I’m going to briefly cover a broad range of topics. In the future I expand on many of these. The following are some of the most important areas related to keeping your pets healthy, so they can have a long, high quality life. Incidentally, the more healthy your pets are, the less money they will cost you.
Be a Student of Your Pet’s Body Condition
See this previous article, that includes body condition diagrams. Your pet needs proper diet and exercise, no matter what type of creature they are!
Diet: Feed a high quality diet to your pets. This is money well invested. Feed an appropriate amount according to body condition, not according to the amount recommended on the label! Dogs can do well on quality canned and/or dry dog food. Cats are highly evolved and specialized carnivores. Cats should not eat dry food. Dry food was created as a convenience to people, not for the sake of cats. Feeding cats dry food is as inappropriate as feeding hamburgers to a horse.
ATTENTION: For dogs specifically, read my article HERE.
Generally, dogs and cats are not built for “free choice” feeding, meaning food is available all the time. I discourage this in all but very rare medical circumstances.
Exercise: All animals of any sort need regular exercise. By closely watching calories, any animal can maintain a proper weight. However, that is only half the picture. Your pet needs daily exercise to be truly healthy. This is of particular concern for strictly indoor cats, or dogs that rarely go outside.
Work with your veterinarian for a diet and exercise plan for your pet.
Dental Health is IMPORTANT
Close to all of the pets I see have some degree of dental disease. Oral health is important from a comfort and infection perspective, but also for the overall well-being of your pet.
When selecting dental products for your dog or cat, make sure they are VOHC approved.
Brushing Teeth: You may chuckle, but your pets need their teeth brushed, once a day. This is for the same simple reason that people need to brush their teeth daily: to remove plaque before it can accumulate and cause dental disease. The time to get started on this is now. There are excellent instructional videos available online. Your veterinarian can direct you to those.
Chew Treats and Toys: Don’t give your pets hard objects to chew on! Don’t ever give your dog or cat bones, cow hooves, bully sticks or hard plastic toys. Hard objects can and will break teeth. I see a dog or cat with broken teeth at least once a week. Don’t give any ball with fuzz on it to your pet as a toy. Please do not give any treats that don’t come from your country of origin, especially jerky treats. One thing to be aware of, for example, that “Made in the USA” does not always mean the ingredients come from the USA!
Prevent and Prepare for Pet Emergencies
Pet-proof your home just the way you would baby-proof it. You have to be even more careful as pets can access areas of the home that babies can’t get to.
Be informed and prepared. Search online for ASPCA’s 101 Household Pet Dangers, or get a free copy from your veterinarian. Have the ASPCA’s Poison Control hot line number on your refrigerator or somewhere easy to find: 1-888-426-4435. Don’t ever give any medication to your pet without your vet’s approval.
Consider pet insurance. Study your options. Search online for Pet Insurance University (http://www.pet-insurance-university.com/). Consider at least an emergency-only plan.
Don’t transport your dogs in the open back of your truck. I have seen dogs die from this. Various laws regulate this. For example, here is the relevant California Motor Vehicle Code if you happen to live in that state.
Do not leave your pets unsupervised in a vehicle. Temperatures in a vehicle can rise dramatically even when it doesn’t seem that warm outside. Search online for Pets in Vehicles by the AVMA. https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/pets-in-vehicles.aspx
Don’t allow your dogs to run loose and unsupervised. Sometimes pets can accidentally get loose. Do your best to avoid this, but make sure your pets are microchipped for the best chance of finding them again.
Keep your pets out of trouble. Outdoors, make sure dogs and cats avoid areas with fox tails, round burs, cactus spines, etc. Dogs will eat fish hooks on the beach. Indoors or out, dogs love marijuana, compost and trash, rodent poison, slug/snail bait and fertilizer, all of which can be toxic. Many cats like to eat linear objects, such as string, thread (even with needle attached!), rubber bands or pantyhose. Dogs and sometimes even cats will eat peoples’ medication if they get a chance!
Know in advance what to do if you have an emergency with your pet. Have established care with a local veterinarian and know how they handle emergencies. Don’t wait for a crisis to figure this out. Be prepared financially for emergencies, which might include pet insurance.
Spay or Neuter Your Pet
Many health problems will be avoided by doing this. Consult with your veterinarian as to the proper age to have this done.
I will write on this topic in more detail in the future. Apart from large-scale issues such as the pet overpopulation crisis (see next section), various types of cancer and other illnesses can be reduced or avoided.
Don’t Buy or Breed a Pet
I have an upcoming article that I’ve already written and published in our local newspaper. I will get that posted here in the future. Estimates vary, but well in excess of one million adoptable pets are killed each year at shelters in the USA. It is a crisis that almost never gets talked about. Remember that “pure bred” dogs and cats will almost always have more health problems than mixed breeds.
Get a proper, thorough physical exam for your pet at least once a year, by your veterinarian. Your pet can’t tell you when they have a problem. You often won’t know about it unless it is very severe or visible to you. Just because your pet is eating and acting “fine” is not a reason to skip this important step. Many life-threatening illnesses can be caught early or completely avoided. Do not wait for a crisis to visit the vet.
Dogs and cats need to be protected against heartworms, intestinal worms, fleas, ticks and other parasites. This is for their health but also consider that some parasites can be transmitted to people.
Many life-threatening diseases can be avoided though vaccination. Not all pets should have the exact same set of vaccines. Some depend on lifestyle. Discuss what is recommended with your veterinarian. Puppies and kittens should have their first vet visit when they are 6-8 weeks old, and vaccination can be started.
The above was a brief overview of very important topics. If you have questions or comments, please comment below or write to doc @ healthypetdoc.com (remove the spaces before and after the @ symbol). What would you like to learn more about?