back-to-school challenge: two things to try with your pet this month

Posted by Dr. Ernie Ward on Aug 10 2015

As you prepare your family for the upcoming school year, don’t forget your pets. Those lazy days of summer are soon to be interrupted by early morning chaos and frenzy, creating anxiety in many dogs and cats. One way to soothe stress and relieve restlessness is to try something new with your pet. Teach a new trick, try a new food or test a new toy. Whatever you choose, do it daily. Daily interaction and training will engage your pet’s mental drive and help comfort nervousness, especially this time of year. Here are two things to try with your pet after the school bell rings.

Challenge #1: Feed a Different Whole Food Weekly for a Month

Variety is not only the spice of life, it’s also essential for health. As you readjust to after school activities, homework and daily drama, reward your pet with a new veggie or sample of a fresh protein once or twice a week for the first month of school. For example, give your dog raw or al dente broccoli with the regular kibble for a week, then try baby carrots the following week and cucumbers and zucchini to complete the month. I favor whole vegetables because I don’t have to worry as much about counting calories and they’re packed with phytonutrients often lacking in many processed pet foods.

For cats, try adding a few flakes of canned tuna, salmon, sardines, anchovies or organic, free-range chicken. Most dogs also love these proteins. You don’t have to add much; it’s truly the thought that counts. Make giving these special foods a big deal for your pet; I believe they enjoy seeing our happiness when treating them as much as the goodies themselves. Choose fresh, whole, unprocessed foods for these back-to-school special treats.

Challenge #2: Teach or Review a Trick or Command Each Week

Learning is a lifelong journey, even for our pets. Dogs need to be challenged mentally and given tasks to remain content and emotionally balanced. Cats require physical activity and engagement of their inner predator to stay stable. Each week during the first month of school, take five to ten minutes each day to practice known commands. Better yet, work on a new skill or action. Sit, down, stay, come, retrieve or drop are all excellent choices. Dogs love knowing a command and being rewarded for their work. Even older dogs gain satisfaction from a simple “sit.”

For cats, try a new laser or remote-controlled toy, set out a new box when you take the kids to school or wad up old papers for a batting ball. I’m amazed at how my cats find endless pleasure in old paper bags and cardboard boxes. The key is to make these activities part of your daily routine. Pets need structure. If they know you’ll spend a few minutes playing and working with them after the kids are gone to school, they’ll be happier despite the hurricane of family mornings.

Help make back-to-school time less stressful for your four-legged family this year. It only takes a little effort and a few minutes each day to enrich your dog or cat’s life. Take my challenge and include your pets in a new daily routine. Nourishing food, adequate exercise and lots of love are the secrets to a long, healthy and happy life.