More than 85 million families in the U.S. have at least one pet – the overwhelming majority dogs and cats. It should’t come as a surprise because pets can provide us with many health benefits. These companions can lower blood pressure, ease loneliness and provide opportunities to exercise and socialize.
With proper care, our pets can live to be 15, 20 or even 25 years old (gulp). Here are five ways we can nurture long, healthy lives for our furry friends.
Provide a healthy diet. Just as people need to stay trim for optimal health, so do pets. Choose the healthiest food you can afford and follow the package (or your vet’s) instructions for how much and how frequently to feed your pet. Dogs and cats have different dietary needs, but both will feel better and likely live longer with high-quality nutrition in moderate amounts.
Keep treats to a minimum, and try to use them as rewards for training or good behavior. Give your pet clean, fresh water every day. Contact your vet if your pet seems to be drinking more or less than usual.
Provide regular exercise. For dogs, it’s physically and emotionally important to keep them active and engaged with regular exercise. Depending on the breed, your dog will be happiest fetching a toy, exploring a woodland path or running for extended periods.
Not only will exercise extend your dog’s life, it will help keep its joints limber and lessen the chances of arthritis. Don't discount mental exercise either. Puzzle-type toys that make your dog “work” for a treat, or hiding treats so your dog must hunt for them, will keep those mental wheels turning and provide enjoyment.
Brush your pet’s teeth. You might be surprised to learn how much dental health can affect the longevity of your dog or cat. Poor dental hygiene can harm a pet’s heart, kidneys, joints and digestive tract, cause it to eat less and make it feel sick in general.
Pets need to have their teeth brushed a couple of times a week, at least, to lessen the chances of tooth decay and gum disease. It’s best to start when your pets are young so they get used to the routine. Your vet can show you the best way to brush teeth and the best cleaning products to use.
Spay or neuter your pet. The Human Society of the United States and many other animal welfare groups promote spaying and neutering as a way to curb behavioral problems and increase a pet’s lifespan. Medical evidence shows that dogs and cats that are spayed or neutered have lower rates of some diseases, including cancer.
However, recent studies have shown that some dogs can develop joint disorders if they are spayed or neutered before they are a year old. Talk to your vet about the best time to spay or neuter your pet.
See the vet regularly. Schedule regular medical checkups for your pet. Catching any health problems early could lessen their impact and lower your vet bills. Younger animals should see the vet at least once a year and older animals twice a year.
Do you have any tips for boosting your pet’s life span? Share them in the comments below.