Forget the gym, and the diet. Forget about learning a new foreign language, or how to mambo.
Instead, this year devote your resolutions to bettering the care and comfort of your animal friends. Here are some areas to reconsider in making the new year a happier and healthier one for the furred and feathered in your life.
¢ Vaccination schedules. "More is more" has long been the mantra in veterinary - and, come to think of it, human - medicine, as combination vaccines became the order of the day. But today, the pendulum is swinging on such "wombo combos," as veterinary immunologist Jean Dodds of Santa Monica, Calif., calls them, tongue ensconced firmly in cheek.
Indeed, last year the highly respected American Animal Hospital Association released its updated Canine Vaccine Guidelines (available at www.aahanet.org), and outlined only four vaccines it considers "core," or required, for dogs. Other than this quartet of parvo, distemper, canine hepatitis and rabies, all other vaccines are "noncore," or optional, depending on an individual dog's lifestyle or risk factors.
In addition, the association stresses that, after a dog has been boostered at one year, revaccination should occur no more than every three years.
In November, the American Association of Feline Practitioners released its updated Feline Vaccination Guidelines, available at www.aafponline.org.
¢ Your vet relationship. It's crucial that you have an open, respectful relationship with your veterinarian. This doesn't mean you always have to agree, but it does mean that you should be able to discuss your animal's health rationally, calmly and unemotionally. If that's not the case, then perhaps that vet is not the right match for you. Because communication is crucial in any medical emergency, consider shopping around for another vet before you find yourself - and your animal - in a crisis situation.
¢ Diet. Feeding out of a bag or a can is second nature to most of us, but growing numbers of owners and breeders are deciding to feed a more natural, biologically appropriate diet. Books about how to make balanced, nutritionally complete meals for cats and dogs abound. (A good source is www.dogwise.com.)
If you don't have the time, money or inclination to switch from a commercial diet to a homemade one (which requires a level of commitment and research), then by all means augment your animal's diet with healthful foods. A study at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., showed that Scottish terriers that ate fresh vegetables three times a week halved their risk of bladder cancer, to which the breed is prone; green leafy and orange-yellow veggies were particularly beneficial.
And while we're on the subject: Get an honest assessment of whether your animal is overweight. Excess pounds can shorten his lifespan, not to mention leave him vulnerable to disease, particularly diabetes in cats.
¢ Pesticides. A weedless green lawn might be a sign of success in suburbia, but consider the toll those chemicals can take on pets. That same Purdue study showed that the risk of bladder cancer was higher among dogs exposed to certain herbicides, compared with dogs that had not been exposed.
What are a couple of dandelions compared to your dog's health, not to mention your peace of mind? There's nothing more satisfying than letting your dog "graze" on a lawn that's green in more respects than one.
¢ Water. Are you drinking the water out of your faucet? If not, are you giving it to your animals? If you have concerns about the water quality in your household, then up your inventory of Poland Spring for the four-leggers in residence, too.
¢ Training. Good animal companions aren't just born, they're nurtured, with lots of consistent training and positive reinforcement. If your critter has a persistent problem - a dog that jumps on visitors, a bird that feather-plucks, a cat that has litter box issues - make 2007 the year you deal with it head-on. There are plenty of books, Web sites and private trainers and consultants that can point you in the right direction.