“Dogs and cats are not small people,” I’ve said to more than one client. I love my little dog to the point of ridiculousness (he has several theme songs and I would probably actually kill someone who knowingly hurt him) but the fact of the matter is, he and I belong to different species and that is why he tries to eat cat poop and wears bow ties but not pants.
Honestly, compared to people, dogs and cats are actually pretty low-maintenance. But they still need a few basic things to be happy and healthy.
Think about the last few wellness appointments you saw.
There’s a good chance you did more than one of the following:
- recommended more physical activity for a bouncy or anxious dog
- encouraged weight loss – but not through starvation – for a pet who “always gains weight over the winter”
- tried to explain to a client that even if she’s never had her dogs on heartworm prevention before, it’s time to test and start
- went over current diet trends and why a common-sense approach to pet nutrition is best
- stressed the importance of a progress exam
- judged a client (or three) for having waited too long to address something, declined your preventative care recommendations, or listened to the pet store employee instead of you.
If you don’t work in general practice, you still probably have your own list. We know exactly what we think our clients should be doing for their pets and we consider it our job to tell them.
Now think about what would happen if you were a dog, and your owner took you in for a checkup.
When was the last time you:
- exercised more days of the week than not?
- went more than a day or two (or maybe even an hour or two) without feeling guilty about not sticking to a diet, or unfollowed social media influencers telling you your diet is unhealthy unless it’s paleo?
- started something new for the sake of your health or well-being, even though you felt like you were a little late to the party?
- followed up on a health-related promise to yourself or made sure you had an accountability buddy do it for you?
- actually went to the doctor (for humans) for a checkup, bloodwork, and the opportunity to talk about your physical health – or to investigate a problem before it turned into a crisis situation (i.e., threatened your ability to work)?
Why do we think preventive care, exercise, nutritious diet, and accountability are non-negotiable for our patients but feel like they are optional for us? We might agree they are necessities, but we allow guilt, inertia, or the needs of others to get in the way. Maybe we assume they will be unpleasant or boring. Maybe we think we don’t deserve them. Maybe we feel, unconsciously or not, that we are immune to the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, and what seems like benign neglect when it comes to medical care.
Sometimes we can tell, after we’ve discussed a lot of these things with a client, that she seems overwhelmed by what she should be doing or changing or looking for at home. This is usually because that client has just learned a lot from us and is thinking she has to implement it all at once for the sake of her pet. In these cases, we usually try to distill it down to the most important things – maybe even one thing – and send home information about the rest so she can review it on her own and maybe discuss it further at her next visit. I think a lot of us will check in with clients like this after a short time to see how things are going and make sure they understand and are comfortable with what we suggested.
How about we do the same for ourselves?
Overwhelmed by your current situation with regard to your physical health? Make one small change and stick to it for a month.
Discouraged because you can’t find consistency? Find someone to be your follow-up call – have them check in with you to make sure you’re doing what you promised yourself.
Angry with yourself because you think you’ve “let yourself go,” and think you deserve to be unhealthy as a result, or that it’s too late to live up to your potential? Think about what you would tell a client with a 9-year-old dog who said, “I’ve never had him on tick control before and now he has Lyme disease. Why spend money on it at this point?” There might be more going on now than if you’d started something years ago – but there are absolutely benefits to starting healthful habits at any age or in any situation.
We might not just be large dogs, but we need preventive care too. Be your own best client. Take yourself to the park more often, and your behavior problems might even improve 😉
The right time to start is always now.