4 New Year's Resolutions for You and Your Pet

In the New Year, it’s common for people to make resolutions about their health or personal relationships. While remaking themselves is a great idea for the New Year, they shouldn’t forget about their pets. Here are four New Year’s resolutions that’ll improve the well-being of both yourself and your furry companion.

Learn something new
If you’re studying a new language, developing your artistic skills or learning the tango this year, consider teaching your pet something new as well. A 2011 study in the journal Behavioral Processes already showed us that dogs are capable of recognizing more than 1,000 different words. And cats have longer-lasting memories than dogs, reports PsychologyToday.com. Which is no wonder, since cats have 300 million neurons in the cerebral cortex, compared to the 160 million neurons dogs have, which is the area responsible for memory, communication, decision making and complex problem solving. Thus, you can just imagine how many words cats know! That is, if you could get cats to care enough about a scientific study. So you see, you can actually teach an old dog (or cat) a new trick. It just takes a little bit of patience and practice.

To keep your pet’s mind engaged, teach them an advanced version of a trick they already know (e.g, if your dog can shake, upgrade it to a high five). Or shop around for a puzzle feeder, which forces your pet to solve the puzzle in order to be rewarded with a treat. There are weighted balls that dispense food when tipped over, planks with holes where kibble can be scooped out with a determined paw, and even “mad scientist” beakers that turn upside down to dispense a reward. Puzzles like these will keep your pet mentally engaged, get them moving, and satisfy their hunger all at the same time!

Pamper your pet, too
There’s nothing like the feeling you experience walking out of salon or barber shop with a new hairdo. If you decide to give yourself a makeover this year, take it a step further and treat your pet to the ultimate grooming experience as well. It’ll save you the hassle of having to do the maintenance work yourself for once, and it’ll probably cost less than your own pampering session. (After all, consumers spent just $83 on dog and $43 on cat grooming services in 2015, according to the American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey.) When you book an appointment with a reputable groomer, you can go with a basic package of a wash and blow dry, or upgrade to a furry spa day to have the groomer trim your pet’s nails, clean their ears, give them a mini massage, and more. And as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) notes, a side benefit of a thorough grooming is that the groomer may discover lumps, infections or other problems that may have gone unnoticed.

If you’re hunting for a new groomer, it’s always best to start with recommendations from friends and family members. Houston PetTalk magazine has a good list of local dog, cat and mobile grooming centers on its website. You can also review the National Dog Groomers Association of America database, a professional groomer association that issues its own certifications. Keep in mind there’s no state license required to be a pet groomer, says NDGAA, so do your research prior to booking an appointment at a new pet salon.

Try a new activity
About 54 percent of cats and dogs are obese or overweight, reports the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. While a few extra pounds may not seem like such a big deal, it can actually be extremely hazardous on such a small frame. Excess weight in your pet can cause many ailments, including reducing their life expectancy by 2.5 years.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of obese pets and the diseases that accompany excess fat,” says Dr. Julie Churchill, veterinary nutritionist at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, in a March 2015 press release. “Type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, and many forms of cancer are associated with obesity in animals. It is critical pet owners understand an overweight dog or cat is not a healthy pet.”

To keep your furry family members with you longer, it’s important to help them slim down. There are many activities you can do with your pet to help you both get into shape. Consider hiking, kayaking or biking with your dog. There are special bike leashes that won’t tangle on the trails, and backpacks that will keep your pet cool while you’re on the move. And for your cat, you can experiment with new toys, like automated mice, feathers or lighted balls, to see what motivates them. For the really adventurous feline, invest in a cat exercise wheel or even cat harness and leash so you can enjoy a walk together.

Make sure they come back to you
Many pet owners ensure their furry pals have collars with proper identification and rabies tags. But sometimes that’s not enough, as the tags can be outdated, faded, or fall off. Thus, the New Year is a great time to invest in a cost-effective permanent identification solution for your pet: a microchip.

If you’re asking yourself if microchipping your pet is really worth it, consider this: A 2009 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that microchipped stray dogs and cats in animal shelters were reunited with their owners 52.2 percent and 38.5 percent of the time, respectively. Comparatively, non-microchipped stray dogs and cats were reunited just 21.9 percent and 1.8 percent of the time, respectively. Most of the microchipped animals that didn’t make it home had missing or inaccurate owner information in the microchip registry database.

The microchip is injected just under the skin between your pet’s shoulder blades using a hypodermic needle. It’s a nonsurgical procedure, so your vet can easily perform the procedure during a routine visit. The tiny device, about the size of a rice grain, doesn’t have a battery or GPS. Instead, it houses your identification number that’s tied to a registration database with your contact information. The microchip is activated by a scanner that transmits the data to help ensure your pet is returned safely home if it is ever lost. (A vet or animal shelter can scan for the chip.) And you can always update your contact information through the microchip provider’s website if your family moves.

While any microchip is better than none at all, we recommend your pet is injected with the International Standards Organization (ISO standard) microchips—frequency 134.2 kHz—since it can be read by various scanners using different frequencies. While the United States doesn’t have a standard frequency, this will help increase the chances of a successful reunion, even if your pet becomes lost overseas.