Whether you have owned pets for years or just adopted your first animal in the past few days, there are some things you need to remember to make the pet’s life as healthy and happy as you want it to be.


1. The importance of proper nutrition can’t be overstated. A good quality dog or cat food is vital to your pet’s long-term health. Unlike humans, who may eat a wide variety of foods, your pet is going to eat their dry food or canned food day after day. Providing them with a nutritious food without lots of fillers will allow for good muscle tone, a healthy shiny coat and help them maintain their health.


2. Exercise is just as important to your pet’s health as it is to your own health. Cats usually do a pretty good job of running around the house, jumping up and down off the couch, a shelf, the bed, etc., and keep themselves in pretty good shape. Dogs need regular exercise to maintain their muscle tone and to keep the excess weight off. The best part is that they are willing exercise partners. I know in my house, if I even say the word “walk,” my dogs start bouncing around the house like kids on Christmas morning. They love to exercise, and it is great for them.


3. There is no substitute for good veterinary care for your dog or cat. Budgeting for health care for your pet is vital to help assure a long and happy life. The annual exam, vaccinations and medical advice they can give you is well worth the price.


4. Dental care is one item that is often overlooked but is so important to your pet’s health. I know no one likes brushing their dog or cat’s teeth (especially your dog or cat) but it is beneficial to their health, and might even do some good for their breath. Your local pet store has a variety of brushes and flavored toothpaste that help make the job a little easier.


5. Flea prevention is another pet care topic that can’t be overstated. Whether your pet is an outside dog or cat or one that stays inside most of the time; fleas will find them. A quality flea preventative is the most effective way to keep the bugs away from your pets.


6. Keeping fleas off your dog helps them stay healthy on the outside, while a heartworm preventative is a key ingredient to keeping them healthy on the inside. The good news is, prevention is easy. You simply have a heartworm test done on your dog each year during their annual exam. Once they test negative, you can buy a monthly chewable treat that your dog will love to eat and the heartworms won’t have a chance to infect your cherished pet.


7. Having a clean, safe environment for your pet to live and sleep in is a great thing. If he’s outside, you need to make sure his area doesn’t have ant piles, sharp objects or other things around that he might step in or lay on and get injured. Inside, maintaining fresh, clean bedding also helps keep fleas away and will help keep down dust and dirt, which makes your pet happier, too.


8. Nails and ears need trimming and cleaning. You can do this yourself or take a trip to your local groomer and let the pros do it for you. Clean ears help keep down ear infections, and properly trimmed nails make it more comfortable to walk around.


9. There is no substitute for attention and the love you give your pet. Spending time with your dog or cat is good for their happiness and yours. They know you’re busy but a little time sitting in your lap, or going for a walk will really make their day.


10. Finally, keeping your pet safe is obvious but sometimes overlooked by pet owners. Letting your dog run around unsupervised to use the bathroom can be dangerous, especially if you live on a busy street. Your attention to their environment both inside and outside the home will go a long way to providing them with the quality of life you want them to have.


Gary Willoughby is the president and CEO for SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare.