Does your pet suffer from anxiety during game time when his beloved team is down by three with seconds on the clock in the fourth quarter? If you’ve noticed that Fido is antsy during games or maybe panting more than usual and you’re getting concerned but don’t know if it warrants a visit to the veterinarian, you’ve come to the right place. Renowned veterinarians Dr. Debra Horowitz who specializes in behavioral problems in companion pets, and Dr. Oz’s resident veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker who is widely known as “America’s Veterinarian” joined me this week to dish on how we can build a game plan with our pets that will not only have them prepared for the big game on Sunday, but their entire lives; and behavioral signs you should look for that could signal it’s more than just a little game time anxiety.
Candace Rose: Where do we start with building a game plan that will ensure our pets are happy and healthy?
Dr. Marty Becker: “The coaches prepare for the big game, the families are prepared with their tasty snacks and the beverages, but we need to think about pets not just for the big day, but also for the entire year. And what we’re doing as part of the Whole Pets campaign now, is not just looking at their physical needs but their physical, mental, social and emotional needs of pets. So when you get real stressed out during the game when the opposing team scores or causes a turnover, you can just look to these pets. When you pet them or play with them it increases oxytocin- the hug hormone; it increases serotonin and dopamine- the happy hormone, so you feel less stressed, you feel happier.
I do want to caution you not to feed the pet the human food, those tasty snacks that have been prepared for them. If you want to get something go to Petco, get yourself some turkey jerky and some sweet potato chips or something that’s really a tasty treat for them. And ask them as part of this thing about mental stimulation, have them perform a trick to get that. And you may even have someone else that’s at the party give them a treat and have them do a trick, so you’re getting them involved socially, mentally and let’s don’t forget about all our other pets as well.
There are other pets there that you can make sure that there needs are engaged as well. Dr. Horowitz has some really good stuff about what to do when pets are too anxious.
Dr. Debra Horowitz: “One of the things that we need to remember is that we take care of our pets physical health with good diet and physical activity and regular grooming. But in order for them to be on their ‘A’ game we really need to make sure that they’re mentally prepared. We want to keep them mentally alert, socially engaged and emotionally happy. And we can do that with some really easy steps to keep our pets mentally alert- we can play with them, but we can offer them food puzzle toys to make them work for their food. And don’t forget training. Did you know that dogs can learn up to 300 words, and there’s a Border Collie that knows 1,000. And don’t stop with sit, down or stay; engage your cat or dog by teaching them a fun trick like ‘high five’ or ‘touchdown’. Make sure they’re ready to greet all the people who come to your house, maybe have them sit when new company comes in so they get to know them and feel comfortable, and to make them feel emotionally healthy make them feel secure.
Create a bed or a nook or a crate for them where they can go to be by themselves if the game gets too noisy, and put a treat in there, maybe a little Kong stuffed with peanut butter. And don’t worry if they go off to be all by themselves, not every cat or dog is a football fan. And for more information you can go to Petco.com/WholePets where you’ll find a whole checklist to meet their physical, mental, social and emotional needs.”
Candace Rose: What if we have a pet like a fish or a hamster- how can we make sure their needs are covered?
Dr. Marty Becker: “Again, this is not just for dogs and cats. If you have a small animal or a bird, you want to think about creative environments for them- something that has interactive toys, has things for exercise, has little nooks and crannies like Dr. Horowitz talked about for a dog for them to go and hide. We now have known studies that some of these bearded dragons for example, these reptiles they love to be with a t-shirt that has a scent of their owner on it. And if you thinking about reptiles or fish, you want to create environments that mimic what they had in the wild. And by doing that they’re more comfortable, they feel safer. So this thing about the physical, mental, social and emotional needs is not just for dogs and cats, but it’s for all of our pets.”
Candace Rose: Do you have any additional tips or information you’d like to share with us?
Dr. Debra Horowitz: “As I mentioned, you can go to Petco.com/WholePets to get further information, but here are a few tips for your listeners that can help them know whether or not their pets off their game plan:
First of all, sometimes a change in appetite is a first sign our pets are not up to snuff. I wouldn’t worry if they skip one meal or maybe don’t eat for a day, but like us, if we’re really anxious we might not eat. Sometimes pets when they’re anxious will hide, so if they’re under the bed- maybe if they’re under the bed when you’re yelling and screaming at the game, I don’t know that I’d worry about that either. But if lack of appetite or hiding persists, be proactive. Contact your veterinarian just to be sure everything is okay. And don’t ignore the fact that certain behaviors like panting or pacing or whining or meowing are trying to get your attention, not for food but to let you know ‘Hey, I’m not okay.’ And maybe the answer is simply to take them to their safe place, put them there with a food toy, close the door and maybe even put on some calming music which we know makes pets feel better so they can ride out game day and feel good about everything.