Dr. Becker's currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Amercian Humane Association as well as its Chief Veterinary Correspondent.
1. Get Educated
The first step to being an outstanding pet owner, according to Dr. Becker, is taking responsibility. “Nobody ever says ‘I was a lousy pet owner.’ It’s always the pet’s fault.” Learn the peculiarities of your pet’s breed such as how much exercise they need, how gregarious they are, how much maintenance their coat requires, how often they need to go outside, and about new technologies, products, and nutrition that might help you care for your pet. Knowing the basics about your pet’s upkeep ensures you won’t be caught off guard by troubling behavior.
2. Focus on the Human-Animal Bond
“Dogs and cats have broken down the walls of our hearts. There haven’t been comparable domesticated species in 5,000 years.” For Dr. Becker, it’s clear that pets and people have evolved to benefit each other. He explains, “When you’re petting them, you both get this massive release of oxytocin, prolactin, dopamine, and a decrease in cortisol. It’s a reciprocal biochemical spa treatment.” As they age, it can be easy to take pets for granted. Make time for a little human-animal bonding every day.
3. Learn to Detect Signs of Stress
“We’re naturally attuned to stress in other people. We know what a happy dog looks like, but what does a stressed pet look like? Stress increases cortisol, the fight or flight hormone, which over time can lead to long-term metabolic conditions.” Major indicators of stress to watch out for include:
- Excessive yawning
- Excessively licking lips
- Shaking dry when not wet
- Avoiding or hiding
- Hardening of the eyes
4. Reduce Stress
Dr. Becker notes, “The key is to reduce anxiety triggers.” If you have a vet visit, “don’t get the carrier out the night before,” give them a few days to get prepared. If they’re nervous alone or travelling, play soothing music, or draw the shades. The less stimulus pets receive from the outside world, the less anxiety they’ll have about events outside their control.
5. Share Your Home
You may pay the bills, but your home is your pet’s whole world. Dr. Becker says we often put our own needs first. “Humans put litter boxes where it’s convenient. But that bathroom or laundry room has no escape route. For your cat it’s less hassle to go behind that bureau.” To locate stressors in the home, consider the following:
- Are feeding dishes and litter boxes easily accessible?
- Are neighbor’s pets a source of irritation?
- Does your pet have access to a secluded space to rest?
- Are outside noises or light over-stimulating them?
Where you place your cat’s food and water dishes can have a huge impact on their anxiety while dining. See our dish placement tool for more information
6. Plan for When You’re Not There
Make sure your pets are provided for during those long hours when you’re away. Dr. Becker suggests technological options. “DOGTV has stimulation and relaxation channels, and there are apps that control contraptions that talk to your pet, or dispense treats. Pheromone sprays can also reduce anxiety, creating that kumbaya atmosphere.” And, of course, daycare and dog walkers are a great way to enrich your pet’s day. “Know someone who wants exercise? Maybe they’ll walk your dog.”