1. I will not feed my dog or cat table scraps.
Studies show your pet will live a longer, healthier life if she's in good shape, yet 40 to 70% of the pet population is overweight or obese. The extra pounds strain your animal's musculoskeletal system, heart, and lungs.
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To maintain a healthy weight, a cat should be consuming around 200 calories a day, on average, and a large dog needs just 800--but it's impossible to keep track when you give her leftovers from your plate. Just one slice of bacon or an ounce of steak, for example, has about 50 calories--and the high fat content can lead to a host of health issues, including inflammation of the pancreas, vomiting, and diarrhea. To help break the habit, opt for a low-cal pet snack if she begs during dinner, or keep her in another room when you sit down for a meal.
2. When I say no, I'll mean it.
As hard as it is to reprimand that furry little face, setting rules will make for a better-behaved and happier animal. Owners don't realize they are often to blame for their pets' neuroses--such as jumping up during feeding time or scratching furniture--because they don't consistently discourage the bad behavior. Get your family on the same page when it comes to enforcing rules: For example, make sure everyone gets your dog to sit and stay before you pour his food (and acknowledge when your pet listens with a simple reward, like a pat on the head or a scratch behind the ears).
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If your cat is tearing up your couch or furniture with her claws, be extra firm when you say "no!" (spray her with a water gun for reinforcement, if necessary), and provide a catnip-laced scratching post as an alternative. Be consistent with positive feedback too--when she chooses the post instead of the couch, give her a treat.
Next: Picking The Right Puppy
3. I will take my pet for an annual checkup.
My years working as an emergency room veterinarian taught me one important lesson: If owners brought their animals in for more regular exams and did so sooner, they would not only avoid many expensive visits to the emergency clinic but also save their pets from needless suffering. Chronic kidney failure, hyper-thyroidism, and diabetes are three common conditions all marked by symptoms that are easy to dismiss but quickly noted by vets, such as excessive drinking, urinating and weight loss.
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Waiting until a pet's symptoms are noticeable or unbearable often makes them difficult or impossible to treat. A simple checkup and routine blood work could prevent many fatal cases. Your pet should also see the veterinarian twice a year for an oral exam--dental disease can lead to deadly organ infections. Remember: The sooner your vet diagnoses and treats potential problems, the better the prognosis.