5 Simple Rules for Giving Your Pet a Healthy Life

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1. Schedule Annual Checkups

"Dogs and cats age much faster than us, so missing even one yearly appointment could be like you not visiting your doctor for over 5 years," says Ashley Gallagher, DVM at Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, D.C. "Annual checkups also allow your vet to more easily spot problems at their earliest stages, when they can often be handled simply and cost effectively."

2. Establish a Grooming Routine

Grooming is not just about maintaining your pet’s level of cleanliness, and it is not just about keeping your pet "good-looking." Grooming is also about maintaining their physical health. Hair brushing, ear cleaning, and nail trimming are all important things you should add to your pet's regular grooming regimen. Even cats, despite their ability to self-groom, will occasionally need assistance. Got questions? Consult your veterinarian.

3. Practice Good Oral Hygiene

"Dental disease is a common problem in our pets and can lead to a variety of health issues," says Dr. Gallagher. "It is estimated that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of 3 years suffer from some degree of periodontal disease, an inflammation of some or all of a tooth's deep supporting structures." This can lead to gingivitis, bad breath and a host of other dental issues. Avoid these problems by brushing your pet's teeth, scheduling regular dental checkups, and using dental diets and treats.

4. Exercise and Play Regularly

Big or small, young or old, our pets need to exercise daily. Without physical activity, your dog or cat will become bored, frustrated and even unhealthy — leading to issues such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Consult a veterinarian to devise the safest routine for your dog or cat, especially with senior or overweight pets. “Unless a veterinarian has told you otherwise,” says Susan O’Bell, DVM at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, “pet owners shouldn’t underestimate the power of briskly paced walks throughout the day.” Additional forms of daily activity can include swimming, a game of fetch or chase the toy mouse and mental exercise such as food puzzles.

5. Buy Quality Pet Food

"What you feed your pet has a tremendous impact on their health," says Dr. Gallagher. "Choose quality pet food and avoid issues with obesity — an epidemic problem among pets — by feeding your dog or cat the right amount." Not sure which pet food is the best or what is the right amount? Consult your veterinarian to choose a high quality, complete and balanced food that meets your pet's specific life stage and health needs.

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