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5 ways to build an even stronger bond with your pet

Man petting his dog in the woods

Our dogs and cats give us so much love. In honor of Love Your Pet Day, experts share their favorite ways to return the favor.

Elizabeth Millard

By Elizabeth Millard

Love is in the air this month. (And no, we’re not talking about Valentine’s Day.) National Love Your Pet Day is Feb. 20. It’s a special day to give back to the furry friends that shower us with true companionship, comfort and amusement.

For this holiday, a Hallmark card just won’t do. If you’re drawing a blank on what to get your pet, no worries. We’ve got some expert tips on how to celebrate your furry friend on Love Your Pet Day — and every other day, too.

(Optum Perks offers prescription medication discounts for the whole family — dogs and cats included. Search for coupons at Optum Perks for pets to see how much you could save.)

Create an adventure

Do you tend to take your dog on the same walking route every day? While it’s a great way to fit in exercise, it may be ho-hum for both of you by now.

To celebrate Fido, consider encouraging their sense of adventure and curiosity, suggests Linda Simon, MVB. She’s a veterinary surgeon and consulting veterinarian at FiveBarks, an information site for dog owners. “Bring them to a new location, such as a beach or field, and watch their tail wag as they explore,” she says. Of course, you’ll benefit from a change of pace, too.

If that sort of adventure isn’t in scope, try a scavenger hunt, suggests Dr. Simon. “Scatter treats around so they can sniff them out and find them. This sort of scavenging behavior can be very rewarding for dogs.”

You can also bring that same sense of adventure to your indoor cats. Craft a cat castle or peek-a-boo tunnels out of cardboard boxes. Or try an even simpler gesture such as refilling a favorite cat toy with catnip, suggests Cassie Kralicek. She’s the founder of HappyCatCentral.com.

Make some healthy treats

You can buy a wide variety of treats, but there’s something heartfelt about making your own, says Dr. Simon. Thankfully, the internet is full of DIY options. Before making a recipe, though, make sure your people-food picks are safe for your pet. (The ASPCA has a list of no-go foods here.)

For dogs, try combining 1½ cups of rolled oats, ½ cup of natural peanut butter and 1 large ripe banana. Then shape into bite-sized biscuits or even bones. Bake at 350 F until they’re browned and crunchy, about 15 minutes. “The best news? We can eat them, too,” Dr. Simon says.

The cats in your life will probably drool over catnip or fish-based cookies. Try these 3-ingredient canned salmon cookies from the Cookie Rookie. Combine a 10-oz. can of salmon (undrained), 1 egg and 2 cups of whole-wheat flour. Shape into bite-sized squares (or whatever shape your heart desires). Bake at 350 F until they’re browned and crunchy, about 15 minutes.

Related reading: 6 ways to get your dog or cat to take medication.

Fill the toy box

Even if your pet has a couple of favorites, it’s always fun to get a few new ones to keep playtime more engaging, says Sarah Wooten, DVM. She’s a Colorado-based veterinarian for Pumpkin Pet Insurance.

Best of all, choose toys that let you play together. As Dr. Wooten explains, spending time that way (or even just petting and cuddling with them) helps strengthen your bond and even calms your nervous system.

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Take a trip together

If you’ve never considered a vacation with your pup, this might be the perfect opportunity, says Dr. Wooten. Plenty of pet-friendly destinations include lodging options that not only allow pets but come with amenities such as pet beds and treats. Using a site such as BringFido can help you narrow down your options.

No matter what you choose, make sure to plan ahead. The American Veterinary Medical Association suggests that you check in with your veterinarian before leaving. You may need a health certificate if you’re flying or crossing state or international borders. (The U.S. Department of Agriculture lets you check regulations for specific states.)

“Whether it’s just a drive or a more extended holiday you’re taking with your precious pet, make sure you plan in advance to avoid any travel hiccups along the way,” suggests Dr. Wooten.

Related reading: 4 ways a dog can improve your health.

Schedule a wellness day

Your pup or kitty might not enjoy a trip to the vet, but making sure they’re up to date on all their vaccinations, dental care and general welfare is a major way to show your love, suggests Dr. Wooten. Not only are you likely to catch any issues early, when they’re more treatable, but you can also prevent problems from starting. (Here's how to tell if your pet is in pain.)

You can balance out the vet visit with an extra-fun activity or treat, says Dr. Wooten. Or just lavish your pet with love. In general, the affection you express will likely benefit you as well.

“When you’re petting an animal, it boosts dopamine and serotonin for some people, as well as oxytocin, known as the love chemical,” Dr. Wooten says. “Pet owners are less likely to suffer as much from depression and anxiety, and pets help combat loneliness and can even motivate you to exercise more.”

It turns out that Love Your Pet Day isn’t just about celebrating your pet. By taking a day to hang out with your fur baby, you’ll boost your connection and show some love for yourself, too.

Another way to show yourself some love: saving up to 80% on your prescription medications. Simply show this free discount card to your pharmacist to get started.

 

Additional source
Information on traveling with animals:
American Veterinary Medical Association

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