1. Establish a good relationship with your veterinarian. Take care in choosing him or her in the first place. Make sure your pets receive annual check-ups, vaccinations and special tests for seniors.
2. Learn the shortest route to your nearest 24-hour animal emergency center. Programming the number into your cell phone isn’t good enough. Drive there so that when you have an emergency, you’ll know the shortest route from your home without having to refer to directions. Know what services they offer, and how they accept payment. Also, know the closest animal ER to your favorite hiking spot or a dog park in case your pet becomes ill or injured away from home.
3. Do regular head-to-tail checks weekly. Feel for lumps and bumps (catching a tumor early can save your pet's life), check the condition of your pet’s coat and skin and look for fleas, ticks, foxtails or burrs after an outing. Look for subtle differences in their bodies and their habits. If your dog is asking to go out more frequently or your kitty stops using her litter box, something may not be quite right. If your dog is leaning on one hip or moaning when getting up off the ground, he may need a check-up. This is also a great way to bond with your furry babe, squeezing in a shoulder massage, belly rub or ear scratch as you work your way from head-to-tail.
4. Obedience train and socialize your pet. A well-behaved canine stays out of trouble. He is less likely to escape into traffic or eat something poisonous out of the trash. A well-socialized dog is friendly around other animals and people, is a welcome visitor to parks and pet-friendly locales and is an agreeable member of the family. Our feline friends can benefit from these lessons too, so don’t forget to teach cats rules and get them used to people and other animals. Doing so can keep them safe!
5. Always keep your dog on a leash or in a fenced yard. These measures can prevent him from dashing into traffic, getting injured by other animals, or coming in contact with pesticides on your neighbor’s lawn. Get down on all fours and look at your house and yard from your pet’s perspective making sure to move dangerous items out of paws’ reach! When your dog is in that fenced yard, please always make sure he has access to shade and fresh water, or a draft-free warm shelter depending on the time of year.
6. Exercise your pet. It does a body good whether canine, feline or human! Moving that life-giving blood and oxygen to the brain keeps pets sharp and can also keep muscles toned and joints fluid. A tired dog or cat is a good dog or cat and can prevent destructive behaviors. Adopting a second cat is a great way to get a feline to be active, but interactive items like feathered wands or other cat toys can help provide positive cardio workouts for cats. Activities of many types can equal quality time together, so put away the cell phone and tune into your pet with some honest-to-goodness play time each day.
7. Feed high-quality, age-appropriate food. Food is fuel. Read the labels and know what you are giving your cat or dog. Ingredients are listed in diminishing value, so the first three to five ingredients really count. Make sure that a high-quality protein (such as beef, salmon or chicken) is listed first! Check with your veterinarian or nutritionist before adding supplements, such as probiotics (often helps with many skin and digestive issues) and antioxidants (designed to bolster immune systems and protect pets from the inside out). Free radicals (unstable oxygen molecules) strike every cell in his body 10,000 times per day until they eventually break down and weaken the cells causing allergies, skin and coat problems, tumors, cancers, heart and vessel disease, arthritis and more. You may not notice their ill effects for years, until the damage has already been done.
8. ID your pet. In addition to identification tags (which you should check to see if you can actually read the name and phone number), it is important to make sure pets are micro-chipped. Also ask your veterinarian to scan your pet on your annual visit, so that you have peace of mind that the chip is working.
9. Spay or neuter your dog or cat. Unaltered pets have a tendency to roam in search of a mate. According to the SPCA, 80 percent of animals hit by cars are intact males. Unaltered females have a higher propensity for pyometra (a deadly infection of the uterus) as well as mammary cancers. With three to five million dogs and cats being euthanized in shelters annually, become part of the solution, not part of the problem.
10. Sign up for a pet first aid and CPR class to prepare you to handle the unexpected. If it’s been a couple years, take another to bone-up on your skills. Remember, if you don’t use it, you lose it. It is important to stay current on the latest pet first aid protocols approved by veterinarians. If your pet is in an emergency situation, your training will help you take the right steps when your own pet needs you most. By preparing for the worst, you just may prevent the worst from happening!
By Sarah Zumhofe