and other consumers.  Is it a company that is well established?

C = Clinical experience.  Companies that support clinical research and have their products used in clinical trials that are published in peer-reviewed journals to which veterinarians have access are more likely to have a quality product.

C = Contents.  All ingredients should be clearly indicated on the product label.

L = Label claims.  Label claims that sound too good to be true likely are.  Choose products with realistic label claims.

A = Administration recommendations.  Dosing instructions should be accurate and easy to follow.  It should be easy to calculate the amount of active ingredient administered per dose per day.

I = Identification of lot.  A lot identification number indicates that a surveillance system exists to ensure product quality.

M = Manufacturer information.  Basic company information should be clearly stated on the label including a website (that is up and running) or some other means of contacting customer support.

For more information about Dr. Kay, please visit her website at http://www.speakingforspot.com or Spot’s Blog at http://speakingforspot.wordpress.com/

How to Cope With Losing a Pet

In one of the stars...

For those of us who share our lives with animals, it’s inevitable that at some point, we will be dealing with losing these beloved friends.  Over the last ten years, I’ve lost three cats, and I’ve helped many clients through pet loss during the years I worked in veterinary clinics.  As a result, I’m often asked how to cope with losing a pet.

Different things work for different people.  Each situation is unique.  Was the death sudden?  Did it come after a prolonged illness?  Was it the first time the person experienced losing a pet?   I share my own experience of dealing with pet loss and grief in Buckley’s Story – Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher, and maybe my readers will find some commonalities with what I went through.  Even though no two people will deal with pet loss in exactly the same way, I’ve found some common things that can help ease the pain at least a little.  I’ll also share some resources at the end of this article that have helped me when I’ve had to deal with grief and loss.

Acknowledge that losing a pet is a very difficult experience.  Many people, especially people who don’t have pets, don’t realize that losing a pet can often be far more difficult than losing a person.  Many of us view our pets as children, especially if we don’t have children of our own.  For most pet owners, losing a pet is very much like losing a child.    Don’t let anyone tell you that you should “get over it,” “it was only an animal,” or, even worse, “you can always get another one.”  Expect to feel the same emotions you would feel after a person close to you dies.  In Elizabeth Kuebler Ross’ model, the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and eventually acceptance.  Expect that some of these stages may be magnified after losing a pet.

Mark the pet’s passing with some sort of ritual.  It’s important to acknowledge that your pet is gone.  A ritual can be something as elaborate as a memorial service and burial ceremony, or something as simple as lighting a candle in your pet’s memory each night for a little while.

Find supportive family and friends.  Not everyone in your life will be able to handle your grief.  It’s important that you find people who are comfortable with being supportive, can handle letting you cry, listen while you talk about your pet, or who can just quietly sit with you.  Many people don’t know what to do or say when faced with someone who is grieving, so, afraid of saying the wrong thing, they don’t say anything at all.  This can make you feel even more isolated during a difficult time.  Try not to judge people for their inability to handle your grief, and spend more time with those who can.

Allow yourself time to grieve.  There is no way around grief – the only way to deal with grief is to move through it.  If you try to ignore it, it will catch up with you when you least expect it.  You may need to spend an afternoon or an evening crying.  You may not want to distract yourself all the time.  While it’s not healthy to get stuck in your grief, pretending that nothing is wrong is equally unhealthy.  Try and find a balance.

Find things that comfort you.  Whether it’s a walk, music, a favorite book, looking at photos of your pet, or a perfect cup of tea, find small things that provide comfort for you. 

Getting over the loss of a pet takes time, and it takes being gentle with yourself.  If you find that you simply can’t cope, and that even supportive family members or friends aren’t enough to help you get through this difficult time, consider getting professional help.  And know that even though it seems hard to believe when you’re in the middle of grieving the loss of an animal friend, there is truth to the old adage that time heals all wounds.  It does get a little bit easier as time goes on, and one day, upon waking up in the morning, instead of your first thought being about your pet being gone, you’ll find yourself remembering something wonderful about your departed friend.

Resources:

• http://www.veterinarywisdom.com/ is a wonderful site for anyone looking for information on pet loss. The understand that it’s hard to face the future when you know it won’t include your beloved animal companion, and they offer a plethora of resources to prepare for and cope with pet loss, as well as to celebrate and cherish the pets we love.

• http://www.petloss.com/ provides information on how to cope with pet loss, a bulletin board to exchange messages and gain support from others grieving the loss of a pet, healing and inspirational poetry, and links to other internet pet loss sites.

• BooksFor Every Cat an Angel and For Every Dog an Angel by Christine Davis.  These little books are wonderfully illustrated and celebrate the connection between a human and his or her forever cat or dog.

• Music:  Some people find music plays an important part in the healing process.  One particular cd that I have found very helpful anytime I’ve dealt with loss, whether it was an animal or a person, is Beth Nielsen Chapman’s cd Sand and Water.  The singer/songwriter wrote the songs on this album after the loss of her husband to cancer.  The songs on the album reflect the many stages of grieving and healing, and are just as applicable to pet loss as they are to human loss.

• Private Pet Loss Consultation:   I offer phone consultations to help you navigate through your grief.  Sometimes, talking to someone who has experienced this devastating loss can make a difference.  For more information on consultations, click here.

Pets and Lawn Chemicals – Not a Good Combination

cat_and_dog_on_grass

While a green lawn is pretty to look at, you should think twice about how you go about achieving that lush, green look.   The pesticides we apply to our lawns and gardens are hazardous to our pets.  Pets can absorb pesticides through their paws or lick it off their bodies. In addition, pets can be exposed to pesticides when they eat grass.   Some of the chemicals found in herbicides are also easily tracked indoors on your shoes.  An EPA funded study in 2001 found that 2,4-D and dicamba (a chemical used in herbicides) are easily tracked indoors, contaminating the air and surfaces inside residences and exposing children and pets at levels ten times higher than pre-application levels.

This should be enough to make any pet owner think twice about using chemical fertilizers.  There are plenty of natural and organic alternatives to these chemicals that are not only safer for your pets, but also friendlier to the environment.

Insecticide and pesticide poisoning is always an emergency situation and requires immediate veterinary attention.  Symptoms of insecticide poisoning are:

• Excessive salivation
• Tearing of the eyes
• Excessive urination
• Muscle twitching
• Weakness
• Difficult breathing
• Collapse
• Nausea
• Vomiting
• Abdominal pain
• Weakness
• Dizziness
• Unsteady gait

Repeated exposure to phenoxy herbicides (example: 2,4-D) may affect the liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract and skeletal muscles. Some pesticides contain chlorophenoxy acids and are poisonous to the blood, leading to anemia, neutropenia (low white blood cell count), thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), and feline distemper.

Don’t put your pets’ health at risk – look for natural alternatives to keep your lawn green and your yard weed-free.