Our pets give us unconditional love. In return, it’s our job to keep them healthy and happy.
Food is medicine for pets, just as it is for people, says Sarah Reidenbach, DVM, a veterinarian in northern California and CEO of the nonprofit organization, Ruthless Kindness. If your dog’s or cat’s diet lacks certain vitamins and minerals, the nutritional shortfall can show up as hair loss, skin infections, or a noticeable sluggishness, she says.
With so many pet food choices available — wet, dry, refrigerated, home cooked, grain-free — how do you know which one is best for your furry friend? “It’s completely overwhelming,” Reidenbach acknowledges. “Really, what works for your pet is your guiding principle.”
She recommends that you check the package to make sure the brand meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards, which certifies that the food contains balanced nutrition.
Stick to the recommended portion size, and don’t give in to those sad puppy eyes when your pet begs for treats. Obese dogs and cats can get the same chronic diseases as overweight humans, including diabetes and arthritis.
Exercise is essential for your pet’s physical health and mental stimulation. But unlike humans, there aren’t any guidelines on how much activity they need. Different breeds have different requirements, Reidenbach says. You can get a sense of your pet’s activity level when you play together. “Some breeds and personalities definitely need more stimulation than walking,” she adds.
If you have a high-energy dog, try an agility course, or take your dog with you for a hike, skate, or swim. For more of a bonding experience, do a downward facing dog with your real dog during an in-person or online yoga class. Just make sure your dog is well-behaved enough to stay by your side through the whole class.
Cats aren’t the best walking companions, but you can still keep them from getting too sedentary by incorporating play into every day. “Most cats like toys that remind them of prey — things like dangling feathers or little cloth mice,” Reidenbach suggests.