I was so lucky this week to be able to attend a set of seminars in Vancouver titled “The Future of Pet Health” sponsored by Red Dog Blue Kat (you can see the livestream videos on their facebook page). The information that was shared in those few hours was truly inspiring, and eye opening. No doubt I will tap into that info in future columns as well, but this week I’d like to talk about something that came up again and again in these talks.
We all want our pets to live longer, healthier and happier lives. And yes, nutrition plays a huge part of that. But optimal nutrition alone will not ensure that our pets have the best lives. Not only pets, but in our own lives, we know one of the biggest issues that affects our health is:
Stress. We’ve all been told that we need to remove stress from our lives if we want to be healthy. When we manage to do that, we’ve all seen the immediate benefits that come. Whether it is leaving a high stress job, entering into a new relationship, starting a hobby, adding a pet to our lives (my favourite) or any of a multitude of stress reducing events or situations, stress reduction improves our health and outlook.
What does this have to do with pets? Heck, they just lay around and sleep all day anyways, right? They have much better lives than farm dogs and cats that are working all the time, and have to fend for themselves for a large part of their diets, don’t they?
In Rodney Habib’s seminar, he explored the human / animal bond, and he has interviewed people that have Guinness records for long lived pets. Something he noticed besides a non standard approach to nutrition, was stress. Or an almost total lack of it in these animals lives.
We do really try to remove stress from out pets lives. We take them for walks, we give them enrichment toys and play music for them while we are away, and give them the best we can to make their lives better. Yet still, they have stress. In interviewing her owner Brian McLaren, Rodney realized that Maggie, the worlds oldest dog, had about as stress free a life as you could have. No limits or borders on her movements, she came and went as she pleased.
This is a common thread in many long lived pets, and in a large part, it is a problem today that did not exist as recently as a few decades ago. Leash laws, licensing, pet free buildings are all limits that society is placing on pets freedoms, and adding to their stress. 50 years ago, cats and dogs roamed at will, coming and going without restriction, basically choosing their “owners” over a life in the wild, and who wouldn’t. Free food, warm lodging and a treat or hug when needed? That was the life.
Living in the city, we can’t really give our pets this life anymore, but we can try to remove the stress as best we can. Take 5 minutes away from the TV or computer and wrestle on the floor with your dog (great therapy for you too!). Walks, again, both benefit, but it gives a valuable stress relief from a routine. Take a look around the dog’s environment, and see if there are any things that add to stress, maybe even limiting the access to outside stimulus (seeing out the window may seem like a kind thing, but for some dogs, stimulating them by letting them see the postman, cars or other dogs outside can stress them out.
Not a huge new idea, we all know about stress. But it isn’t something we all think about for our pets, but maybe it should be.