Three pet experts weigh in with smart ways to boost your furry pals’ health throughout this year and beyond.

Small dog on lease cocks head at the camera
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The New Year is a time of fresh starts and life changes, and who couldn’t use that after the year we’ve just had? Even pets can benefit from starting new, healthy habits, Natalie Marks, DVM, CVJ, co-founder of Top Vets Talk Pets, says. “I think most people would agree that one of the few bright spots in 2020 was the companionship and love of their pets. So while we’re all making resolutions for the year to come, it’s equally important to think about ways to provide the best physical and emotional health for our cats and dogs.”

But don’t stress, making tweaks to your pet’s routine doesn’t have to be overwhelming. “Even making the smallest changes to your pet’s life now can pay off later—those good habits add up over time,” says Michele Pietrzak, DVM, medical director of VCA Met Vet West.

Consider these resolutions to get the New Year started off on the right paw for your pet.

1. Be Active Everyday

Boredom is the root of many behavior problems in cats and dogs. To keep pets happy (and healthy!), daily exercise is a must, Pietrzak says. Besides taking your dog on a walk, you can also play fetch indoors, run around the house together, or even train your dog to walk on a treadmill. Cats enjoy pouncing on toys, chasing laser-pointer lights, and climbing up kitty towers.

2. Switch to a Healthier Diet

Have you walked down a pet store’s food aisles lately? The options of what to feed your cat or dog seem endless. It’s easy to see why someone might just pull the nearest bag off the shelf and go. But cats and dogs have very specific nutrition and diet requirements for how much proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and calories they need each day, Marks explains. The best diet for your pet also depends on their age and disease conditions. Talk to your veterinarian to get a pet food recommendation that you know you can trust.

3. Do Something Fun Every Day

“This year has shown us what it’s like to stay home every day and it can be very stressful,” Pietrzak says. “Humans hate to be bored and so do our pets.” 

Make sure your pet has a variety of toys to play with and brain games because mental stimulation is important. You can hide treats or kibble around the house for your pet to find or use a puzzle feeder to make a game out of feeding time. You can also teach your pet a new trick, which helps keep their mind sharp and strengthens your bond.

“Even the TV or radio can provide enrichment for your furry pal when you can’t be there,” Pietrzak notes. “But when you’re home, don’t forget to talk to your pets. They’re the best listeners.”

4. Spruce Up the Home

Show your furry pal how much you appreciate them by adding a few pet-friendly touches to your space. For cats, think about adding another litter box, scratching post, or cat tree to the house. Dogs might like a cushy new bed and some calming music.

 Want your pet to relax more? Both cats and dogs respond to stress-relieving pheromone diffusers and sprays. 

“One of my clients thought their cat was bored and made a resolution to provide more fun for their kitty,” Shawna Huston, DVM, medical director of VCA West Shore Animal Hospital, recalls. “I recommended adding a window perch and setting up a bird feeder outside the window. Now the cat loves to sit there for hours watching all the animals.”

5. Rethink Portion Sizes

It’s easy to overfeed pets, especially when we associate food with love. But, says Marks, portion control is something all pet parents need to be mindful of. “Feeding pets too much causes obesity, which is one of the leading diseases we see in both dogs and cats. It increases the risk of heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure.” The solution: Use a measuring cup to give your pet the exact amount of food that keeps them healthy.

6. Brush Your Pet's Teeth More Often

Imagine what it would be like if you only brushed your teeth once a year. Eww, gross! Lack of daily dental hygiene is why most dogs and cats have some form of oral disease by age three, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association

Try brushing your cat or dog’s teeth on a regular basis with a pet-friendly, enzymatic toothpaste, Pietrzak advises. If your pet won’t tolerate a toothbrush in their mouth, consider a veterinary-approved water additive or dental chew. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.

7. Make New Friends

While a kitty may thrive with your affection alone, many dogs enjoy socializing with other pups. “You can encourage socialization, and separation from you, by taking your pooch to doggy day camp,” Huston says. “It’s a good way for them to burn energy, interact with other dogs, and help your pet get used to being separated from you.”

Other options include visiting a dog park, setting up doggy playdates with friends, or even getting your pet a companion.

8. Get Regular Checkups

Don’t just go to the veterinarian when your pet is sick—make sure your four-legged friend gets two wellness visits a year. Besides staying up-to-date with vaccinations, regular vet checkups can identify health problems early when they’re often easier to treat. “Preventive care can be a lifesaver,” Pietrzak says.