10 Resolutions for Pets for 2021


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Here are my 10 resolutions for pets for 2021

Fear Free: The Fear Free initiative has grown from the little idea that was so brilliant – yet obvious – that it continues to spread across the planet. The notion began with a focus on veterinary professionals addressing emotional well-being, as well as physical health. Our pets are, after all, emotional beings just as we are.

Most cats and many dogs are so terrified of going to the vet that they actually believe they are going to die. Can you imagine? No veterinary professional ever went into the profession to do anything other than to help pets.

When pets are that terrified, pet owners pick up on this stress and become anxious themselves. The result: These pet owners are less likely to return to the vet with their pets for routine exams. And, when animals are terrified, the exam itself suffers: The blood work may be skewed, and the heart is beating so rapidly that hearing an abnormality is challenging

Fear Free was initially launched to stop the cycle of fear, anxiety and stress associated with veterinary visits. But today, it’s so much more than that.

Not only there Fear Free certified individual veterinarians and technicians, entire practices are certified. Dog trainers and dog groomers are certified. And animal shelters are certified. Fear Free is now being routinely taught in veterinary schools.

My resolution is to continue to communicate benefits of a Fear Free approach, and also to promote the website Fear Free Happy Homes, where stories written by experts are reviewed by experts before being published. That’s right, experts review experts. It’s a safe and accurate place (and often fun place) for pet parents to visit online.

Cat Friendly Practices:  American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) Certified Cat Friendly Practices follow guidelines to ensure cats are happier (or at least more content) during and before veterinary visits. Veterinary practices that are certified as Cat Friendly voluntarily agree to meet new standards, that focus of being friendlier to felines. I staunchly support Cat Friendly Practices, because the changes these practices make for your purring pal are transformational. If you’re not totally pleased with your veterinarian, ask the practice to become a Cat Friendly Practice, or seek one out.

Preventive Care: I’ve been preaching the value of twice a year pet checkups for many years. With the added value and significance of Fear Free and Cat Friendly, I now have additional leverage to make my points, since pets are often actually enjoying the vet exam or at least tolerating the experience – this notion is now a far easier sell. When pets appear tortured by the experience, pet parents may be equally traumatized and less likely to return to the vet for routine exams.

Data extols the benefits of twice annual physicals. And so does common sense. After all, pets age far faster than people; one year for a dog or cat, can be six or more years for us. Also, our pets can’t tell us that something is wrong. And for those who say, “I know my pet is healthy.” How can you know unless you do blood work in your kitchen and carry around a stethoscope? Preventive care helps to catch disease early, which typically leads to improved outcomes. It will also help to prevent your pet from suffering. A this all adds up to an investment in preventive care that saves money in the long run. The best medical prescription is to visit your veterinarian for checkups twice a year for life.

Telehealth: A positive from pandemic pushed what was starting to happen anyway in veterinary medicine, and that is to virtually connect with veterinary professionals. I plan to continue to explain that while there is no replacing a veterinarian actually touching and seeing your pet in person, sometimes it’s actually a better option to visit virtually. For example, pets who are lame get a boost of adrenalin in an exam room and walk perfectly normal but to observe the pet at home is another story. Or pet parents can save time and money by explaining a concerning behavior issue virtually. Telehealth is here to stay and everyone wins.

Be Positive: Any change in your pet’s behavior may be an indication that something is medically askew. Pets don’t “act out” on purpose to get back at us out of spite. When a pet is behaving poorly, and a medical explanation is ruled out, consider that a pet is just dealing with their emotions the best way he or she knows.

For example, a dog isn’t ripping pillows to shreds when you leave to “get back at you,” it’s because he may be suffering from separation anxiety. A cat isn’t having an accident in your fiancé’s shoe because she’s angry about the previous divorce, it’s because there’s been a radical change in the home as result of him moving in.

Instead of responding with punishment or aversive techniques, try rewarding behavior you do want by using treats and praise. And, try to set your pet up for success. Some problems, such as thunderstorm or separation anxiety, aggression, or others may require a qualified professional, such as veterinary behaviorist or a certified animal behavior consultant.

One highlight of 2020 occurred as a result of Petco promising to no longer sell shock collars (electronic collars) and to support positive reinforcement dog training. And I resolve to continue to do the same in 2021. Unfortunately, there appears to be some resurgence of dog trainers who rely on products that shock dogs and, in general, using aversive and punishing-based methods. We know positive reinforcement is far more effective as a learning tool, not to mention far more humane.

Dogs vs. Wolves: The TV commercials and other hype is just that, marketing hype. Dogs are not wolves. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? No matter, feeding dogs as if they are wolves doesn’t make sense and offers zero benefits. In fact, dogs evolved with humans and their nutritional needs are more like our own than wolves. Similarly, raising puppies like you’re a mother wolf isn’t advised. I will continue to counter those TV ads and other propaganda.

Enriched Environments: Cats are born with a prey drive, but while being indoors is safer than outside, we must enrich their environments. As for dogs, they were all bred to do some sort of job and we live in a nation filled with unemployed canines. With about 60 percent of (indoor) cats being overweight or obese and about half of all dogs, they need to work off calories and also to exercise their brains. It’s been proven that animals living in enriched environments live healthier and more satisfying lives. I will continue to explain that just loving your pet dog or cat, or for that matter pet bird or rabbit or rat isn’t enough. Enriched environments aren’t only a good idea, it is essential.

And while what we feed our pets is really important, I suggest how we feed them is equally or more important, as I talk more about food puzzles and engaging cat prey drives. And how to encourage foraging in pet birds, small mammals, and even reptiles.

Stop Declaw: The primary responsibility of veterinarians—and the oath they take upon graduation from veterinary school—is to do no harm. Is declaw harmful? No matter how you feel about it, it is an elected amputation. Enough said. At least you’d think so. Need more? There are numerous studies now to support the notion that as declawed cats age they are far more likely to experience pain; declawed cats may be more prone to bite and indeed for various reasons are more inclined not to use a litter box. For a very long time, I’ve spoken out against declaw. And in 2021 I will continue to do so, and the American Association of Feline Practitioners has created a new user-friendly toolkit. Cat Friendly Practices will not be declawing.

Poo on Pet Stores: Pet stores must stop selling dogs, cats and rabbits. No responsible breeder EVER sells to a pet store; they are always from facilities that mass produce, such as puppy mills.  What’s more, even going online is potentially iffy, as anyone can create an appealing website. I will continue to advocate for pet stores adopting animals from local shelters, but against them selling mass produced dogs. So far, in the U.S. and Canada nearly 400 cities, over a dozen counties and three states have laws against dogs, cats (and in some places rabbits) being sold at pet stores.

Smile: Dogs are motivated not as much by what we say as how we say it and how we look when we say it. New research has found that dogs understand our smiles and are comforted by them, just like people relate to smiles. So, resolve to smile at your dog more—you’ll both benefit. Every time we smile, endorphins in our heads do a little “happy dance.” And, with luck, your dog will smile back at you.

 

 

So, there they are my 10 resolutions for pets for 2021.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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