It’s the time of year to think about New Year’s resolutions. These promises tend to involve habits that lead to improvements both to one’s self and to the loved ones around us. Fido and Fluffy adore us and are, unmistakably, in our circle of loved ones around us.

Sadly, the life span of cats and dogs is much shorter than ours, just 10 to 15 years, give or take. Pets spend much of that decade or so of life just waiting for us. They wait for us to come home. And then, when we are home, they spend their time waiting for us to really notice them. When we notice them, they wait for us to interact with them. That’s a sobering thought.

Of course, it’s not our intent. People are busy. We love our pets, and it brings us joy just to have them around.

So let’s think what we can do about that. Let’s think what we can do, starting now, to make our pets happier. It really is easy, because all your pet really wants is a long, healthy life with you.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Weight loss. Did you know that over 50% of cats and dogs in this country are overweight or obese? Our pets do not choose to be fat; they eat what we give them.

Unfortunately, overweight pets live shorter lives and have more health problems. Illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, pancreatitis and cancer are more common in pets with extra pounds. That affects both quality of life with you and quantity of life with you.

Vow now to help your pets maintain a healthy weight. If you are struggling with this goal, talk to your veterinary team for suggestions to help.

Increase exercise. This has multiple benefits both for your pet and for you. Exercise helps pets maintain a healthy weight. It also provides mental stimulation. Most importantly, though, it gives your pet precious quality time with you.

As an added bonus, there are documented health benefits for people who have pets, and many are attributed to activities such as regular dog walking. These benefits include improved blood pressure, cholesterol levels, body weight and mental well-being.

Mental stimulation. Pets naturally have very inquisitive minds, and they enjoy mental stimulation. Think about what you can do for your Fido and Fluffy to help keep their minds busy.

For some dogs, regular doggy day care, long nature walks or agility classes can be helpful. Other dogs need a “job” and feel much happier doing this.

Stimulating feline minds can be fun and easy, too. Indoor cats definitely crave more than the four walls around them. Simple modifications such as tall cat furniture at windows are helpful. Bird feeders that suction to the window are also endless entertainment. Moving cat food stations around the home simulates hunting for food and satisfies natural instincts, too.

Dental care. Pets have teeth, too. This year, promise your pets that you will give them a pain-free mouth. Pets suffer from many of the same oral ailments that affect people. Painful conditions such as gingivitis, periodontal disease, broken teeth and abscessed teeth also cause discomfort for Fido and Fluffy.

Pets with dental pain rarely cry out, and they usually keep eating. Ask your veterinarian to check your pet’s teeth. Or contact a board-certified veterinary dentist for an appointment.

Accessories. This is fun, and can help Fido and Fluffy feel better, too. New pet beds, fresh collars and reflective leashes are a few ideas. The ultimate gift for a lost pet is to be returned to you; if you haven’t updated your pet’s ID tag or microchip information, vow to do it now.

Aches and pains. Is your Fido or Fluffy in any discomfort? We’d like to think not; after all, if our pets are eating and not crying out, then they must feel OK, right? Actually, that’s not the case. Most pets will continue to eat despite significant pain, and rarely will they vocalize and cry out in pain.

This year, promise Fido and Fluffy that you will be more vigilant to changes that might indicate discomfort or pain. Signs to watch for include bad breath, limping or gait abnormalities, changes in drinking or urinating, alterations in appetite or bathroom habits, and increased sleeping or less interaction with you. Any of those signs may be your pet’s way of telling you that things aren’t right.

Whatever you choose for your pet-friendly New Year’s resolution, remember that you are the apple of your pet’s eye. Even on a busy day, that extra belly scratch, ball time or gentle cuddle will make you a hero to them.

Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital at Crossroads Plaza in Salisbury. Do you have questions for her? Send them to heidibasslerdvm@comcast.net.

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