Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Pet Resolutions

Five ways to ring in a new year for your dog or cat

By Kim Campbell Thornton and Dr. Marty Becker

Andrews McMeel Syndication

It’s a few days into the new year; do you have your resolutions ready yet? Yeah, we don't either. A good place to start, though, is with your pet. Helping your cat or dog change his life for the better has benefits for both of you. A healthier, happier pet not only puts less pressure on your wallet, it also brings more smiles to your face multiple times a day. Here are some ideas to get you started.

-- Brush those teeth. Keeping your pet's pearly whites clean isn't just about improving his breath, although that is definitely a bonus. Brushing your pet's teeth several times a week -- yes, even for cats -- prevents the buildup of plaque and tartar, which trap bacteria and eventually cause periodontal disease. Brushing reduces the number of bacteria circulating through your pet's system and helps ensure that he keeps more of his teeth into old age. Dentures aren't an option for him, after all.

-- Watch his weight. Does your dog or cat look like a plump cocktail wiener on toothpicks? That's not normal or healthy. Use your eyes and hands to determine if Roxy or Snowball could stand to lose a few pounds.

Nutrition specialist Tony Buffington, DVM, says that when you look at a pet from the side, you should see an abdomen that's tucked up, not hanging low. As you look down at him, you should see an hourglass figure, with the waist curving inward just before the hind legs. When you pet your dog or cat on the side or back, you should be able to feel the ribs or spinal bumps, but not see them.

-- Measure your pet's food. This is one of the easiest ways to help a dog or cat slim down. Instead of leaving food out all the time, give a set amount once or twice a day. Use the recommendation on the bag or can as a starting point, but recognize that individual animals have different metabolisms and may need more or less than the suggested amount. Ask your veterinarian's advice about how much your pet should be eating, and don't be afraid to experiment.

-- Start an exercise plan. Getting off the couch and on the move is good for both of you. For dog owners, take a brisk walk or play a rousing game of fetch. For cats, dangle or pull a fishing-pole toy for them to chase. Wriggle the pole a little so the object on the end of the string resembles a bug or other critter scurrying along the ground. Your dog may enjoy this kind of play, too, as long as you don't let him know he's chasing a cat toy.

Better yet, have your dog or cat "work" for his meals by hiding small amounts of food around the house (this works only if you have a single pet), placing food up high -- on a washer or dryer, for instance -- so cats have to make an effort to get to it, or placing kibble in puzzle toys that pets must manipulate to make the food come out. These are all good ways to exercise your furry predator's body and brain and make his day more interesting, especially if you're off at work and he has nothing else to do.

-- Make time for him. When your pet nudges your hand or bumps you with his head, don't just automatically hand him a treat. Instead, reward him with a scratch between the ears or a few minutes of play. You'll both be better for it.


Newspaper habit

frustrates owner

Q: I recently adopted a stray cat. For the most part, she is adjusting well to life in our home, but she has one problem that's driving me crazy. She urinates inside the litter box, but she defecates on the newspapers I've placed beneath it. I've tried adding two more boxes, but she's not getting the message. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Cats can definitely be quirky when it comes to using the litter box. You are doing all the right things, but let's see if we can dig a little deeper for a solution.

What type of litter are you using? You might try offering different types of litter in the other boxes. Your cat might be fine with peeing on clay litter but prefer to defecate in a box filled with sandy clumping litter.

You might also try presenting her with one of the litters made from recycled paper. For whatever reason, she may simply like its texture and smell. It's made to produce little dust, and it's nontoxic. Be sure you don't fill the box with too much of it. Keep the level at 2 to 3 inches, or it may be difficult to find your cat's deposits. You can even try lining the litter box with sheets of newspaper, lifting them out and tossing them as they're used.

Finally, try scooping the box as soon as you know it has been used. Your cat may not like defecating in the box if it already has urine in it. If that's not possible, consider investing in a box that automatically scoops the litter after every use. You both might be happier. -- Kim Campbell Thornton

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Company shares

unique pet names

-- What’s in a name? For a Chinese crested dog called Scarlett No Haira and a dark, moody cat known as Edgar Allen Paw, it is the distinction of heading up the list of Nationwide’s Wackiest Pet Names of 2020. Each year, the pet health insurance provider checks its roster of pet clients to seek out the most imaginative names of the year, as voted by Nationwide’s pet parents. Without further ado, the remaining finalists in the dog category are Anakin Tailwagger, Andre Igoudogla, Joan of Bark, Madame Squishy Van Wrinkleface, Stella Barktois, Sugar Bubbles Fancypants, The Other Dude, Trillium Points Jacobs Ladder and Zoe Max Berger Sacks. In the cat, er, category are Admiral Turbo Meowington, Captain Sushi, Copurrrnicus, Ella Whiskers Oreo Hurst, Fernsbane the Inquisitive, Macaroni Bob, Mingus Pookiebutts, Neville Furbottom and Tika Meowsala.

-- Contrary to popular belief, pets' fur coats don't make them immune to the cold. Protect pets from winter's onslaught by shortening walks in extremely cold weather and bringing them indoors when temps drop below freezing, even if they have long or thick coats. Animals who are old or arthritic are more at risk of falling on snow or ice, and pets with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or Cushing's disease may have difficulty regulating their body temperature, so it's important to protect them when they go outdoors. And cat lovers: Knock on the hood before starting your car to make sure you scare out any cats who may have sought shelter inside your vehicle when the engine was warm.

-- Paw maintenance is one of the most important aspects of grooming your dog. That includes trimming nails regularly, trimming hair between the toes or on the bottom of the feet, and protecting pads from injuries such as burns and bruises. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.