The new year is a perfect time to make changes that will earn big rewards in your pet's life
2019 new year resolutions
Photo by Dr. Teri Ann Oursler
The start of a new year is a boundary that millions of people use as an opportunity to facilitate change in their lives. In other words, it's a time of many internal conversations such as, "I'll go on a diet next year." [Countdown to ball-drop in Times Square….] "Now it is next year… Fine! Alexa, add kale to my grocery list."
While you're busy starting to work the new and improved, thinner, smarter, better, stronger, faster, you, don't forget about Buster, Boots, and Tweety. Now is a perfect time to make changes (many of them pretty easy) that will earn big rewards in your pet's life.
- Build the bond. Spend at least 10-15 minutes a day focused on your pet. Unless your pet is a fish or a hissing cockroach, they probably want to spend time with you. While necessary, scooping the litter box or filling food bowls doesn’t count as quality time. Many of us are guilty of the drive-by ear rub while we’re walking past to ‘important human things’ such as writing blog posts or refilling the coffee cup. For the active bunch, consider throwing a ball for your dog, taking your horse on a trail ride, or playing. For the mellow, a long languid brushing or couch cuddles do the job. And don't forget brain games! (More on that later.) The key is to PAY ATTENTION.
- Feed a healthy diet. Obesity isn’t just a human epidemic — there are a lot of porky pooches out there. Even if your feline isn’t fat, be sure you’re feeding a good quality food. You don’t need to feed the most expensive thing on the shelf and don't jump to the latest fad diet (no, your cat really can't go vegan); check pet food labels or consult with your veterinarian to make a sensible choice.
- Exercise! Nobody’s saying gym memberships are required -- and I'm pretty sure any gym would evict your potbellied pig from the weight room anyway. Given half a chance, most pets love to play. Take them for a jog, throw a Frisbee, or waggle a laser pointer from your recliner. If your pet is out of shape, make sure to ease them into regular exercise lest your good intentions lead to injury.
- Practice prevention. You’ve heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? You should be checking your pet at home at least once a month. How’s their weight or body condition? Are they current on medications including heartworm preventative and parasite control? Notice any lumps or bumps? Your pet should have a veterinary visit at least once a year for a full physical exam and vaccinations. Ask your veterinarian about what your pet needs.
- Document, document, document. Take lots of photos and videos of your pets, even when they’re not doing anything particularly Instagram-worthy. A picture’s worth a thousand words if you’re trying to show your vet the weird hunched-over way your cat’s been sitting lately vs. how they normally sit. And you’ll treasure that ‘chasing bunnies in his sleep’ video when your dog is dead and gone.
- Work on that problem behavior or teach a new trick. Train your pet to behave properly — they don’t have to be a model citizen, just a good one. Once they’re not a menace to others, keep their mind sharp by teaching new tricks -- cats can learn to play fetch, rodents and other small mammals love tunnel mazes, and many species of birds can learn an impressive number of words and sounds. Learning is a great way to keep them from getting bored and finding their own ‘fun games’ to play with your treasured possessions.
- Update your pet’s identification. If your pet hops a fence and gets lost, they can’t tell the nice policeman where they live. Dogs and cats can wear collars with ID tags bearing your phone number. Just about any animal can and should be microchipped (and if you adopted them from a shelter, they probably already are). While the microchip itself will last a lifetime, make sure to update the appropriate registry with your current address and phone number. (This is not included in the forwarding address service provided by the U.S. Postal Service.)
- Educate yourself. Find reputable information sources and make sure you know how to best care for your pet. What should you feed your parakeet? What cage is big enough for your busyness of ferrets? What diseases are common in your dog’s breed?
- Bust a myth. Once you’ve educated yourself using reputable resources, help others educate themselves. Speak up the next time Uncle Pete shares a Facebook meme about how crystals and a gluten-free diet prevent vaccine intoxication in maltidoodlepoos.
- Meet new people. Many pets like people and want to hang out with more of them — more play time, more belly rubs, more unguarded sandwiches…. Obviously, you'll need to consider your pet's personality. Your shy cat may consider your two rowdy friends coming over as an invasion rather than a visit, so invite one soft-spoken friend over for coffee. If you made a personal resolution to make more friends but your dog is more gregarious than you, chance encounters while walking your dog are a great way for introverts to navigate the nightmare feat of ‘making small talk’ with strangers. And more than one happy human relationship got its start at a dog park… just sayin’.
You don’t have to make and keep all ten of these. Even a single one can have great benefits for your pet's health and wellbeing. It's quite possible to fulfill multiple resolutions simultaneously: Regularly paying attention (resolution #1) to your pet means you'll notice disease symptoms more quickly (#4). A good walk in park can accomplish #1, 3, and 10. Researching a new brand of food can encompass #2, 8, and 9.
What will you do to make 2019 a great year for your pet?
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.