The past year saw many lifestyle disruptions, but pets can help with our health and be an integral part of our support network. As pet owners, we are responsible for keeping them healthy and happy in 2021, which includes illness prevention and proactive medical care. The Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services team has compiled nine tips to enhance and maintain your pet’s health in the coming year.

#1: Keep your pet at a healthy weight

According to the Pet Obesity Prevention Survey, approximately 60% of U.S. pets are overweight, making it the most common preventable health problem. Overweight pets face challenges with their health and mobility, have a shortened lifespan, tend to be more sedentary, interact less with their owners, and have a lower quality of life. Nutrition is the bedrock of health, and providing the right quality and quantity of food is key for weight control.

#2: Increase your pet’s activity level

Part of an overall healthy weight program is increasing your pet’s activity level. Your dog will appreciate longer and more frequent walks, and enjoy the stimulation of training exercises, or the challenge of a food puzzle. Providing indoor enrichment for your cat can stimulate their internal predator, and this year may be the time to try something new, like leash walking your cat. All pets, especially senior pets, need appropriate exercise and mental stimulation to help them stay fit and young at heart.

#3: Stay current on your pet’s preventive care

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Preventive care includes annual or semi-annual wellness visits, keeping your pet current on necessary vaccinations, and performing annual internal parasite checks. Many pets, especially seniors or those on medications for chronic conditions, need regular blood work to monitor their organ status. At home, mark your calendar to ensure that your pet is kept up to date on their flea and tick control and heartworm preventive.

#4: Maintain your pet’s dental health

A healthy mouth supports a healthy pet, so pay special attention to their teeth. The first dental disease sign may be bad breath, which can be a problem for both you and your pet. Regular dental care and at-home toothbrushing can help keep your pet healthy. 

#5: Watch for early illness signs in your pet

Familiarize yourself with your pet’s “normal,” so you can keep an eye out for early illness signs. Pay attention to their eating habits, the amount they drink and urinate, their stool consistency, their mobility, and their overall energy level. Cats are especially secretive about showing illness signs, and may become more sedentary or aloof when they feel unwell. Simple observations, such as noticing if your pet has smelly ears, can signal an infection. Catching changes in your pet’s health early can significantly improve their response to veterinary medical treatment.  

#6: Be aware of dangers to your pet

Keep your trash or personal items inaccessible to your pet to avoid them developing gastrointestinal upset, pancreatitis, or an intestinal obstruction. Toxic substances for pets in particular should be kept well out of paws’ reach. Don’t hesitate to seek immediate help for your pet if they have a potential veterinary emergency.

#7: Spay or neuter your pet

Many people obtained new pets in the past year, and spaying or neutering will help them stay healthy. Unspayed females are at risk for mammary cancer, a potentially deadly uterine infection, and unwanted litters. Intact males are at risk for testicular cancer, may behave inappropriately, and tend to wander if they smell a female in heat, and may become lost. 

#8: Ensure your pet is identified

Nothing is more heartbreaking than losing your pet, but you can easily and permanently identify them with a microchip. If your pet is already microchipped, contact the company to ensure their information is current. Veterinary hospitals and animal shelters all have microchip scanners to help reunite you with your lost pet. Plus, a clearly readable identification tag on your pet’s collar can help neighbors reach you if your pet goes astray. 

#9: Consider finances for pet medical care

Providing good quality food, grooming, and veterinary care for your four-legged friend can be expensive. Pet insurance, or putting aside funds every month to budget for an unforeseen illness or emergency, can be lifesaving for your pet. A Care Credit account also can help spread the cost of veterinary care over time as a payment plan.

The Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services team is committed to supporting your pet’s health, and encourages you to schedule a regular wellness appointment with your veterinarian to ensure your pet has a healthy and happy year by your side.