new year's resolutions for pets

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

cat dog pugThis 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

Sheltie and dog biscuits

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

Download (PDF, 1.3MB)

Work Out Your Cat’s Body Condition Score

Download (PDF, 1.55MB)

More fantastic information can be found on the WSAVA website. Just scroll down to “Tools for Pet Owners”.

4. Hit the Gym

pug lifting weights dog gymJust 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.
Pet first aid kit contents

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!

And Finally

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

Joanna Paul
Dr. Joanna Paul BVSc (hons) BSc Jo is a practicing small animal veterinarian based in Melbourne, Australia. Working in partnership with loving pet owners to ensure their fur-kids remain happy, healthy family members life-long is what brings her joy. Well, that and taking naps. Jo strongly believes that helping to maintain the wonderful bond between a pet and their human is reason enough for a happy dance.
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Showing 12 comments
  • Janet aka Middle Aged Mama
    Reply

    Loki sounds like our Miss Fleur – she has a “mouse” on the end of a fishing line type setup, that she just loves to chase. Fleur is an indoors only girl, but isn’t lacking for entertainment – she has a cat castle shaped like a row boat, handmade by the hubster, with hidey holes and a perch up high for her to sit on and survey the world, as well as carpet up the sides for her to scratch. Her favourite things include chewing boxes, and when the hubster (a keen fisherman) gives he some of the fish he is filleting, oh and she loves prawns!

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Wow Janet, I think Fleur might just be living every cat’s dream 🙂 Fresh fish and prawns, what a lucky girl!
      Now I really need to see this row boat cat castle..

  • Mackenzie Glanville
    Reply

    I loved this post, I am going to share this with some my family who seem to think one of my cats is obsessed with hunting an that my dog barks too much, because clearly she actually doesn’t bark that much. She only barks back at the neighbours dogs or if a strange person walks up the drive way which I think is fair enough! I also agree with the overweight issue I see so many people feed their pets human foods that they shouldn’t be eating. Anyway great post #felinefriday

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Thanks so much Mackenzie!
      Sometimes I think we have unrealistic expectations of our pets (or other people’s pets!).
      Your furkids sound pretty normal to me 🙂

  • Jeanne Melanson
    Reply

    Thanks for writing such a great post. I love your ideas. I especially love #1, about letting our pets be exactly what they are supposed to be. Thank you for mention about declawing being a bad idea. Poor kitties. Personally, I have not made any resolutions. I will just continue to do the best I can and be gentle with myself in the process. Have a wonderful new year. Peace

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Thanks Jeanne!
      I think you have the best idea by far – continuing to just do the best we can and being kind to ourselves 🙂 All the best for 2016.

  • Reply

    So many great resolutions for pet lovers! Thanks for sharing!

    (Oh and P.S., I have to admit it might be the fresh smell of a new Kikki K that smells so good! 🙂

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Thanks Christina 🙂
      I think you’re right. But I’m proud to say today is January 3rd, and so far I am still using the diary 😉
      Have a wonderful year!

  • Ashleigh
    Reply

    Great tips Joanna. I do need a first aid kit, and Sasha and her mum are a bit heavy after the festive season! I am hoping to do some kitty renovations to our apartment to make some hidey holes for her and a new window perch. Thanks for reminding me!

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Thanks Ashleigh!
      Ooh, kitty renovations sound very exciting!!
      Have you seen the website Catastrophic Creations? I go there when I want to dream about all the amazing things I could build for Loki 🙂
      Happy 2016!

  • Suz
    Reply

    Humans can be a bit short on common sense sometimes, and it’s such a busy time of year. Thanks for reminding me what I can do to make all our lives better. Roll on 2016. There is one thing I never forget though, and that is how much pleasure my pets bring me. Returning the favour makes me a better person. Happy New Year.

    • Joanna Paul
      Reply

      Thanks Suz!
      Pets bring so much happiness just by being themselves. Especially the big, sooky tricolour ones 😉
      Wishing you a very happy and healthy 2016 x

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