New Year’s Resolutions

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I thought this would be a good topic to put a pet-related spin on.  Ringing in the New Year is usually full of promise and hope for the year to come.  Why shouldn’t it be?  On January 1st, anything is possible.  Since our pets are our family, it only makes sense that they should partake in the season of optimism.  Listed below are some possible New Year’s Resolutions for your pets.


1. Weight Loss!

You knew that I had to put this in here!  In addition to being one of the top Resolutions for people, it should go right on top of the list for pets.  This extends further than cats and dogs.  Birds can suffer ill-effects from being overweight.  Guinea pigs looks like little rolly-pollies when they are overweight (it happens more than we’d like).  Obesity is not species-specific and can have ill-effects past appearance.  It can make existing conditions worse (like arthritis) and help new conditions take hold (like diabetes).

There is a variety of ways that you can make a difference in your pet’s weight.  You can start an exercise regimen.  It doesn’t have to be anything Earth-shattering.  The Resolutions that succeed are those that are easily implemented into your daily life. Take Fido for a stroll around the block when you go out to get the mail after getting off work.  If you are an early riser, wake up fifteen minutes early and enjoy the quiet serenity of your neighborhood before anyone wakes up.  Feel like you’ve tried everything?  Bring your pet in for us to screen for diseases that can make weight loss difficult (okay, we do recommend the screening process -before- you try everything else, it’s better for your pet).  We can evaluate the diet that your pet is on to make sure it is appropriate, and recommend something specific if it is not.

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Enrichment for different species can come in (generally) three different types.  Social, physical and mental.  It serves many purposes and should always be positive.  Negative or stressful enrichment does not serve any productive purpose.  For our domesticated pets, ensuring that they are properly enriched is a fundamental part of ownership.  Physical and mental illnesses can develop if your pet is not properly enriched.

Any of the below suggestions should be taken in context.  

Dogs

Examples of social enrichment are going to dog parks, doggy play-dates and dog-day care.  Use common sense with this, if your dog has never been introduced to another dog, seek guidance before just dropping them into a mix that they might not know how to handle.

Physical exercise for dogs can vary just like it can for people.  Some smaller breed dogs work well being walked once a day.  Some (like my boxer) need jogging or dog parks to work out the amount of excess energy they have.  Some dogs enjoy chasing balls or frisbees.  The important thing about exercise it to make it engaging.  Leaving a dog outside in a big backyard isn’t sufficient exercise/stimulation.

Mental stimulation for dogs is almost the easiest part.  Dogs get a lot of mental stimulation by engaging the sensitive organ that is their nose.  Taking a dog for a walk can provide a lot of mental stimulation as they investigate the world around them.  There are many easy games that you can play with your dog that can also engage their brain.  Teaching your dog a new trick can also provide stimulation and valuable bonding time.

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Cats benefit from enrichment just as much as dogs do.  The social aspect can be difficult since most cats aren’t raised being acclimated to others.  Often, change or the introduction of another cat can be stressful for them.  If your cat is social, I applaud your efforts and encourage you to continue using this as an outlet.  For the rest of the majority, introducing a social element to your cat can be tricky.  My recommendation would be to use yourself as the tool to help your cat be more social.  If your cat is anxious around other people, use treats and patience to help your kitty feel more comfortable.  Never force your cat into a situation, always let them lead at their comfort level.

Physical exercise is important for indoor cats to help maintain weight and give them an appropriate outlet for any pent up energy.  Scratching posts of different sizes and materials help to save furniture and skin.  There are all sorts of cat shelves and trees that will satisfy your cat’s need to climb and jump.  Laser light pointers and feather wands used to engage in play are also a good form of physical enrichment.

Mental enrichment for cats is tied into the physical.   Any of the above can help with mental enrichment.  If you put a shelf next to a window, and then a bird feeder outside that window, it can provide a good source of mental enrichment.  Cats can also learn tricks!  Despite the previously held belief that cats are solitary creatures that care for themselves, they benefit greatly when any part of the human-animal bond is strengthened.

Birds

Birds thrive on enrichment and can develop behavioral and other health problems when they lack it.  Their enrichment is likewise broken up into three different sections.

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Birds are so smart and interactive, they can be entertained in a variety of ways.  Visual can be anything from the television to observing you while doing something routine or even things they’ve never seen before – like balloons (look and don’t touch!).  The only real guideline is to make sure that any of these visual tools don’t scare them.  If they do, cease the introduction.  Clicking on the radio or letting them watch other birds that are outside along a bird feeder can also provide some entertainment.

Social interaction comes from their flock – you! Birds get a lot of enrichment from interacting with you.  This is a great time to think about adding to your bird’s training repertoire – Barbara Heidenreich has some excellent training tools!  Visit her website here.

3. Learn something new.

There are so many avenues that you can go to in order to learn how to teach your pet new tricks.  It is interesting how most species can learn to perform tricks with the proper motivation.  If you are feeling particularly motivated, enroll your pet in some training classes.  This is going to increase the bond that you have with your pet, as well as make your pet more well-rounded.

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Happy New Year’s!  Hopefully these example resolutions inspired you to become more involved with your pet.  Who knows!  You might even knock a few resolutions off of your own list in the process.

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