Try Giving Instead of Taking

There is a very common myth that taking an animal’s food or toys away while they are enjoying them, will teach the animal to allow anyone to come up and take things from them.  This “technique” at best, is usually viewed as an annoyance to the animal, but at worst it can trigger or create defensive behaviors such as resource guarding, growling, and even biting.

Instead of taking food or toys away from an animal, offer Good Things to whatever they are enjoying!

For example, calmly approach a relaxed pet (cat, bird, dog, pig, etc.) when they are eating their food, or chewing on a toy, and add another yummy piece of food, or another irresistible toy to his/her bowl or play area, then walk away.

This teaches your animal companion that approaching humans or brief touches that happen while they are enjoying their valued resource are Good Things!  This technique helps to prevent resource guarding and other defensive or aggressive behaviors. It also helps to build confidence and trust with you, other people, and other pets!

You can see an example of how to do this here:

For it is in giving that we receive. ― Francis of Assisi


Recommended Reading: Myths, Truths, and Tips about Resource Guarding

Related VIDEOS:

Stimulate Them!

Animal enrichment promotes naturalistic behaviors that stimulate the mind and increases physical activity.  It reduces stress and therefore promotes overall health by increasing an animal’s perception of control over their environment and by occupying their time. 

An Amur tiger cub enjoying bubble enrichment at the zoo. Amur (Siberian) Tigers are critically endangered. Less than 40 exist in the wild. Zoo breeding programs are helping the species to survive.

While working for a decade as an Enrichment Coordinator for various animal sections at the Audubon Zoo, I learned that physical and mental stimulation is vital to every species on the plant.  Squid, poison dart frogs, mice, tortoises, spiders, jaguars, sheep, dogs, parrots, ferrets, anteaters, cats, and pigs all need daily mental and physical stimulation!  Think of any animal, and I assure you that it needs daily stimulation.

Life is very stale and very boring without enrichment.  Imagine sitting on the couch in your home. There are no windows. You cannot leave the house.  No one ever visits you.  You have no radio, T.V. iPhone, or internet.  You have to eat and drink the same thing every day.  What do you think would eventually happen to your mind and body after a day, then a week, then a month?  This kind of mental stagnation is incredibly harmful to all living creatures.  In fact, it’s downright deadly.

All animals need enrichment, which is a fairly simple but important concept.  Enrichment improves or enhances the environment for an individual animal and stimulates the animal to investigate and interact with their surroundings more.  At the Audubon Zoo, I would enrich an animal’s environment by making changes to structures in their enclosures, present novel objects and scents for them to investigate, change how we presented food to them, and much more.

We encouraged them to forage, hunt, and handle their food in ways that are natural to them in the wild. (The Shape of Enrichment has a great sample article of this kind of enrichment.)  These tools were used on a regular basis at our zoo to alleviate boredom.  Boredom often leads to frustration, and other unwanted behaviors.  Giving animals more choices prevents boredom!

 

animal enrichment_pets_DIY puzzle toys
Offering an animal more CHOICES prevents boredom and other unwanted behaviors!

Coordinating Enrichment for Exotics

As an Enrichment Coordinator, it was my job to ensure that every animal in a particular section had species-appropriate enrichment provided for them every day.  This could be anything from planting geographically appropriate plant species to encourage a critically endangered female Blue Iguana to forage on her native country’s plants to prepare her body for breeding season, to providing a Boomer Ball for our Miniature Donkey in the Children’s Zoo to keep her from becoming bored and harassing the goats, sheep, or visitors!

 

The video below is an excellent example of how we could use a Boomer Ball in a captive zoo environment.  This demonstrates the fun and importance of mental and physical enrichment, with a focus on Choice, Change, and Complexity.

Otters Playing with Boomer Balls at the Philadelphia Zoo

Behavioral enrichment should be random, interesting and novel. The goals of enrichment are to offer a sense of control by allowing animals to make choices and to stimulate species-appropriate behaviors


What Captive Otters Can Teach Us About Our Pets

Right about now you might be asking, “So what does an otter playing with a ball, underwater, at a zoo, have to do with my pet at home?”  Well, that otter is a perfect example of  what I encourage all of my clients to do with their pets, in their homes, every day: mentally and physically challenge them!   Every one of you has the ability to have this much fun with your pets at home!  I am going to explain how you can do this, why enrichment is so important for your pets, and how it improves your life as well.


How Enrichment Helps

Environmental enrichment, when used properly, can positively address many behavioral issues. This can be anything from “rowdiness,” cognitive dysfunction, storm and noise phobias, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and behaviors that result from the all too common problem in homes: boredom and/or frustration.

In addition to treating behavioral disorders, environmental enrichment should be viewed as an essential part of providing an excellent quality of life for all pets due to its proven positive effect on the health and well-being of animal companions.


What is Enrichment?

Enrichment can be defined as:

A process for improving or enhancing animal environments and care within the context of their inhabitants’ behavioral biology and natural history.  It is a dynamic process in which changes to structures and husbandry practices are made with the goal of increasing behavioral choices available to animals and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors and abilities, thus enhancing animal welfare .   (Association of  Zoos and Aquariums [AZA] Behavior Scientific Advisory Group 1999, excerpted from Disney’s Animal Programs).

Behavioral enrichment is defined as “the environmental enhancement of the lives of animals in a managed setting by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior.”

Simply put, enrichment is “the act or process of increasing the intellectual or spiritual resources”.

More simply put:  Add a little creativity, fun, and stimulation to an animal’s life!

Environmental enrichment for pets (also called behavioral enrichment) is a means to enhance a companion animal’s surroundings. It serves to enhance their life through means in which the animal is presented with novelty in his/her environment. The animal is given opportunities to learn. And the animal is encouraged to engage in natural, instinctive, species-specific behaviors.


Why Enrichment Is Important

Enrichment is as integral to animal care as veterinary and nutrition programs. 

Behavioral enrichment and environmental enrichment are necessary components of life in captivity.  Enrichment improves the welfare of all animals.   All animals in captivity need environmental enrichment whether they live in a zoo, shelter, laboratory, sanctuary, or your home.  It’s one of the 3 Key Elements That My Work Is Based Upon.

Studies have shown that when animals are given an enriched, stimulating environment (a variety of things to do, smell, and explore) they live longer, are better adjusted, more relaxed, better able to develop problem-solving skills, and they remember what they learn.  This directly relates to your pets at home!  Bored animals are easily frustrated, and frustration can lead to destruction.  You can avoid boredom and destruction by enriching your pets!  Enrichment is one of the keys to enhancing your pet’s life.  It is also one of the easiest tools to implement on a daily basis.

Enrichment at Home Serves To:

  •        Curb boredom and restlessness of an animal
  •         Reduce frustration and destructive behaviors
  •         Increase an animal’s natural behaviors, and as result, increase their health and longevity
  •         Teach you new ways to engage and play with your animal companion

 

Types of Enrichment 

Enrichment is generally grouped into the following categories.  All of these can be used at home with your pets:

  • Food based
  • Sensory (touch, sight, smell, taste, and sound)
  • Novel objects
  • Social
  • Positive Training
  • Foraging
DIY pet-enrichment-puzzle-feeders_dog_cat_parrot_turtle
Food, sensory, novel objects, and foraging enrichment are all shown in this image of pets in homes. Can you identify each one?

The Key to Successful (and appropriate!) Enrichment 

As I mentioned earlier, enrichment is something that can, and should be, incorporated into your animal companion’s life every day.  The image above is a great example of how easy it is to do!  However, the key to successful (and appropriate) enrichment for an individual animal is doing a bit of research.  Your homework is to understand your pet’s natural history.  This means that you need to learn about the history of their species, or background and history of their breed.

For example, did you know?

  • The Italian Greyhound was bred to  hunt rabbits.
  • The Dachshund was used to hunt badgers.
  • The main reason cats were bred and kept around homes was originally for hunting vermin.
  • The Bengal cat breed originally came from crossing domestic cats with wild Asian leopard cats.
  • Although cats are carnivores, they still have an occasional craving for live green plants.

All of this matters!  

The breeding history and the natural history of animals affects our pet’s today – even if only on a small level at times.  Your domestic house cat still has a strong predatory instinct, so she needs to hunt every day.  Your cockatoo may live in a metal enclosure in your house, but he/she still has the innate need to chew, fly, and forage.  Your couch potato dog might have a lineage that was bred to swim and retrieve.  We must provide opportunities for animals to do things that are in their DNA.  We can provide simulated hunting, chewing, foraging, and seeking in our homes.  This is what enrichment provides.  It’s important that we take the time to put the pieces of their breed /species puzzle together.


 

Ask yourself:

  • What would my _____ be doing if they were living in the wild??
  • Are they nocturnal, crepuscular, or diurnal?
  • Do they like to climb, hide, or fly?
  • Do they enjoy chewing, foraging or digging?
  • Do they need to soak or bask?
  • Do they hunt, stalk, ambush, or chase?
  • What does this breed of cat do really well, naturally?
  • What does this breed of dog do on his/her own that might be a peek into their genes?
  • What was this breed of dog, cat, horse, etc. originally bred for?
  • What behaviors does this species do naturally in the wild?
  • What kinds of food are found in their country of origin?

Exploring the breed- and species-specific background for each animal in your home is where we should begin thinking about how to provide appropriate enrichment for them.

The video below is an example of how hedgehogs naturally behave in the wild when they have the opportunity to make their own choices.  Why does this matter?  Well, if a hedgehog owner knows how hedgehogs naturally behave, then they can then provide this kind of stimulating environment for their hedgehog in the home!  The same concept is true for your dog, cat, parrot, or turtle!  When we learn about how our animals would behave naturally in the wild, we then have the tools to help them thrive and live long, healthy, happy lives with us in our homes!

Behavioral enrichment should be random, interesting and novel. The goals of enrichment are to offer a sense of control by allowing animals to make choices and to stimulate species-appropriate behaviors


How You Can Provide Enrichment at Home! 

Most people have limited resources available to enrich the lives of their animal companions, which results in a huge lack of appropriate enrichment with most household pets, especially exotic animals.  Making a few changes to their daily routines can greatly enhance the life and longevity of your animal companion! They key is to make things simple and safe, but challenging for the animal.   

 

You don’t have to be rich to enrich your pet’s life!

One thing I learned very quickly while working at the zoo was that funds were limited.  If you wanted to do a lot of enrichment, you had to get creative and do it yourself.  This now carries over into our home, and also when I am working with a family that has a very limited budget.  I teach my clients that anyone can make enrichment toys out of almost anything, and in the process you get to recycle in a super fun way!

Every night we give our dog Hocus Pocus (and the cats) some sort of enrichment challenge to do.  Below is a video demonstrating a very easy one for her, but the point is to not just “give a dog a bone”.  Make them work for it!  Dogs are natural foragers, so allow your dog to utilize his/her natural instincts!  Be as creative as you want to be!  This kind of enrichment provides mental and physical stimulation, and in the process they learn that being alone is a Very Good Thing.  Bonus: it gives you time to do whatever you need to get done while they are having fun!



 

Here’s another suggestion: The old school (“traditional”) method of feeding animals out of a bowl does little to stimulate complex feeding behaviors.  Enrichment keeps animals active and interested, while encouraging natural behaviors!  The video below is a great example of providing simple mental and physical enrichment for a very smart and energetic dog.

And here’s another easy example that we do with our dog, Hocus Pocus every night!


Below are a few more examples of simple, easy enrichment that we use in our home on a daily basis.  Each of these are examples of natural behaviors that the animal would do in the wild if they were given choices.  Click the links to see each short video:

Make toys, or buy feeders that “feed” your cat’s natural hunting instinct!
The BoomerBall "Herding Ball" is designed for herding dogs (Shetland Sheep dogs, Australian Cattle dogs, Australian Shepards and Aussies). It's also great for horses when 3.5" holes are added so hay can be stuffed into ball.
The BoomerBall “Herding Ball” is designed for herding dogs (Shetland Sheep dogs, Australian Cattle dogs, Australian Shepards and Aussies). It’s also great for horses when 3.5″ holes are added so hay can be stuffed into ball.

What Science Has Shown Us

Results from a study showed that when dogs solved a problem and earned a reward they wagged their tails more.  These dogs were also more likely to try to solve the problem again, rather than if they were just given a reward.  The study also found that food was a preferred reward, compared to spending time with another dog, or being petting by a familiar human.

Now let that really sink in for a moment …. What does that tell you?

 


 

In the video below, Chopin, the Moluccan cockatoo, is being challenged mentally and physically to utilize his natural foraging and problem solving skills to retrieve a high-value nut from a puzzle feeder.  We used this kind of enrichment for Chopin to reduce aggression, frustration, and boredom.



 

I encourage everyone to learn what their animal enjoys doing.  Discover their natural behaviors. Learn the history of the breed, and the natural history of the species.  Once you understand these things, you can challenge the animal to move out of their stale comfort zone and step into the space of Who The Animal Really Is.   Enrichment allows us to bring out the inner “House Panther” in a lazy cat.  Enrichment transforms destructive dogs into mentally healthy canine companions.  It changes frustrated parrots into relaxed, feathered friends.

Daily enrichment doesn’t have to be complicated and time-consuming, but the more creative you get, the more fun your animals will have!  Make it a FUN challenge for you and them!

TIP: Be there with them as they discover their new toy.  Encourage them every time they make a small success!  Don’t just leave them alone with the new toy or puzzle feeder.  You wouldn’t offer a puzzle to a child, then leave him/her alone in a room to “figure it out.”  You would guide the child, and encourage the child when they make progress!  The same is true for our animal companions.  Encourage them.  Praise them when they make small progress, and even when they are just trying to figure it out!

enrichment

What kind of enrichment do you provide for your animals?  Please share in the comments below!

 

The Far Reaching Effects of Pain and Discomfort

Look beneath the surface; let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee. ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Pain is a very common medical issue that can create or exacerbate behavior problems in our animal companions.  We must be aware of this.  Labeling behavior as “acting out” or “misbehaving” is not going to help matters, especially if there is an underlying medical issue.

Anxiety, aggression, fear, and depression can stem from pain.  Growling, hissing, swatting, biting, hiding, and urinating or defecating in unusual places are just a few of the behaviors that you might see when your pet in pain or discomfort.   Sometimes these symptoms can be easily overlooked, particularly in cats.  Often arthritis is blamed on “old age”  rather than very real pain.  A cat who is urinating inappropriately in the home may have a painful lower urinary tract disease, rather than a “behavior problem.”

Pain can be very difficult to recognize in many species.  Animals have evolved to disguise pain to help them survive.  Cats are a great example of this.  They are one of the few companion animal species that is both prey and predator.

All species of prey animals instinctively hide their pain so they don’t appear weak, and become an easy target.  Domestic house cats may not have any “natural predators” indoors, but they have retained that instinct.  If you live in a multi-species household, you can bet that if one animal is in pain or discomfort, they will do their best to hide it from the others.  Don’t assume that an animal will rest and stay comfortably still if they are in pain.  Many of them will push through the pain and discomfort.  Some will even play when they are in pain.

That’s where your job as their guardian comes in!  When you learn to become aware of your pet’s daily routines and their subtle behaviors, you will know when something is wrong with them, even when they don’t “show” you.  Many animal behaviors go unnoticed until they become annoying, inconvenient, or even dangerous.

Watch them.  Learn their routines.  Know their behaviors as well as you know yours, your kid’s, or your partner’s behavior and routines.  You will be able to better prevent behavioral issues before they arise. This is how we can become a Conscious Companion!

Here are some helpful ways to learn if an animal is in pain or discomfort:

  • decreased activity
  • lethargy
  • decreased appetite
  • decreased grooming
  •  inappropriate elimination
  • vocalization
  • aggression
  • decreased interaction with other pets and family members,
  • altered facial expression
  • altered posture
  • restlessness
  •  hiding
  • elevations in heart rate
  • increased breathing
  • higher body temperature and blood pressure
  • dilated pupils

Something else to consider is how your pet reacts to being touched – if he/she has increased body tension, or if she flinches in response to a gentle touch, that’s a sign that you need to seek help.

If you see any of these symptoms or behaviors, you should call your veterinarian right away.


Have you ever noticed a subtle change in an animal’s behavior and then later discovered that it was caused by pain or discomfort?

Please share in the comments below!


Recommended  Reading:

Animal Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving TIme In Our Home

Daylight Savings Time never ends, or begins in the world of a hungry animal.

How Well Do You Know Your Canine Companion?

It’s natural to feel that we really know everything about our canine family members, but maybe we really don’t.  Dognition has collected some surprising facts from a five-question survey that they sent out this morning to 600 dog guardians, asking them, “How well do you know your dog?”. The answers they found may surprise you.

DGN-Infographic_LS-1
Dognition’s Survey Found These Surprising Results

Learn more at Dognition.com

Chubby, Tubby, Plump and Pudgy

Jelly-Belly, butterball, husky, portly.  We jokingly refer to chunky animals as this, but it’s no laughing matter.  Experts estimate that nearly 55% of companion animals are overweight. This directly increases their risk for many serious conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, breathing problems, and heart disease.  They blame the pudgy pet problem on too many treats and not enough play time. Recently scientists determined that many companion animals are obese because they are emotional eaters! I understand first hand what it’s like to have an obese animal companion, and it’s one of the most challenging situations for everyone in our home.  This week is National Pet Obesity Awareness week, so I wanted to share some insights and fat facts with you.

“Over half the nation’s dogs and cats are now overweight making obesity the leading health threat of our pets. Largely preventable diseases such as arthritis and diabetes are being seen in record numbers costing pets their life and owners millions in medical bills. The reality most of these cases could be avoided simply by preventing weight gain and shedding excess pounds.”


Many animal guardians disregard the health hazards associated with overweight pets and instead focus on how cute their plump cat or roly-poly pet looks, says Nick Trout, DVM, a staff surgeon at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston and author of “Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles.”  But overfeeding a fat cat or dog is basically loving it to death, says Dr. Trout.  Overweight and obese pets not only have shorter life spans but also suffer from more medical problems during their lives, including back pain, arthritis, kidney disease, and diabetes—and they’re more expensive to care for as a result.

Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles
Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles

Just as disturbing, says Dr. Ward, is that an inactive pet is more likely to become depressed or anxious.  That’s because a sedentary lifestyle leads to an alteration in the three major brain chemicals responsible for mood — and that can create emotional issues. “Aerobic activity for as little as twenty to thirty minutes a day balances norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin levels,” he says, “resulting in a better, more stable mood.” Also, well-exercised animals won’t be quite as wound-up, so they’ll be less likely to run amuck, chew, bark, squawk and meow for hours, and other behaviors that we could all do without!


Fat Stats:

  • A 12 pound Yorkie is the same as an average human female weighing 218 pounds!
  • A 14 pound cat is equivalent to a 237 pound man!
  • A 90 pound female Labrador retriever is equal to a 186 pound 5’ 4” female or a 217 pound 5’ 9” male!
  • A fluffy feline that weighs 15 pounds is equal to a 218 pound 5’ 4” female or 254 pound 5’ 9” male!

Lindberg_Cat&Dog
57.9% of cats and 52.7% of dogs are overweight or obese.

Fat, Skinny, or Just Right?

To determine if your animal companion is overweight, follow this scoring system used by most vets:  As the animal is standing, look down at him/her.  You should see an indentation after the ribs—the waist.  As you place your hands on the rib cage and apply gentle pressure, you should be able to feel the ribs.  If you can pinch an inch, he or she is not fluffy.  He is fat.  Use the Pet Weight Translator to determine how much your feline or canine companion weighs compared to an average adult human.

When a small or medium-sized animal gains even a little weight, it can have a significant impact on its health.  When a 15 pound dog is 5 pounds overweight, that’s the equivalent of you weighing 30% more than you should!

90 percent of pet owners of overweight dogs and cats do not know their companions need to shed some pounds.
90 percent of pet owners of overweight dogs and cats do not know their companions need to shed some pounds.

52.5 percent of dogs and 58.3 percent of cats to be overweight or obese by their veterinarian. That equals approximately 80 million U.S. dogs and cats at increased risk for weight-related disorders such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, hypertension and many cancers.

fat-cat

WHAT YOU CAN DO

 

“The single most valuable tool a pet owner has in the fight against obesity is a measuring cup.  Most pet owners don’t measure how much they’re feeding and even fewer know how much they should be feeding.”

Communicate!

Talk with your veterinarian about how much to feed your cat, dog, pig, bird or rat to keep them healthy.  You can’t always rely on pet food labels. How much each animal needs depends on their species, their frame, activity level, and the type of food you give them.  Most people are shocked to learn what an animal’s ideal body weight actually is.  A veterinarian can help you assess your animal companion’s weight correctly and develop a plan of action.

Monitor & Measure! 

Portly Piggies Need Exercise Too!
Portly Piggies Need Exercise Too!

How much food do you feed each animal? Is it a handful, a scoop, a bowl full?  Measuring each animal’s food allows you to keep track of exactly how much each one is eating. This also helps to keep his or her food intake consistent.

No More Free feeding!

Free feeding (having food available at all times) can encourage overeating. Feed your animal companion at specific times of the day. Also, any food that is not eaten within 15 minutes should be picked up.

Food is a tool!

Use potions of their meals for training time instead of placing all of the food in a bowl for them to chow down on all at once.

Treat or No Treat?  

All companion birds need daily exercise outside their enclosure
All companion birds need daily exercise outside their enclosure

Give treats sparingly. Don’t just dole out free treats.  Use treats as a time for training or as a very special reward.

Hunt & Seek!

For most species, you can hide treats around the house, and encouraging natural foraging behaviors. The cat, bird, dog or rat can learn to “hunt” for his or her food!

Exercise Every Day! 

Physical and mental stimulation are vital keeping any animal happy and healthy! This included keeping them.  Get Creative and remember that all species need daily exercise! Remember to check with your vet before starting a new regimen.

NOTE: When it comes to exercise, not all dogs are created equal: Historically, each breed was bred for different tasks.

Download these Exercise Tips for Dogs Based on Breed.  And check out Walking for Weight Loss! – Tips on aerobic dog walking, a start-up exercise program, and gear to make exercise safe, fun, and effective!

All cats need daily mental and physical stimulation
All cats need daily mental and physical stimulation

Check out these helpful tips for:

Download the Size-O-Meters for all species in your home:


On Wednesday October 7, 2015, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention conducted their 9th Annual Pet Obesity Awareness Day survey. They need your help!  Learn more here.

It's not cool to be chubby. Help them to be healthy and strong!
It’s not cool to be chubby. Help them to be healthy and strong!

Overweight Animals:

  • Don’t feel good.  They often appear tired or lazy, lack energy and playfulness, are reluctant to jump or run, have difficulty grooming, lag behind on walks and pant heavily.  In addition, the extra weight puts stress on their joints, hearts, lungs, liver, kidneys and more.
  • Need more veterinary care. Overweight animals are at risk for a variety of health problems, including skin infections, high blood pressure, heart disease, immune suppression, diabetes mellitus, orthopedic and arthritic disorders and some forms of cancer.  These issues can greatly increase the amount of care the animal will need as a result of his or her weight.
  • Do not live as long.  It’s a sad fact, but possibly the most important one to consider. Most overweight animals have a significantly decreased life expectancy—up to two and a half years, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).

Shedding a few pounds is the simple answer to these problems listed above.  Helping your animal companion to lose weight can decrease the stress on joints -this is especially important for animals with arthritis. Losing weight will help to improve their cardiovascular health, enhance their athletic abilities, and reduce or even eliminate the need for prescription medications that are required to manage medical disorders, caused by obesity.  But best of all, when your animal loses weight, you spend less time and money at the vet, and you increase your bond from spending more fun, active, quality time together!

Exercising with your animal companion should be FUN! Amd you increase your bond
Exercising with your animal companion should be FUN!  And it’s a great way to increase your bond!

This is a war veterinarians, pet owners and parents must win. Obesity is the number one preventable medical condition seen in veterinary hospitals today and is the fastest growing health threat of our nation’s children. Our goal is to help pets and people live longer, healthier, and pain-free lives by maintaining a healthy weight, proper nutrition, and physical activity. The most important decision a pet owner makes each day is what they choose to feed their pet. Choose wisely. Your pet’s life depends on it. ~  Dr. Ernie Ward, founder of Association for Pet Obesity Prevention


Recommended Reading:

http://www.petobesityprevention.org/

http://www.thedrakecenter.com

Dr Ernie Ward

2014 Obesity Facts & Risks

 

Emotional Eating In Animals

Image

Jack Sprat he loved no fat,
and his wife she lov’d no lean:
And yet betwixt them both,
they lick’t the platters clean.

English Proverb (1670)

The American waistline isn’t the only thing that’s a growing problem.  Companion animals are packing on the pounds as well.   Studies show that up to 60 percent of companion dogs and cats are obese or overweight.  They are actually in worse shape than we are, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35 percent of Americans are obese.  You do the math.

What’s most surprising is that calories and laziness are not the only factors causing this epidemic in animals.   If an animal in your home puts on weight, you might assume it is simply the result of an animal with a voracious appetite combined with an indulgent owner.  New evidence is showing us otherwise.

obese cat
Stress eating is quite common in humans but until recently, it was not considered a prime cause of domestic animal obesity.

According to the research review, published recently in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, companion animals can use food as a “coping mechanism” to deal with “emotional distress”.  Many pets are becoming obese because they are prone to “emotional eating”, where they eat in an attempt to dispel feelings of unhappiness and stress.

Comfort or stress eating in humans involves specific kinds of foods. These can range from sweet to salty, crunchy or soft.  However animals will usually eat whatever and whenever.  Their stress eating doesn’t involve any particular food. They just eat a lot of their normal food, explains Dr. Franklin McMillan, a vet and former clinical professor of medicine at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine:

Research shows that animals, like humans, can eat too much, not necessarily out of hunger, but also a result of “disinhibition” – whereby overeating is in response to stimuli other than internal hunger cues, such as stress. ~ Dr. Franklin McMillan

He also cites earlier studies to show that some animals offered an abundance of food do not overeat, as well as others showing a link between stress and negative emotions and eating. McMillan identifies several triggers to an animal’s stress eating. Some of these triggers are boredom, anxiety and depression. He also addresses skeptical animal guardians who think their pets are only happy when their faces are buried in a food dish, by explaining that research on pet obesity suggests overeating can be a sign of a pet’s pleasurable emotional state, or an animal mind “in turmoil.”

some pets use food as a coping mechanism to cope with emotional distress
Some animals use food as a coping mechanism to cope with emotional distress

The review makes one other thing clear — we need to change the way we think about pet obesity. Simply taking the food dish away or running your dog around the block aren’t necessarily going to address the underlying causes of stress eating.  Not all instances of pet obesity are tangled up in a pet’s emotional distress (some pets are just gluttons, and some owners are just irresponsible) so it’s important to recognize that one cause of an animal’s obesity is that the animal is eating more than it requires, the excess is stored as fat, hence the animal becomes overweight.  By overfeeding an improper diet that contains too much fat, too many carbohydrates and too many snacks without proper exercise will lead to obesity.  However, McMillan’s article shows that, just like with human obesity, pet obesity is probably way more complex than we realize.

 

Dr McMillan, who now works for Best Friends Animal Society, says the findings are such that they should change the way obesity in cats and dogs is addressed.  Rather than simply reducing the amount of food they can eat and increasing their exercise, guardians and veterinarians need to address the animal’s underlying emotional problems.  By simply putting an “emotional eater”on a diet, they could make the situation worse; taking away the animal’s “coping mechanism” and making the animal even more unhappy – and even hungrier.

The bottom line is that there is a ton of evidence in humans and animals like rodents that stress induced eating, or emotional eating is a very real thing and contributes to obesity, so we should be looking at it in “pet” animals.  If this is a major factor in our pet animals, then the standard approach, by simply yanking away their food, is very misguided and potentially harmful.  The indicators show that obesity is rising in humans and in pets. How much is attributable to emotional factors – that is the great unknown. 

fat ginger tabby
Fat animals are not cute. Obese pets are at serious risk for health problems and being overweight is damaging to their overall well being.

The United States is not the only country to see an increase in waistlines of humans and animal companions.  Two thirds of veterinary professionals in Europe say that pet obesity is the single biggest health issue facing domestic animals throughout Europe, with 96% of those questioned identifying early death as the most serious consequence of the condition.  Britain’s obesity crisis has claimed a new victim – the nation’s horses.  A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour found that a third of recreational riders were too obese for their mounts, leaving the animals at risk of several welfare conditions.

The United States is not the only country to see an increase in waistlines of humans and animal companions.  Two thirds of veterinary professionals in Europe say that pet obesity is the single biggest health issue facing domestic animals throughout Europe, with 96% of those questioned identifying early death as the most serious consequence of the condition.  Britain’s obesity crisis has claimed a new victim – the nation’s horses.  A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour found that a third of recreational riders were too obese for their mounts, leaving the animals at risk of several welfare conditions.

To address this weighty problem, the first Animal Obesity Clinic geared especially for our animal companions has opened its door!  Created by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, The Tufts’ Veterinary Obesity Clinic will tap the strengths of the Cummings School’s nutrition service, a 15-year-old clinical, teaching and research service located at its Grafton, Mass., Foster Hospital for Small Animals — one of the nation’s busiest teaching hospitals.


 FAT FACTS

  • Triggers to an animal’s Stress Eating can be boredom, anxiety, general stress and depression.
  • Obese cats are more likely to be living in houses with only one or two cats.
  • Dogs in single dog households were more likely to be fat. Female dogs seem to be more susceptible to obesity than male ones.
  • Vets say over half the pets they see are overweight and most guardians are surprised to hear this news.
  • The obesity rate is at least 25% in cats and 45% in dogs.
  • Eight out of 10 dog, cat, and rabbit guardians believe that their animal is just the right weight, although when asked which of a series of pictures most closely resembled their pet, only 33% of dog guardians and 23% of cat guardians chose the “normal weight” picture.
  • Breeds prone to obesity: Labrador retriever, cairn terrier, cavalier king charles, Scottish terrier, cocker spaniel and in cats, the domestic shorthair. (For the record I would like to nominate the orange tabby cat to be added to this list.)

being overweight can lead to complications such as diabetes, orthopedic problems and respiratory complications, as well as reduced quality of life and life expectancy.
Animal obesity leads to complications such as diabetes, orthopedic problems and respiratory complications, as well as reduced quality of life and life expectancy.

Animals Are Not Meant to Be Chubby!

In the video below, Rollin’ Safari shows a series of four animated shorts created as an animation project by students from Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg, a film school in Germany.  Each short puts a humorous spin on animals seen in the wild by making them extremely bloated and round.  As humorous and clever as the clips are, they are not far from the truth of what is happening with the animals that we share a home with.

You can learn more about this project at CGSociety.

obese fat pets emotional eating

 Tools You Can Use

To tackle the companion animal obesity issue The Pet Food Manufacturers Association PFMA launched an obesity prevention campaign.  The aim is to raise awareness of companion animal obesity by asking animal guardians to take action on 4 simple things:

1.  Read the feeding guidelines on the pet food packet 

2. Monitor your animal’s weight on a regular basis and adjust the amounts fed accordingly

3. Use a Pet Size-O-Meter for cats, dogs and rabbits.  (This is a user friendly version of the Body Condition Score Chart used by pet professionals).

Being a Conscious Companion means we monitor the health of our companion animals
Being a Conscious Companion means we monitor the health of our companion animals

Download the Size-O-Meters for all species in your home:

4. Track Their Health – Keep track of your companion animals health using these:

fat_bunny
Companion rabbits suffer from obesity too

It can be difficult to judge a rabbit’s body condition visually because their thick fur can hide prominent bones or disguise fat.  You will need to feel your rabbit so you can tell what is underneath the fluff.  A rabbit in healthy weight should have a smooth curve from neck to tail, and from hip to hip. You should be able to feel the spine and ribs but they should feel rounded not sharp – like they have a thin layer of padding.  It is normal, for females, to have a roll of fur under the chin. This is called a dewlap. It can look like fat but should just feel like a fold of skin when gently felt.  Learn more about how to determine and maintain healthy rabbit weight here and here.

 

Why You Should Be Proactive and Involved

We love our animals and we give them the best care possible, but unfortunately many of them are overweight. As their guardians we want to keep them happy, healthy and safe, so it’s easy to be embarrassed when one of your animals puts on the pounds like they are storing up for the next Ice Age. If one of your companion animals is putting on the pounds, remember that you are not alone. I am the first to admit that we have an obese cat. We have tried everything from prescription foods, holistic medicine, monitoring his food intake, increasing his physical activity and everything else you can imagine, but genetics and his love of food are winning the battle of the bulge. After discovering this study about emotional eating in animals I now firmly believe that this cat is a prime example of an animal who eats to comfort himself. Humans do it, so why wouldn’t animals? The question is how do we help them? What can we do to help their emotional needs, other than placing more food in front of them?
What about your animal family? Do you have a porky pooch, a hefty horse, a ravenous rabbit, a fat feline, or a big bird?
Do you think their extra pounds are due to a sedentary lifestyle and the foods they consume, or could they be an emotional eater?

 


SOURCES:

http://www.pfma.org.uk

http://www.pfma.org.uk/pet-obesity-campaign/

http://www.therabbithouse.com

http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk

http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/animals-are-becoming-obese-like-us-says-study.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9950467/Easy-rider.-Why-horses-are-feeling-the-strain-of-Britains-obesity-crisis.html

Feline High-Fives!

Cat Greeting

We have all seen it, or we have had it done to us. You are minding your own business and a cat sticks his or her butt in your face.

Cats do this when they are greeting a person, another cat, a dog, etc.  They will also do this when you are petting them.  Most of us think that cats do this because they want you to scratch that area, but this is simply not true.  (By the way, do not touch “that area” unless you want a paw to the jaw).  

So why do cats offer us their rear end?  Well, simply put, a kitty derrière in your face is the feline version of a high-five in cat language!

Cats have scent glands at the base of their tails that produce their own “signature” scent.  When they offer this posture to you or another animal they are saying, “I trust you.  Go ahead.  Check me out.  Get a good whiff of what I have goin’ on.”

 

So the next time a cat offers their rear to you, don’t be offended.  It’s a compliment!

cat_body_language
Cat tails are expressive, but you have to look at the whole cat to see the full story: A cat with a straight-up tail is displaying confidence and friendliness. But if the cat is also displaying an upright tail with erect fur, dilated pupils, and ears folded back, this cat is exhibiting fear or aggression. We must read all of our cat’s signals to see the full story!

 

Does your feline family member offer you their derrière?