By Dr. Beth Leermakers
While you’re thinking about your new year’s resolutions, consider what you can do to improve your pet’s health and well-being. Instead of making several changes at once, focus on one behavior or action step at a time. Here are a few suggestions:
Check their ID. Too many pets that wind up in shelters don’t have any identification. Microchipping your cat or dog greatly increases your chances of getting her back if she goes missing. All dogs and cats in the City of Dallas must be microchipped. Microchips are available through your veterinarian (expect to pay at least $25) or at Spay Neuter Network (spayneuternet.org, $16.50 for a microchip). If your pet is already chipped, update your contact information if it has changed. Be sure your pets are also wearing ID tags. If your dog (or cat) loses her dangling tags, try the slide-on ID tag that slips over the collar.
Visit the vet. Although you may be tempted to skip your pet’s annual checkup if he’s not due for his rabies and other vaccines, that’s not wise. Your dog needs an annual heartworm test and heartworm preventatives, and catching health problems early is the best approach. If your pet is overweight, take steps now to help him lose weight.
Get your cat used to her carrier before it’s time to head for the vet clinic. If your dog is fearful, get him used to wearing a muzzle so you can keep everyone safe during that stressful exam. I was very glad I had muzzle conditioned Gucci (who is very fearful of new people) before I had to take him to the vet for emergency wound care. That visit would have been even more traumatic if my dog had been resisting the muzzle.
Be prepared for emergencies. Keep a copy of your pet’s current vaccination records in your car, in case you have to leave home quickly. Pack an evacuation bag with bowls, food, medication and other essential items. Purchase or assemble a pet first aid kit, including gauze, veterinary wrap, plastic bags, hydrogen peroxide and alcohol swabs, styptic powder or cornstarch for small cuts or bleeding toenails, eyewash, antibacterial ointment, scissors and tweezers. Carry a Pet Alert card notifying emergency personnel that your pet needs care if you wind up unconscious in the hospital. Put decals on your windows, alerting fire fighters that your animals need to be rescued.
Go on a Sniffari. When I walk my dogs, I’m usually in a hurry to get it done quickly so I can get to work on time. I discourage my dogs from sniffing every bush along our route. Sniffing, however, is very important for dogs, whose sense of smell is one of the best in the animal kingdom. Dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors (people have about 5 million), and sniffing is the primary way dogs gather information about their world. When dogs sniff, their heart rate goes down, suggesting that sniffing has a calming, self-soothing effect on them. Sniffing may help reduce stress and anxiety. Sniffing also releases dopamine, the feel-good hormone. Bottom line: sniffing feels good.
Take your dog on a decompression walk (i.e., a “sniffari”) once or twice a week (or more often if you have time) to let your dog slow down and smell the dandelions. Go somewhere uncrowded (perhaps a big field or park) and use a long line — a leash that is 10 feet or longer — to give your dog more freedom to sniff and explore her world. Do NOT use a retractable leash, which can be dangerous for dogs and people.
Play with your cat. Play time — particularly games that simulate hunting — is important to give cats exercise and keep them from becoming bored and destructive. Aim for four 10-minute play sessions per day, using interactive toys (e.g., a feather wand or fishing pole teaser toy) that let your cat hunt for and grab onto something.
Try something new. If your dog is athletic and gets bored easily, try a new activity such as herding, fly ball, lure coursing, agility, frisbee or dock diving. Or find a new park or hiking trail for a change of scenery. Adventures are a great way to bond with your dog and make you both smile.
Write a bucket list for your senior pet. Think about what your senior pet wants to do before she crosses the Rainbow Bridge. Your pup may want to spend time at the beach, stroll at the lake, or enjoy a puppaccino. I’m not sure what your cat would enjoy — perhaps watching birds in a safe place. You can bring joy to your pet in her last months by planning and engaging in her favorite activities.
Help homeless animals. Animal shelters and rescue groups need volunteers to help in a variety of ways. You could photograph the animals to help them get adopted, walk or run with energetic shelter dogs, socialize cats, transport animals from the shelter to a vet clinic or foster home, foster a cat or dog (for a few days or until adopted), and/or help with adoption events. Visit bedallas90.org/home/volunteer-opportunities/ for information about the D90 Dog Runners and D90 Dog Strollers (walkers) at Dallas Animal Services. Visit garlandtx.gov/3873/Volunteer-Programs for information about running with the Garland shelter dogs.
If you can’t volunteer (or even if you can), you can help by donating money or supplies such as newspapers, used blankets and towels, cleaning supplies (e.g., bleach and laundry detergent), cat and dog toys, treats and other items. Some shelters can’t accept pet food donations because they receive their food from a sponsor. Check the shelter’s wish list or call/email them to ask what they need.
Have fun with your pets, and Happy New Year!