Our dogs are among our most loved friends and family members. Certainly more loved than some in-laws!
When we talk about our dogs’ overall well-being, we generally talk about their happiness and health in a broad way, like telling people they’re eating, playing, pooping, and sleeping (honestly it sounds like life goals for some people).
But what exactly is the definition of well-being and how do we evaluate and measure it? Well-being is not just the absence of disease, but a separate, positive state. It is usually described as a multidimensional picture, including physical, mental, social, cultural, psychological, and intellectual elements. Measuring these can be a bit challenging since some of them are subjective, but we still try.
Why it’s important to study well-being for dogs
Understanding the well-being of our dogs is a major part of being a responsible and loving pet parent, and it has received increasing amounts of media attention and research in the past years. In humans, quality of life is commonly assessed by self-reporting, but sadly this is not an option for dogs. We can’t wait for the day when they can tell us themselves! For now, though, the well-being of our dogs is largely perceived by us and it can be quite subjective.
Measuring quality of life in dogs is also hampered by the current lack of an adequate definition of quality of life and well-being. Hundreds of publications assessed the terms quality of life or well-being in their abstracts, but few clearly defined these terms.
On the plus side, we’ve learned a tremendous amount about animal behavior, cognition, and emotional states over the past decades, which helps us adapt the definitions of what is considered “acceptable” or “good” animal well-being. Some studies even promote the concept that animals can be “happy,” although we of course already knew this from whenever we rub their belly and ask, “Who’s a good dog?”
The Five Needs
A recent novel practice-based scheme monitored the change in quality of life in pets by assessing the five needs and identifying improvement actions that owners can implement. The five needs are: diet, environment, behavior, companionship, and health. This tries to make the connection between health status and the four other contributing factors. Think of it as something like a doggy version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Most importantly, this novel approach makes it clear that quality of life is not restricted to just health status or to a specific medical condition, but rather a compilation of all of these factors.
Tips to understand and improve your dog’s well-being.
Based on those five needs, we have a short list of what you can do right now to understand and improve your dog’s well-being:
Improve their nutrition
Fresh food that is delicious and fiber-rich, and made with high-quality nutrients, should be a top priority when you consider your dog’s health and happiness. Stay offers custom meal plans specifically designed to your dog’s needs based on their unique gut microbiome. This supports their gut health, overall health, and well-being. Stay’s precision feeding guidelines should be combined with seasonal poop tests and monitoring your dog’s weight, energy, and nutritional needs, since not every dog is supposed to eat the same diet forever!
Notice their behavior
Stress can be expressed as fear, anxiety, anger, boredom, loneliness, even self-mutilation. If you notice any of these, it’s time to spring into action. A 15-minute petting session of dogs is associated with a positive state of relaxation. After all, what’s the point in having a dog if you’re not going to pet them? Happiness and good moods facilitate good behavior, overall health, and longevity.
Be a good companion
As a pet parent, you have probably asked yourself, “How much exercise does my dog really need?” The recommendation is for at least 30 minutes per day, although that can change depending on your dog’s breed, personal character, overall health and age. Establishing a daily active routine, and that includes plenty of playtime, for your dog not only keeps them healthy but also encourages better socialization, bonding, and well-being. Spending quality time together not only strengthens your relationship, but helps decrease destructive behaviors such as excessive chewing or uncontrolled barking.
Give them a safe environment
Make sure they have a clean, safe, and quiet area to live in, and they should always have access to clean drinking water.
Keep them healthy
Your dog’s health is a key criteria for their well-being. Diseases and physical disabilities such as pain, discomfort, itchiness, and immobility will obviously decrease their quality of life and well-being. Gut health has a huge impact on strengthening their immune system and overall health, so keeping them healthy really starts with a diet of fresh, nutritious food that will improve their gut microbiome. Make sure you have a veterinarian that you trust. Proper veterinary care is essential to ensure your dog stays healthy and avoids even minimal discomfort.
Members of Stay not only get fresh food that will improve their dog’s nutrition and gut health, but also receive regular surveys asking about these other aspects of well-being. This helps the team of veterinarians make any necessary adjustments to the meal plans. When you meet all of these needs for your dog, then you’re really helping them reach their best state of well-being!