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Dr. Will Draper

It can be difficult to stay on top of what's best for your own health and well-being, so knowing what's good for your pet may seem a little confusing.

Keep your feline friends and canine companions healthy and happy by following these 10 pet care tips the pros want you to know.

1. Regular Exams are Vital

Just like you, your pet can get heart problems, develop arthritis, or have a toothache. The best way to prevent such problems or catch them early is to see your veterinarian every year.

Regular exams are "the single most important way to keep pets healthy," says Kara M. Burns, MS, Med, LVT, president of the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians.

Annual vet visits should touch on nutrition and weight control, says Oregon veterinarian Marla J. McGeorge, DVM, as well as cover recommended vaccinations, parasite control, dental exam, and health screenings.

2. Spay and Neuter Your Pets

Eight million to 10 million pets end up in U.S. shelters every year. Some are lost, some have been abandoned, and some are homeless.

Here's an easy way to avoid adding to that number -- spay and neuter your cats and dogs. It's a procedure that can be performed as early as six to eight weeks of age.

Spaying and neutering doesn't just cut down on the number of unwanted pets; it has other substantial benefits for your pet. Studies show it also lowers the risk of certain cancers, Burns tells WebMD, and reduces a pet's risk of getting lost by decreasing the tendency to roam.

3. Prevent Parasites

Fleas are the most common external parasite that can plague pets, and they can lead to irritated skin, hair loss, hot spots, and infection. Fleas can also introduce other parasites into your cat or dog. All it takes is for your pet to swallow one flea, and it can to end up with tapeworms, the most common internal parasite affecting dogs and cats.

Year-round prevention is key, says McGeorge, who suggests regular flea and intestinal parasite control, as well as heartworm prevention in endemic areas.

Because some parasite medications made for dogs can be fatal to cats, talk to your vet about keeping your precious pets worm-free, flea-free -- and safe.

4. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Many dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese. And just like people, obesity in pets comes with health risks that include diabetes, arthritis, and cancer.

Overfeeding is the leading cause of obesity, says Douglas, who adds that keeping our pets trim can add years to their lives.

Because pets need far fewer calories than most of us think -- as little as 185-370 a day for a small, inactive dog; just 240-350 calories daily for a 10-pound cat -- talk to your vet, who can make feeding suggestions based on your pet's age, weight, and lifestyle.