11 Ways to be the Best Pet Owner: Advice from Dr. Marty Becker
Dr. Marty Becker

Everyone Wants The Best For Their Pets.

We sat down with "America's veterinarian." Dr. Marty Becker, to get his take on how to be the best pet owner possible with some practical suggestions for keeping pets happy and healthy throughout their lives.

1. Get Educated

The first step to being an outstanding pet owner, according to Dr. Becker, is taking responsibility. “Nobody ever says ‘I was a lousy pet owner.’ It’s always the pet’s fault.” Learn the peculiarities of your pet’s breed such as how much exercise they need, how gregarious they are, how much maintenance their coat requires, how often they need to go outside, and about new technologies, products, and nutrition that might help you care for your pet. Knowing the basics about your pet’s upkeep ensures you won’t be caught off guard by troubling behavior.

2. Focus on the Human-Animal Bond

“Dogs and cats have broken down the walls of our hearts. There haven’t been comparable domesticated species in 5,000 years.” For Dr. Becker, it’s clear that pets and people have evolved to benefit each other. He explains, “When you’re petting them, you both get this massive release of oxytocin, prolactin, dopamine, and a decrease in cortisol. It’s a reciprocal biochemical spa treatment.” As they age, it can be easy to take pets for granted. Make time for a little human-animal bonding every day.

3. Learn to Detect Signs of Stress

“We’re naturally attuned to stress in other people. We know what a happy dog looks like, but what does a stressed pet look like? Stress increases cortisol, the fight or flight hormone, which over time can lead to long-term metabolic conditions.” Major indicators of stress to watch out for include:

  • Excessive yawning
  • Excessively licking lips
  • Shaking dry when not wet
  • Trembling
  • Avoiding or hiding
  • Hardening of the eyes

4. Reduce Stress

Dr. Becker notes, “The key is to reduce anxiety triggers.” If you have a vet visit, “don’t get the carrier out the night before,” give them a few days to get prepared. If they’re nervous alone or travelling, play soothing music, or draw the shades. The less stimulus pets receive from the outside world, the less anxiety they’ll have about events outside their control.

5. Share Your Home

You may pay the bills, but your home is your pet’s whole world. Dr. Becker says we often put our own needs first. “Humans put litter boxes where it’s convenient. But that bathroom or laundry room has no escape route. For your cat it’s less hassle to go behind that bureau.” To locate stressors in the home, consider the following:

  • Are feeding dishes and litter boxes easily accessible?
  • Are neighbor’s pets a source of irritation?
  • Does your pet have access to a secluded space to rest?
  • Are outside noises or light over-stimulating them? 

6. Plan for When You’re Not There

Make sure your pets are provided for during those long hours when you’re away. Dr. Becker suggests technological options. “DOGTV has stimulation and relaxation channels, and there are apps that control contraptions that talk to your pet, or dispense treats. Pheromone sprays can also reduce anxiety, creating that kumbaya atmosphere.” And, of course, daycare and dog walkers are a great way to enrich your pet’s day. “Know someone who wants exercise? Maybe they’ll walk your dog.”

7. Keep Them Active

Energy varies between breeds, says Dr. Becker. “GreyhoundsLabsGolden RetrieversJack Russell TerriersBorder Collies, and other active breeds  have unfathomable energy.” He continues, “wolves spend 80% of their time awake, moving. With cats, there’s not such an exercise requirement,” but providing outlets for play at home is still crucial. For both cats and dogs he recommends food-dispensing that “recreates the hunt,” and puzzle feeders that engage your pet’s “body and mind.”

8. Help Them Adapt to New Environments

“The only thing that likes change is a four-week-old baby in a wet diaper.” Though puppies and kittens are easygoing, mature pets often need guidance transitioning into new spaces. Dr. Becker advises introducing them slowly. “Don’t just dump them in a new house and hope for the best.” Pheromone sprays are handy for making strange houses more inviting. “Cats,” notes Dr. Becker, exist as both predator and prey, and in predator mode, they need vertical surfaces like climbing towers to feel safe.”

9. Be Diligent about Vet Visits

“Don’t wait for the signs,” Dr. Becker stresses. Focus on “prevention first.” Pets age fast, and when it comes to illness they are programmed to mask weakness, “they’re naturally secretive.” One to two visits a year is ideal, but if you suspect a problem, don’t hesitate, and don’t self-diagnose. “In the last two years I’ve seen four or five cases where people went to the internet for help, and by the time they get to the vet it’s too late,” says Dr. Becker.

10. Keep Them Social

Some breeds have a harder time socializing than others, but nobody benefits from an antisocial pet. Dr. Becker offered these techniques for introducing your pet to strangers:

  • Meet on neutral territory, where nobody feels territorial.
  • With humans (read: mail carriers), give them a treat to feed your pet.
  • With other animals, time and patience are key. Reward calm behavior.

“Don’t use negative training, don’t swat them with a newspaper. How cruel.”

Cat owners: check out more socialization tips here.

11. Celebrate Your Pet at Every Age

Everyone loves a new puppy or kitten, says Dr. Becker. “They’re wildly kinetic, and humorous. An older pet is thinner, bonier. Their coats aren’t as soft, they might have bad breath.” But, like people, a pet’s needs change with age. They may be less active, preferring a leisurely stroll to a rollicking tug-of-war. “Our old retriever, who’s blind, still wants to retrieve.” Adapting to their changing needs will ensure your old friend remains a healthy and happy member of your family.

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What Cat and Dog Poop is Saying about their Health
What Cat and Dog Poop is Saying about their Health

There are many ways that your cat and dog can indicate they aren’t feeling well.

Sometimes their behavior betrays them. But one indicator—your cat or dog’s poop—is a telltale sign of their overall health. Owners always have their cat or dog’s poop at their disposal, so with a little help, it can be an insightful tool. That’s where Purina’s long time expert Gail Czarnecki-Maulden, PhD comes in.

Meet the ‘Queen of Pet Poop’

Fondly known as the “Queen of Pet Poop,” Gail Czarnecki-Maulden, PhD, Purina Senior Research Nutritionist, knows the scoop on cat and dog poop.

“I believe that the proof of a pet’s digestive health is in the poop,” says Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden, who has studied cats and dogs’ digestive health for nearly 27 years. “A healthy gut microflora balance promotes a long, healthy life.”

Pet owners know to look at their cat or dog’s poop and watch out for red flags with their cats and dogs--bloody stool, diarrhea, and straining, but Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden, takes this to a whole other level. She along with her team of scientists, use sophisticated tools of the trade, such as in-depth microflora analysis, the Fecal Score System and a texture analyzer, to search for clues about how cat and dog nutrition impacts digestive health. In other words, they investigate the composition, color, shape and consistency of cat and dog poop to discover how well pet food provides a healthy gut microflora balance.  

“A pet’s fecal activity says a lot about how the animal feels,” she says. “Pets are what they eat, and their fecal scores reflect that. When the gut environment has a good balance, beneficial bacteria flourish.  These bacteria produce nutrients that are absorbed and used by the body.  They even produce energy for the intestinal cells that absorb nutrients.” Not to mention that the GI tract is responsible for most of cats and dogs’ overall health, since it is the largest immune organ in the body. Because digestion is so crucial for nutrition, health, and overall wellbeing, Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden and her team study four indicators of fecal health: stool form and odor, fecal density and stickiness, food digestibility and nutrient absorption, and stool bacterial levels and composition.

But the average owner can’t dissect and test cat or dog poop whenever they suspect something is off with their beloved pet. So there a few tips Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden recommends beyond looking for blood in dog poop or diarrhea in the cat litter box. There are symptoms owners can look out for and steps they can take to help promote their cat or dog’s digestive health.

Cat and Dog Poop InfoGraphic

 While making a point to share knowledge is helpful for cat and dog owners, Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden and her team’s research have a greater impact for pet health through their nutritional and gastrointestinal breakthroughs. The research and knowledge they unlock helps create innovative new pet foods and products that aid digestion and overall health. The most recent, and possibly most exciting include Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets FortiFlora for cats and dogs and using a prebiotic fiber from chicory root as an ingredient in Purina Pro Plan PRIME Adult 7+ for cats. Both are huge advances. The research group’s work forwards Purina’s goal to promote overall pet health, nutrition, and of course ensures digestion (and cat and dog poop) is all that it should be.

Interested in learning more about nutrition and digestion for your cat or dog? Learn more about what your dog should be eating or see if you can make a healthy selection for your cat with Purina’s product selector tool.


Dr. Gail Czarnecki-Maulden

Dr. Gail Czarnecki-Maulden, earned the nickname “Queen of Pet Poop,” during her 27 years in the field studying the role of digestive health in pet nutrition. She is a Purina Senior Research Nutritionist and focuses on how digestive health can help pets live long, healthy lives. In addition to her work with Purina, she is a member of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Dog and Cat Nutrient Profiles Subcommittee, which sets nutrient standards for dog and cat foods in the U.S. Her work has positioned her as an expert in the pet nutrition world and she has published more than 70 articles and abstracts in that area.

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Purina Helping Pets and People Affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria
Purina Helping Pets and People Affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Our hearts go out to the families and pets affected by recent hurricanes affecting the Gulf Coast, the Southeast region of the U.S. and vulnerable islands in the Caribbean. Our thoughts are with the people in these areas.

In times of need, Purina works with our disaster relief partner Rescue Bank, a program of Greater Good, to deliver Purina pet food, cat litter and FortiFlora, a probiotic supplement that helps reduce symptoms of stress, to pet shelters in the affected areas. Our efforts to date to support disaster relief for Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria are below. We continue to monitor all of these situations and are prepared to send additional support as needed.

HURRICANE MARIA

More than 40,000 pounds of dry dog and cat food has been donated to support disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

HURRICANE HARVEY

Purina has shipped six truckloads of Purina products, totaling 170,000 pounds of pet food and 74,000 pounds of cat litter, to pet shelters in the affected regions. Purina has also committed to donating $25,000 to Greater Good to support people and pets who have been impacted by this disaster. These funds will help to provide support for immediate rescue efforts, much-needed supplies, and rebuilding initiatives for individuals and communities affected by the hurricane.

HURRICANE IRMA

We are donating an additional $25,000 to GreaterGood.org for disaster relief supplies and services to pets and people in anticipation of the Hurricane and after the storms hit. In addition, our shelter partner Humane Society of Greater Miami will receive nearly 1,900 pounds of dog and cat food and 6,000 pounds of cat litter, and we are ready to send additional product to pet shelters in the affected region as needs are determined.

TOGETHER WE CAN HELP PETS & PEOPLE AFFECTED BY RECENT HURRICANES

Purina also supports Petfinder Foundation. They’re rushing to aid animal shelters taking in pets displaced by recent Hurricanes. If you’d like to help too, consider a donation to the Petfinder Foundation - 100 percent of your donation is tax-deductible. http://bit.ly/2iGK9Jn

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GRAVY CRAVERS® WITH BEEF IN GRAVY

Some say the flavors of beef and gravy are a match made in heaven, and your dog would definitely agree. That’s why our ALPO® Gravy Cravers With Beef In Gravy is a hit for meat-loving dogs. These tender slices are made with real beef and covered in savory gravy to make dinnertime the highlight of your dog’s day. 

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Grilled Chicken Flavor in Savory Juices

Grilled flavor is calling. And this grilled chicken flavor recipe brings it home to your small dog’s plate. This meal, with delicious grilled chicken flavor in savory juices, is sure to please.

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Grilled Chicken Flavor in Savory Juices
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Chicken

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