Healthy Life

Putting Pets First: Exploring Healthier Food Options for Your Four-Legged Friends

By Rachel Jones / Photography By Michael Fornataro | April 01, 2015
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Putting Pets First

Feed the dog. Growing up, that was one of the first things on my chore list. (Of course, my pup always gave not-so-subtle, wet-nosed reminders, so I’d never forget!) Over the years, my job as a pet parent has always been to keep my furry friends happy and healthy. And, just as we do our best to spoon nutritious, natural foods onto the plates on our tables, it’s just as important to keep a similar mindset when scooping food into the dishes on our floors.

“Our diet is the core of our being,” says Toni Shelaske, the owner of Healthy Pet Products. “That old adage, ‘We are what we eat,’ is true.” And, if we want our pets to be the best, we need to reach for the best foods, which are not processed. Shelaske stocks her shelves with bags of these high-quality foods and treats — a dedication she’s had since she purchased the locally owned store in October 2008.

Shelaske also expanded Healthy Pet Products to two locations — one in North Hills and one in South Hills — and added walk-in freezers, a first for Pittsburgh. “You won’t find raw food in big box stores,” she says. “Even some of the other smaller, locally owned stores will have some raw food. But, we have the largest selection. We feel it’s the most beneficial food that pets can be on, so we try to at least educate the average customer on what their options are.”

Each product is thoroughly researched before it’s carried by the store. “If there is a product I’m considering, a former employee of mine will do all of the research,” she explains. “The main things we look for are no byproducts, chemical preservatives, wheat, corn, soy, sugar, or food coloring. Our foods and supplements are made in the United States, and we really look for ingredients that were sourced in the United States.” (Most of the venison and lamb actually hail from New Zealand, but their food supply chain is a much higher quality than ours is!)

We take comfort in shopping at Healthy Pet Products, knowing that all of our concerns were taken into consideration before we walk through the door. But, any additional worries can be calmed by the highly educated staff. “My main philosophy is to reach out to as many people as I can to try to educate them about the benefits of better pet food,” she says. “We spend a lot of time with our customers, especially new ones. It’s easy to spend 30-60 minutes with a new customer, especially if the pet has any specific issues.”

Some of these issues can be improved with the addition of supplements. “Meg was developing cataracts, and the vet verified that,” Shelaske says, reaching down to pet her rescued pup, who sits at our feet while we chat. “I started giving her one of our cataracts supplements. About a year later, when we saw him again, he looked in her eyes and looked at me and said, ‘Wow! What are you doing?’” Top selling go-tos are raw goat’s milk, which is packed with probiotics to aid in digestion, and the joint supplement Connectin, which has added herbs that are anti-inflammatory.

Another way to keep our pets’ diets healthy is to gradually switch foods over time. Eating the same thing every day is not only boring, but can also lead to nutrient deficiencies down the line. By slowly introducing new proteins into their meals, different amino acids can be absorbed and a healthier gut can be created.

And, yes — introducing table foods is OK! “I have a lot of people come in and say, ‘I don’t feed them table scraps,’ and it’s like they’re at confession,” Shelaske says. “I really believe that the more whole foods they get, the better. No matter what the quality of kibble, kibble is still a processed product. Giving them table food – as long as it’s not McDonald’s or something unhealthy — is good for them.”

Taking in Shelaske’s insight in just one meeting already has me revamping my dog’s meal plans, and I’m not the only one who’s eager for more of her advice. “She was recently asked to speak to future vet techs at the Parkway West Career and Technology Center because they wanted her to share healthy, holistic ways to take care of pets,” says Sharon Wiegand, Shelaske’s assistant. “Everything Toni does is to educate and teach others.”

Which, in fact, is what Shelaske says she is most passionate about. “We really just want to educate people as much as we can and help as many pets as we can.”

Healthy Pet Products, 9805 McKnight Road, North Hills. 412.366.0700. 1742 Washington Road, Upper St., Clair. 412.831.3700.

@HealthyPetProducts /HealthyPetProducts

Healthy Pet Products offers the largest selection of raw pet foods in the Pittsburgh area. “It increases energy level, vitality, and overall health and wellness,” Shelaske says. “Their teeth are cleaner, they don’t get ear infections, they don’t have smelly coats, their muscle mass is better, they don’t become overweight – the benefits are endless.”

Toni Shelaske and pup, Meg
Healthy Pet Products Owner Toni Shelaske and her rescued pup, Meg.


Another way Healthy Pet Products tries to educate the community is through Healthy Pet Day. The MAY 9 event features three seminars, featuring speaker Dr. Doug Knueven, the area’s only holistic vet, and a discussion on the behavior-nutrition link. While only the North Hills location will host the seminars, a lot of the store’s suppliers will be on hand at both locations to talk about their foods and the benefits of them, and to pass out free samples! Both locations will also offer sales on almost every item and the chance to win a raffle basket, with the money collected going to local rescue shelters. Pets from the Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center, Animal Friends, the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, and other shelters will be in attendance, too!

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