Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our January/February 2017 issue. Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

How many times have we heard the prediction that by February we will have given up on all of our well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions? I have found that my longest lived, most sustainable resolutions have been realistic, manageable baby steps toward a goal, rather than a dramatic departure from what I’m already doing. For example, instead of giving up TV, I might give it up one night per week.

If we try to change too much too soon, we tend to get overwhelmed and give up completely. On the other hand, once we’ve mastered a small step, we can build on it. Small steps toward self-improvement can make a big difference when we see ourselves still making them the following December. So what small steps can we take to improve our cats’ lives this coming year?

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Photo by Grace Chon

1. Schedule a vet visit

A good year begins with good health. Make an appointment for your cat’s annual wellness check that includes baseline bloodwork, a dental exam and possibly cleaning, any necessary vaccinations or boosters, and a thorough health check. Adult cats should see a veterinarian every year. Once they reach 10 years old, cats should see the veterinarian twice annually. While you’re at it, schedule your own annual physical. You and your cat will enjoy 2017 much more when you are proactive about your health.

2. Start brushing your cat’s teeth

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Photo by iStock

If you haven’t been doing this, start. If you have, keep it up. Dental problems cause cats tremendous pain, since bad teeth can be reabsorbed into gum tissue, a condition known as tooth resorption. In addition to the pain, poor oral health can lead to other illnesses like heart disease. The same is true for humans, by the way, so it’s vital we take care of all our teeth and gums.

For your cat’s oral health, start by offering dental treats until you find one your cat likes. Dental treats can serve as a reward after your cat performs a desired behavior — like tolerating tooth brushing — as well as tartar control.

Cat toothbrushes that you place on your finger are a huge help. Place some cat toothpaste on the tip of the finger brush, and hold it out to your cat. Find a flavor your cat will like, so he will want to lick it off. While kitty is doing that, move the brush around on his teeth. Do this only for as long as your cat will tolerate it, and try to do a little more each day. Make this experience as pleasant as possible for your cat and don’t scare him off. Reward him with a dental treat.

3. Take a spa day

Make her feel like she’s at a spa by extending brushing sessions for as long as she wants them. In our household, our kitties love, in fact they beg, to be brushed with a bristle brush every day. My cats’ cottony, medium-length coats need a little more than a bristle brushing to stay mat-free. They don’t particularly care for the detangling flea comb, but they endure it knowing that they will be rewarded with a bristle brushing afterward.

A spa day also includes nails. Check and trim the ends regularly to keep them from overgrowing.

4. Clean the casa

Clear out the ceiling cobwebs and the cat dander from the window treatments. Vacuum up cat hair, and your own, from carpeting, flooring, and furniture. Don’t forget the air ducts. Whether running the heat or air conditioning, you want those to be cleaned every year.

You and your kitties will be less bothered by allergens in a clean home. Some things will need to wait until spring cleaning time, but youcan at least get a good start with the inside of your home in January.

5. Replace the litter boxes

You clean them every day and, at least once in a while, dump out the old litter and replace it with new. Once a year, completely replace the box. With their sensitive noses, your cats will be especially grateful for having a clean-smelling bathroom.

6. Repair, refurbish, rearrange or replace your cat’s furniture

Even small changes to your cats’ furniture will create a new adventure for them. First, repair. If any strings are hanging from the cat trees, cut them off. If sisal around the scratching posts is frayed, go the DIY route and replace it or buy a new scratcher. If new furniture is not an option, make old furniture new to your cats by rearranging it. It’s true that cats are routine, creatures of habit, but they do get bored. Make changes gradually, and get to know your cats’ preferences by reading their body language and reactions to small changes.

7. Plan an edible kitty garden

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Photo by iStock

You won’t be planting until spring, but you can prepare your list of cat-friendly plants now. Decide on pots and planters you will use for an indoor or outdoor edible garden. The ASPCA lists hundreds of nontoxic plants for cats on its website. Of course, no cat should be allowed to eat any plant in excess, as cats are obligate carnivores and need a predominantly meat-based diet.

8. Spend more quality time with your cat

For some, this is a nap. My kitties love it when I take a nap with them on Sunday afternoons. When I come home from singing in my church choir, I’m exhausted, and they seem to know it’s naptime, because they jump up on the bed, walk around in circles, purr, knead, and wait for me to join them. Maddie will snuggle right up against my legs, while Sophie kneads a spot near me. I think they look forward to it as much as I do.

A power nap does me some good and gives me the strength and mental capacity to finish the rest of my day. But not everyone needs or benefits from a nap. My husband, Mark, goes out in our enclosed patio with Maddie, who enjoys some outdoor time. Whatever it is for you, maybe it’s extra petting sessions or extra playtime or spending some safe outdoor time with your kitty, make time to do it on a weekly basis.

9. Try a new interactive cat toy

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Photo by iStock

Cats naturally like to chase and hunt bugs, mice, and birds, so toys mimic these favorite feline prey animals. Cats have their preferences, too, so some may prefer mouse toys that “crawl” on the floor, some may prefer feather toys that “fly” through the air, while others prefer bug toys that do a combination of both. While cats do like familiar things that have their scent on it, when it comes to toys, or prey, they do get bored, so invest in some new toys each year or create your own.

Cats can entertain themselves with some toys while you’re away, such as the circular tracks with a ball that goes around as kitty bats it. Some of the newer track-and-ball toys have multiple levels. Some are battery powered with a mouse that goes around the track. My friend Sandy Robins’ cat, Ziggy, has figured out how to turn it on by himself, but for many cats, you probably have to be there to turn it on. Still, these keep cats entertained for a long time.

Interactive toys involve a wand or a fishing reel. The beauty of an interactive toy is that it allows you to play with your cat. Spend some time every day playing with your cat, whether it’s five, 10, or 15 minutes. Your cat will look forward to it. When you play with your cat, he or she will bond with you on a whole new level.

10. Introduce your cat to a foraging toy

Ideally, after a play session, a cat should eat a meal, because this simulates the natural feline experience. Cats hunt, chase, and play with their prey before they sit down for their meal. Foraging toys combine cats’ play and hunting instincts with their need to eat. Numerous foraging toys proliferate the market that take kibble or treats. You can also make your own foraging toys using an empty paper towel or toilet paper tube. Catster writer Angie Bailey made five DIY toys from empty toilet paper rolls (check it out on Catster.com). If your cat goes crazy for catnip, this herb can enhance any toy and attract your cat to it.

Take small steps toward doing these 10 things in the New Year, and you and your cat will have a happier, healthier 2017 all year long.

About the author: Susan Logan-McCracken and her husband are brushing their two cats, Sophie and Maddie, more regularly now that they have found a brush that their kitties love. Their Southern California home has less cat hair floating around in it now.