Illustration: Na Kim

Four pet experts weigh in with smart ways to boost your furry pals’ health throughout this year and beyond.

Alison Ashton
December 18, 2017

Want to improve your pets’ health? Start by spending more time with them to better understand their habits.

“As humans, we think all dogs or cats have the same needs,” says Jeff Young, DVM, star of Animal Planet’s Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet. “But they’re all individual creatures, and you need to take that into account.” Here, more tips to ensure your pets are happy and healthy in 2018.

New Year. New Food. Healthy eating starts here with the Cooking Light Diet.

Be Active Every Day

“So many dogs live with cabin fever,” says Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, DACVAA, DACVB, chief scientific officer at the Center for Canine Behavior Studies and author of Pets on the Couch. Lack of activity is the root of many behavior problems he sees, and exercise often is the best medicine. “A tired dog is a good dog,” he says.

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Walking with your dog is great, but off-leash time is important, too. “It lets your dog be a dog,” he says. “They need time interacting with other dogs,” so if Fido’s an only pup, visit the dog park often or set up puppy playdates.

And don’t save the fun for the weekend. “We see a lot of what I call ‘weekend warrior syndrome,’ ” says Young, when a pet that’s sedentary during the week gets injured after joining an owner on a 5-mile Saturday hike. Just like people, pets need daily activity to stay in shape.

Illustration: Na Kim

Reevaluate Their Diet

“The first three or four ingredients in your dog’s food should be meat or meat by-products, so read labels carefully,” says Jan Pol, DVM, star of Nat Geo Wild’s The Incredible Dr. Pol.

Dogs have evolved to be omnivores, so Fido’s diet can also include some vegetables, fruits, and even grains. And limit extras. Doling out a kernel or two of your dog’s regular kibble and a pat on the head is treat enough, Pol says. Really.

RELATED: 11 Foods That You Should Never Feed Your Pets

Cats are true carnivores and need a diet that’s 80 to 90% meat, says Jackson Galaxy, host of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell and author of Total Cat Mojo. “Cats love variety in their food, so switch around their flavors,” Pol adds. But go easy on fish, which can upset a cat’s digestive system.

How you feed cats is important, too. “In nature, cats are hunters, not grazers,” Galaxy explains. He doesn’t advocate leaving out a bowl of kibble for kitties to nosh anytime. Instead, feed Fifi at designated times, but play with her first (to mimic the “hunt”) before serving food (as the “kill”). Mealtime play also ensures she gets her exercise.

Spruce Up the House

“It’s your duty to make the house as pet friendly as it can be,” says Dodman.

Provide toys that appeal to all the senses, and rotate them to prevent boredom, Galaxy says. That’s especially important for indoor cats.

Yes, cats should live indoors. “The life span of an outdoor cat is, on average, about four years,” says Dodman. “For an indoor cat, it’s 14.” He keeps his own feline entertained with a bird feeder hung outside the window— within view of a high-rise cat condo with ample space to climb, hide, and relax.