By Maija Merchant, MS, LAc

Frank had a rough beginning. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey flooded his hometown of Houston, TX and he was separated from his family. He was rescued but ended up contracting a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous system. The virus was Canine Distemper and Frank is a dog!

Thankfully Frank, a Great Pyrenees mix, survived with the help of the Best Friends Animal Welfare Society and I got the opportunity to adopt him. At that time, Frank was 70 pounds, which is underweight for his breed, and was suffering from such poor health that it made it difficult for him to walk. It has been my mission to improve his health and in return, he gives me a great amount of love, affection, and mounts of white fur to brush and snuggle. 

Cultivating Good Health for your Pet

Though I am a practitioner of Traditional Asian Medicine, and my focus is nourishing and strengthening the system, working with animals is not my area of expertise. With the help of a Veterinarian, I choose a number of dietary supplements to help Frank gain weight, improve his immune system, strengthen his joints and hips, and help him gain a glorious white fluffy coat.

Selecting a probiotic designed for animals was the first step in rehabilitating Frank. I gained a lot of insight from studies such as “Oral Administration of Compound Probiotics Improved Canine Feed Intake, Weight Gain, Immunity, and Intestinal Microbiota”, a study published in Frontiers in Immunology in 2019. Once Frank started to gain some weight, I switched to a soft chew that was formulated into a four-in-one combo. Gaining strength is a gradual process and I choose a supplement that was mild enough for everyday use but would give him cumulative benefits for his overall health, digestion, joints and skin and coat. Soft chews are often blended with brewers yeast and dog-friendly flavors, so Frank just thought he was getting an extra treat with his regular meals. 

Because Frank is a large dog and was in such a weakened condition, it was important to add a supplement that helped to address his overall structural integrity. I choose a soft chew that contained Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and MSM for overall joint support but that also contained ingredients to address inflammation and flexibility, such as Omega fatty acids. There are many herbs and botanicals that can address pain and discomfort of the joints and hips, however, it is wise to select one that has been recognized as safe for animals. The South American botanical Yucca schidigera has demonstrated anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic effects in people as well as horses and dogs.

And finally, to address that fluffy coat, I add a squirt or two of Norwegian Fish Oil into Frank’s dinner. He loves the flavor and I’m happy that it helps to support his skin and coat. He is now a beautiful dog...until he comes in from the yard having rolled around in the dirt. Because his immune system will always be somewhat delicate, I select pet grooming products that are unscented or use gentle ingredients such as oatmeal and contain no parabens, phthalates, sulfates, etc.

Ultimately, the care and management of any pet that has contracted and survived Canine Distemper must be supervised by a Veterinarian, as there are many potential chronic challenges that can manifest over time. Caring for Frank may require products that are consumed over a long period of time and so, I look for products that are manufactured in the USA in a cGMP compliant facility, as well as brands that value quality transparency

Cultivating Good Health for You

Caring for a pet, especially one with chronic health challenges is a long term commitment. However, the benefits can definitely outweigh the cost. 

In Traditional Asian Medicine, there is an awareness that good health comes from more than just quality food, exercise, and dietary supplements. As referenced in the philosophical Chinese classic text, the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), there is the concept that nourishing the Shen, or one’s mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, is fundamental to overall good health. Taking care of others, be they human or otherwise, is an excellent way to nourish the Shen. Many cultures recognize the surprising health bonus of caregiving and recent research has caught up to confirm this ancient wisdom.

It is nice to know that dog ownership is associated with a longer life because of the love and companionship that a pet offers and due to a correlation with better cardiovascular health, a dog is your heart's best friend. But at the end of the day, coming home to a happy pet is its own reward...the benefit of mutual good health is just a bonus. 


  1. Hurricane Harvey Animals, Best Friends Animal Society Website, 10/15/19 Accessed
  2. iHerb: Pet Probiotics
  3. Frontiers in Immunology, Oral Administration of Compound Probiotics Improved Canine Feed Intake, Weight Gain, Immunity and Intestinal Microbiota, DOI: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.00666, Epub 2019 Apr 2. 
  4. iHerb: Pet Herbs
  5. Journal of Inflammation, Anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic effects of yucca schidigera: A review, DOI: 10.1186/1476-9255-3-6, Epub 2009 Mar 2.
  6. iHerb: Pet Omegas & Oils
  7. Bauer, JE., 2007 Dec 1, Responses of dogs to dietary omega-3 fatty acids., J Am Vet Med Assoc., DOI: 10.2460/javma.231.11.1657
  8. iHerb: Pet Grooming
  9. iHerb: iTested
  10. The Surprising Health Bonus of Caregiving, John Hopkins Medicine Website, 10/15/2019 Accessed
  11. Dog Ownership and Survival, American Heart Association Website, 10/15/2019 Accessed
  12. Your heart’s best friend: Dog ownership associated with better cardiovascular health, Mayo Clinic Website, 10/15/2019