Some people like them, some people don’t. I usually make one or two new year’s resolutions because I feel like it’s the thing to do. It’s like the beginning of a new year is a clean slate and I can brush aside yesterday’s poor choices (I’ll never tell!), half-finished then forgotten projects, and general errors of judgement. I like to buy a shiny new diary and flick through it’s empty, potential-filled pages, inhaling the glorious scent of possibility, (or is that just the smell of pretty kikki k stationery?). I’m certain that one year, I will actually use the diary (come on, 2016!).
So while you guys have been getting ready to welcome in the new year, I’ve been furiously typing away at the old laptop in an attempt to help you out with some new year’s resolution inspiration. Here are 5 ideas for making 2016 a joyful and healthy year for your pets.
1. Let Them be Themselves
This may sound a little crazy, but dogs need to be dogs and cats need to be cats. Bunnies need to be bunnies and birds need to be birds. As Dr Anne Fawcett said in our expert roundup, animals do a truly incredible job of assimilating into our lives and being what we need them to be: but they are not human. They need to express species-appropriate behaviours, some of which might not be all that appealing to us. Most cats need to scratch and hunt, while most dogs like to dig and bark. We can try to redirect these “problem behaviours” into activities we find more acceptable, but it’s a bad idea (and not very nice!) to try and stop them all together.
For dogs who dig, you can always try training them to dig in one particular area. This can be done successfully with a sandpit and buried treasures. Or alternatively, you can learn to live with holes in the lawn like I do. My husband keeps filling them in and Annie keeps digging them – there have been many battles, but my money’s on the Border Collie for winning the war.
Dogs bark. Don’t you think it’s a little bizarre to expect them to live their lives with a vow of silence (that they have no idea they made!). Of course there are a lot of situations in which barking can be really excessive and problematic, particularly if it is due to boredom or anxiety. Dealing with such issues is for everyones benefit, but a little bit of barking does not a bad dog make.
Cats need to scratch things. I’ve heard strange tales that in some parts of the world, people “declaw” their kitties to keep the furniture nice. This is not just removing the nail: it’s removing the last bone of every finger! I can’t even comprehend how this ever started happening and how anyone can think this barbaric cruelty is ok. It’s not ok. Admittedly I’m very conservative, I also find it unacceptable to chop off tails or cut ears to make them more pointy just because someone thinks it looks better. But I digress. The inherent need of a cat to scratch is not necessarily a big deal. If they are given appropriate items to scratch on when they are kittens and redirected to these items consistently, most cats will learn very quickly. Scratching posts need to be tall enough that a cat can stand and stretch to full length, and some cats prefer to scratch horizontal surfaces rather than vertical ones.
2. Spend Time With Them
Sounds like a no-brainer, right! Our pets are part of the family and they love to be loved. Work out what your dog or kitty loves most, and indulge them regularly! My Border Collie Annie loves to play fetch, and does so with the fierce concentration typical of a working breed dog. Billy, who is a mix of who knows what from my local shelter, loves nothing more than to climb into my lap and get scratches behind the ears and under the chin. In a lot of ways I think he might be a cat in a dog’s body. My feline friend Loki’s all time favourite game is chasing da bird, as I dangle it from the end of it’s fishing rod. But he also loves a game of fetch. Maybe he and Billy did some sort of magical brain swap.
3. Put Them on a Diet
Most of us swear we’re going to lose weight and/or get fit after the festive season, but what about our pets? Studies in 2014 showed that more than 50% of all pet dogs and cats are overweight. Nearly 30% of cats and 20% of dogs were actually classed as obese. If you can keep your furry friend at an ideal body weight, the benefits are enormous. They will be less likely to suffer from arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease, and overall will live longer and happier lives. If you’re not sure how much you should be feeding, have a chat with your vet.
A lot of the time, people just don’t know what a healthy body weight should look like in their pet. For example, there are so many obese Labradors out there that when people think when they see a healthy lab it’s underweight.
If you can do just ONE thing for your pet in 2016, get them to a healthy body weight. Maybe you need to think it through and maybe you need to have words with “dad” or “grandma” or whoever likes to sneak too many tidbits under the table, but I promise, it will be worth it.
Work Out Your Dog’s Body Condition Score
Work Out Your Cat’s Body Condition Score
More fantastic information can be found on the WSAVA website. Just scroll down to “Tools for Pet Owners”.
Just kidding! There are no pet gyms that I know of – thank god. Exercise is just as important for good health in pets as it is for us. For dogs, the best thing is to get out for a walk every day. Not only does it get them off the couch and moving, but the opportunity to sniff around and investigate the world beyond the home is so important.
Bored by the same old “walkies” every day? There are loads of ways you can mix it up! Did you know there are dog-inclusive group fitness classes out there? Check out the Barx Active website for inspiration and ideas! Among other things, these dog-loving fitness fanatics do circuit style classes, where you get a strength and cardio based workout, and your dog is given challenges to complete as well. But without any pressure, and all in a fun and friendly environment.
Have you considered taking your dogs camping or hiking? We’ve done it heaps of times with Billy and Annie – because it’s so much fun for all of us. For fantastic and comprehensive info about camping and hiking with your dogs, you can’t go past Dog Adventures.
When it comes to cats get out those cat toys and play! Different cats have different preferences (obviously!) so work out what your cat loves. Some go for little mousy toys scurrying around the floor, others love the bird type toys on fishing lines (like Loki does!), and some will be perfectly happy batting a scrunched up piece of paper around. If you have a super lazy cat who just doesn’t enjoy playing, you need to get creative. Place meals up high where they have to jump up to get them, or even spread them around the house in secret hiding places if you dare (and don’t have small children who might get there first!). Greedy cats can also be fed with food dispensing toys. It makes more sense for them to “hunt” or at least work a little for their food in some way than to just have it served up in a bowl. For some great ideas, check out Pets Need a Life Too.
5. Be Prepared
No, I don’t mean you need to go and join the boy scouts, but being prepared for an emergency could save your pets life. For this reason, I’m in the process of putting together Australias first ever, veterinarian-tutored, online pet first aid course. If you’d like me to drop you an email with further details and a special introductory price when I launch it in 2016, just register your interest here.
As well as learning some basic first aid for dogs and cats, it’s important to have a practical pet first aid kit at home. We have one for our kids, so why don’t most of us have one for our furkids? Human first aid kits are just no good for pets, because they’re a little different to us. I know, some of you are probably thinking, “well, obviously we’re different, I don’t have four legs and a tail!” while others will be shaking your heads, “tell MY dog he’s not a person!” The thing is, first aid kits designed for humans have a lot of things like sticky band-aids and crepe bandages and triangular bandages that are completely useless on a furry individual. They often contain antiseptics that are inappropriate or even dangerous for use on our pets. On top of this, they are missing most of the key items that, as a vet, I consider critical for applying first aid to a dog or cat.
For those of you who would like to put together your own pet first aid kit, I’ve compiled a list of contents. While there is no perfect first aid kit for every pet, there are some fundamental pieces that are extremely useful to have. You can add or subtract items depending on individual needs.
If that looks a bit complicated and overly difficult, I have excellent news. Here at Creature Clinic we are putting together some really great quality, customized kits just for pets. They’re not quite ready yet, but my email subscribers will be the first to know, and will get a special offer when the time comes!
Most of all, I hope you have fun!
I wish you and your loved ones, furry or not, all the best for a happy and healthy 2016.
– Dr. Jo