A Year of Wellness: A Must-Do Care Calendar for Your Pet

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When your pet gets sick, your first thought is to contact your veterinarian. These caring doctors are ready and willing to help your pet recover, but keeping your pet from getting ill in the first place is just as important to them.

To catch and prevent health problems, veterinarians suggest a pet wellness plan. This is similar to your doctor or dentist outlining the need for regular checkups and daily flossing. Keeping your pet healthy involves a partnership between you and the veterinarian. Your veterinarian will outline the specific treatments or therapies that are right for your pet — and it’s up to you to carry them out. In general, following the care tips below will help keep your dog or cat feeling fabulous.

Do This Daily

Pet your cat or dog. This might seem like a no-brainer, but interacting with pets at least once a day is so important that it tops the list. People with dogs know it’s nearly impossible to ignore them. Cats, on the other hand, don’t necessarily greet you at the door. Cats tend to interact on their own terms, choosing the time and place for affection, but interaction and playtime are a must for them, too. “Cats naturally spend much of their time engaged in hunting behaviors, and they nap in between to conserve their energy,” says Dr. Eliza Sundahl, DVM, DABVP, owner of KC Cat Clinic in Kansas City, Mo., and a member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. “But people need to give their cats plenty of interactive play and affection. Dog owners worry about exercise and discipline, and cat owners need to think about providing proper stimulation, too.”

Another benefit of petting: It gives you a chance to check certain areas of your pet’s body. Feel for the ribs and consider whether your pet has put on weight. Check for lumps, and be aware of any funny odors. Take a look at your pet’s eyes and ears, looking for differences. Older cats might require more frequent nail trims, so check their paws. (Start trimming cats’ nails early to help them get used to it.) There is no need to do all this every time you stroke your pet’s wonderful fur, but going down the checklist at least once a week is smart. Follow up with your veterinarian if you discover any changes.

Nourish your pet. Obviously pets need food each day, and you should make fresh water available to them at all times. But the specific nutritional choices you make for your pet can weigh heavy on his health — literally, since obesity is a real problem in both cats and dogs. Speak with your veterinarian about which pet food choices are best for your pet. Remember, people food is never appropriate for cats or dogs. Pet food provides a balanced diet with all the necessary nutrients. Feeding pets from your plate upsets this balance and might even cause serious health issues.

Keep your animal active. Lack of consistent exercise leads to obesity. Overweight pets are at increased risk of many serious health conditions, including diabetes, kidney problems, high blood pressure and arthritis. No matter your pet’s age or breed, regular activity is a requirement.

Educate your pet. “Pets need structure,” says Dr. Peter Fisher, DVM, co-owner of Pet Care Veterinary Hospital in Virginia Beach, Va., “and dogs need to review obedience training daily. If owners spend time teaching proper behaviors and reviewing basic obedience, then a lot of problems will be solved or prevented.”

Puppies should learn basic commands such as sit, down, stay and come. Dogs eventually need to work on leash manners. Teach mature dogs to follow house rules, such as waiting to be invited indoors and not jumping on visitors.

Try using the same techniques with your kitten, who can easily be trained to sit or give high fives. Kittens also need to learn appropriate scratching places and to play without scratching and biting. Cats may also need to learn house rules, such as staying off the kitchen counter.

Regardless of your pet’s age or species, consider establishing a relationship with an experienced trainer. Your veterinarian might provide behavior training, or he or she can recommend someone.

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