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Whether you’ve just adopted a dog or cat for the first time, or have been a proud owner for years, we don’t need to sell you on the benefits of your furry four-legged friends. Let’s be honest, most of the time they’re better company than your human pals, right?

In addition to proving companionship, cuddles, and plenty of laughs, these guys keep us legitimately healthy, too. Research has shown that spending time with a dog or cat can reduce stress and blood pressure, increase happiness, boost immune system functioning, and even improve your relationship with other humans. And they seem to do it all with a smile and a wag (or prrr).

Clearly, they earn their keep. Which means we, as their caretakers, should be taking extra special care of them, too. Here are the basics to ensure each day is filled with health and happiness for both of you.

Get An Annual Physical

Early detection is key with dogs and cats, as they age on an accelerated schedule and a serious illness could progress significantly within a year. This visit should include a complete blood count and blood chemistry panel, a dental check, and a review of vaccinations your pet may need. After age 7 for dogs and 10 for cats, veterinarians often suggest twice-yearly visits to stay on top of any potential health issues, which become more common with age.

Move Regularly

The stats are sobering—about 53% of dogs and 58% of cats are overweigh or obese. Excess weight, in turn, can lead to serious problems like Type 2 diabetes, joint problems such as arthritis, and cardiovascular disease. One way to ensure they stay fit and trim is with regular movement. For dogs, this means at least 30 minutes of exercise per day (this will vary depending on breed and age, so consult your vet), which can include walks and games like fetch. For cats, it’s a bit trickier, but one tactic is to scatter their food in various areas around the house so they have to “hunt” for it. Another is to periodically use a laser pointer that your cat can chase around a room.

Think your pet is a healthy weight? Double check by giving them a quick rub down. At the appropriate weight dogs and cats should only have a very thin layer of fat over their ribs and show an hourglass shape when you look at them from above.

Pick A Quality Food

When it comes to dog and cat food, there are increasingly more healthy options available—but there are plenty of cheaper, low-quality ones, too, which are more likely to end up at the center of pet food recalls.

So it helps to have a basic, bare minimum set of rules to follow when selecting your pet’s kibble: You don’t have to go grain-free, but grain shouldn’t be one of the first two ingredients on the label; the protein source should list the specific animal (think “turkey” not “poultry”); and the food should be free of “byproduct meals,” corn and corn products, which are used as cheap filler ingredients, and chemical preservatives such as BHT and BHA. 

Talk to your vet about your pet’s specific nutritional needs, and stay abreast of pet food recalls by following the American Veterinary Medical Association on Twitter (@AVMARecallWatch) or Facebook.

Keep Pests At Bay, The Smart Way

Whether you’re taking a more holistic or conventional approach to veterinary care, you’ll want to take steps to prevent fleas, ticks, and heartworm. The specific means of protection may vary, but the key is to use a vet-recommended medication or treatment plan, in conjunction with taking steps to keep pests out of your lawn and home such as washing pet bedding and vacuuming weekly, and keeping your grass cut short.

If you go the medication route, you should make sure that your pet is only being treated for pests that are truly a problem in your specific area—talk to your vet about this and consult pest prevalence maps on capcvet.org.

For more on how to raise a healthy pet, check out our stories below. 

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