Author: Dr. Clarissa G. Noureddine, DVM, MS, MS
Pets are part of the family these days, which means you have probably included them on your holiday gift-buying list. So what would your pet request if he or she could speak? Actually, your pet probably already does ‘speak’ about the things he or she enjoys, you just don’t ‘hear’ it in words. But you can still figure it out by watching body language as well as observing what your pet chooses (or does not choose).
Take some of the basics – food, water, and shelter. Does your cat find you and start pestering you an hour or two before mealtime every day? Maybe you have a cat that prefers to drink water from a running faucet, so you allow your water bill to rise to give your cat the constant supply of dripping water? Or, if you are training your dog to ‘sit and stay’ prior to diving into a bowl of food, do you see them start to salivate and drool while they wait? How about those little dogs who refuse to step foot in the rain to use the bathroom because they prefer the shelter of their dry home? If any of this sounds familiar to you, then you already have the hang of listening to your dog or cat ‘speak’!
Along the same lines as the basic necessities, your pet can also ‘tell’ you what he or she prefers in terms of fun through the choices he or she makes. Just like a salivating dog indicates the dog is hoping for the food right in front of him, we can look at other behaviors and assess what they might mean. Does your dog prefer to play fetch over going on a walk? Then find more time to play fetch! Does your cat prefer chase the laser over being picked up and held? Then make more time for your cat to chase the laser pointer! If you consider the things your pet enjoys the most, then you can find the gift that best suits your pet’s choices. Some gifts are even completely free!
- Animals love to play. While new toys are always fun, perhaps the gift this year is a commitment for more interactive play time together or walks in the park.
- New beds are cozy and always a great choice, but maybe doubling up on snuggle time is what your pet would love even more.
- Thinking about redecorating a room in the house? Then include ‘catification’ in your plans – your cat will love new shelves or boxes to investigate.
- Give them a view of the outdoors! Even when you can’t take them outside, they can still be enriched and fulfilled by watching what is going on outside.
- Change up feeding and snack time. You can offer a new type of treat or chew. Or, try adding a little bit of canned food in if you usually just feed dry food. Puzzle toys that make the pet work to get the food are stimulating and can even help slow down those eaters who usually indulge and eat their meals too quickly. You can even hide food kibbles around the house so they have to search – this will encourage exercise and food searching behavior while also giving them enrichment.
On a bit of a different note, have you ever considered that your pet’s ‘undesired’ behaviors are actually them ‘asking’ for something different? If you figure out what they need, the undesired behavior might subside (of course, this comes with the disclaimer that animals who have a behavior change should be examined by a veterinarian to make sure there is not a medical explanation for the behavior). Here are some examples:
Undesired Behavior: Your cat pees or poops outside the litter box.
What They Might Be ‘Asking’ For: More litter boxes and/or scoop every day because no one likes to use a dirty restroom!
Undesired Behavior: Your dog chews up your shoes (or anything else he can find).
What They Might Be ‘Asking’ For: A chew toy or dental chew to express normal chewing behavior.
Undesired Behavior: Your favorite chair is being clawed to pieces by your cat.
What They Might Be ‘Asking’ For: Scratching posts (that are tall enough for the cat to stretch it’s entire body out) and cardboard scratchers to express normal scratching behavior.
Undesired Behavior: Your puppy is constantly barking and trying to get your attention.
What They Might Be ‘Asking’ For: Designated play and training time to build a relationship and get some puppy energy out.
Undesired Behavior: Your kitten is chasing your feet and playfully biting and scratching you.
What They Might Be ‘Asking’ For: A toy dangling from a pole or laser pointer so they can express their normal prey chasing behavior.
Undesired Behavior: Your dog seems bored with her toys.
What They Might Be ‘Asking’ For: New toys that are stimulating (and don’t forget to rotate the toys every few days!)
Undesired Behavior: Your cat does not explore the house like she did as a kitten.
What They Might Be ‘Asking’ For: ‘Catification’ and rotating enrichment (toys, outdoor view, interactive play, etc.) to foster normal exploratory behavior.
So this holiday season, go ahead and ‘ask’ your pet what he or she wants. Their body language and their choices will give you big clues!
Photo credits: 123rf.com