For those of us that are cat or dog owners, you may ask yourself: "Are there any healthy alternatives to processed food diets for my pets?" Actually, there are many alternatives. Personally, I am a dog person. I know more about dogs, so I apologize upfront if I don't talk about cats as much. I guess that is because I am so allergic to cats that I get swollen eyes every time I am around one. As far as food goes, many pets like to be picky with what they eat; no different than their human counterparts (us obviously, being their owner). I have German Shepherd and she is the most picky eater that I have ever seen. In fact, she has actually "poo-poo" dry food after a few months, then wet Alpo, then certain Pedigree foods. I have dealt with all of this, so I had to create some alternatives (mainly mixing and matching to get my pet to eat overall (the same methods can apply to cats).

Let me start off with the very basic "Don't have's" for any pet. The two big ones are chocolate and grapes. Pretty much, any fruit will give a cat or dog an upset stomach (if not chosen wisely and rationed out in small increments). And, chocolate is very dangerous, especially for our canine friends.

Now the "Have's" can be talked about. This is where we get into the issue of making healthy foods for my cat or dog. Let's see: picture a scenario where you feed your cat or dog and they refuse to eat their food. You wonder, are they sick? Are they just being stubborn? Are they angry at me? And yes, we do characterize our pets as some kind of "fur person" so by all means, they must be emphathetic about all that we tell them, otherwise we get hurt feelings. Is something wrong with that picture? So many things, I won't even go there (It's almost like our pets own us!). Eating is the natural process and function of fulfilling our hunger and we hydrate ourselves for our thirst. Pets have to do this as well, and believe me, they will eat you out of house and home and rack up the grocery bill.

It's hard to find out what your pet likes. My dear German Shepherd, Roxy (aka Roxanne) is very fond of a the Purina One ground food (and for once, it doesn't matter which flavor, sheesh!). Let me talk about some of the ways you can mix and match your dogs food to make it a healthier diet, as well as working with the current method of dietary needs that you are using for your feline or canine friend.

Basic nutrition would say keep the same food and don't change often because it could effect your pets health (due to additives), their weight (due to calorie differences among brands), and their hygiene or regularity (as in pooping like they never have before!). The first way I would suggest healthy eating for your pet, is to find out which they prefer: dry food or wet food. If they prefer one predominately over the other, then work with the one they like (dry or wet).

If your dog or cat likes both, then that's where it gets to the nitty gritty faster than you could ever imagine. Now some pets are good, granted that. They'll eat anything thrown in that bowl or plate. Others are like my Roxy and will not work with what they have. I told my dog, "Beggars can't be choosers," to which I received a blank stare. Now, as I have the ability to incessantly ramble on, I will finally get to it.

Here are 10 things to try with your cat or dog to keep their diet in sync:

  1. Mix and match their food. For picky eaters, put some dry food on the bottom and maybe mix it in with their favorite wet food. This could ensure that they get used to both and end up liking the mixture.

  2. Mix vegetables in their food. Cats and dogs seem to like green beans (make sure no salt is added).

  3. My uncle's cat, which is as big as a dog (see pic) just simply likes basic cat food and is not picky. If you find a method that works and do not need steps one and two, then stay with the food that your pet likes most (no matter if it is wet or dry).

  4. If your pet is having problems staying hydrated and is not getting enough liquids from their diet, it helps if you take low sodium chicken broth and put a little of it mixed in with their food. This will make them want water more often, just make sure you do not put too much, as it could be dangerous and they will also have to go out to use their self-proclaimed outhouse very often.

  5. If your pet is on medicine, this is where it could get tricky. My dog is on just the basic ones: Sentinel, Comfortis (both of which are for killing fleas, flea larva, and heart worms) and she is on low dosages of generic allergy tablets to control her allergies. The brand name is benedryl in 25mg tablets twice daily. Now medications can have many side effects, such as a thyroid med and medications for diabetes or epelepsy. This may include increased or decreased hunger, excessive thirst, or weight gain (especially from steroids). You will need a special food for these types of situations. On, now, to step #6.

  6. There are both wet (ground, gravy style) and dry foods that are for weight management. Usually these types of foods, as told to me by my vet, are for dogs 6-years of age and up to control their diet. Basically, middle-aged pets, whether it is a dog or cat. I know that Purina makes a weight management type of food, which you can find online or in-store near your town. This weight management food could help regulate your cat or dogs diet so that they do not go to either extreme (excessive weight loss or excessive weight gain). They should be right in the middle. What now you say? Step #7 is here. Onwards we go.

  7. Cats and dogs get moody when they're hungry and anxious, just like humans do. This would be a good time to decide how you are going to feed them. If you are at home a lot, you may want to break their meals up into 3-increments. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. NOTE: This all depends on the size of the pet, as small dogs and cats would obviously need less food.

  8. Then there is exercise. Plain and simple. Keep your pet active (cats usually do their own thing anyways), which means this applies more to walking your dog. Stop the activity, anxiety builds up, and either a cat or a dog may eat out of frustration. Wow, sounds like me when I get into a fight with my family or when I am stressed out! I guess that's what I got my weight bench for (and that just sits there too, fancy that). And then, there's the problem of weight gain and weight fluctuation again from poor eating (and that goes for all of us).

  9. Sometimes a vet will recommend vitamins, but this is usually a localized reason. Even though they help, they may not be what your pet needs at that moment (such as Iron deficiency, etc.). If you are not told to give your pet vitamins, try mixing some things into their diet that would have good sources of vitamins. My dog, for instance, really likes bananas. Excellent source of Potassium, pets like it, and you can eat the part you didn't give them that's still in the peel. I just wouldn't give wet food or veggies when you are giving your pet bananas. Would you like banana on your steak and green beans? I think not. Fried Cuban banana slices and hot sauce, maybe, but not the ripe fruit. I would say that it would be good to give your pet a banana by itself. I am not sure if cats would like that though. You may want to take more of a calcium route and give your cat some milk. Make sure it is luke warm, so it is easier to drink, and pick it up when it is room temperature because the last think you'd want as a pet owner would be to have your pet get sick: you'd be worried, sad, and be out of a pretty penny.

  10. Now for the last one. If your pet takes medicine, you have some ways that you can give it to them. The best way is to put a little ball of wet food or cheese around the tablet and let them eat it out of your hand. Just watch out for that famous "cat scratch" if you get too close to a cat. I mean, I even had to go so far as to use a small amount of butter to put the meds in, because my dog always found the medication and then "poo-pooed" it again! Butter is for the extreme cases, unfortunately I had to go there with my Rox and socks.

Well, as you can see animals are tricky creatures. They eat, drink, use the bathroom, and sleep. So basically they are like what my girlfriend describes me to be during football season. The pets and I never get off he couch and stay in the same hairy clothing all the time. It's just that cats and dogs will always do something cute, even when they are eating, so the last thing on your mind is their diet or actions. They can't keep me angry for very long, even when they eat my favorite pair of shoes. I wish they could tell me their cute distractions and knowledge for when my girlfriend comes over during the big game. Just kidding honey (ducks flying piece of laundry). But, as for our pets, they are humble, caring creatures. So just like us, we all need to watch our diets, bodies, and weight to live a long and healthy life.

Don't feed your cat or dog "people food" from the table, you're only asking for trouble.

Sources: various animal information and fact sheets, my dog's vet, and word of mouth.