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By Julio López, DVM, DACVIM, Special to Everyday Health

What’s your New Year’s resolution?

If you’ve ever made a resolution, you know the real problem isn’t making resolutions, it’s keeping them.

This year, to increase your chance of success, consider your pets and include them in your resolutions! Here are seven resolutions that will not only improve your health but your pets’ health as well.

1. Quit Smoking
If you won’t quit smoking for your own health, do it for your pets. Exposure to tobacco smoke has been linked to nasal and lung cancer in dogs, as well as mouth cancer and lymphoma in cats. A smoky environment is particularly dangerous for cats because, when they’re grooming, they lick up cancer-causing carcinogens that settle on their coats. Pet birds can also be affected due to their hypersensitive respiratory systems. Prolonged exposure can lead to eye and skin problems.

2. Get Fit
The obesity epidemic expands beyond people: More than 50 percent of dogs and cats are overweight. Just as in humans, obesity in animals is linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, respiratory problems, and decreased life expectancy (up to 14 years for people and up to 2.5 years for pets).

Eating healthier food and exercising can help both you and your pet shed excess weight. Use measuring cups to make sure your pet is getting appropriate portions. If you give them additional treats, decrease the amount your feed them at mealtime. Healthy treat options include carrots, green beans, bananas, and apples. Take at least a 10-minute walk with your dog or, if you and the dog are healthy enough, go for a hike or jog instead.

3. Spend Less, Save More
On a tighter budget this year? Consider auditing your pet expenditures. Taking your pet for an annual exam is a great way to spot any health concerns early on. You can also use this visit to ask your vet whether the cost of expensive premium label food is worth it, for example.

In the meantime, be proactive and perform monthly at-home wellness screenings in the months between your pet’s scheduled exams. If your pet seems ill it’s better to intervene early, when a more economical treatment may be available. Waiting may increase the chance that a condition will require a more expensive hospital stay or worse: It may be too late to intervene.

4. Decrease your Stress
Stress in humans has been linked to many diseases, including obesity, depression, and heart disease. Fortunately, pet owners have an advantage. Studies show that petting a dog releases relaxation hormones, decreases stress hormones, and lowers your blood pressure. Another study found dog owners laugh more — which can be another powerful stress-buster.

Stress affects your pets too. Stressed dogs can develop a variety of behavioral problems. Stressed cats may urinate outside of the litter box or develop a life-threatening urinary blockage. Increasing activity and playing with your pets will not only reduce their stress, but yours as well.

5. Volunteer
If helping others is part of your plan for the New Year, be sure to get your dog involved too. Certify your pup to be a therapy dog, and bring the joys of animal interaction to those who are sick, sad, and lonely.

If you don’t have a pet, there are still ways to get involved: You can raise a puppy for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, volunteer at a local animal shelter, or foster a pet while it waits to be adopted. If you need a walking companion, ask to borrow your sick or elderly neighbor’s dog, and go out for a walk.

6. Think Green
We aren’t the only ones leaving a carbon footprint on the planet. Because our pets can’t take the steps necessary to become more environmentally friendly, the responsibility falls on us. Simple ways to help include purchasing biodegradable pet waste bags and environmentally friendly cat litter, and picking up dog waste to avoid contaminating waterways. Avoid buying plastic pet products; instead pick products made from natural fibers or recycled goods.

For cat owners, transitioning your cat to live exclusively indoors will help decrease its ecological impact. Outdoor cats are a leading cause of both bird and mammal deaths in the United States; according to some estimates the numbers of bird and mammal deaths attributable to cats are in the billions.

Make an environmentally friendly decision this year and keep your cat inside. Indoor cats are less likely to develop health risks that come with living outdoors, such as infectious diseases (some of which are transmissible to humans) and life-threatening injuries.

7. Be More Social
Pets are natural icebreakers. Walking around with your dog can make you more approachable and help spark conversation. If you have a cool cat that walks on a leash, even better!

Julio López, DVM, DACVIM, is a board-certified specialist in small animal internal medicine and a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Dr. López practices in Los Angeles and has experience in all aspects of internal medicine with a special interest in diseases of the kidney and bladder, endocrine diseases such as diabetes, Addison’s, Cushing’s, and hyperthyroidism. He launched to provide trustworthy sources of information. Follow him on Twitter @ExpertVet

Posted in: Pet health