Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Top Ten Ways to Love Your Pet


Pet Column for the week of May 1, 2006

Related information:

Services - Human-Animal Bond

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Brookelyn Nitzkin
Information Specialist

Wallet, cell phone, insurance cards, plastic toothpick, poop bag, leash, and tennis ball: the contents of a dog owner's purse.

It seems that pets are playing an ever more important role in the lives of people today, whether it be service dogs, farmhands, or simply family companions. There are many ways that one can pay tribute to the furry four-leggeds that invade our purses, our homes, and our hearts. Here are ten ways that owners can help enrich the lives of their pets:

1) Exercise. Although it probably comes as no surprise, exercise is one of the most important things that we can give to our pets. Exercise has the same health and mental benefits for animals as it does for humans. It can help reduce the risk of arthritis, joint disease, and diabetes while also giving your pet an outlet for his excess energy.

2) Discipline by positive reinforcement. Dogs who are disciplined are better behaved and are allowed greater freedoms than those who are undisciplined. Well-behaving dogs are more easily brought out of the house, left out of crates, and generally cause less stress to their owners.

3) Regular visits to the veterinarian. Health is at the core of everything we and our pets do. If we don't feel well, it is difficult to be our best. Regular visits to the veterinarian will, at the very least, provide your dog with their yearly vaccinations. These vaccinations help make it safe for your pet to be around other pets as well as help prevent diseases that could otherwise be very serious to you or your pet's health. Regular physical exams can also help to catch any health problems before they are out of control.

4) Good nutrition. Contrary to many humans' belief, pizza crusts and table scraps don't offer pets adequate nutrition. There are many commercial pet foods that offer options for well-balanced, moderate-cost, high-quality diets for our pets. Your local veterinarian can provide some guidance in this area.

5) Enrichment. Many animals suffer from pure boredom. And while this may not seem like the biggest problem in the world it can manifest itself in problematic behaviors such as chewing, house destruction, and self-mutilation. Many animals lacking a mental challenge may seek out their own challenges, like destroying the garbage. For example, the Kong company manufactures toys that provide this type of mental challenge. These products allow owners to hide treats inside a toy and the dog or cat will spend hours trying to figure out how to get it out.

6) Grooming. Not only can regular grooming make for a more pleasant smelling dog or cat, grooming can help to prevent health problems. Matting of the hair can cause discomfort and provide a breeding ground for skin infections. Not to mention that all that extra hair makes for a very hot pet in the summer time. Regular grooming can also help owners detect problems before they get out of hand, such as ticks or fleas. Regular ear cleanings and clipping can help prevent ear infections.

7) Reassurance and positive reinforcement. It is easy to yell and scream when your pet gets into mischief, but it's equally as easy to overlook their positive behaviors. Like humans, our furry friends enjoy being commended for doing the right thing, whether it's a moment of obedience or simply just being a good pet.

8) Socialization. By allowing your pet to be exposed to many different things you are creating a well-rounded pet that is able to relax and behave in most situations. Practicing simple things at home, such as touching his paws, opening his mouth, and touching his ears, will make routine events, such as nail clipping or medicine administration, easier on your pet and others around him. Regular exposure to other animals allows your pet to learn how to not only have good manners around people, but it teaches them to have good manners with other dogs as well. Human beings greet each other in a certain way such as a hug or a hand shake. Pets also greet each other in a specific way, and they are taught proper pet manners from being exposed to other pets. This socialization will allow you to bring your pet more places and allow him to enjoy himself in parks and other public places.

9) Time. Time is a valued commodity these days, but often ten minutes of brushing your pet can provide an excellent bonding routine. It helps take care of some grooming needs, helps socialize your pet, and allows you to spend one-on-one time with your animal. Another quick solution is a 5-10 minute game of catch with your dog or cat. Again, you are spending time with your pet and taking care of their need for exercise as well.

10) Love. The most important thing that you can give your pet-and probably already do-is love. However, it's important to remember that providing love does not always mean providing treats. Oftentimes, when one feels as if their pet is being neglected, it's easy to offer a treats to compensate for that which is lacking. Like humans, the rate of obese animals is increasing ever quickly, and an obese animal is neither good for the animal or the owner.

In general, there is no one good way to make a happy pet. Some pets need one thing more than another, but if you stick to some general guidelines you can be sure that your pet will know how much you love them.

For more information about keeping your pet healthy and happy, consult your veterinarian.