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

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Enriching Your Pets' Lives as They Do Yours

Pet Column for the week of April 27, 2009

Related information:

Services - Human-Animal Bond

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

In the early morning hours of February 2008 a rescued golden retriever named Bella uncharacteristically jumped on her owner's bed and wouldn't stop barking. According to the Associated Press article, the dog's owner soon realized that this was no ploy for attention. Because of Bella's quick actions, the owner and her young daughter were able to escape a deadly fire that went undetected by smoke alarms.

May 3-9, 2009, is National Pet Week and this story illustrates one example of the many benefits of owning a pet. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that living with an animal companion increases your quality of life, and sometimes just might save it. In exchange for their unconditional love, there are a few things pet owners can do to return the favor.

Dr. Erika Evans, a small animal medicine and surgery intern at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, explains that pets need both mental and physical exercise no matter what their species. "Take your dog for a run or a walk, suggests Dr. Evans, "just remember that they may not be in their best shape following the winter months, so go slow."

While it may be tempting to pour your pooch a bowl full of Gatorade after its first Spring run, fresh clean water is best. Over supplementation is becoming a common, preventable problem that veterinarians are now seeing. While you may think you are helping your pet by giving them certain vitamins or fancy water, "many over the counter products can result in disaster if used inappropriately, so consult your veterinarian before supplementing your pet with anything," notes Dr. Evans.

For all the indoor cat owners out there who think that, short of a cat treadmill, there's no chance that their feline friend can work out, Dr. Evans has some tips for you, too. "Cats are really predisposed to weight gain and keeping them active with multiple toys can be helpful," she notes. There are also newer toys on the market in which you can put food, making the cat work to get its food out. In addition to balls of string and laser lights, don't forget that there are halters and leashes available for cats as well.

Besides fun and games, don't forget to pay careful attention to your pets' health. Make sure your four-legged family members are up to date on all vaccines and receive routine heartworm and flea prevention. Dental disease, which is linked to other disorders, affects the majority of dogs and cats in some fashion. Talk to your veterinarian about routine brushing of your pets' chompers as well as whether or not they need a dental cleaning in the near future.

As National Pet Week approaches, try to think of a few new creative ways to spend quality time with your pet. It also might be a good time to take your much-loved family member to the veterinarian for a routine check-up. While you are there you can talk about starting a new exercise regime, regardless if your pet is at a healthy weight, and what else you can do to make sure your pet lives a healthy, happy life for as long as possible.