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Veterinary Medicine

Don't stop with yourself! New Year's resolutions will help pets stay happy and healthy, too

by Dr. Rebecca Ruch-Gallie

With the start of 2014, many of us are thinking about resolutions - often centered on steps to improved health and happiness.

But why stop at promises to improve your own well-being? New Year’s resolutions may also include pledges to help your pets this year.

Dr. Rebecca Ruch-Gallie advises New Year's resolutions for pets, too.

As with people, pet health often can be improved and maintained with fairly simple steps taken consistently. Here are five ways we humans can help our furry friends to be hale and hearty this year.

Regular veterinary visits

Parents often schedule annual well-care visits for their children, and the concept also may be applied to pets. For instance, a young cat should undergo an annual exam as a standard step for good health. Yet owners of an older dog are advised to schedule two visits per year because six months in human time is around 3.5 years in the dog’s time. During these checkups the vet might help pet owners with:

  • keeping up to date on vaccines appropriate to pet lifestyle;
  • heartworm preventives, particularly those that also keep gut worms at bay; and
  • blood tests to assess the function of pet organs, such as kidney and liver.

Brush pet coat daily

Brushing helps distribute oils and removes dead hairs.  During a few minutes with the brush, a pet owner can look for changes in skin and coat that may necessitate a trip to the vet. Plus, this daily ritual feels good to dogs and cats.

Brush pet teeth daily

A few simple steps keep kitty healthy and happy through the year.

Tooth brushing is the best way to keep mouths clean and healthy, and once the practice becomes routine pets tolerate tooth brushing just fine.

Why brush? Oral disease in dogs and cats can negatively impact overall health as bacteria shed from the mouth gravitate to the rest of the body – including heart, kidneys and joints. We often hear similar messages from our own dentists.

Find pointers here and here.

Eat right

A veterinarian will likely make specific recommendations regarding pet food. In general, it’s a good idea to look for foods that meet the species and age standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

Regular walks will help people and their pups stay fit and trim.

Many cat owners provide free-choice food for their kitties. But if a cat’s trim figure gets broader, two meals per day is a better approach. A dog owner, meantime, can boost health by replacing dog biscuits with baby carrots and stringless sugar snap peas. For both cats and dogs, treat intake should amount to less than 10 percent of total diet to help ensure optimum health.

Exercise regularly

Pets need daily play and walks to stay trim and to keep joints moving and brain functioning. During cold months, visit the Indoor Pet Initiative for ideas that will help pets stay active.

Pets that remain healthy and happy throughout the year will reward their owners with purring and tail wagging – signs that make New Year’s resolutions well worth the time.

Dr. Rebecca Ruch-Gallie is a veterinarian and clinical coordinator for the Community Practice group at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Community Practice provides general care, wellness services, and treatment of minor injuries and illnesses for pets.