A healthy pet is a happy pet, and everyone wants a happy pet. So here are 12 tips for helping to keep your cat or dog healthy, active and happy this year.
1. Visit Your Veterinarian
Pets are really good at hiding that they are sick or injured, and you can’t see what’s going on inside of them. That’s why it’s important to schedule an annual (or more frequent) checkup with your veterinarian. You can learn about what to expect at your pet’s annual examination here, and this post has questions that we suggest you ask your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will probably examine your pet’s teeth during their checkup — at home dental care can go a long way to getting them a “Looks great” during their checkup.
2. Prevent Pesky Parasites
Fleas and ticks don’t disappear in winter, so it’s important that your pet’s flea and tick control products don’t disappear either. Flea and tick preventatives should be continued all year to provide complete protection for your pet (and your family). And don’t forget heartworm and intestinal parasite (e.g., hookworms, roundworms and tapeworms) preventatives. Your pet also needs year-round protection from those internal parasites.
3. Watch Out for Wildlife
If your pet loves to feel the wind in their face and the grass beneath their feet, just remember that they’re probably sharing their part of the great outdoors with some local critters. Whether it’s in your backyard or on a trail, there’s a chance your pet could encounter some wildlife, particularly in spring and summer. So here are some tips to help you keep wildlife and your pet safe. And remember to keep your pet’s rabies vaccination up-to-date, as rabies can infect any mammal.
4. Assess for Allergies
There are many allergens that can cause allergies in pets — for example, pollen from spring flowers, mold spores from decomposing fall leaves or saliva from a flea bite. Pets can also be allergic to, or have an intolerance to, ingredients in their food. If you see your pet constantly itching, chewing or licking, it’s a good idea to have them checked by your veterinarian so they can determine if your pet has an environmental, flea or food allergy.
5. Keep ’Em Cool and Calm in Summer
The beach, the lake, the dog park, the mountains — all great places to take your dog for some summer fun. But you need to be careful that your dog doesn’t get too hot while they’re out enjoying the warm weather. Dogs can develop heatstroke (which is life threatening) if they get too hot, and they are more likely to suffer heatstroke if they’re overweight. Cats can also develop heatstroke, so make sure they have access to a cool area with plenty of fresh water.
If you’re out and about, make sure to always bring fresh, cool water with you and find a shady spot for your dog to rest. You should avoid walking your dog on hot pavement, so you may want to find a different place to take them for a walk on really hot days or only go in the early morning or late evening. And it should go without saying that you should never leave your pet in the car, even if you crack the windows.
6. Study Up on Swimming Safety
Whether your dog’s trying their paw at dock diving, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding or just good old doggy paddling, the water can be a splashin’ good time for aquatic canines. But before they take a leap into the deep blue, there are a few water safety tips to consider.
Make sure you’re watching closely in case their water adventures get a little turbulent. A life jacket is a must, particularly if they’re in a lake, pool or the ocean without easy access to land. Just make sure the life jacket fits well and has a handle for quick rescues. You should also plan some rest time for your dog so they can recharge and be ready for more water play.
Bring lots of fresh water with you so your dog isn’t tempted to swallow some lake, pool or sea water that could have chemicals or contaminants (e.g., bacteria, chlorine, salt, parasites). Also, watch out for dry drowning which occurs when a dog breathes in water. Dry drowning can happen hours or days after a near-drowning incident, so make sure you take them to a veterinarian even if they seem fine.
7. Bring Out the Grooming Tools
Keeping your pet well-groomed isn’t just so you can say “Who’s a pretty kitty?” or “Look at that handsome hound.” Grooming your pet also helps keep their skin and coat healthy. Brushing helps to remove dirt, dander and excess hair and prevents painful mats from forming. It also helps moisturize and protect your pet’s skin by distributing skin oils.
Healthy dogs with healthy skin typically only need baths every few months (unless they rolled in something!), but if they have trouble grooming themselves or have long hair, they may need baths more often. Cats don’t typically need a bath but sometimes it’s necessary — and who knows, your cat may be one of the few that doesn’t hate water!
8. Serve Up Some Nutritious Food
A nutritious diet is important to keep your pet active and healthy. Many veterinarians and animal nutritionists recommend choosing a diet that is labeled “complete and balanced.” Pet food companies use this phrase to indicate that a dog or cat food provides total nutrition for a specific life stage and provides the nutrients in the correct ratios for optimal absorption.
You also want to limit the not-so-nutritious food in your pet’s diet. Treats should be restricted to no more than 10 percent of your pet’s total calories each day. You should avoid feeding your pets table scraps as they can cause tummy troubles for dogs and cats and can also contribute to your pet gaining too many pounds.
9. Encourage Daily Exercise
Pets need daily exercise to be able to stay active and within a healthy weight range. Here are nine signs your pet isn’t getting enough exercise and the recommended daily exercise amounts for different pets. If the weather isn’t great for exercising your dog outside, try some of these indoor exercises instead. And it is possible for cats to exercise, it’s just called “playtime.”
10. Dig Up Good Behavior
Everyone in your home will be happier if your cat or dog are the goodest girls and boys. There are many reasons for a pet’s bad behavior, including they aren’t giving their brain a workout, they’re jealous of another household member or they have a health issue. The good news is, with training, patience and advice from your veterinarian, your pet’s bad behavior can usually be curbed. Check out our “Untraining Your Pet” series for some tips on untraining some of those common bad habits.
11. Keep ’Em Warm and Toasty in Winter
As cold weather sets in, keeping your furry friend warm should be a top priority. Some pets are equipped to handle cold weather (but not extreme cold) and their fur goes a long way to keeping them warm. But other pets (e.g., hairless and short-hair breeds) may need some extra help, like wearing a coat when they venture outside. Just make sure the coat fits correctly and they’re comfortable wearing it.
For cats and dogs who spend a lot of time outside, it’s important to provide them with a warm, weather-resistant shelter that has clean, dry bedding. Straw is a good choice for bedding — don’t use blankets or towels because these will freeze if they get wet.
Outside pets may also benefit from a change in nutrition during the colder months to replace calories burned through shivering. On the other paw, indoor pets that aren’t exercising as much during winter may need fewer calories from their food. Talk with your veterinarian about whether a seasonal change in diet is recommended for your pet.
12. Cater to Your Pet’s Age
A puppy has different nutrition, exercise and care requirements than an adult dog, who can have different needs than a senior dog. That’s why it’s important to adjust the care of your cat or dog based on their age. Puppies and kittens need a lot of supervision to keep them safe and out of mischief, and they need more veterinary appointments during their first year of age, compared to their second year. Similarly, as your pet gets older, they may need some adjustments made around the house to help them get around and may benefit from senior dog or senior cat food.
Hopefully these twelve tips will help keep your cat or dog healthy and ready to play or snuggle with you all year long. Remember to ask your veterinarian if you have any concerns about how to keep your pet healthy and active.
RELATED POST: Can Owning a Pet Make You Healthier?