Congratulations on a new and healthier you! I am sure your four-legged best friend would love to come on this health journey with you as well. Here are some things you can do to keep your dog healthy this year:
1. Regular exercise – Exercise is just as important for dogs as it is for people. It helps build muscle to prevent injuries, burns calories, and reduces boredom and stress that some pets experience when left alone during the day. If your dog hasn’t exercised much in the past, ease into it with a few short walks a day. Every week, you can extend the length of the walk. Playing fetch in the backyard is great for high-energy dogs. Swimming is also beneficial for some dogs as it builds muscle without putting stress on the joints.
2. Diet - Feed your pet a high-quality dog food. Do your research to make sure the food has been tested and developed with veterinary nutritionists. Also be sure to pick a dog food that is the right life stage for your dog (puppy, adult, senior). There are many “all life stage” foods on the market that meet the minimum requirements but lack the benefits of different life-stage diets. For example, puppies need more calories, and senior dogs benefit from additional fatty acids and less protein in their diet. Avoid grain-free diets, as some of these diets can lead to heart disease. Just because a food is expensive, doesn’t mean it’s the right food for your dog. If you aren’t sure, ask your veterinarian.
3. Health exams - Speaking of veterinarians, make sure your dog has his annual wellness exam at your vet’s office. An exam every six months is even better, especially in aging pets, so that health problems can be detected earlier. Your veterinarian will also help you determine what vaccines your dog should receive to keep him healthy and disease-free.
4. Preventatives - Depending on where you live, your dog may need preventatives against fleas and ticks, heartworm, and intestinal parasites. Your veterinarian can guide you in picking the right preventatives for your dog’s lifestyle.
5. Dog treats – Treats are a great way for us to bond with our pets. The excitement they get just from the word “treat” can make anyone smile. However, too many treats and/or the wrong treats can lead to weight gain. Treats should be no more than 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake. I would never tell someone to stop giving their dog treats, even if the dog is on a diet.
I have some tips, though:
- Dogs care more about the excitement that comes with the treat and not the size of the treat. Instead of giving him a whole doggy biscuit every time he comes in, break a biscuit into four to six pieces, so that he gets one biscuit a day instead of six.
- Opt for lower-calorie foods to use as treats, such as green beans, carrots, pieces of pepper or apple, melons, or plain air-popped popcorn.
- Do not give onions, garlic, or grapes as treats as these can be toxic to dogs.
6. Pet toys – Toys can be a very important part of environmental enrichment for your dog. But as the toys wear down, they can be a health hazard. Check pet toys periodically to make sure they are still safe:
- The stuffing and squeakers can cause an intestinal obstruction.
- Smaller pieces of rawhide or small toy parts can be a choking hazard.
- Hard bones can break teeth.
- Toys that are chewed on a lot or hold food inside may be growing bacteria.
- Many of these toys can be run through the dishwasher instead of thrown away.
If you do these things with your canine companion, you both will be on your way to a happier and healthier year. I wish you both the best of luck in 2024.
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