Improving Your Pet’s Mental Health
Dr. Al Townshend
The mental and emotional health of your pets is just as important as their physical well-being. Neglecting their needs can create stress and we all know that stress encourages all sorts of both physical and mental issues that will have a significant effect on a pet’s quality of life and even life span. Often, the stress experienced by our pets will create the same level of stress and even frustration in us.
In order to support the mental well-being of both dogs and cats, it is important to understand the evolution of our pets.
The domestic dog and cat we know today evolved from their wild ancestors. While they are what we consider domesticated, they have not lost all of the wild characteristics. As the close relationship between man, and especially dogs developed, man’s influence on breeding has also played a role in their continued evolution.
Many breeds were developed to meet a specific purpose. Hunting, retrieving, herding, protection, security and many other purposes that support the needs of humans.
Today, the vast majority of those dogs no longer are required to fulfill those duties and most are now expected to be primarily indoor, sedentary pets with indoor manners.
The Labrador Retriever is a good example. They were bred to retrieve the game taken by the hunter. While most labs today no longer are required to hunt, we all know that Labs love to chase and retrieve a ball or other toy. They have not lost their purpose, even those it’s no longer required.
The Jack Russell Terrier was developed to control rats and mice on the farm and in grain storage. To achieve their purpose, they were bred to be active and alert as well as aggressive toward their prey.
While we consider cats as domesticated, they are nowhere near as domesticated as dogs. Cats are always on guard. In the wild, smaller cats are not only the hunter, but they are also the prey of larger animals so they need to be wary.
Almost all breeds were designed to be active and inquisitive. If we don’t consider that in the everyday lifestyle we provide for our pets, we may not be fulfilling all of their needs. That can lead to boredom, frustration and even more serious behavioral issues.
Things to consider in providing for the mental and emotional health of our pets
Proper Nutrition is essential. Our pets need to eat a quality diet that maintains an optimum level of nutrition. The amount of food should be just enough to maintain a slightly lean body mass.
A natural, meat-based, high protein/low carbohydrate diet along with natural supplements to meet the life stage needs of the pet are always the best considerations for both dogs and cats.
Regular, Daily Exercise should be a part of every pet’s daily life. Exercise stimulates the mind and the body.
A daily walk is a time for the dog to explore and a time to smell the roses. It also encourages a closer bond between the pet and the Guardian. It stimulates the mind and body.
Indoor cats also need daily exercise to stimulate the mind and body. We have to be a bit more creative with cats. Toys that encourage their natural instincts to hunt and chase are great ways to provide activity and mental stimulation. Puzzles that reward with a treat often can occupy a significant amount of time and provide much joy for a cat.
Lifestyle Enrichment begins with training. Our pets need to know what pleases us and especially what does not please us. They need to develop good habits in order to reduce the potential for stress for them and for their Guardians.
Dogs need potty training, they need to learn their name and come when called. Cats need to also be potty trained and they need to learn their limits in the home.
Everyone loves a surprise and our pets are no exception. An unexpected treat, a ride in the car, a good belly rub all are very positive and enriching experiences that enhance the daily lives of our cherished pets.
Providing a full and meaningful life for our pets is also part of what brings joy and purpose to our lives.