By Jodi Ziskin

Few things in life are as special as the unconditional love and loyalty a pet provides. With 78.2 million owned dogs and 86.4 million owned cats in the United States, according to The Humane Society, it’s obvious Americans enjoy having pets. What might not be so apparent is how best to care for them. When it comes to making sure your pet stays healthy and lives as long as possible, what steps can you take?

Tips for adding years to your pet’s life include:

1. Investigate pet food

While many pet parents feed their cats and dogs the same thing day after day, they may not realize it’s a habit that can lead to nutritional deficiencies and food intolerances.

Try a holistic approach to a pet’s diet. That simply means using real, whole food, not by-products, rendered ingredients, artificial colors, artificial flavors or preservatives. Homemade (cooked or raw) is optimal.

If a pet guardian is not interested in preparing homemade food, the next best thing is frozen raw food. All the pet parent has to do is defrost portions in the refrigerator overnight. Freeze-dried or dehydrated raw food is another good option. Finally, there are a handful of canned foods that are very high quality.

I suggest to always reading the label when selecting food. The first ingredient should be a high-quality meat, like de-boned white chicken. If the first ingredients are different types of grains and starches, then that food should be avoided.

2. Consider supplements

Many people take multivitamins and other supplements to better their health, and this practice can benefit pets too.

There are many factors that contribute to a pet’s lifespan. Some are out of our control, like genetic, congenital and environmental factors. However, providing a species-appropriate diet, including supplements like omega-3s, contributes to overall wellness, helping pets thrive.

Supplementing a pet’s diet with omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) has many health benefits, including healthy skin and coat, reduced inflammation that causes itching and hot spots, joint health with less inflammation, strong immune system and a healthier digestive tract.

Using fish oils specially made for pets is highly recommended.

3. Prioritize play and rest

Exercise is paramount to the physical health of cats and dogs. After all, a body in motion stays in motion. The simple act of walking a dog (or cat) helps to lubricate joints, preserves flexibility, maintains muscle mass (which protects joints), and keeps blood circulating through the joints and muscles.

Make time every day to play with your pets. Cats need only five to 10 minutes once or twice a day for interactive play. On days when you simply do not have a minute to spare, hide some cat toys around the house. Some high, some low. Your kitty will get extra exercise by finding and playing with their ‘prey.

Walking a dog once or twice a day is good for both you and your pet. If you cannot devote the time, please look into hiring a dog walker. Since it is detrimental to a dog’s health to have him hold urine all day long, having a dog walker come midday is optimal.

Remember, resting periods are just as important as physical activity. Spending quiet time with our pets is so important for their overall well-being. The simple act of petting a dog reduces their stress and helps them feel secure. The same is true for cats, however, most cats do not liked to be stroked for a long period of time.

In addition to these tips, I advise pet owners of young and middle-aged pets to see their vet annually. Older pets should see the vet at least twice a year. This helps ensure you and your furry family members have many happy, healthy years to look forward to.