This year’s Better With Pets Summit was focused on the emotional wellness of pets and the people who love them. We collected 10 of the most incredible things we learned about dogs from panelists, keynote speakers and interactive exhibits.
1. Dogs Don’t Want a Free Lunch
Sometimes using problem-solving skills to earn their food through “contrafreeloading” is more rewarding for dogs than eating freely from a bowl. It’s fun to practice new ways to get dinner, and working for food keeps a dog’s mind active! According Ragen McGowan, a senior scientist at Purina, dogs and humans both experience the “eureka” effect after accomplishing new tasks—the distinct pleasure that accompanies discovery.
2. Dogs Have a Nose for Business
Your dog’s sense of smell can land him a job. Canines use their sense of smell for work in many fields, including police work, search-and-rescue, medical alert and cancer detection. They are also trained to seek out any number of specific items, including insects such as bees and termites, and even prized culinary truffles. A dog’s aid in these endeavors provides important information, whether for commerce, infrastructure maintenance, hunting or public health and safety.
3. Dogs are Super Athletes
When it comes to athletic ability, dogs have us beat. Take VO2 max—the ability to metabolize oxygen—for example. Many scientists believe that this factor is what makes a human athlete great. Purina scientist Dr. Arleigh Reynolds found the VO2 max of a dog on his racing team to be a full three times higher than the man he calls “the very best human athlete in the world,” Norwegian cross-country skier Bjørn Daehlie. No wonder our dogs often seem ready to keep going when we’re winding down on a jog.
4. We Can Read a Pet’s Mood
Dr. Ilana Reisner, a pet behaviorist, reminded us that “the way people express social attachment and connection is really different than how cats and dogs do.” But, like people, pets are sometimes good at masking their true feelings. Heart rate monitors and thermal imaging are non-invasive tools that make it possible to capture a glimpse of what’s going on inside our pets, helping us to better understand their emotional states. Did you know your dog’s paws are appreciably hotter when he’s in an excited state? Take the quiz to see how well you can read your pet.
5. Dogs and People Help Each Other Relax
A study called Project Wonder quantified some of the ways pet-human interactions can have a positive impact on your pet’s stress levels—and your own. In the study, after just 15 minutes of touch interaction, dogs were found to be in a positive mental state. This holds true even when the people and dogs have no previous connection to one another. Other research has shown that dogs experience increased levels of chemicals that indicate relaxation and happiness—including oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin—when they are being petted and played with.
6. Friendly Fats Support Cognition
Like humans, a portion of the energy your dog gets from food helps to fuel his brain. Around age seven, the metabolism in certain dogs’ brains begins to change, which can affect memory, learning, awareness or decision-making. The good news is that Purina® Pro Plan® Bright Mind™ contains enhanced botanical oils—a source of MCTs, beneficial fats that have been shown to promote alertness and mental sharpness in dogs seven and older.
7. There’s No Single Measure of Wellness
Understanding a dog’s emotional state isn’t about examining single indicators in isolation, but rather a contextual matrix of details that clarifies the big picture. Measuring heart rate, blood pressure and the temperature of the inner ear is an important tool to aid our assessment of emotions in dogs. Additionally, most dogs are more than happy to share their saliva if given a cotton swab to chew on and lick. The resulting sample can be analyzed to check levels of specific mood-indicating hormones. With so many more ways to test hormones, we now have access to a wealth of information about our pets’ emotional states.
8. Nutrition Should Be Tailored to Lifestage
Our aging pets tend to experience a dip in metabolic rate, resulting in a loss of lean body mass and a tendency to gain fat mass. Helping senior dogs navigate this change warrants a highly digestible dog food with adjusted levels of nutrients, including higher protein, decreased fat, enhanced antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and prebiotic fiber. By tailoring your dog’s food to his lifestage needs, you can help him fully enjoy his golden years. Learn more about senior dog food options here.
9. Pets Prefer Rich Protein
There’s an impulse to feed our pets what we’d want to eat. But pets tend to be more adventurous eaters, and they can benefit from what we might just throw away. Take animal by-products. Significant portions of the animals we consume in the U.S. are not used, which means a lot of nutrition ultimately goes to waste. For our pets, however, these are nutritional powerhouses similar to what they’d actually eat in nature. Healthy by-products—the co-product of food ingredients—can contribute to providing a balanced source of energy and nutrition for pets. Learn more about your dog’s nutrition here.
10. Your Dog Has an Innate Purpose
The American Kennel Club recognizes 184 breeds of dogs. With such diversity, it’s possible to find breed-specific activities tailored to your pet’s strengths and natural inclinations. For example, Chihuahuas love to scamper, but they don’t require much exercise, whereas sporting breeds like the Irish Water Spaniel—with a naturally water-repellent coat—crave swimming.
Check out our Better With Pets Summit page to discover more incredible facts about the emotional wellness of your pet.