* What's up, doc? Just as you require regular visits to your doctor and dentist to make sure you stay healthy, so does your new pet. A veterinary visit should be a once-a-year event, minimum, and more frequent check-ups may be needed, depending on your pet's age and health status. Regular visits are likely to include a thorough exam, weigh-in, immunizations and parasite checks (a heartworm test and fecal exam). Blood tests and dental cleanings are also routine procedures.
* Healthy eating. Your new pet may be eyeing your plate with interest, but don't give in. Pets shouldn't eat like people. Cats are carnivores; they need plenty of protein in their diets - roughly twice the percentage that you do - and they need it in the form of meat, poultry or fish. And while your dog, like you, is an omnivore, that doesn't mean he should share your meals. A food formulated especially for dogs is much better and treats should make up no more than 10 percent of a dog's caloric intake.
* Parasite prevention. You've probably heard of pests like heartworms, intestinal parasites, fleas and ticks but understanding how and when to prevent them is a different matter. Dogs and cats can become infected with heartworms, although the resulting disease differs somewhat between the two species. Heartworm disease can be deadly, or it can reduce the quality of life of both dogs and cats. Mosquitoes spread heartworms and dogs and cats need to be protected year-round, thanks to a mosquito's ability to survive in a variety of environments. A bonus is that many heartworm preventives also protect pets against other internal parasites. For more information on how to protect your new pet against heartworms and other parasites, talk to your veterinarian and visit the American Heartworm society website at heartwormsociety.org.
* Bathing. Most of us wouldn't dream of letting a day go by without a shower or bath. But daily bathing is unnecessary for pets and can dry out their skin and hair. Most dogs are fine with a bath every three months, unless they get extra dirty or have silky hair. Cats usually keep themselves clean without any help although brushing long-haired cats on a regular basis is advised to keep their fur tangle-free and help prevent hairballs.
* Making a connection. Dogs and cats relate to their owners in different ways. As a pack animal, dogs expect you to lead their pack and give them rules to follow. Dogs make faces - in fact, it's estimated that they have 100 different facial expressions, thanks to their mobile ears. Cats attach to their people as social partners and use affectionate behaviors, such as purring, kneading and rubbing against you to show their affection. They're also quite vocally expressive and can produce more than 100 different sounds.
* Sleep habits. While cats have a reputation for dozing, both cats and dogs spend more than half their time in slumber. Like babies, puppies and kittens sleep more than adults, although their sleep patterns can be erratic. Keep in mind that excessive sleeping can be a sign of boredom. Most pets will be glad to forego a nap for playtime or a walk.
Bringing a pet into your home is one of the greatest joys in life, but it means new responsibilities. Understanding your pet's behavior, as well as the do's and don'ts of pet health care, will help make your bond with your pet a lasting one.