New Year's Resolutions pets want you to make
As a Scotsman living in Ireland, I can't help noticing the differences between the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
In Ireland, Christmas is the big family festival: New Year is like a PS to the main event.
Scotland, in contrast, focusses on the New Year, with big family gatherings on the first of January. The last day of the year - 31st December - is known as Hogmanay, and the celebrations as midnight approaches are taken very seriously indeed. Hogmanay is celebrated with such enthusiasm in Scotland that one day is not enough to allow everyone to recover: the nation has a second bank holiday, on 2nd January, meaning that life does not return to normal till 3rd January.
Perhaps it's my Scottish origins that are the reason for my interest in another annual tradition at this time of year: New Year resolutions. The start of a New Year is a useful opportunity to review everything in life, and to make a clean start on areas where you know you could do better. The aim is to be your "best self". I know from sad experience that it's rare for such resolutions to last more than a few weeks, but that knowledge has never put me off trying again, every year.
Most resolutions are personal, but as a vet, I like to include animals in my New Years Resolution ponderings: what would our pets like us to change if they could control our lives?
Here's my list of resolutions that I suspect most dogs and cats would like their owners to make, if they could do so.
1. Give us more attention
The reason why we humans keep pets is because we enjoy them as companions (the post-modern term for pets is "companion animals"). Yet paradoxically, we often find ourselves living such busy lives that we don't have time to spend just being with our pets. We forget about the pleasure of lying on a bed with a purring cat beside you, or going on a long walk with the sole company of a dog. Animals can make the very best companions if we give them a chance: they communicate with emotions and body language, not with words, and that can be refreshing for us humans, living as we do in a world of noisy chattering. So not only would it be good for our pets if we gave them more attention: it would also be good for our own peace of mind.
2. Give us good food, but don't give us too much
Around two thirds of all pets are overweight or obese, and this leads directly to shorter, less enjoyable lives. Pets aren't good at self restraint when it comes to eating, but they shouldn't have to be: as owners, it's our job to control the amount of food they eat. So when they put on weight, it isn't their fault: it's our responsibility. If you care about your pet, make sure that you feed them the correct amount, of the right type of pet food, so that they live nutritionally optimal lives.
3. Look after our health properly
Pet health is not rocket science: it's veterinary science. Joking aside, the science is important. These days, especially with the internet and social media, it's easy for people to believe half-truths and downright lies that are peddled as "the real truth". There are crazy conspiracy theories about harm caused by modern medicines and pet foods, but they are never based on science. Some people like the idea of "pure" and "natural", and that's understandable. But there's no reason why pure and natural should not be allied with good science at the same time. Science is based on the principle of cause and effect, observed and proven by repeated experience. It is difficult for pet owners to assimilate the science of pet health; vets study at college for at least five years to learn this stuff. Vets know what causes good pet health, and it makes logical sense to put that into practice. In summary, the best way to look after your pet's health properly is to engage with your local vet. Take your pet for a once yearly health check; talk about the various aspects of their lives, and ask for your vet's opinion on how to get them into optimal physical condition.
4. Include us in your financial planning
There's no public health service or medical card system for pets: if they have accidents or fall ill, you need to pay the costs of getting them treated yourself. It's predictable that most pets will need veterinary help at some stage in their lives, and if you don't plan for this, your pets will suffer. The most effective way to prepare is to take out pet insurance: you pay a small monthly sum and the pet insurance company promises that it will cover the costs if your pet needs the vet. If you won't take out pet insurance, you should put a monthly sum aside in a special "pet fund" in anticipation. The aim is to avoid a situation where a vet is saying: we can help you, but it will cost €2000 (or whatever), and your response is "I can't afford that, so I can't give my pet the help they need".
5. Love us as the animals we are
To give pets the best lives, we need to treat them as dogs, cats or whatever they are: find out what the real needs of their species are, and make sure that you supply those. They are not little humans and we should not treat them like "fur babies", pretending that they are little people.
Resolve to be your "best self" for your pets this year.