In the post-Christmas collective breath of relief, it’s time to move on to New Year’s resolutions. Every year we resolve to lose weight, eat healthier, make more money, and otherwise improve our lives. We’re quick to pledge improvements in our own lives, but do we ever consider resolutions for the betterment of our dogs? In this three-part series we will first examine the top resolutions for dogs followed by an in-depth look at how to make change happen.
Your dog’s weight is just as, if not more important, than yours. For a dog, an excess of five pounds is significantly more serious than five pounds on a human frame. Dogs weighing as much as three or four times their healthy weight are a far too common sight, especially in emergency clinics where their owners bring them late at night when their inability to breathe or walk normally finally takes its toll. The easiest place to start with an overweight dog is cutting out all treats, table scraps, and fatty canned foods. The quality of food you feed your dog for their twice-daily meals is also important. Weight loss will be examined in-depth in part two. One key component of weight loss is found in our second resolution.
Different breeds of dogs have different exercise needs. A Chihuahua, for example, does not need the same frequent fetching or herding sessions as a Border Collie. Know and understand your dog’s specific needs taking both breed or breeds and personality into consideration. Taking a walk with your dog several days a week, playing fetch with them in the yard, or visiting your local dog park so they can run and play are all good ways to provide your dog with exercise. Added bonus: you will be burning calories yourself, thus working towards your own New Year’s health resolutions.
All dogs should have basic obedience skills. Poorly trained dogs are frustrating not just for you, their owner, but for everyone they come into contact with. Your dog should know how to “sit,” “stay,” “leave it,” and “come,” at a bare minimum, along with walking on a leash and being quiet when left home alone. Find a local obedience class, which has the added benefit of social time for both you and your dog. Another resolution met for yourself.
You think nothing of multiple visits to your own doctor for every sniffle and ache throughout the year, but when was the last time your dog had a checkup? Adult dogs need annual vaccines and physicals. Once your dog is officially a senior (over the age of seven), their visits should be increased to every six months. Seemingly minor changes in your dog’s behavior and habits could signify something larger, and the best way to stay on top of their health is by not missing those visits. Establishing a relationship with your veterinarian also gives you an office to call with questions without resorting to the yellow pages when the need arises. Also, be sure you know where to go for after-hours emergencies. Don’t wait until something serious happens. Precious moments wasted locating an emergency clinic count.
Although it may seem like a small factor in your dog’s overall health, grooming is important. Even dogs with short hair have needs. Keeping toenails trimmed, teeth brushed, and eyes and ears cleaned are all necessary parts of keeping your dog happy and healthy. Ask your veterinarian or groomer to show you how to trim toenails in order to avoid cutting the quick, which causes some bleeding, and also causes discomfort. Brushing teeth can be accomplished with a toothbrush or finger brush and dog-friendly toothpaste from your local pet store. Do not use your own toothpaste for your dog. It is not safe for them because they ingest whatever enters their mouth and human toothpaste is actually not edible. Much like cleaning your own ears, you must be careful not to go too deep into your dog’s ears. This is another skill you can learn from your veterinarian or groomer. Finally, there is the obvious need for brushing. Purchase whatever tools are appropriate for your dog’s hair type, and brush them frequently to keep their skin healthy and their hair mat-and-tangle-free. Brushing your dog is an ideal time to check for any new growths and lumps. Keeping your dog properly groomed prevents a multitude of health issues and infections.
This is a resolution for you. Spend more time playing with your dog and giving them attention. Time spent petting your dog has been shown in numerous studies to improve your physical and mental health by lowering your blood pressure and releasing endorphins, among other benefits. In one study, scientists found the type of dust produced in homes with dogs actually helps protect against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a strain of the common cold. Studies have also shown that pet owners make fewer visits to the doctor overall than those without pets. Your dog’s health and mood also benefit from spending more time with you. Dogs have a pack mentality, which means just as they suffer from lack of attention they also blossom when shown love and affection on a regular basis. As a dog owner you should be taking time every day to shower your dog with tender loving care.
These basic resolutions are a great way to get your dog’s year off to a good start. They also have the added benefit of improving your own health through exercise and time spent giving your dog attention. Happy New Year to you and your canine family.