Starting off fresh

Starting off fresh
Photo/DeSilva Studios

By Gina Hardter

On Jan. 1, people around the world resolve to make changes to improve their lives, but what about improving the lives of our furry friends? This year, resolve to make 2023 a better and healthier year for the pet you love. How can you do that?

Exercise for all

Tens of thousands of humans will join a gym, invest in an elliptical or start a new stretching routine. Give your pet the same opportunity. Sure, Fido may not want to rock the Spandex and wrist warmer look, but there are plenty of ways to get more exercise for your dog or your cat, starting with the basics, like more frequent walks.

Pro Tip: Make sure you’re being safe about walk duration during the cold winter months.

But don’t let the exercise stop with walks. Dogs and cats can benefit from interactive toys that drive them to play, such as battery-powered balls that move around or treat launchers, or even games of chase with items from around the house. And for the most dedicated pet exerciser, there are even treadmill “wheels” for cats or safe treadmill routines for dogs.

Revisit your diet

The holiday season is full of filling, fatty foods, and pets can benefit from a diet do-over just as much as people. Work with your vet to make sure you understand your pet’s food needs, including daily recommended caloric intake and any special dietary needs for allergies or other health concerns, and ask what brands they might recommend. Consider how you are feeding your pets too; instead of a bowl, what if they got their food from an interactive toy or a Kong feeder. Be careful of making dietary changes all at once, or your pet may end up with an upset stomach; instead, transition them gradually from an old food to a new one.

Pro Tip: If you’ve changed your pet’s diet and they don’t like the new food, most foods can be used at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria to support pets in our facility and across the community, so reach out to see if we can take it.

Check your chompers

Dental health is an important part of physical health, as dental disease can result in a wide range of issues, from a little tartar to full tooth rot and even jaw damage. We may not think about brushing our pet’s teeth, but daily brushing using a special pet toothbrush or brushing toys/chews can make a huge difference in their dental health, and flavored toothpaste is available for pets to make brushing an enjoyable experience. If your pet is older, ask your veterinarian if they should be considered for a professional sedated dental cleaning to keep their teeth healthy well into their later years.

Pro Tip: Do not use human toothbrushes or toothpaste on pets, as they are not meant for animal teeth and can even be toxic to pets.

Spend more time together

What does your pet enjoy more than anything? Spending time with you, of course! Sometimes we get so busy that we forget that we are the center of our pets’ worlds and that they probably won’t be in our lives as long as we’d like. Make the time that you have now matter and spend some extra quality time with your beloved pet on activities that you both enjoy, even if it is just a lazy morning spent in bed. After all, no one ever regretted time spent with their favorite animal.

Try new things

While you’re spending a little extra time with your pet, why not use it to try something new? From teaching your dog a new skill or activity, like agility training or frisbee, to taking your indoor kitty on a hike with a cat backpack, open up your animals’ horizons and try something different – together. Whether you take your dog swimming – as their health and temperament allow – or just give your cat a safe, enclosed space to enjoy the great outdoors, each new adventure gives you and your pet a chance to explore, to bond and to grow.

And you can also resolve to help animals across your community by supporting the AWLA by adoption, volunteering, fostering or donating.

The writer is director of marketing and communications for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization supporting Alexandria and beyond. More information is available at