The Recipe for a Happy Pet
Written By Sarah Griffiths, DCH and Inna Shekhtman
April 5, 2018
Hey guys! We talk a lot about the effects of food on health and wellness here on our blog and we feel this is a big part of keeping our pets in the best shape they can be. But let’s not forget that there are other aspects of our pets’ lives that can significantly impact their health! We know that exercise and environment are important. But did you know that stress can wreak just as much, if not more, havoc on health as a bad diet?
It’s well-established that stress can do some really funky things to our bodies. It can decrease immune function, our brain function and damage our endocrine system, causing serious disease in the process. (1) (2) (3) (4)
And that’s only a tiny piece of the bigger picture. We know that for us, stress can be devastating to our health along with environmental factors such as food, water, air toxins and more. And if we look at how our pets are living today, we have to be really honest that often, they don’t have much of a say when it comes to how they live their lives in our world. This, in itself, is an essential marker in identifying the key ways to give your pet the happiest, healthiest life possible with the added benefit of increasing our own quality of life too!
Now, without getting too scienc-y, let’s take a look at the best places to start to ensure your pet is healthy, happy and relatively stress-free:
Food Variety. Ever eat too many leftovers? Imagine eating the same leftovers every day for your ENTIRE LIFE…… Ew. Pretty soon, it would take all the joy out of eating and might even make eating a little stressful. It also wouldn’t be very good for your health since eating a variety of fresh foods is how we are able to meet and exceed all of our nutritional requirements in order to thrive. Do your pet a favor and make meals with this recipe in mind:
- 1 part healthy, fresh foods
- 1 part deliciousness (pick foods your pet loves to eat)
- 1 part fun and interesting – try feeding foods that are fun such as bones or using a Kong, puzzle toy or slow-feeder to change it up and offer some enrichment to meal times.
Fresh Air. Outside air is not the same as inside air! Get out in nature with your pet, into the woods where the trees are making fresh oxygen for us to breathe! Climb a mountain, go to the beach, run in an open field, get out in nature whenever you can. If you have an indoor cat, teach him how to wear a harness and leash and take them out exploring in the yard. If you start them young, cats can even learn to travel well in the car and go for walks and even camping adventures!
Off-Leash Exercise. Freedom! Space is a valuable thing to a dog. Too much confinement can lead to stress. Let your pooch romp and set his own pace on walks whenever you can. Movement increases cardiovascular health, releases happy endorphins in the brain and increases immune health. It also gives your dog the chance to be free from confinement and wander about which is the true nature of the dog.
Letting the Dog Decide. Positive training methods! There are so many awesome pet training resources out there today including methods like clicker training. Training your pet with the premise that he can decide to make a good choice not only makes the training more reliable for you but also gives your pet WAY more confidence in his everyday life. Stress-free, positive training is also a hell of a lot more fun for both of you. Check out Karen Pryor and Zen Dog for some awesome tips on positive training techniques. BTW: Zendog is a local (BC) training company that totally rocks!!!!!!
Extracurricular Activities and Enrichment. This is such a huge category and the sky is the limit! Whatever breed of dog you have, there is a sport or activity that would suite him. There are lots of great activities you can do with your cat too! Activities for dogs include agility, nose work, tracking, protection work, swimming, dock diving, herding and more. Cats can also learn to the same tricks as dogs such as sit, lie down, fetch, target (even agility!!!) and you can create all kinds of fun lures for them to chase! Boxes are also the cheapest and most fun cat toy in the world. Cut holes in a box and put it on the floor and enjoy hours of hilariousness with your cat.
Being Just Plain Silly. Don’t be so serious! Get on the floor and just be goofy with your fur kids. Make funny sounds, postures like play bowing and just be generally ridiculous. Playing is fun, hilarious and greatly decreases stress, strengthens trust and the bond between you and your pet. It not only good for them, it’s important for us to remember to laugh once in a while too!
Just Lazing About. Couch-potatoeing with your pet is vital. This includes cuddles! Physical contact, petting and snuggling with your pet is proven to reduce stress (5) (6) in humans and we feel it is reciprocal. Watch a movie and just feel the love. Or take a nap together and catch up on some sleep, another important aspect of health and wellness.
Routine. Just like us, pets like a sense of routine. Because they can’t talk and converse with us, it’s important the they have a sense of what to expect in their daily lives like that they will get to eat food, have a good night’s sleep, be comfortable and safe and to get some quality time with us. Too ridged a routine is boring but just enough to ensure that your pet doesn’t feel insecure about the basic necessities of life is important.
Not only are these important aspects of creating a happy pet but they also apply to us. The beauty of being a pet parent is that when we take care of them well, they actually end up taking care of us too.
(1) Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/16/5995
(2) Stress and the Individual Mechanisms Leading to Disease: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/617820?redirect=true
(3) Circadian disruption in cancer: a neuroendocrine-immune pathway from stress to disease? https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159103000783
(4) Stress and infectious disease in humans: http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1991-12984-001
(5) The Buffer Effect of Therapy Dog Exposure on Stress Reactivity in Undergraduate Students: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5551145/
(6) Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408111/