With a few simple actions and a little thought, we can improve the lives of our animals
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Is improving the well-being of your animals -- and animals in general -- on your list of New Year's resolutions? We hope so. Working to make the world better not only for pets, but also for animals in need, is the best resolution we can think of.
The idea of making life better for animals can seem overwhelming, especially when it comes to animal cruelty or homeless pets, but every little bit helps. If each of us did one small thing a couple of times a year, or one small thing daily for our pets, the overall result would be more impressive than we can imagine. Here are some ways to improve the lives of your own pets and of other animals.
-- Pay attention. Our dogs and cats spend so much time watching and studying us. We can return their interest by giving them some quality time, even if we’re busy. A few minutes of cuddling or petting, sweet-talk, tossing a ball, or a quick review of the tricks they know -- rewarded with high-value treats! -- will be special to them, and it will de-stress us, too.
-- Mental stimulation is as important as physical exercise. Provide some puzzle toys to give their brains a workout or give a few extra minutes of sniffing time at the beginning or end of a walk. Sign up pets for a toy subscription box or learn how to make your own puzzle toys (foodpuzzlesforcats.com/homemade-puzzles).
-- Take time to notice what’s normal for your pet so you’ll recognize what’s not. That helps you to avoid being taken by surprise when your pet becomes ill or has an injury. Pay attention to any different behaviors -- not eating, eating excessively, drinking more water than usual, breaking housetraining, not wanting to play or go for a walk -- so you can report them to your veterinarian if they continue for more than a day or two. Early response can save your pet’s life -- and your wallet.
-- Purchase pet health insurance. If your pet does have a serious health issue or injury, you won’t have to worry about how to pay for it.
-- Don’t overfeed pets. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, up to 59% of all pets are obese. Measure food and feed at regular mealtimes instead of leaving food out all the time.
-- Learn how to train your pet using positive reinforcement techniques so you can stop unwanted behaviors -- barking, jumping, door dashing, destructive chewing and so on. You’ll both be happier.
-- Plan for emergencies. Teach pets (including cats) to enter a carrier on cue and stay calmly in it (fearfreehappyhomes.com/teach-your-dog-that-crates-are-great). Prepare a go-bag that includes a three-day supply of your pet’s food, any medications, up-to-date vaccination or titer records, and anything else your pet might need if you have to leave in a hurry.
-- Build a good relationship with a veterinarian you trust. A veterinarian is your partner in keeping pets happy and healthy.
-- What about other animals? Does your local shelter have a wish list of items it needs? Help out by ordering some toys, cat litter, pet food or other supplies. Put out a shelter for community cats (alleycat.org/resources/feral-cat-shelter-options-gallery). Volunteer at a shelter to walk dogs, cuddle cats or do some of the unglamorous work such as scooping litter boxes. Support organizations (ovma.org/pet-owners/safepet-program) that foster pets of domestic violence victims so they don’t have to worry about leaving pets in an unsafe situation.
-- Keep an open mind.
“The most important action we can offer people and pets is to put our phones away and look and listen,” says Lori Weise, executive director of Downtown Dog Rescue in Los Angeles. Do so “without prejudgment, without having an agenda for what needs to be done or what the person or pet is supposed to do. Give the gift of allowing the person or pet be their true selves.”
Dig it! How to
Q: My dog likes to “bury” his toys beneath our covers or under sofa cushions. I’d rather he didn’t. How can I stop this behavior?
A: For some dogs, this seems to be a natural behavior that harks back to their wild ancestors, who likely buried food to hide it from other predators until they could come back for it. And some dogs just enjoy digging; hiding toys in the “hole” is a bonus.
There are several ways to try to curb this behavior. See if one of them works with your dog.
When you see him digging at cushions, bedding or piles of laundry, offer a toy that might be more attractive right now, such as a peanut butter-stuffed Kong (keep a couple in the freezer at all times), or a few minutes of tug with a favorite chew toy. In the meantime, have a family member put cushions back in place or put laundry piles where they’re inaccessible. Bonus: You get to play with the dog while someone else puts away the laundry.
Try limiting the number of toys available to your dog at any one time. This may help to get him excited about playing with the toy currently in his possession, rather than hiding it. Routinely putting away toys in a box or basket can help keep them interesting to your dog.
Designate a sanctioned digging area. Fill a dog bed with blankets or pillows where he can hide things to his heart’s content. That allows him to enjoy the digging and hiding routine without inconveniencing you or messing up your bed or other furniture.
To encourage your dog to use this area, place it near the current favorite hiding place and praise and reward him with high-value treats such as deli turkey when he uses it. -- Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Cats get asthma,
but it’s treatable
-- Asthma affects 1% to 5% of cats, according to the Cornell Feline Health Center. Allergens suspected of triggering feline asthma attacks include cigarette smoke, dust mites, smoke, pollen, vapors from household cleaning sprays, mold and mildew, and dusty cat litter. Signs of asthma include coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Asthma attacks in cats are classified as mild, moderate, severe or life-threatening. Changes such as switching to a different type of litter box material can help, as can corticosteroids and bronchodilators administered via inhaler to reduce bronchial inflammation and open up airways.
-- Bird ears are streamlined for flight, so you won’t see external evidence of them. Instead of an earlobe or pinna, a swirl of soft, protective feathers cover the opening and help to reduce wind noise. Birds have highly developed hearing ability, with owls having the most sensitive hearing -- maybe that’s why they have a reputation for wisdom? Some birds use echolocation to find insects in areas with low levels of light. Avian ears are highly sensitive, and you may have noticed that your bird loves to have you scratch the area around the ear canal.
-- New Year’s Day is a good time to check your pet’s neck. Start by making sure the collar fits properly. It should be close, but not too snug. Cats should wear breakaway collars that will come off if they get caught on something. Check collars for any weak spots, especially at the holes or fasteners. Buy a nice new one if necessary. Tags should be legible; replace them if letters or numbers have worn away. And, of course, your contact information should be up-to-date as well. This annual check is a good way to help ensure that your pet can be returned to you if she gets lost. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.