Reviewed for accuracy on December 4, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
As a new year begins, many of us take the opportunity to set goals for the months ahead. Perhaps you want to eat better, exercise more or lose a couple of those holiday pounds.
This year, consider your pets when making New Year’s resolutions. Just like us, they could benefit from improvements to their wellness routines, but they can’t make resolutions on their own.
Here are some New Year’s resolution ideas from experts that will help promote a happier, healthier year for your four-legged friends.
The New Year is the perfect time to evaluate what, when and how much your pet is eating.
“Many owners ‘eyeball’ their pet’s daily intake and pour that into a bowl, usually resulting in overfeeding and weight gain,” says Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, a California-based veterinarian.
Instead, use a measuring cup to ensure that your pet is receiving the proper amount of food at every meal, says Dr. Vogelsang. The food bag can provide general guidance, but your veterinarian can advise you on the appropriate portion for your pet.
This is also a good time to ensure that your pet is eating the proper diet for their age and nutritional requirements. “Choosing a diet specifically tailored to your pet’s life stage is a great way to keep them in optimal health,” says Dr. Vogelsang.
Even small changes can improve your pet’s day-to-day life. To easily engage your dog or cat, spice up mealtime with a puzzle feeder, says Jessica Gore, CPDT-KA, a certified professional trainer in the Los Angeles area.
“Puzzle toys increase your pet’s mental stimulation and daily life enrichment,” says Gore. “Simply switching up your meal delivery by using a puzzle feeder is a wonderful and easy way to improve your pet’s life and encourage good behavior.”
If you’ve been noticing your dog or cat seems extra “fluffy” lately, take this opportunity to face the scale and make a weight loss plan.
“The rise in pet obesity can primarily be attributed to feeding habits—including overfeeding, high-calorie treats and table snacks,” says Dr. Joyce Login, a veterinarian at Zoetis. “Obesity has detrimental effects on the overall health and life span of pets, including osteoarthritis, diabetes and dermatological problems affecting skin, hair and coat.”
But many diseases can be avoided by maintaining a healthy weight, says Dr. Login.
Work with your veterinarian to determine the best weight loss regimen for your pet.
They can calculate the appropriate amount of calories your pet needs for daily requirements as well as the percentage of caloric decrease that should be done for weight loss to avoid hunger or losing weight too quickly.
If you’re resolving to get in shape this year, add more walks to your exercise regimen. They’re great for your health and offer numerous benefits for your dog.
“Walks provide exercise, but they also provide a big helping of enrichment through the smells and sounds of the dog’s environment,” says Kristi Benson, a certified professional dog trainer based in Manitoba, Canada. “A walk is a great way to bond with your dog, and it’s a nice bonus that walking is healthy for us humans, too.”
However, during the winter months, discuss these walks with your veterinarian. Care should be taken to use dog booties or certain paw care waxes to avoid extreme heat, cold, rock salt or foreign objects that can cause irritation or trauma to the paw.
Walks are great, but it can also be fun to engage your pup in other forms of dynamic exercise, such as agility training.
“If your dog loves training and agility, take a few extra classes or try competition for the first time,” says Dr. Sara Ochoa, a veterinarian in Texas and a consultant for Dog Lab. “It’s a great way to spend time with your dog and help them be healthier and happier.”
Everyone knows that most dogs enjoy a good game of fetch. But few pet parents understand how important play is for our cats.
“Interactive play is a great way to bond with cats, give them good physical exercise and reduce many behavior problems,” says Jessica Char, a California-based feline behavior consultant. “Regular daily play sessions decrease demanding behavior, build confidence in shyer cats and promote positive feelings between cats in multi-cat homes.”
Depending on your cat’s age and health, schedule sessions anywhere from 5-15 minutes to reap the benefits, says Char.
To start your year off right, one of the best things you can do for your pet is to establish an at-home dental care routine. Both dogs and cats benefit from teeth brushing, says Dr. Ochoa.
“Start by brushing your pet's teeth a few nights a week,” says Dr. Ochoa, who recommends working up to daily brushings.
Sometimes a very slow introduction to teeth brushing—such as one side once a day—can be helpful. A lot of positive reinforcement should be used.
Additionally, it’s important to have your veterinarian evaluate your pet’s teeth, says Dr. Ochoa. A professional cleaning or more advanced dental work might be needed.
If your pet appears to be healthy, it may be tempting to skip that annual veterinary appointment. But regular wellness appointments are crucial for ensuring that your pet enjoys many happy and healthy years.
“Yearly examinations by the veterinarian are a key component of good preventive care,” says Dr. Vogelsang. “Many medical conditions such as diabetes, arthritis or obesity are common in aging pets and much easier to manage when detected in the early stages of the disease process.”
Hopefully, the year ahead is calm and peaceful. But emergencies happen, and it’s important to have a plan in place in the event of an evacuation or natural disaster.
“Everyone should have an evacuation plan that includes their pets,” says Dr. Login. Identify and create a list of places to evacuate with your pets in the event of disaster, such as pet-friendly hotels or boarding facilities, advises Dr. Login.
Dr. Login adds, “It’s important to create a pet-friendly survival kit that’s filled with food, medicine and medical records. Make sure to talk with your veterinarian, who can help suggest items for your pet’s specific needs.”
By: Monica Weymouth