With the weather turning warmer, it's time for us to stop hibernating in the living and head back outside -- perhaps with for the first time with new puppies and kittens who were adopted over the winter months. Of course before this happens, you must make sure that your pet has received all of his or her vaccinations. Their first time outdoors should always be supervised and would ideally take place in a yard or controlled environment so that they feel safe and comfortable. There's nothing quite like seeing the great outdoors through the eyes of an animal!
If your dog is showing signs of stress and you know the source, you're obviously in a good position to address the problem. If it's a medical problem, prompt and effective veterinary care should do the trick. If little Billy has been playing too roughly with the family dog, some basic dog care instruction is the way to go. If you have a two-dog household and the other dog is overly aggressive, behavioral intervention with the help of a qualified trainer or animal behaviorist will probably help.
But if the problem is a long-term one and has no obvious cause, it may simply be that your dog is insufficiently stimulated. In that case, a program of enrichment may be what is needed.
In her presentation at the recent annual convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Melissa Bain, DVM, a veterinary behavior specialist associated with Animal Behavior Resources Institute, pointed to four important benefits of a program of enrichment for your dog:
Whatever the game or activity, if it provides exercise and mental stimulation, it will help to ease your dog's stress.
Animal interaction activities Most dogs enjoy and benefit emotionally from interacting with their "peers.'' Some dogs are "party animals'' and, like their human counterparts, get a real kick out of social activities and mixing. Animal interaction activities include:
If your dog is either overly aggressive to other dogs or easily intimidated by them, a dog park may not be a good choice of activity. A one-on-one play date with another dog-owner pair might be a better choice.
Obedience training classes are a good idea for almost all dogs. A group class can teach solid socialization skills while at the same time providing the desired obedience training.
Solitary stress relievers Owners don't necessarily have to be present to provide enrichment and stress relief. In fact, since even the most devoted owner can't be a dog's constant companion, it is important for dogs to be able to find entertainment and stimulation in solitary activities.
Solitary stress relievers stimulate a dog's senses and love of play. One effective type of solitary toy is the dog food toy.
Food dispensing toys make feeding a fun activity and encourage a dog's natural foraging instincts. By placing snacks -- or even a whole meal -- in a self-play toy, a dog must pursue and manipulate a container with one or more openings in it to get at the food. There are commercially available toys, such as the Kong. An alternative is to make your own from a disposable water bottle, cutting a few holes in it large enough to let the dry food pieces out. (Just be careful not to leave any sharp plastic edges or parts that could be swallowed.)
Sensory stimulation may also involve something as simple as leaving the television or radio playing while you are out. There are even dog "while you are gone" videos available that are especially designed to appeal to your furry friend. These may not interest all dogs, however, so it's a good idea to try one while you're at home to observe how your dog reacts.
You both benefit If your dog is stressed, you will be stressed as well. By taking a few simple steps to relieve that stress, not only will your dog's life be enriched, but the bond between you and your dog will also be strengthened, which is, after all, the whole point.
Is obesity a problem in pets?
It is estimated that nearly half of the dogs and many of the cats in the United States are overweight, with a good percentage of these pets classified as obese. Overweight dogs and cats are at greater risk for a wide variety of health conditions, including arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, back problems, and skin problems.
How can I tell if my pet is overweight?
An easy way to estimate the proper weight for your dog is to feel the ribs and points on top of the backbone. These should be easily felt, with just a small amount of underlying fat.
How can I reduce my pet’s weight?
The most effective and healthy way to reduce your pet’s weight is to cut down the calories and increase the exercise. Your veterinarian may recommend starting a weight loss program by switching to a commercial reducing diet that is high in nutrition but low in calories.
Any other helpful (and healthful) hints for helping my pet lose weight?
Breaking up the daily amount of food into several small feedings can help distract your pet from the fact that it is eating fewer calories. Avoid feeding any snacks (including dog biscuits or pet treats) between meals, and never feed table scraps, which are nearly always high in calories and low in nutrients.
Dr. Karsten Fostvedt