By Susan Spisak
A new year – and new decade – often brings resolutions to be a better version of yourself. You know those resolutions – take care of your health, exercise more often, and have a better outlook on life. Why not pledge to be a better dog parent, so in turn your fur friend can be healthier and happier, too? Here are a few suggestions so Buddy can be the best version of himself in 2020 and beyond.
Start with his health. An annual wellness exam is an excellent way for your vet to monitor and quickly address any changes in his condition. Pets can mask illness and you may not be aware of them on a day-to-day basis. Don’t neglect the lifesaving heartworm preventatives as well as flea/tick, too. Most vet offices will sell them monthly to accommodate the budget-minded like me.
Remember his oral health. Brush weekly – and if your dog is freaked out by a toothbrush, use a soft bristle finger brush. Squeeze pet toothpaste on the brush and run across the teeth and gums. (My vet recommended Virbac C.E.T. Enzymatic Dog & Cat Toothpaste, and it’s available in several flavors online. My boys love the vanilla- mint.) Benefits include not only fresher breath but healthier teeth and gums.
If your vet feels your dog would benefit from a professional dental cleaning, consider doing so as multiple organ systems can be negatively impacted from poor oral hygiene. Some owners decline this service due to cost. Ask if the practice accepts the CareCredit® credit card that offers pet financing for dentals, medications, preventatives, and routine and emergency visits. For details, visit carecredit.com/vetmed. (The card works for human medical needs, too.)
Using a tarter control water additive in his bowl may be a good option. Because I have a dentally- challenged dog – he was born with little enamel on his teeth – my vet recommended frequent brushing, a water additive and a foam breath freshener. We also treat with a nightly green dental stick.
Good nutrition is important, so research products and talk to your vet for advice. Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA and co-owner (with wife, Paula) of Green Acres Kennel Shop in Bangor said, “No single brand or type of food is the best for all dogs. I recommend that people rotate through a variety of brands and types of food on a regular basis. Feeding our dog the same thing day after day is not a healthy choice just as our eating the exact same thing at every meal would also not be optimal nutrition.”
Don said you’ll find useful information at greenacreskennel. com/blog/pet-nutrition-resources- page/. He added a final food-for- thought (pun intended), “What your dog eats is entirely up to you and is a major factor in its long- term physical and mental health. It is important that you do your homework and choose wisely. The company that makes a food matters as does the ingredients that are used to make the food. The pet food industry is constantly changing and not always for the better. Never stop asking questions."
Keep your K9 looking spiffy. Regular grooming is not just important (to avoid those nasty matts), but it’ll make your guy feel special. After all, who doesn’t love being pampered? Elsebeth Debiase, Certified Master Groomer and owner of Coastal Creations Pet Salon in Bucksport said you should care for your dog’s coat once or twice a week. “For dogs with long hair, combing is best. The goal is to remove tangles and excess coat all the way to the skin.” Short coat breeds such as the French Bulldog would benefit from a bristle or rubber brush.
As far as his nails, she recommended a monthly trim. (A good rule of thumb, when you hear them clicking on the floor, it’s time.) Elsebeth added, “Your dog's specific grooming needs will vary depending on breed, coat texture, and daily activity. It is always best to check with a certified professional groomer for individual grooming recommendations.”
Now’s a good me to address any manners that need tweaking. Chrisne Calder, DVM, DACVB and esteemed animal behaviorist at Maine Veterinary Medical Center said training should be part of everyday interacons with your pet. “It is to strengthen communicaon and make sure everyone is on
the same page since we are different species, and we both speak different languages.” For example, if your dog needs a reminder to “sit” for you, work on it at mealmes. Say the command before pung his bowl down – it’ll come back to him in a flash. It’s a daily reinforcement and teaches paence.
It’s important to keep your bud mentally and physically engaged in a variety of ways. “I call this making sure basic needs are being met,” said Christine. For mental stimulation, utilize his highest reward – meal and treat time. “We do this through the use of food dispensing and puzzle toys along with various other enrichment opportunities.” (She recommended
Kongs and Snuffle Mats.) “These toys encourage the dog to explore its environment (this is especially important with shy and fearful dogs), reduce overall stress levels, manage normal dog behaviors such as chewing and/or nipping, and most importantly, exercise the brain. Enrichment also benefits older animals and potentially slows down cognitive decline.”
It’s known that physical activity releases endorphins and other important chemicals in the brain, and as in humans, they enhance his feeling of happiness, well-being and add to an overall good mood. But like all things, moderation is key. “Physical exercise is good, however there is such a thing as too much exercise...the more you exercise your dog, the more they will need it, just like a marathon runner.”
Instead, add games like “fetch” and “tug of war.” Christine believes these are great ways to exercise your pet while practicing basic manners, social skills, and impulse control. They also improve communication and enhance your all-important bond.
To further enhance that bond, snuggle on the couch while you’re binge-watching TV shows. Have fun by working on new tricks together. Make a big deal of seeing him when you come home. Just love and take care of him every day, and you will have met your resolution to be the best dog parent.