Making pet resolutions

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 3, 2004

If reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, preventing heart disease and exercising more are on your list of New Year's resolutions - you may want to add one more resolution - to take even better care of your pet. Studies show pets provide many health benefits including all those just listed.

But for your pet to keep you healthy - with long walks and good company - you have to keep your pet healthy.

"Make sure they've been vaccinated," said Dr. Louis Jones, a veterinarian in Andalusia. "Worming them is also a priority. There are some varieties of worms that can be transmitted to humans."

There are many households in the area with new pets - a puppy or a kitten under the Christmas tree is a favorite choice, if not always a wise one. Dr. Jones urges the new pet owners to get their animals checked out and set up on a regular schedule to make sure all the shots and booster shots are received at the right time.

A combination shot for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, parainfluenza and is given at 6-8 weeks, with follow up shots, then annual boosters.

"They can get rabies as early as three months," said Jones, who recommends that age for the rabies shot. It's also the age, he said, to start dogs on heartworm prevention.

"It's carried in mosquitoes," said Jones. "Your dog will be exposed."

He said flea control was also important, since the fleas can carry a variety of diseases.

Fore cats, he said the important vaccinations included those for feline distemper, feline leukemia, and viral rhinotracheitis. Like dogs, cats must be vaccinated for rabies, and like dogs, cats should visit their vet at least once a year for booster shots and a general check up.

But there is more to keeping your new pet healthy than simply giving it shots every year or so. A quick glance at the grocery store pet section will tell you that there are almost as many special diets for animals these days as there Are for people, but the important thing, said Jones, is to remember that a people diet is not good for

a pet.

"Dog food is so well balanced if our diets were as good, we'd be in much better health," said Jones. "Give them any good dog food or cat food - no table scraps."

Just a few pounds on a dog or cat can lead to health problems - and like people, exercise is the best way to take those pounds off. Resolve to exercise your pet. To complement your pet's healthy diet, it's important to make sure they are getting sufficient exercise. Taking walks with

your dog is not only good for him, but gets you in shape as well.

"They need exercise just like me and you," said Jones. "Walking every day is good for a dog, just like it is for us."

If you can't

find time for walks, scheduled playtime can burn a lot of calories. Simply

throwing a ball can provide much needed exercise for your dog.

Encourage cats to leap and stretch by dangling, wiggling and sliding toys in the air or along the ground.

If your pets are overweight, make sure they are on a weight reduction plan that includes 20 to 60 minutes of exercise a day plus a decrease in their caloric intake. Consult a veterinarian for a program specifically designed for

your pet.

Again, pets share something in common with their human owners - the need for good dental care.

"It's been proven that keeping you pet's teeth clean can add two or three years to its life," said Jones. He recommended starting them young, to get them used to having their teeth brushed. If your pet is not used to teeth brushing, start slowly by

massaging their teeth with a washcloth for about 15 seconds, slowly working

up to the goal of brushing all of their teeth.

Overall pet care also includes spaying and neutering, both of which Jones recommends having done before complete sexual maturity.

"We're doing some puppies as early as 8 weeks," he said. "That bit about letting them have at least one littler of puppies or kittens first is just a myth."

Jones said many animal shelters and animal adoption agencies have undertaken this early schedule to prevent unwanted pet population growth, by being able to adopt the animals out already fixed.

Jones also recommended keeping your pets dry and out of the wind as the cold season comes on stronger.

"Dogs can handle 10 to 15 degree weather, as long as the wind's not blowing on them, so keep them out of the wind," said Jones.

When it comes to grooming, take care of your cat or dog's coat by brushing them at least once a week. Brushing cuts down on hair showing up on furniture and clothing and for cats, it reduces the incidence of hairballs.

One other resolution you can make to protect your pet include making sure your pets have current identification tags on at all times and considering lighted or reflective collars, leashes and tags for easy sighting at night.