By Dr. Bill Barnett, D.V.M.

What is Pet Health? The typical medical definition is simply the absence of any clinical disease.

I believe Pet Health is much more than the absence of disease…

For me, pet health should include all of the following characteristics:

  • An active, playful pet with noticeable energy
  • A lean muscular body
  • Healthy skin and a shiny hair coat
  • Mentally sharp, alert and responsive
  • All systems of the body are functioning at peak performance
  • A balanced, functional immune system
  • Absent of any clinically defined disease
  • Free of any age-related degenerative disease

Did you know that very few animals ever die of old age?  Most succumb prematurely to what is usually termed “natural causes.”   Why is it that a long and healthy life is rarely achieved within our pet population today?  The answer: our pets are dying prematurely of chronic, degenerative diseases such as cancer, kidney failure, diabetes and heart disease.

Recently, I read a veterinary report that was alarming.  It said:

“In spite of all the modern advances in veterinary medicine today, we are seeing an increase incidence of disease in our pets.”

In order to achieve optimum health, complete wellness and a long life everything that affects a pet must be taken into consideration.

Pet Health and the Forces of Life

As I often remind pet owners, there are three primary forces in life that directly affect overall pet health, well-being, and length of life. They are Genetics, Environment, and Nutrition. They can assert their force individually or in concert with each other. Optimum health is achieved when all three are in balance.


Many animals are blessed with strong genes that enable them to live healthier and longer lives while others, it seems, are constantly faced with health problems.

Pet Health Fact: 1 in 4 of our pure-bred dogs suffers from health problems caused by genetic defects.

The evolutionary tale of how we went from the grey wolf to 400 very diverse breeds of dog sheds light on the genetic problem we face today. It has been well documented that the primary consequence of interbreeding to create man-made purebreds, each with a unique type and individual traits, is that over the years many behavior and disease-causing genes have been introduced and concentrated in these breeds creating the numerous canine health problems that persist today.

A quick glimpse into where many of our pets come from reveals that many of today’s genetic problems are a result of breeds becoming overly popular and thus being bred excessively without exercising any caution. In addition, there are those who will breed indiscriminately for profit.

Do your homework before purchasing a new dog or cat. Read about the breed you want. Require that the breeder or seller show proof that the parents and grandparents are free of any potential genetic defects

Environmental issues include both physical and emotional ones. Weather, pollution, pesticides, toxins, noise, parasites, mold, bacteria and viruses are just a few of the environmental forces our pets must contend with. All too often, the environment we place our pets into can wreak havoc with their health.  When we choose a pet simply for how they look, we may not be equipped to provide them the space or attention they need.  Convenience often usurps doing the right thing. And, it’s a sad fact that human abuse of animals, the most severe of negative of environmental factors, continues to be a major problem.

Pet Health Fact: Lung cancer is on the rise in pets as a result of second-hand smoke from owners.

Scientists teach us that food can make us healthy and strong or it can make us very sick and weak. In 450 BC, Herodotus said the following: “All diseases to which man is subject proceed from food.” This is also a widely held opinion among many scientists today yet it is all too often ignored.

Nutrition is considered the “Foundation of Life”. Nutrition is also the easiest of the three forces for most pet owners to control. As such, nutrition is where the majority of our attention should be focused in order to defend our pet’s health to the best of our ability.

Pet Health Fact: Obesity is the number one health concern facing our pet population today. Obesity is a nutritional disorder not seen in wild carnivores. Because our pets eat what we provide, this is a man-made disease stemming from an inadequate diet. This problem really shouldn’t exist.

3. obese-dog