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Using food to help your furry friends through tough times

Have you ever wondered what goes on inside your furry friend’s mind? They’re sometimes so “human” it feels like only their appearance proves we’re a different species.

Not surprisingly, research has shown that our pets do in fact experience some of the emotional life that we do, such as basic emotions like happiness, anger, fear and loneliness. Which makes sense since their brain structure is remarkably similar to ours.

This similarity gives us good grounding on which to base the manner in which we help our furry friends get through emotional moments. At the same time it is important to not make our pets human – they are, after all, a different species, lacking the level of human consciousness, rationality, reasoning and language that our developed frontal cortex gives us. So, the way we assist them in times of need should be different, as something like consoling their fear, which comes so naturally in human situations, can in fact reinforce their fear, making it worse.

Pets learn by association, so they’ll be quick to continue behaving in a certain way when that behaviour has a positive outcome, like receiving attention. In stressful situations rather try to show them there’s nothing wrong by distracting them with a cheerful laugh or singing a Christmas carol.

Training your pet works in much the same way, so be sure to look out for behaviour you approve of – rewarding this with treats, praise and attention will encourage them to offer it more often. Plus the feedback you give will assist your pet in understanding how to adapt to new situations.

“Food is a great motivator for most pets. By doing away with your pets’ food bowls and rather using their daily meal rations in clever ways, to train and stimulate your pet, you can help them adjust to a new life in your home, assist them in understanding the behaviours you want them to do more often and keep them busy if they’re going through a tough time, without having to worry about weight gain. Feeding with the use of brain games and stuffed hooves or toys are easy ways to use pet food as a stimulating activity for your pets,” says Barry Hundley, Executive Director for the Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa (PFI).

“Increasing the amount of natural activity they engage in will do well to improve their mood, so be sure to think about all of their chew, lick, sniff, catch, fetch and play needs. And meet these needs often for a happy and balanced pet,” concluded Hundley.


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