FIVE WAYS TO RING IN A NEW YEAR FOR YOUR PET
By Kim Campbell Thornton and Dr. Marty Becker
Got your New Year's 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, but 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, cats, too) 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.
Dr. Tony Buffington, a veterinarian, nutrition specialist and professor in the department of veterinary clinical sciences at Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbus 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. 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.
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? -- B.G., via email
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
Friends with benefits?
Cats, dogs have your back
-- Pets are just as good as people when it comes to providing the social support we need for psychological and physical well being. A Miami University (Ohio) department of psychology study published in the December 2011 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that pet owners had more self-esteem and got more exercise than non-pet owners and were more conscientious and less fearful. The study also found that having a pet helped ward off negative feelings caused by social rejection. Who's the better friend -- a cat or a dog? It doesn't matter; living with either one will make you happier and healthier.
-- Love to travel, but miss your pet while you're gone? If you're in Maui, you can lessen your loneliness with a visit to the Maui Humane Society. Its Helping Paws Visitor Program allows tourists to walk dogs, bathe puppies, groom cats or socialize puppies and kittens by playing with them. Visitors can participate on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m. after attending a brief orientation. You'll get a warm, fuzzy feeling from helping out, as well as a Pampered Paws certificate from Spa Grande at Grand Wailea, entitling you to 15 percent off any regularly priced spa treatment.
-- Miley the cat has a special job: He's mascot and chief calming agent at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center's Community Living Center. A beloved fixture at the CLC's hospice unit, he arrived by way of the San Francisco SPCA, which found him living rough at a housing project. The cat takes his name from Fort Miley in San Francisco, where the center is located. The 7-year-old tabby, who has been on the job for three years, welcomes new patients, naps with residents, greets visitors at the elevator and escorts them to rooms, and goes on rounds to check in on his "purrsonnel." -- Kim Campbell Thornton and Dr. Marty Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are joined by professional dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.