January resolutions for you and your pet
Every year, I share New Year Resolutions with a close friend.
We tell one another the plan to change something specific in our lives, then as the year passes, we track one another's progress. Sometimes the resolution works well (yes, I did do a triathlon) and other times, it doesn't work at all (I ended up selling the unicycle).
In previous years, we have spoken about this in the first week of the year, when New Year Resolutions are traditionally made. This year, we decided to leave it till late January. There was just too much going on over the Christmas/New Year break. It's too difficult to focus on which aspect of our lives we'd like to tweak. So we are mulling this over for a few weeks, then before the end of January, each of us will come up with a minor life changing commitment for this coming year.
Why am I writing about this in my animal column? Well, in the same way as the new year is a useful time to appraise our own personal lives, it can also provide an opportunity for pet owners to review their impact on their pets' lives. Pets depend almost entirely on their owners for their health and happiness. So if owners commit to making some small changes in their daily habits, they can make a significant improvement in the quality of life of the animals in their lives.
Three key areas of pet care have been identified, and if owners even just focus on one of these, they will be able to make a big difference to their pet.
Healthy eating is the first area. Pets can't choose what they eat: they can only consume what their owner puts in their food bowl. This places a huge responsibility on owners: there's a strong link between good quality food and optimal health. It isn't always easy for an owner to decide what to feed a pet: there's such a wide range of products available, in supermarkets, at pet shops and in vet clinics. It can be difficult to get independent advice. My view on nutrition is simple: there is no single ideal way to feed a pet. The important aspects are that a pet should enjoy their dinner, and they should thrive on it. So if your pet has a healthy, shiny coat, is well muscled, and in excellent general health, then you must be giving them good nutrition. If, on the other hand, your pet has a dry coat, with scurfy skin and dull eyes, then perhaps you should review what you are feeding. It takes around three months for the impact of a new diet to kick in, so bear that in mind when making your assessment. If you want tips on choosing a new diet, ask your local vet. Vets are trained in nutrition as part of our five year degree, and we can give you free, impartial advice.
By the way, the biggest nutritional problem that vets see in Ireland is obesity: fat pets are common, and they suffer unnecessarily from illness and pain, with conditions like diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. If you think your pet may be overweight, ask your vet for an honest opinion, and if necessary, adjust their diet accordingly so that they return to a healthy body size. For extra tips on pet weight loss, tune in to TV3's Ireland AM over the coming weeks: we are running a series called "Pet Project Slimdown", guiding owners through the process of helping pets reach their ideal weight.
The second key area of pet care is strongly linked to body weight: "activity". As with nutrition, pets are at the mercy of their owners when it comes to exercise. Free-ranging cats can burn up energy on their own, but dogs and indoor-only cats depend on their owners. Just as humans should exercise every day, so should pets. Ideally, a dog should be taken for a half-hour walk twice a day, and an indoor cat should be encouraged to play for a similar length of time. Well-exercised pets enjoy life more, they are healthier, and they are better behaved. Many of the common behavioural problems of dogs are helped by regular exercise (such as dogs barking too much or chewing objects around the home).
The third aspect of animal care that deserves extra focus is known as "Pet-Me Time". All too often, owners take their pets for granted. They come home from work, say a cursory "hello" to their pet in passing, and then get on with their own busy lives. If, instead, they paused for a few minutes to tickle their dog's tummy, or to squat down beside their cat to rub his ears, they'd notice a big improvement in the quality of their relationship with their pet. It's often said that what you put into a relationship is directly connected to what you get out of it, and this is as true with pet-owner bonds as it is with human-human relationships. If you spend more focussed time with your pet, you will appreciate them more, and vice versa.
So there you are: three areas of animal care that can easily be improved. Pick just one of them before the end of January, and make a positive effort to improve that aspect of care of the animals in your life. Your pet will be grateful: they cannot say anything to you, but you will be able to tell from their body language that they appreciate your effort.
Pete the Vet is taking part in a live question-answer session on the Pedigree Ireland Facebook Page on Wednesday 21st January from 7 - 8pm. If there's anything you'd like to ask him, log on and say hello.