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Diet, exercise fit for MSU's Champ, pets
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Proper nutrition and conditioning keep Bully XX in top shape as Mississippi State University’s mascot, and pet owners can take a peek at his play book for tips on caring for their animals.
The health regimen for Bully XX, whose name is Champ, includes a proper diet, special conditioning and quality care.
“Animals, like humans, need a healthy, balanced diet to maintain their proper weight,” said Dr. Jody Ray, assistant clinical professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at MSU. “Just like people, if an animal’s frame is built to carry 50 pounds and he’s carrying 75, it puts stress on the heart, lungs and joints.”
Diet is a good management tool in the kit for keeping pets healthy, especially if they are prone to challenging health conditions.
“Arthritis is common in dogs, especially in big dogs, so as a preventive measure, Champ eats dog food formulated with Omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, which thicken a fluid in his joints,” Ray said.
Pet foods are also available in special formulations that address other health concerns, such as heart, kidney or liver disease. Ray said pet owners can ask their veterinarian for recommendations on the best food options for their animal companions.
While many pet owners are careful about what they serve in their pet’s food dish, they may not realize the impact of treats on a pet’s overall nutrition.
“Manufactured treats can contain ingredients such as sugar and fat that should be considered part of the caloric intake for the day,” Ray said. “If your pet has a normal body condition, limit treats to no more than 10 percent of the total calories consumed. If your pet is on a restricted diet, be sure to subtract the calories in the treat from the total daily ration.”
Treats are popular training tools, said Lisa Chrestman, animal health technician at MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the mascot event coordinator since 1993. At the mere mention of the word “treat,” Champ, who was relaxing in her office, perked up and looked at Chrestman expectantly.
“Both Champ and his father, Tonka, were taught everything – sit, stay, come – using small treats or little pieces of treats,” she said. “On the football field, Champ can’t hear me, so I use hand signals and treats I keep in my pocket. He is very treat motivated.”
Champ lives with Chrestman and her family, which includes her husband, son and daughter, two dogs and four cats. Because his role as Bully XX requires Champ to attend games and mingle with crowds, he was socialized from the time he was a puppy at football, band and basketball practices.
But he does not indulge in traditional tailgating or game food.
“At the coliseum, sometimes he’ll find a piece of popcorn, but other than that, the only people food he gets is a little bit of purple Gatorade if it’s hot,” Chrestman said. “Just a small amount of extra electrolytes is all he needs.”
While snacks such as bones or chocolate pose health hazards to animals, pet treats can provide benefits ranging from diet variety to opportunities for more social interaction. Healthy dog treats include carrots, green beans or dental treats that reduce tartar.
“Love and affection instead of food is the healthiest treat of all,” Ray said.
For cats, treats can offer environmental enrichment.
“Outside, cats chase lizards, birds and whatever comes across their paths,” Ray said. “Inside cats need stimulation, and there are treat dispensers you can fill with catnip or treats that require the cat to bat the dispenser around for it to release a treat. Research has shown a reduction in destructive behaviors in cats that are not as bored.”
While Champ enjoys his treats, whirlpool therapy and conditioning exercises as much as any other sports celebrity, he enjoys attention from Chrestman most of all.
“He loves his mama,” Chrestman said, as she rubbed Champ’s head. “If I’m away from home more than one night, he’ll climb on the bed and sleep with his head on my pillow. With the way Champ snores, my husband said one night away is my limit.”