Sean Locke; iStockBy Karen Asp
With a new year comes a new pack of promises to make to yourself. How about making some for your beloved pet this time? Keep clicking for leading veterinary experts' top 10 promises they hope you'll make-and keep-for your furry friend's sake. Photo by Sean Locke; iStock.
1. Quit Smoking
Secondhand smoke isn't only bad for people; it's also harmful to animals. "It's been linked to increased respiratory disease and risk of cancer in animals," says Katherine Brammer, DVM, senior clinician of emergency service at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, FL. Plus, because pets groom themselves, they can ingest the toxins that get caught in their fur. Any exposure is bad so if you can't quit, at least keep them away from smoke.
2. Turn Your Pooch into a Therapy Pet
If your dog is outgoing, loves meeting people and does well in new environments, he may be a candidate for therapy work. Therapy dogs volunteer in numerous different capacities, including at nursing homes, libraries (as reading dogs) and hospitals, and the benefits for you and your dog are endless. "They include extra training, increased socialization and interaction with other people and helping others," says Jessica Trice, DVM, chief of staff at Banfield Pet Hospital of Lincoln Park South in Chicago. To learn more about therapy work, visit DeltaSociety.org, AngelonaLeash.org or TDI-Dog.org.
Related: Check out these 7 instant mood boosters.
3. Keep Your Cat Busier
Although each has a different personality, cats all share one thing: the need for regular mental and physical stimulation, especially since many felines are understimulated and can misbehave as a result. What should you do? "You know your cat best, so find activities that give her exercise and provide a playful break in her day," says Dr. Trice. For instance, play games that allow her to receive a tasty reward.
4. Improve Your Dog's Social Life
Pets need to be socialized as much as possible. "Less socialized animals are typically fearful of normal situations," says Cole Chavis, DVM, associate veterinarian at the Sangaree Animal Hospital in Summerville, SC. Unsocialized dogs may cower and urinate submissively, some will bite, others will hide. And behavior issues rank among the top reasons pets are surrendered to shelters. To socialize your pup, take him to a dog park where he can explore and interact. The bonus: He'll also get exercise. While cats don't need to be socialized with other kitties, encourage yours to "be a cat" by providing toys and treats.
5. Boost Your Pet's Diet
Not all pet food is created equally, says Dr. Chavis. But your pet's health depends on getting good-for-him eats. The easiest way to find quality food? Look for the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement on the food packaging or ask your vet for a recommendation. Just don't get sucked into thinking your pet has to go grain-free, as many manufacturers would have you believe. "Although grains aren't required in a pet's diet, they're not the cause of problems in most cases," she says. If you're concerned about grains because your pet has a medical problem, talk to your veterinarian.
Related: Learn about 15 fiber-packed foods.
6. Make Exercise Part of Daily Playtime
Obesity among pets is a, well, growing problem. Currently, 53% of adult dogs and 55% of cats are overweight or obese, according to a survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. And just as with people, upping the amount of exercise your pet gets can help him maintain or lose weight. "Exercise also keeps pets young in spirit, heart and body and decreases anxiety-driven destruction behaviors," says Sonja A. Olson, DVM, senior clinician of emergency medicine at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, FL. How much exercise your pet needs, though, depends on his age, breed and degree of fitness. Some suggestions: If you have a dog, walk him or play Frisbee or fetch. While you can train cats to walk on a leash, there's plenty of heart-pumping fun you can have at home. Toss catnip-filled toys for them or drag a feather-tipped toy they can chase.
Related: Discover easy exercise drills to slim down fast.
7. Brush Your Pet's Teeth Daily
Over 80% of dogs and over 70% of cats have gum disease by age three, according to estimates from the American Veterinary Dental Society. So brush those pearly whites every day, urges Chavis, adding that plaque accumulates within 24 hours of eating. Tips for newbie brushers: First, offer pet toothpaste (not people toothpaste, which has additives that will cause stomach upset) as a treat, even dabbing a little on their food. (It's flavored so they should like it.) Next, get your pet used to you messing with his mouth by lifting his cheeks. Once he's comfortable with this, rub the paste onto his teeth with your fingers. Graduate to using gauze, then a finger brush and finally a toothbrush. One caveat: "If your pet has severe dental disease, brushing may hurt him, so consider a dental cleaning before starting your brushing program," recommends Dr. Chavis.
8. Start an Emergency Fund or Buy Pet Insurance
A pet-health crisis can strike at any time, which is why it's wise to stash money for your pet. "Having this can often mean the difference between life and death," says Dr. Brammer, who recommends setting aside $20 to $40 per paycheck. You can take it a step further and buy pet health insurance. Just do your homework and read the fine print, as every insurance policy differs. In general, look for a program that covers emergencies, wellness care and medications and won't discontinue service if your pet ages or suffers a major illness or injury, advises Dr. Brammer.
9. Consider Giving Your Pet a Pal
Dogs and cats often act out because they're stressed, lonely or bored. If this is the case, you may want to adopt a second dog or cat. "Another pet might perk up your first one and add more stimulation and security to his life," says Dr. Trice. Of course, your family's needs should come into play before you welcome a new critter. Think, too, about how your current pet might respond to another animal in the house. If possible, expose your pet to the type of animal you want to adopt and gauge your pet's response.
10. Treat Your Pet to a Monthly Mani/Pedi
At least once a month, trim your pet's nails. "Overgrown nails can cause pain when walking, torn or split nails can hurt and long or sharp nails can injure people," says Dr. Brammer. If you've never done this, ask your veterinarian or a vet tech to teach you how to do it properly: Cutting nails too short can cause bleeding.
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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