5. Get Regular Vaccinations
For optimal health, pets need regular vaccinations against common ills, such as rabies, distemper, feline leukemia, and canine hepatitis.
How often your dog or cat needs to be immunized depends on their age, lifestyle, health, and risks, says McGeorge, so talk to your vet about the vaccinations that make sense for your pet.
6. Provide an Enriched Environment
An enriched environment is another key to the long-term health and welfare of your canine and feline friends, says C.A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, a veterinary nutritionist and professor at Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center in Columbus.
Pets need mental stimulation, say the pros, which may mean daily walks for your pooch, and scratching posts, window perches, and toys for your cat. It means play time with you, which not only keeps your pet's muscles toned and boredom at bay, it also strengthens your bond with your four-footed companions.
7. ID Microchip Your Pet
Lack of identification means as few as 14% of pets ever find their way home after getting lost. Fortunately, "microchipping allows for the pet to be reunited with its family," no matter how far away it is when found, Burns says.
About the size of a rice grain, a microchip is inserted under the skin in less than a second. It needs no battery and can be scanned by a vet or an animal control officer in seconds.
Be sure to register the chip ID with the chip's maker. A current registration is the vital last step in making certain your pet can always find his way home.
8. Pets Need Dental Care, Too
Just like you, your pet can suffer from gum disease, tooth loss, and tooth pain. And just like you, regular brushing and oral cleanings help keep your pet's teeth strong and healthy.
"Dental disease is one of the most common preventable illnesses in pets," Ohio veterinarian Vanessa Douglas tells WebMD, "yet many people never even look in their pet's mouths."
It's estimated 80% of dogs and 70% cats show signs of dental disease by age three, leading to abscesses, loose teeth, and chronic pain. In addition to regular dental cleanings by your vet, "periodontal disease can be avoided by proper dental care by owners," Douglas says. Owner care includes brushing, oral rinses, and dental treats. Your vet is a good source of information about brushing techniques, oral rinses, and dental treats.
9. Never Give Pets People Medication
Medicines made for humans can kill your pet, says Georgia veterinarian Jean Sonnenfield, DVM. As a matter of fact, in 2010 the ASPCA listed human drugs in the top 10 pet toxins.
NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen are the most common pet poisoning culprits, but antidepressants, decongestants, muscle relaxants, and acetaminophen are just a few of the human drugs that pose health risks to pets. Human drugs can cause kidney damage, seizures, and cardiac arrest in a dog or cat.