By Dr. Beth Leermakers
Lose weight. Exercise more. Save money. Floss more often. Many new year’s resolutions also apply to your pets’ health and well-being. As you’re thinking about the changes you plan to make in 2021, consider adding a few of these pet-related goals to your list. I’m repeating two of the 12 wellness tips I shared in my December column (“On the first day of Christmas, my true pet gave to me”), in case you missed it.
Foster a cat or dog. If you’ve been considering adding a fur-baby to your family, fostering is a great way to make sure you’re ready for the responsibility of pet parenthood. Shelters often need short-term foster homes for kittens, puppies and animals who need a break from the shelter environment. DallasAnimalServices.org has a foster program. Some local rescue groups such as passportforpaws.org (cats and dogs), societyforcompanionanimals.org and Rockwallpets.com, need short-term foster parents for a few days up to a few weeks, until the animals leave on transport to out-of-state rescue groups. Other rescue groups [such as WhiteRockDog.org and avoiceforallpaws.com (cats), ask foster parents to take care of the pet until s/he is adopted. Visit petfinder.com to find other local shelters, rescue groups and foster opportunities.
Watch your pet’s weight. Obesity has harmful effects on cats’ and dogs’ overall lifespan and health, including diabetes, osteoarthritis and dermatological problems affecting the skin, hair and coat. About 50 percent of dogs and 60 percent of cats in the U.S. are overweight. One study showed that only 10 percent of people with an overweight cat knew their cat was overweight. Consult your veterinarian to determine whether your dog or cat needs to lose weight and, if so, the best regimen to follow.
Measure your pet’s food every day. When you eyeball it, that “cup” of kibble may actually be a cup and a half. Use a standard measuring cup to be sure you aren’t over-feeding your cat or dog. Refer to the bag for feeding guidelines, and ask your vet how much to feed Fluffy.
Establish a veterinary savings account. Set aside $1 per day to cover any unexpected vet bills. As your pets get older and have more medical conditions, you’ll need more funds.
For pets over age 10, save an amount equal to your pet’s age every week. You would contribute $11 per week for your 11 year old cat, $12 per week for your 12 year old dog, and so on. Avoid having to surrender your pet to a shelter because you can’t afford his or her medical care.
Play with your cat. Constructive playtime is essential for cats. One hour of play time increases a cat’s healthy lifespan by four hours. Interactive play is a great way to bond with cats, give them good physical exercise and reduce many behavior problems. Playing improves cats’ mental health, decreasing boredom, anxiety and destructive behavior. Aim for four 10-minute play sessions per day. Interactive toys (e.g., a feather wand or fishing pole teaser toy) give you time to bond with your cat. Choose toys that allow your cat to grab onto something, instead of laser toys. Toys that let cats “hunt” for a prize are also good choices. Use a puzzle feeder to provide mental stimulation for your cat.
Prepare for emergencies. Every pet parent should have an evacuation plan that includes your pets. Assemble an emergency kit containing your pets’ food, travel bowls, medications (including heartworm prevention) and vaccination records. Line up someone to take care of your pet if you’re sick or injured and wind up in the hospital unexpectedly. Carry a Pet Alert card in your wallet, notifying EMTs that you have pets at home that require care.
Brush your pet’s teeth. Start by brushing your pet’s teeth a few days per week, using toothpaste formulated for cats and dogs, and gradually work up to daily brushing. Have your veterinarian evaluate your pet’s teeth to see whether they need professional cleaning or dental work.
Wash food and water bowls regularly. According to a study by the National Sanitation Foundation, pet bowls were fourth on the list for places in the home that contain the most germs. To get rid of sickness-causing biofilm — that thick, slimy residue on your pet’s water and food bowls that comes from bacteria — wash pet bowls every day in hot, soapy water. Use a dedicated cloth or sponge to avoid transferring germs to your dishes. At least once a week, put the bowls in the dishwasher to completely disinfect them.
Hire a dog trainer. Can’t walk your dog on the leash? Tired of having your dog practically knock you over when you walk in the door? Invest in a group training class or a few private sessions with a trainer who uses positive reinforcement, not punishment.
Support a homeless animal. If you can’t foster or adopt, there are many other ways to help rescue animals. Shelters need volunteers to photograph the animals, socialize cats and walk or run with the dogs. Check out Dallas90 Dog Runners (dallasanimalservices.org; Volunteer & Foster page) and Garland Animal Services’ new dog running program (call the shelter: 972-205-3570 or email email@example.com). Donate newspapers, used towels/blankets, toys, treats, bleach, laundry detergent and/or other needed supplies to the shelter. Most shelters have wish lists on their website; when in doubt, call and ask what they need. Rescue groups need people to transport animals from shelters to foster homes, or to vet appointments.
I hope you and your 2- and 4-legged family have a happy, healthy new year!