Integrative Pet Vet column: Celebrating the bond we share with our pet companions
Integrative Pet Vet
The holiday season represents many things including reconnecting with family and friends. Enjoying time with family and friends is an important part of the holiday season, highlighting their value in our lives. Not surprisingly, our pet companions have become a critical part of our families and our circle of friends. They play an important role, on many levels, in our daily lives. The number of households with pets continues to increase. An estimated 85 million U.S. families have pet companions in 2019. That is 67% of households compared to 56% in 1988 based on American Pet Products Association surveys. There are approximately 90 million dog and 94 million cat companions in the U.S.
The holidays provide an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate our bond with our pet companions. Including pets in our holidays continues to increase with an estimated $67 to $185 per pet spent for gifts this year, 54% of pets have a Christmas stocking, 29% will receive a Christmas card, 16% will be featured in their family Christmas card, and 3% of pets will “write” a letter to Santa.
These statistics are only a superficial reflection of how important our pets are to us individually. Pets provide unconditional love and companionship. They contribute to increased quality of life, reduced rates of cardiovascular disease and obesity, and lower levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness. Pet companionship also improves recovery from illness.
In addition to these contributions, pet connections have far reaching effects for children including benefits for child development, reduced childhood incidence of certain diseases, and improved response to therapy. Pet companions are great listeners that reduce stress reactions in children performing stressful tasks. Other studies show that classroom pets facilitate learning, respect and empathy. There is also a reduction in aggressive child behaviors.
The benefits of pet companionship extend beyond the classroom into the workplace. Pets in the workplace relieve stress, make the work environment more comfortable, facilitate social interaction, increase productivity, and improve interactions with customers. These factors lead to higher job satisfaction, higher employee retention, and a feeling that the workplace supports physical health and mental well-being.
With all this in mind it is easy to understand that pet companions also contribute to increased quality of life, life satisfaction, and physical and mental health in the elderly. Elderly that have contact with pets are more mobile and have improved social interactions.
During the holidays, take time to recognize and celebrate the contribution that pet companions make to all our lives. Don’t forget that they need to be kept safe from holiday hazards like small toys they can ingest, foods that can be toxic to them, under-cooked foods that can lead to food poisoning, houseplants that can be toxic, salt on the sidewalks that can irritate feet, and the cold temperatures that can be problematic. Also remember that pets can become stressed by all the holiday activities that change schedules and bring people into our homes. Dogs need to stay on schedule with their normal exercise routines. Cats also benefit from exercise and play so take time for them. Ultimately these interactions will reduce your own holiday stress and improve the quality of your social interactions.
For pets that are stressed by the holiday activities, consider the Bach Flower remedies like Rescue Remedy, nutraceutical products designed to reduce anxiety, anti-anxiety herbs, and pheromones like Feliway for cats and Adaptil for dogs. Essential oils like lavender can be calming but be cautious with essential oils around cats because cats are susceptible to toxicity.
If you have questions about pet safety during the holidays or stress management for your pets, contact your veterinarian. Enjoy the holidays with your pet companions. Happy Holidays.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.
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