Dog walking in snow

When it comes to the holidays, the most important present you can give your pet isn’t one that can be found under the tree. It’s the gift of good health. These nine ideas can help ensure that you and your pet share many more holidays together.

Have a Healthy Holiday

1. A holiday physical exam. The true value of a doctor’s visit isn’t just to treat what ails us but to prevent us from ailing. So give your pet the gift of a thorough medical checkup. Take the time to talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s current health and what you can do to help keep him in top shape. 

2. Daily exercise. Nothing will please your pet more than a walk or a fun play session with you. Engage in at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity with your pet each day during the holiday season. Couch potatoes will need time to gradually work up to this. And talk to your vet first if your pet has any health conditions. Once you’re on the move, you both will have fun, feel less stressed and hopefully prevent the dreaded “holiday spread.”

3. Clean teeth. Many adult pets suffer from periodontal disease, which is often caused by a lack of oral hygiene. So this holiday season, try brushing your cat’s or dog’s teeth with a soft-bristled pet toothbrush or finger brush, along with flavored pet toothpaste. (Never use people toothpaste, because the fluoride in it can be dangerous to pets.) If your pet already has bleeding gums or other signs of dental disease (like bad breath or dark stains on the teeth), call your vet. A professional cleaning may be recommended before you start brushing. Also consider talking to your veterinarian about oral rinses and sealants, food and water additives and other easy ways to keep your pet’s mouth healthier.

4. Healthy snacks. No festive occasion is complete without sweets, but instead of sharing your cookies and cakes (which can cause stomach problems), give your dog a slice of fruit or a crunchy veggie. Not all fruits and veggies are safe for pets, though. Some healthy options include apple slices (seeds removed), carrots or green beans (steam both of these for cats). Cats might love a pinch of baked salmon, tuna or haddock. If you must indulge your pet with dog treats, do so in moderation. Show your pet some snacking restraint and she’ll hopefully end the holiday season the same size she started.

5. A health profile. Many diseases in pets aren’t obvious until it’s too late. To help uncover hidden problems before they surface, have your pet’s blood and urine tested every holiday season — or on a yearly or twice-yearly basis as recommended by your veterinarian. This is a gift that can truly make a difference in your pet’s life.

6. A home-cooked meal. Don’t forget your pets when you’re planning your festive feast. Make a meal for your dog using baked or grilled fish (bones removed); fresh vegetables such as carrots, green beans or minced kale; or potatoes, quinoa or rice. For your cat, try a small amount of fresh salmon (bones removed). Skip the garlic, onion, butter and oil, and be aware that any departure from your pet’s normal diet can cause vomiting or diarrhea. Also, be sure to keep calories in mind, and ask your human guests not to sneak snacks under the table

7. Massage. You can pamper your cat or dog with a visit to a pet massage therapist or treat him to a 15-minute rub-down session that you do yourself. Massage your pet up and down his back and sides using long, gentle strokes, and use three fingers to rub circles around his neck and legs. You’ll both feel more relaxed when you’re done.

8. A play date. The holidays are a social time, so arrange a play date for your dog and his best walking buddy, complete with fun canine competitions and healthy snacks. For cats, engage in a special play session, perhaps with a new interactive toy.

9. Extra hugs. Show your pet love and gratitude — even (or especially) when you’re exhausted, grumpy and just want to escape. Take a few minutes to quietly stroke your pet; the magical connection you share can help lower your blood pressure and rejuvenate your spirit. And remember: Your bond with your pet is something to celebrate during the holidays and all year through.

More on Vetstreet: