Valentine’s Day – A Whole Lotta Love for Pets

Brrrrr… it’s chilly out there at the minute isn’t it! We’ve had a little coating of the white stuff here but not much to write home about; plenty of sub-zero temperatures though. Thankfully, as I write this, I’ve got a nice warm glow because I’m going to be talking about luuuuurve. Soppy, starry-eyed, warm-you-from-the-inside, love.

Itwas Valentine’s Day, of course, which is what set me off on this topic. Don’t worry, I’m not just having a mushy moment! Clearly I’m not going to disclose the wonderful, romantic surprises I had planned for Mrs Underhill … bear with me for a second (“Siri! Search last minute Valentine’s gifts with express delivery!”)… Right, I’m back, sorry, where was I? Ah, yes, of course I’m not here to give you any advice on how to spoil your other half, but to talk about the ‘other’ loves of your life – your pets.

There’s no denying it: pets steal your heart.

We’re often totally unprepared for this – I know many people who’ve grudgingly agreed to a pet after giving in to pressure from other members of the family, only to fall head over heels themselves with the new furry addition to the household. I’ve seen countless reluctant pet owners reduced to mush as they regale me with tales of Fido’s latest escapades or Kitty’s cutesy antics. So, how do pets do this? What’s their secret?

Well, it turns out this bond with your pet isn’t just you going gaga – there’s a genuine scientific reason for it! If you’re a dog owner and you consider your four-legged friend to be your ‘fur baby’, then you’re certainly not alone. According to a scientific study by a Japanese animal behaviourist (published on sciencemag.org), gazing into your dog’s eyes elicits the same type of oxytocin positive feedback loop as seen between mothers and their infants. Sometimes known as the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin is associated with those warm, fuzzy feelings and plays an important part in establishing and maintaining relationships. An oxytocin spike was seen both in the dogs and their owners – showing that dogs really can love you back! A similar experiment with cats observed a lower but still noticeable oxytocin increase in our feline friends, which fits with their more ‘aloof’ reputation but confirms that the love you feel for them isn’t just a one-way street. While I’ve not read of any research on smaller mammals, I’d like to bet there’d be a similar result – as a vet I’ve witnessed that loving gaze many a time between owners and pets of varying size or shape so there’s no reason to assume that rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and the like are excluded from this special bond.

So, we’ve confirmed that the love you feel is real – and it’s reciprocated.

What better news could you want to hear around V-Day?!? But, before you rush out and buy ALL the chocolates for your furry friend…STOP! Besides the fact that, as I’m sure you’re all aware, chocolates are a big no-no and poisoning your pet is certainly NOT the way to show how much you care, pets won’t be swept off their feet by grand gestures anyway. All they want and need is your care and attention. They’re really not that different from us humans (although my advice would be, if you try that line with your spouse maybe accompany it with a bunch of flowers, just to be on the safe side. Consider this a disclaimer!).

Show your pets how much you care in their way, not the human way. Fido will appreciate a nice walk on Valentine’s Day, a play with his favourite toys and a big old fuss before you snuggle up to

watch a film together in front of a nice, warm fire. Kitty will no doubt, as ever, be doing her own thing – but, when she decides it’s time for a cuddle, then give her all the affection she craves.

If you really want to go the whole hog and give the object of your pet-affection a little something extra to demonstrate your love, just make sure it’s suitable for them. I’ve seen all sorts of gimmicky animal gifts on the market, including the pet equivalent of champagne! Now, whilst I’m not going to comment on the safety and suitability of individual products which all contain different ingredients and will have been tested to varying degrees depending on the manufacturer, I would say that, in my opinion, these so-called ‘tasty tipples’ are wholly unnecessary. Animals really only need to drink water; a delicious bowl of fresh H2O will do them nicely! These gifts are designed to fulfil a human’s desire to include our pets in the experiences we enjoy, rather than having the pet’s needs at the forefront. And let’s face it, that’s what Valentine’s Day should be all about: putting your loved one’s wants and needs first. So, before you rush out to buy these extravagant and contrived pet versions of human gifts, that will probably lead to tummy-aches rather than a happy glow, have a think about what your cuddly companion really loves and come up with a more pet-appropriate way to mark this special day. Courtesy of Battersea, here are a couple of furry friend-ly recipes that will show how much you care without the risk of having to mop up mess the next day:

(Please be aware, these recipes may not be suitable for pets with special dietary requirements so, if in doubt, please check first.)

Fishy Treats (Purrfect for Puss):

Ingredients

1 tin of tuna in spring water (undrained)

1 egg, whisked

210g of plain or wholemeal flour

Method

1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Add the tin of tuna, including the liquid into a bowl. Then add in a whisked egg and blend until smooth using a hand blender. Add the flour and stir everything together to form a dough.

2. Divide the dough into four equal balls and put three of them in the freezer to use another time.

3. Roll out one ball of dough on a lightly floured work surface until it’s about 1cm thick. Then cut out the biscuit using whatever shape you like. It’s best to keep the biscuits on the smaller side for your cat.

4. Cut out the biscuits. This part can get a little fiddly, so you might need to poke the dough out of the cutter using a cocktail stick.

5. Place your biscuit shapes on a lined baking tray and bake at 180 degrees centigrade for 20-25 minutes. Once they are crunchy and golden brown, remove from the oven. Leave to cool completely before feeding to your cat. These will keep fresh in a sealed container for up to 1 week.

Delicious Doggy Delicacies:

Ingredients

300g Plain or Wholemeal Flour 300g 100g Rolled oats (non-flavoured) 2 Eggs 2 Bananas 1 tsp Honey 250g Peanut Butter (make sure it does not contain xylitol sweetener which can be harmful to dogs)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (170°C fan or 350°F).

2. Blend together the peeled bananas, eggs, peanut butter and honey. If you don’t have a blender you can mash the bananas with a fork and whisk in the rest of the wet ingredients.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour and oats, then add this to the wet mixture.

4. Bring the mixture together with a spoon or using hands until it forms a dough.

5. Dust a work surface with flour and roll out the dough to be around 1cm in thickness. Use a cookie cutter to cut out biscuits from the dough.

6. Place the biscuits on a lined baking tray and bake in the oven for around 20 minutes or until golden brown in colour. Leave to cool fully before feeding to your dog – not all at once though! Give as an occasional treat.