by Dr Maddie Scofield
As the air becomes crisper and the holidays creep around the corner I become increasingly excited about many things associated with season changes. Most important for me is food. I’d be lying if I told you Halloween candy has not constituted over 80% of several meals earlier this November! As I think back on delicious memories of previous holidays, my throat tightens as my belt loosens at the thought of those extra 5-10 lbs. I will gain during these times of love and food. Which bring me to my main topic of discussion, the concept of food as love. Food is given and shared as a gift of friendship, fellowship and sympathy during all types of celebrations, family events, and holidays. Food is love for us as humans to humans but also as humans to our beloved four legged companions.
I would be lying to you if I told you I never give food (i.e. people food) to my animals. I fondly remember sharing a soft serve ice cream cone between me and my dogs in the Mc Donald’s parking lot one afternoon. It was a happy moment in a sad time, as it was just after our Labrador “Abbie” had her chemo treatment for cancer. In the middle of our gastronomic bliss I hear following words emanating from the car parked next to us: “I bet your veterinarian wouldn’t approve of you feeding your dogs that ice cream!” These were words coming from a concerned busybody in the neighboring car. I couldn’t help but bellow a response: “Well…..I am my dogs’ veterinarian. Besides, they ran 3 miles today and this one is dying of cancer…. but thank you for caring!” The interloper immediately rolled up their window and resumed eating the not so healthy junk food.
I understand the concern that you may have feeding your dog “people food”. There is the likelihood your veterinarians at VMC are going to chastise you for feeding your dog anything but pet food and pet treats. But what joy and happiness we feel giving them something they love! Feeding homemade snacks from the farmers market…….watching that reward center of the brain light up as they smack peanut butter from the roof of their mouth, or eat meat drippings on their dry kibble. There is no doubt that food helps bond us to our pets and patients.
Unfortunately, all these extra treats can bring problems. There is the ever increasing concern for weight gain, and with this obesity can come other health problems which can severely impact the quality of our pet’s lives and their longevity. That’s why this year I’m promising myself to try to light up the reward center in a more healthy way! I’m sure we will indulge in snacking, but this year I plan to pursue moderation in the indulgence! The same will go for my beloved 4-legged friends, and I encourage you to do the same. Your dog can have a tiny taste, but remember they don’t need a huge portion. A taste will often satisfy your need to give in and share as well as avoid the food coma or overload lethargy from a true gorge of indulgent calories (i.e. “Thanksgiving”). It will also help prevent the inevitable gastrointestinal ailments we see in dogs after the holidays.
I’m going to put effort towards another, perhaps more rewarding way to bond with my pets this holiday season: we are exercising together! This exercise will induce natural endorphins and give us the quality time we need together. Our companions get the most reward from just being with us, especially when we are active with them. A 10-15 min sojourn around the block will not only help slim our waist lines and invigorate our mental health, it will also strengthen our human-animal bond. My challenge for all of us is this: for every extra snack or treat we eat, we must be more active, and take our pets out for a “sniff” walk or game of catch, while we enjoy this beautiful time of year. I’m hopeful that this holiday season is magical, and that you and your pets will enjoy this time together even more with more activity and exercise! If you have any questions about breaking the rules…you know where to find me, just don’t tell your veterinarian!
p.s. – I’ve made it to the gym 3 times in the past week!!