By Dr. Lonnie King – Oconee Regional Humane Society
Our pets bring great enjoyment to our lives and, to many, they have reached a new status as a special family member. We all want our pets to live long, healthy and active lives. However, each day pets suffer health issues that could have been prevented with a little foresight and planning. To remind us that we are responsible for our pet’s health, October has been designated as “National Pet Wellness Month”. In observance of this occasion, here are ten tips to promote pet wellness and proper care.
1. Vaccinations. Dogs and cats are at risk for serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases. Fortunately, many of these diseases can be prevented through the administration of vaccines. It is especially important to begin vaccinations with young puppies and kittens and keep them up to date for their entire lifetime. There are core vaccinations needed yearly and non-core vaccinations that may also be needed based on veterinary recommendations or special circumstances. Remember that a rabies vaccination is legally required by the state of Georgia.
2. Proper Nutrition. Pets need a diet with wholesome ingredients and balanced nutrition for optimal growth and development that is tailored to their age group. It is estimated that more than half of our dogs and cats in America are classified as either over-weight or obese, which can lead to serious health conditions such as diabetes, liver problems and joint disease. Proper nutrition and weight control are like a daily dose of preventive medicine. It is essential to be knowledgeable about your pet’s nutritional needs. There are many high-quality commercial pet foods that meet approved standards and have been formulated based on strong research and development data. While our pets may be family members, they are not people when it comes to food and their special needs. Be cautious of fad and internet diets that promise good health but have no scientific basis or rationale to base their claims.
3. Preventing Ticks, Fleas, Heartworms and Internal Parasites (Worms). Internal and external parasites can pose serious health risks to pets. These pests such as fleas and ticks and internal worms can readily be prevented by the many options available that are easy to use, safe and effective. Some products will work to prevent all these parasites at the same time. However, having numerous options can be complicated for pet owners trying to make the right decisions. Some products are oral, some are topical (putting the product on their coat), others are injectable, and some contain chemicals embedded into collars. The products vary in the length of time that they work or are protective, and their uses may be different depending if they will be given to a cat or dog. For example, heartworms occur in both dogs and cats but differ in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Preventing internal and external parasites can also help prevent the spread of some serious diseases to owners and family members as well as to pets. Because we live in the south, ticks, fleas, heartworms and internal parasites are year-round threats so preventive treatments must also be used year- round and continued for a pet’s lifetime.
4. Spaying and Neutering. Having your pet spayed or neutered is key to curbing pet over-population and reduces the number of unwanted animals in our communities. Abandoned animals and strays are a common problem across Georgia. These animals, unfortunately, often live shortened, difficult and abused lives. Spaying and neutering can also reduce or prevent certain infections and cancers found in intact cats and dogs.
5. Grooming. Proper grooming keeps pets comfortable and clean. Regular brushing removes dead hair and helps distribute natural oils resulting in healthier coats and reduces mats from forming. Nail trimming helps to avoid injuries and discomfort when nails are over-grown, break or split. Routinely brushing your pet every few days, is part of wellness and gives you an opportunity to detect or notice any growths or abnormalities in their skin or musculature that need early attention.
6. Exercise. Just as in people, a regular exercise routine is essential to a pet’s good health. Exercise can help a pet maintain a healthy weight, and keep their muscles, tendons and bones strong. It may also help to reduce tendencies toward behavior problems. Walking, playing and enjoying the outdoors benefit health by burning calories and increasing an animal’s metabolic rate. Exercising your pet has an added benefit, it promotes better health in the owners as well.
7. Dental Care. Regular dental care is essential to maintaining good pet health. Some pets will tolerate brushing their teeth, which can be quite helpful, but be sure to use toothpaste that has been cleared for dogs or cats. Some human toothpastes can be very toxic and harmful especially in cats. Watch for excessive tartar, abnormal gums (reddened or bloody) or loose teeth. Unchecked dental disease can lead to kidney problems, painful periodontal disease or nutritional problems if the pet cannot chew food properly. As in people, routine teeth cleaning can be a helpful and necessary adjunct to good health.
8. Quality Time. The time that you spend with your pet can be invaluable. Pets are very tuned into us and quite perceptive. Likewise, you can learn more about them – their mood, personality, preferences and, at times, how they are feeling. By knowing a pet’s normal behavior and physical condition, you will be able to detect changes to their health much earlier. Quality time helps to establish a strong human-animal bond and can improve good behavior and training. For most people, having quality time to interact with a pet is one of the most enjoyable and gratifying activities that we share with them.
9. Pet Identification and Record Keeping. We never know when an emergency may arise so preparing ahead of time makes good sense. An important part of preparing is having your pet permanently identified and saving documents that track its health and care. The use of microchips is the best method to identify a pet. Make sure that the identification number is readily available and listed on state and national registers. Keeping records of vaccinations and medical exams, copies of pet tags and adoption papers can serve as helpful reminders for future appointments and may be needed in case of an emergency. It may also be useful to keep an updated photograph of a pet to help identify them.
10. Veterinary Examinations. Pets age more quickly than we do, which means that changes in their health can occur and escalate quickly. Dogs and especially cats can conceal early symptoms of disease problems. Thus professional examinations are important to diagnose and treat health problems early before they become more serious and costly. Establishing a relationship with a veterinarian is a valuable and effective way to ensure your pet’s health and wellness over its lifetime. Establishing routine wellness visits and examinations for your pet solidifies this relationship, optimizes health and enables you to have a competent and experienced professional available to you if there is an emergency or need for special care or treatment.
As pet owners, we share a common goal of ensuring a long, happy and healthy life for our special pets. National Pet Wellness Month reminds us that Benjamin Franklin’s advice, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is just as applicable to our pet’s health as to our own health and well-being.