According to the English Dictionary, the term proactive means “acting in advance to deal with an expected difficulty” or “tending to initiate change rather than reacting to events”. In other words, planning ahead and doing everything to encourage good health, prevent illness, and avoid emergencies.
This is the meaning of, “proactive pet parenting”. Pet parents can learn to think ahead and plan for the unexpected. Careful observation allows one to know what is normal behavior or body condition for the pet, so the abnormal is recognized immediately.
The approach helps ease the panic of a midnight emergency. When one has limited knowledge about something, it is frightening. What may look like a non- emergency to a trained eye can have the untrained eye already planning the funeral. So, by learning proactive pet parenting, one can apply that knowledge and feel more in control.
So what factors are included in Proactive Pet Parenting?
• Educating yourself on the species and/or breed of your pet. Behavior normal to one
species may be abnormal in another species. This is true also of body language.
• Learning how to perform regular physical exams and recording the information. The
intent is to learn what is normal for your pet in order to quickly recognize when
something is abnormal.
• Learning how to ask the right questions so that you can gather the information needed.
• Making smart decisions based upon the information gathered.
• Developing a good relationship with a local veterinarian and creating a pet care team.
An example of the benefits of knowing the normal behavior of your species, is coprophagia, or the unappetizing habit of eating feces. While unappetizing to us, coprophagia is common among guinea pigs, bunnies, and other herbivores. For them, the practice is a necessary digestive process that requires that food be digested twice in order to maximize nutrition. For these herbivores, it is not a habit that should be discouraged. Dogs, on the other hand, often like to raid the litter box. It is not done out of any known nutritional necessity, and is a habit that can, and should be discouraged.
While there are certain “norms” for most species, each animal is an individual. “A cat is a cat” is as true as saying “a human is a human”. The same goes for any group. What is normal for one individual, may not be normal for others. This is true in behavior as in health. While one dog is happy eating one meal a day, another may prefer two smaller meals a day. One cat may enjoy canned food, while another cat wouldn't even consider it. One dog, if given the chance, will consume an entire bag of dog food, while another could be trusted with leaving the bag of dog food sitting by his bowl. You have to know your individual pet.
This is also true with lab work and is why it is recommended to get baseline lab work every few years when your pet is healthy. Know what is normal for your pet in all aspects so there is no question when something is abnormal. Catch the problem quickly and avoid, not only, suffering on the part of your pet, but the high financial cost of treating an illness.
In people and animals, baselines can vary slightly. Although a normal human temperature is 98.6°F, some people run a little under or over. The same goes for pets although baseline temps run higher in dogs and cats than in humans.
Pets obviously cannot communicate in the same way we do. When your child is sick, he or she can say, “Mommy, I don't feel well. My tummy hurts”. Pets cannot do that. It is important to keep in mind that a pet's natural instinct is to hide illness and pain. To reveal either would be a weakness and make her vulnerable to predators. Although it doesn't seem this instinct is as strong in the canine who has been domesticated much longer, it is still very strong in the feline species. Cats are extremely reluctant to show vulnerability. Too often, it is when the cat does something inconvenient to the pet parent that illness is noticed. An example is a cat urinating
outside the litter box. A trip to the vet reveals that this “inconvenience” was, in fact, a urinary tract infection.
While animals cannot communicate vocally for the most part, they are expressive with their body language. A tail tucked between the legs may be fear for some, but pain for another. There are many clues to watch for when observing your pet including facial expression, body posture, and others that may come up in a physical exam. That's why learning to perform a basic physical and gather as much data as possible is essential when you are trying to understand what your pet is trying to tell you.
When you do realize your pet is not feeling well, there are certain questions you must ask. This is when you have to become a detective. You have to know the questions to ask, how to find the answer, and what the answer could indicate. Only then can you make a good educated decision as to what to do next.
In the next blog entry, I will teach you to do what I call a Pet Exam Train (PET).