Our pets welcome us home each day with a wagging tail or a happy purr, which perks up our mood and provides a whole host of physical and emotional benefits. Our furry, four-legged, life-support systems keep us in touch with the natural world and enrich our lives. What can we do for our pets in return, to let them know how much we love and appreciate them?  

#1: Pay attention to your pet’s communication cues

Put yourself in their paws and try to understand your pet’s behavior. Is your pet asking for attention, do they need to go outside, be fed, or have their litter box cleaned, or do they simply want some affection? Trying to understand your pet’s behavior includes watching for signs of anxiety or illness and being especially aware of your senior pet’s needs. Dogs have facial expressions and cats vocalize in specific, unique ways when communicating with their owners. 

#2: Look at your pet with a happy face

When your dog stares into your eyes, a positive oxytocin feedback loop is initiated, similar to the experience of mothers with their infants. Pets can read your mood, and they respond to a smiling face differently than to a frown or neutral expression. A good way to show love is to smile, and research suggests your pet will understand.

 #3: Tailor affection to your pet’s response

Let your pet choose how they receive affection. Most dogs prefer being petted on the shoulders, neck, and chest—but not on their legs, muzzles, or paws. Dogs will lean against you as a sign of affection, so lean back at them, rather than giving them a hug. Cats prefer being scratched under the chin or on top of their head, and often enjoy being stroked from their head to the base of their tail—but belly rubs are usually not popular. Not all cats like to sit on laps, and your cat may be content sitting beside you or on your computer keyboard.

#4: Provide stimulation for your pet

Most pets yearn for new experiences. Try walking your dog more often, in a new location, or at a slower pace, so they can take in all the smells. If you have an indoor cat, train them to go outside on a harness and leash to enjoy the grass or sit under a bush. Consider creating an obstacle course with boxes for a fun indoor play date, or hide your cat’s food around the house to stimulate their inner predator. Cats especially enjoy a tall cat tree or windowsill perch to watch the outdoors. Dogs and cats also enjoy a food puzzle that requires mental stimulation, and rotating their toys or chews on a regular basis can help keep them engaged.

#5: Explore fun training with your pet

Dogs enjoy learning new commands, especially when training is rewarded with a tasty treat, toy, or special playtime. You may be surprised that cats can also be trained to learn new tricks. Most importantly, training your pet can help eliminate frustrating behavior problems and deepen your relationship. 

#6: Groom your pet on a regular basis

Most pets feel better when they are clean and well-groomed. This can include regular trips to the groomer or an at-home session. You can make an at-home grooming session a positive experience by gentle stroking and brushing only as long as your pet tolerates it. Then, follow the grooming session with an enjoyable activity or treat.

#7: Let your pet sleep in your bedroom

Your dog views the bedroom as “the den” in your home. This doesn’t mean they need to sleep on your bed, but they will feel more closely bonded to you than in another room. Cats have their own opinions on sleeping arrangements and will let you know if they want private space for the night, or if they want to snuggle into the bed.  

#8: Keep your pet safe

Your beloved four-legged friend relies on you for their safety, so look around your house to ensure they can’t get into trouble. Keep all dangerous foods, plants, or breakable items out of paws’ reach. Avoid the heartbreak of losing your pet by having them well-identified with a microchip and a current name tag. 

#9: Make your pet’s health a priority

Although a trip to the veterinarian may not seem like love to your pet, keeping them healthy is a key part of your relationship. Regular wellness visits can help them have a good quality of life and live longer by your side. Your pet will feel better if you maintain their dental health, keep them current on vaccinations, and protect them from fleas, ticks, and heartworm disease. Consider pet insurance to help cover the costs of their health care, especially for unexpected illnesses or accidents.

Expressing love for your pet means learning their needs and sharing a healthy and enjoyable life together. The University Veterinary Hospital team appreciates your heartfelt bond with your pet, so don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s well-being.