The fundamental importance of mental health to overall health and well-being has long been identified in human medicine. Poor welfare and chronic stress in animals can lead to and exacerbate many mental and physical health problems. When we as veterinarians embrace the connection between mental and physical health, we can offer some of the best in preventative and therapeutic care for our patients.
Poor mental health in pets can lead to behavioral disorders, that, when left untreated, can be just as serious and disabling as physical diseases. Aside from preventing behavioral disorders (therefore reducing the chance of relinquishment, euthanasia, and the development of concurrent physical problems) good mental health allows our patients to live a rich and enjoyable life. When asked what is most important to our pet owning clients, most of them will undoubtedly answer ‘good quality of life’. It is important when determining a wellness plan for a dog, treating a physical or behavioral disorder, to address the mental health of the patient.
Perhaps the most important elements in providing for the well being of the pets, are a predictable daily routine, predictable consequences and environmental enrichment. The normal daily routine of most pets will include feeding (including hunting and scavenging), elimination (urine and stools), social play, environmental exploration (including chewing and object play), and sleep or periods of rest. The quality, length, type and frequency of these needs vary greatly with age, household, and the inherited characteristics of the individual. By making each of these a regular and predictable part of the pet’s daily routine, the pet gains control of its environment by learning when, where and how each of these basic needs will be met. Having knowledge and understanding of normal companion animal behavior and needs will undoubtedly improve the lives of our patients. Providing a resource to help you gain this knowledge and understanding is one of the main goals of the Indoor Pet Initiative.