Pets are the lights of their owners’ lives. And keeping pets healthy is key to extending the warmth and love for years. Dr. Ernie Ward, nationally renowned veterinarian, pet author and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, offers his ‘Top 5 Healthy Habits’ for pet owners to help ensure pets stay happy and healthy throughout the year:
- Healthy Eats and Treats. The most important decision you make each day regarding your pet’s health is what you feed it. When choosing pet food, look for meat as one of the first few ingredients, and avoid by-products, artificial flavors, colors and preservatives whenever possible. When it comes to treats, look for low-cal options that confer some health benefit. Treats that help maintain healthy joints, clean teeth or ensure pills are taken are recommended. If you’re going to give treats, make them count!
- Brain Boosters. Most people love puzzles — and so does your pet! One of the best ways to feed and treat pets is with a food puzzle. These clever devices hide your pet’s food or treats until they unlock the secret and get their goodies. These tools engage your pet’s brain and bust boredom while you’re away. Forget peanut butter-stuffed toys; these toys stimulate thought and don’t pack on the pounds!
- Power Play. Walking your dog and playing with your cat each day keeps them trim, healthy and mentally alert. Pets that don’t receive enough physical activity (“lap potatoes”) have the highest rates of weight-related diseases such as arthritis and diabetes and suffer from behavioral problems. For dogs, 20 to 30 minutes of brisk walking each day benefits both ends of the leash. For cats, two or three five-minute play periods are plenty. And don’t worry! Walking with your pet can be fun! Try programs like Wag & Walk 4 Life, and get active with your pet.
- Paws Together. It’s more fun to play with other dogs! Socialized dogs are simply better behaved and more fun. Visit a dog park, enroll in training classes or become active in serving your community. There are endless ways to get you and your dog to interact with other pet lovers. Share the fun and join a new pack!
- Pets and Vets. Somehow pet owners started believing that the only time you need a vet is when something is wrong with your pet. The secret to a long and healthy life is vet visits even when everything appears fine. A pet owner’s primary goal should be to prevent disease, not only treat it. Changes in diet or lifestyle, giving nutritional supplements and exercising more are straight forward solutions. Sometimes you just need a prod; other times a push. Your veterinarian is your pet’s voice; let them speak for your pet by visiting once a year for young pets and twice yearly for those over age seven.