Happy, healthy pet checklist: Follow these steps to ensure the best for your pet


By Erin Shackelford 

Pets bring us so much joy, companionship, and unconditional love.

According to Forbes, over the past 35 years, the percentage of pet owners in the U.S. has increased. As of 2023, 66% of U.S. households (nearly 8.9 million homes) own a pet.

Dogs are the most popular pet (65.1 million U.S. homes own a dog), followed by cats (46.5 million homes) and finally freshwater fish (11.1 homes).

In honor of all they provide for the many of us who love them, follow this checklist to help you make sure you keep them as happy and healthy as possible.

Identification, please

While no one wants to think their pet will go missing, accidents happen. Properly identified pets ensure a quicker reunion when they’re found. This means making sure your pet has a registered microchip, pet ID tag with up-to-date information and is licensed according to your city or county’s requirements.

Microchip tips

Microchips can be used to quickly contact you if your dog is brought into a shelter or veterinary clinic as a found pet. If you’re unsure about the status of your pets’ microchip, here are a few things you can do. First, if you don’t know if your pet is chipped or what the number is, any veterinarian or shelter can scan your pet for a microchip and provide you with the microchip number. You can use the number to look and see if the microchip is registered (and with what company) using universal pet microchip lookup websites, like the one provided at aaha.org.

Once you determine the registration status, you can login to an existing account or register the microchip for the first time. There are a variety of companies that offer registration. While some do offer paid subscriptions with extra benefits, basic lifetime registration with companies like 24Pet-watch are free.

Remember to keep the login information, so you can easily update the microchip if you move, change phone numbers or if the pet’s ownership changes.

Just a note, not all rescues, shelters, or veterinary offices register your pet’s microchip for you at the time of implant, so it’s important to double check that the microchip is registered and that it is registered with the correct information. Please note, microchips do not function like GPS devices. They cannot be used to track the location of your pet, however if your pet has a propensity to escape, adding this additional tool can be useful.

Prioritize prevention

To keep your pet healthy and protected from illnesses, diseases and parasites, they must stay current on vaccines and preventions. Visit with your veterinarian about which ones are suitable for your pet.

Mind, body and soul

All pets require certain levels of daily activity, whether that’s a game of fetch, playing with a feather wand or a long hike or walk. Senior pets usually do not need the same level of activity as youngsters, but regardless of age, all pets benefit from mental and physical exercises. Dogs, especially, need physical exercise and are usually entirely dependent on their owner to provide them with it. Besides physical exercise, inexpensive, DIY treat and food puzzles and games can keep pets mentally active and beat the day’s doldrums.

Nutritious food

Determining what is best to feed your pet can be confusing. The two biggest things to consider are feeding your pet a nutritionally balanced diet and feeding your pet the right amount based on their size and weight.

Different pets may require different things due to age, allergies, nutritional deficiencies or other reasons. It’s best to check with your pet’s veterinarian for recommendations. Do your research on any specialized diets you may be considering.

Grooming and training

Pets are as unique and special as the people who adopt them. It’s important to remember your pet’s individual needs. Grooming is more than making sure they look their best. Improper or inadequate grooming can result in discomfort for your pet and in serious cases, pain, sores and infections. Training is also a key part of making sure your pet lives a happy, healthy and well-balanced life. Training can improve and modify your pets’ behavior for a peaceful and harmonious coexistence with other pets and people. Make sure to seek out trainers who use positive reinforcement methods.

For more tips about pet care and ownership, visit alexandria animals.org.

The writer is the marketing and communications specialist for the Animal League of Alexandria.