Do you come home to a rambunctious pooch bounding to the door? Our furry friends’ enthusiasm can be contagious, and sometimes annoying, but we love them anyway. We tell them our secrets. We sneak them our table scraps. Ultimately, we wouldn’t trade them for the world. They are our fur babies.
Humans have bonded with their pet companions for centuries. Because of our long history of camaraderie, scholars have investigated the benefits garnered from this partnership. As you may guess, pets sometimes take the place of human companionship, as in situations when a spouse passes away.1 Some studies show more complex benefits of pet ownership, such as the association of pet ownership with fewer physician visits in older adults.2 Some studies look at a snapshot in time, like a period of grief, while others reveal long-term habits, like finding that older adults with pets remain physically active for longer.3
There is a world of research about the human-animal bond. How does this relationship affect your pet? In 2012, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reported that 58.3 percent of cats and 52.5 percent of dogs in the U.S. were obese.4 If we, as pet owners, gain so many benefits from our pets, it is up to us to make sure they are not harmed by our bad habits. So, what can we do?
- Get moving! Dogs and cats alike can go for walks. Make sure to comply with all leash laws and bring waste bags along.
- Share a treat. Commercial treats can lead to weight gain in pets. Instead, check out the American Kennel Club’s list of people food that’s safe for dogs, such as apples, and split a special (and healthy!) treat between you.5 According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, cucumbers are safe for cats, so enjoy one with your feline friends on a hot summer day.6
- Measure up. Check with your vet to find out just how much food you should be feeding your furball. While you’re at it, commit to monitoring your own food consumption too.
- Play! Playing games with your pet is sure to keep them mentally engaged, happy and darting around. Whether they like to catch a ball, chase a laser pointer or tug a rope, set aside some time to do what they are interested in.
- Go socialize. Plan a play date with a friend and their pet. You could meet at a dog park, go for a walk or even invite them over for a get-together. Whatever you do, remember that you and your pooch need social interaction. Why not do it together?
It’s been said that the best seat in the house belongs to the cat, and that a dog will love you more than you love yourself. They make us smile, wash away the stress of a long week and remind us how simple life really can be. Now it is our turn to give them the best of ourselves.
— Jenissa Gordon is a graduate student Dietetic Intern with the Department of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Georgia.
- Miltaides H, Shearer J. Attachment to pet dogs and depression in rural older adults. Anthrozoos. 2011; 24: 147-154.
- Siegel JM. Stressful life events and use of physician services among the elderly: The moderating role of pet ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1990; 58: 1081-1086.
- Thorpe RJ, Christian JE. Bauman A. Dog walking as physical activity for older adults. . The Health Benefits of Dog Walking for People and Pets. 2011. West Lafayayette, IN: Purdue University Press.
- Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. 2012 National Pet Obesity Survey Results. Accessed May 13, 2017. Available at: http://petobesityprevention.org/2012-national-pet-obesity-survey-results/
- American Kennel Club. Fruits and Vegetables Dogs can and cannot eat. Accessed May 13, 2017. Available at: http://www.akc.org/content/health/articles/fruits-vegetables-dogs-can-and-cant-eat/?utm_medium=content-page&utm_source=akc.org&utm_campaign=bottom-related-blueconic&utm_content=algo-2
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants. Accessed May 31, 2017. Available at: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/cucumber