What’s good for you is often good for your best furry friend too. Here, six simple tips for a happier and healthier pet.

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Regular exercise. Regular exercise not only helps to keep your pet (and you) fit, but it’s a great time for bonding and sharing some good old-fashioned fun. For dog owners it’s also a good time to socialize with other dogs and their owners, as well as an opportunity to teach your pouch proper manners and walking etiquette.

How much exercise is enough? According to the Canadian Veterinary Association, dogs should have a brisk walk at least twice daily for 15 to 20 minutes. For cats, schedule at least two 15-minute play times each day. Cat tip: Laser pointer toys, while relatively inexpensive, provide not only a fun frolic for your cat, but a good source of exercise.

dog-portly-pupGood nutrition. Despite the best of intentions, those yummy leftovers and table scraps aren’t always in the best interest of your dog or cat. Leftovers can contribute to unhealthy weight gain – and also cause pets to go off their regular food, which understandably, tastes bland in comparison.

While many pet owners opt to prepare homemade food for their pets (see Cooking for your pet), many veterinarians warn that pets on a homemade diet may not be getting an adequate ratio of vitamins and minerals. Commercial pet foods are routinely tested for nutritional composition, something many pet owners are unable to do on their own. Senior dogs (age 7+), for example, are often put on a special diet that is lower in proteins and minerals and higher in fibre than what is recommended for younger dogs. So if you do opt for the homemade option, be sure to do your research.

Is your pet on the pudgy side? Excessive weight gain is a growing health risk not only for humans, but for our furry companions as well. In fact, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 43 per cent of dogs and 53 per cent of cats are overweight. An additional 10 per cent of all dogs and 19 per cent of all cats are considered obese.

Just like for humans, an overweight pet faces an increased risk of heart and joint problems, diabetes, arthritis and other conditions. Your veterinarian can suggest a ‘reduction’ diet for your pet, and experts also recommend giving smaller, more frequent meals during the day to boost metabolism and burn more calories. When it comes to treats, moderation is key. Too many snacks and treats are thought to be the biggest cause of obesity in pets.

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Proper dental care. Yes, even pets can have pearly whites. Proper dental hygiene is necessary for the prevention of periodontal disease. If brushing your pet’s teeth seems a little daunting, you may be surprised – many pets actually end up loving it. (Your veterinarian can give tips for the best method.) Be sure to use a soft toothbrush and pet toothpaste, which may be chicken, salmon or tuna-flavored. Avoid “human” toothpaste, as the fluoride in them is toxic to animals. Good dental hygiene can literally add years to your pet’s life.

Regular check-ups. Stay ahead of any potential problems by visiting your veterinarian on a regular basis. Annual examinations of teeth, heart, lungs, and overall body condition will be less costly than waiting for a problem to develop. The yearly check-up also allows for any vaccinations, flea prevention treatments, and healthy grooming procedures. Additionally, having a “baseline” of information about your pet gives the veterinarian something to compare against if your pet becomes ill in the future. To help cover medical costs, consider buying pet insurance or putting aside extra money in your emergency fund. (See How much does pet ownership really cost?)

Proper identification . If you haven’t done so already, take the time to get proper identification for your pet. This will enhance the chances that your pet will be returned safely if lost. There are many effective means of pet identification available including micro chipping, tattooing, and personalized dog/cat tags.

Also, be aware of your municipal bylaws that require that dogs (and sometimes cats) be licensed and registered. Licensing your dog and cat also provides a way for pets to be identified and returned safely if lost.

Make cuddle time. Last but not least, give your pet lots of hugs, love and attention. They will thrive – and you’ll reap the benefits as well. Bonding with your pet goes a long way in helping to reduce stress – a well-known cause of illness – and promotes general well being. (Read more about the health benefits of pet ownership.)

For more on pet health care, check out Checklist for healthy pets.