May 2016 guest blog article
Kristen Levine, pet living expert
It should come as no surprise to pet lovers that our furry friends are dependent on us when it comes to wellness and health care. A word to the wise: You will be best prepared to keep your beloved friend in optimum health if you build a relationship with a trusted family veterinarian and keep up with regular wellness and medical exams, vaccines and preventative care.
One of the simplest preventative measures you can take to keep Fido or Fluffy in good health is to simply take the time to “pet your pet” every day. Petting your furry companion not only provides for their social and emotional needs, but also can be of great benefit to his or her health and medical needs. Start at one end of the animal – which usually will greet you with a lick of enthusiasm – and work your way to the end that wags!
Conducting daily inspections of your pet’s general health – making sure they have bright eyes, a shiny coat, moist snout, pleasant breath, and no lumps, bumps or sores – will help you familiarize yourself with what is normal for your animal and what isn’t. By checking your pet daily, you will have a major head start on treating any abnormalities, pain or problems that may show up along the way.
Setting up annual or bi-annual appointments with your veterinarian will give him or her the opportunity to perform a physical exam and important diagnostic tests that can uncover potential health issues that you wouldn’t necessarily detect.
Prevention is key to keeping your furry friend in good health. Here are five preventative measures every pet owner should consider:
- Spaying and Neutering
Female pets should be spayed (have their ovaries and uterus removed) and male pets should be neutered (have their testicles removed) by six months of age. Spaying before maturity significantly reduces the risk of breast cancer, a common and frequently fatal disease in older female dogs. Spaying also eliminates the risk of an infected uterus, a very serious condition that requires surgery and intensive medical care. Neutering males prevents testicular and prostate diseases, some hernias and certain types of aggression. “Fixing” your pet is the most important measure you can take to keep from ending up with an unwanted litter of kittens or puppies and contributing to the massive pet overpopulation problem in the U.S.
Pets should be vaccinated against highly contagious and deadly diseases. If an unvaccinated pet contracts such a disease, treatment can become very expensive and the symptoms can be fatal.
It is also important to remember that pets can be vaccinated for some Zoonotic (pronounced ZOE-oh-not-ick) diseases, which are ones that can be spread from animals to people. For example, rabies is a serious and often fatal disease that can spread in this manner. So when you vaccinate Fido or Fluffy against rabies, you also are protecting your family and neighborhood.
Many factors are taken into consideration when establishing a pet's vaccination plan. Your veterinarian will help you tailor a program of vaccinations and health care to your pet’s specific needs.
- Preventing Worms
There are various types of worms (internal parasites) that can affect your dog or cat. Some commonly seen parasite species are: hookworm, roundworm (most common), tapeworm, heartworm and whipworm. Young animals are usually more likely to become infected; in fact most puppies and kittens, even from healthy mothers in good homes, carry roundworms or hookworms.
The most common way that pets contract worms is by ingesting the eggs of intestinal parasites which are passed through cat or dog feces. Pets can become infected with tapeworm if they ingest a “host” such as a flea or small rodent that carries the tapeworm larvae.
Healthy pets may not show outward signs of a worm infection. However, contact your veterinarian if you notice diarrhea, excessive coughing or a change in your pet's appetite or coat. In most cases, a simple fecal test can detect the presence of worms, and if your pet has them, your vet will recommend a deworming program. A good way to prevent worm infections is by using one of several monthly heartworm preventives your vet can provide, and while there are several dewormers available for tapeworms, keeping your pet free of fleas is the best method of prevention.
Prompt treatment of internal parasites will reduce your pet's discomfort, decrease the chances of intestinal damage, and keep your pet from infecting humans or other animals. Correct diagnosis is key to treatment and will ensure that the medication prescribed is effective against the parasite your pet has. A dewormer that eliminates roundworms, for example, will not kill tapeworms. Your veterinarian can best determine the culprit—and prescribe the appropriate medication for your pet.
- Preventing Heartworm
Heartworm is a parasite that lives in an animal’s heart and is passed from dog to dog by mosquitoes. Heartworm infections can be fatal. A once-a-month pill given during mosquito season will protect your dog, and he or she should have a blood test for heartworm every spring to detect possible infections from the previous year. If you travel south with your pet during the winter, your dog should be on preventive heartworm medicine during the trip. In some warmer regions, veterinarians recommend medication throughout the year.
Once believed to be a threat only to dogs, heartworm disease can infect your feline too – even if her or she lives indoors. Cats have been shown to have an infection rate as high as 30 percent in some parts of the U.S., according to VeterinaryPartner.com. And although a heartworm preventative treatment exists for cats, only three million cats in the entire country are taking it. That’s only three percent of the population of feline pets!
Feline heartworm disease is caused by the same parasite that affects dogs, and cats become infected the same way dogs do – from mosquitoes. But because of their physiology, the disease can be a more devastating diagnosis for a cat. To complicate matters, feline heartworm diagnosis can be tricky.
Therefore, whether your preferred pet barks or purrs, it is of utmost importance to establish a heartworm prevention program with your veterinarian that is suitable for your pet and geographical region.
- Dental Care
While many of us may object to our pet's bad breath, we should pay attention to what it may be telling us. Bad breath is most commonly an indication that Fido or Fluffy is in need of a dental check up. Dental plaque caused by bacteria results in a foul smell that requires professional treatment.
Many cat owners are surprised to learn that 85% of adult pets have periodontal disease and that dental disease is the largest single cause of health problems in cats.
Most veterinarians advise regular at-home dental maintenance combined with veterinary dental examinations. If you start early with a dental care program for your cat or dog, you can help protect their teeth for life – which is important because pets usually don't wear dentures!
A word of caution
Never give your dog medication that has not been prescribed by a veterinarian. For example, did you know that one regular-strength ibuprofen tablet can cause stomach ulcers in a ten-pound dog? Keep rat poison and other rodenticides away from your pet. If you suspect that your animal has ingested a poisonous substance, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center for 24-hour animal poison information at (888) 426-4435.
For more ways to live happier and healthier with pets, visit my website, Kristen Levine Pet Living.