When a German shorthaired pointer named Flyball suddenly began to have seizures, her veterinarian considered a possible brain tumor and similar causes. But Jeannine, her person, was reluctant to let Flyball have any invasive tests or treatments unless it was necessary, and she wasn't convinced that it was. She wanted to take some time to think about whether there might be a simpler explanation for Flyball s condition. Having recently read that chemicals in household products could cause a variety of physical problems, she wondered whether the dog could have been poisoned by a detergent or other product she used to clean the house. Jeannine was a collector of porcelain bowls that she cleaned with hydrochloric acid, and she had recently given one of her favorites to Flyball as a water disk Jeannine removed the bowl from Flyball and the dog's seizures stopped soon afterward-thereby saving her from the added stress of medical intervention.
Most of the time, you're the first to know when your pet has a problem. After all, you eat, sleep, groom yourselves, rest, and play in each other's space. You watch each other, communicate through word and gesture, and breathe the same air. This is why you-more than your veterinarian or anyone else-carry the lion's share of responsibility when it comes to keeping your cat or dog as well and happy as possible. You're in the best position to figure out what's causing the stress that's causing your pet's problems. You're also the one who can fix them, or even - as Jeannine did at first-create them. Being responsible for your pet's wellness doesn't mean you should be able to control everything - no one can. But it does mean that you have more power than you may realize to help keep her well.
The best way to support your pet's present and future wellness is through stress prevention. To do this, you need to tune into the kinds of stress that may affect your pet and then stress-proof the ways you look after her daily needs. This chapter and the next will show you how.
Become Your Pet's Stress Monitor
Flyball's story reveals that no matter how caring we are, we may not immediately realize that something in the environment we share with our pets is causing them negative stress.
We humans may be slow on the uptake for two reasons. First, because we take so many cues from human culture instead of Nature, practices that are out of balance with the natural world may come to seem natural to us. For instance, Jeannine wanted to get rid of potentially dangerous bacteria and she accepted the cultural wisdom that the best way to do this is by using harsh industrial chemicals. Although her concern was valid, she did not consider the possible effects of such chemicals on her dog. What's more, our pets may enjoy many of our practices along with us. What dog or cat, given the chance, wouldn't gladly snooze on a comfy new foam-filled sofa even if it gives off toxic gases? But even the most adaptable animals experience negative stress when they are exposed to environmental conditions that are not appropriate for them, and this causes them to lose wellness.
Second, we can be slow to recognize stressors that affect our dogs and cats because our pets' sensory organs are much more highly developed than ours. We may not detect factors that are hard on them. But by paying attention to the sensory abilities that we do have, we can strengthen them.
You can hone your ability to notice when something clashes with your pet's needs by becoming your pet's stress monitor. You won't need to take notes or keep journals. All you need to do is become more attuned to your pet by using your common senses-all six of them.
We share with our pets the ability to sense the world around us through smelling, hearing, seeing, tasting, and feeling. When we lose one of these abilities, we sense the environment through the rest. Individuals who can't use all five physical senses develop the remaining ones more strongly.
However, the five physical senses don't pick up all stressors. Radiation is an example of a stressor we don't normally feel. So it's helpful that humans, cats, and dogs also share an ability to sense when someone else isn't feeling well. Whether we think of it as an instinct felt more in the body or an intuition more consciously known, most of us have it to some degree. For example, as you'll see in Chapter 6, even though his laboratory tests were clear, Jennifer was convinced that her Shetland sheepdog, Jesse, suffered from some land of negative stress, and it turned out she was right. Chances are you've had similar experiences.
To attune your senses to what your pet may experience, first ask yourself what you're experiencing. Then think about how it might affect a sensitive dog or cat. Check out your pet. Does she seem restless or uncomfortable-even subtly so? She may be trying to tell you that the music is too loud for her ears or that the air freshener or other perfumed product hurts her delicate olfactory receptors. Or she may be trying to tolerate the stress by panting in a corner or sleeping. Animals must accept the choices we make for them, so it's our responsibility to take their highly refined senses into account.
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