As you are considering New Year's resolutions for yourself for 2012, make sure to include your pet! The most common resolutions we make seem to be centered around better physical and mental health so why not try and focus on these things for your pet as well!?
First Resolution: Measure food!
How about having the goal of helping your pet to achieve his or her ideal weight? Obesity is the one factor that can take away years of quality life from your pet faster than any other. One of the most common mistakes that we see is owners free feeding their pets. This is when the bowl is filled without regard to measuring quantity. Find out how much your pet should be eating (FYI your veterinarian can calculate a recommended caloric intake based on age, activity level and body condition) and adapt him/her to a scheduled, measured feeding routine! (Check out Dr. Rainwater's articles on dog and cat weight loss for more information.)
Second Resolution: No more table scraps!
I can't tell you how many times I hear owners confess the junk food that their pets get - ice cream, fast food hamburgers, chips, etc. There are also junk food pet treats such as Pupperoni and extra large Milk-Bones (read: king size Snickers bar) that are just as bad. Believe me; I understand how much joy it brings to see your pet indulging in a special treat! Instead of the "junk food" though, how about trying raw carrots, green beans, or homemade baked sweet potato slices to name a few healthy options? My dogs still get their chew treats once or twice weekly, but we give vegetables as their daily rewards and my dogs LOVE them! They act just as excited for the vegetables as they did for the store bought treats! Give it a try!
Third Resolution: Exercise your pet more!
Not only will this resolution benefit your pet's physical health, but it will benefit their mental health as well. Take your dog on daily walks or runs depending on his/her ability. Play a daily game of fetch or Frisbee in the back yard! Try a new toy for your cat (ideas: remote control mouse, laser light, or feeding toy) and play with it daily. As you exercise your pet, you are helping their mental health as well. We see so many behavior problems that most likely stem from lack of mental stimulation!
Fourth Resolution: Train for life!
Adopt an attitude that training your pet is a lifelong goal: training is NEVER over for a pet! Have you resolved to put your dog away when strangers come over as opposed to teaching him/her good manners? Have you resolved to let your cat use the sofa as a scratching post because "the sofa's old and we want to get rid of it anyway"? Have you resolved to allow your dog to jump on you to demand attention? Pets thrive when they know what behaviors are expected of them and when they are positively rewarded for those behaviors. I recommend all new puppy owners adopt the philosophy: "nothing in life is free." This means, ask basic commands before rewards such as getting them to sit before they are fed, let outdoors, or before you pet them. Adult dogs and cats can also be taught these behaviors to help treat and/or prevent a few of the behavior problems that are common in adult pets. Try and teach your dog or cat better manners this year! Everyone will benefit!