Written by Clayton Greenway, B.Sc, DVM, West Hill Animal Clinic, 5528 Lawrence Av East, Scarborough, ON
The first cat I rescued was a 16 year old Abyssinian who I named Mr. Peepers. I met him in my exam room 2 years after I graduated Vet school. His owner didn’t want him anymore and requested he be euthanized despite the fact that he didn’t have any severe medical conditions, other than being old and in poor body condition. I decided to take him home and although my work was cut out for me, I wanted to restore him to optimal health and keep him that way. I figure all animals deserve that chance and my efforts saw him live to 22 years old. This success taught me how important it is to maintain an optimal health plan for our pets. Since then, I’ve seen how paying attention to routine check-ups and preventive care keeps our pets happy and healthy all the years we own them. The following is a list of things that will help maintain optimal healthcare for your pet.
Vaccination. It’s not sexy, but essential!!
I’m frequently asked why it’s necessary to vaccinate our pets so often, especially when we don’t do it for ourselves. In addition, there seems to be a growing concern, especially online, that vaccination may be unnatural and unnecessary. The truth is that vaccination is a historically proven means of preventing disease in all species. A vaccine is given to reduce risk, specifically the risk of contracting a disease that our pet could be exposed to. If your pet has a routine that can expose it to parks, other animals, wildlife, and lakes then risk increases. It’s important to remember that animals are much more intimate with their environment than we are; they keep their nose on the ground, eat things they shouldn’t, roll in the dirt, lick themselves and often other dogs. If we did these things, we would vaccinate ourselves more too! An optimal health plan requires a discussion with your vet about routine vaccination to prevent illnesses.
Diet. An absolute fundamental that few can agree on.
Look online and confusion quickly sets in. There are so many types of diets and an endless number of pet food companies that it’s hard to know where to start. Raw vs. cooked, canned vs. dry, homemade vs. manufactured, hypoallergenic, holistic, all-natural, no wheat gluten…and what the heck is wheat gluten! There are a lot of choices, it’s extremely important which one you make, and not all veterinarians will agree with each other’s opinions. The diet I selected for Mr. Peepers got him back to an ideal body weight, returned his energy, and brightened his coat to a beautiful shine all within a few short weeks. Here are a couple of comments that may start to guide you through proper diet choices.
I tell all my clients that any diet you choose will always be a trial. Get the most expensive, all-natural grain-free diet that’s grown and hand-picked in California and I guarantee that some dog out there will get diarrhea after eating it. You need to select a diet with input from your vet and then see what happens. A good food should make a pet have firm bowel movements, a shiny coat, they should eat it well, not vomit, not scratch, and maintain an optimal body weight.
Always choose a diet that addresses an existing or potential medical condition. If you think your pet is completely healthy, then pick a food that prevents a common condition that may develop in your pet’s future. Here are just a few examples of situations where a diet can be preventive. Small breed dogs are prone to significant dental issues and should be fed a diet to prevent tartar. Large breed dogs are prone to becoming overweight and developing arthritis so they should be fed something calorie controlled that is supplemented with glucosamine. Indoor cats can become overweight due to low activity and are also prone to forming urinary crystals so an ideal diet would be calorie controlled and lightly acidify the urine to prevent crystal formation.
Buy a food that is proven. There are many pet food companies that perform less than ideal trials of their food on animals before it goes on the shelf. Take the time to call the company and ask questions regarding their diets, such as how they test them or where they get their ingredients. The best diets are ‘balanced for life stage’, meaning they are created to address the needs of your pet’s age…and keep in mind that even if a bag says ‘adult’, it may still have a calorie content more suited to a growing puppy and could make your adult pet overweight. The marketing on the bag may not match the content so in the end you’ll have to do the research yourself and your veterinarian can help.
Teeth. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
This is an issue that will affect every one of our pets but it is vastly overlooked. I credit good oral care as one of the reasons that Mr. Peepers made it to the ripe old age of 22. It’s such a fundamental part of good healthcare but most people I see in my exam room have little understanding of how devastating it can be to their pet’s health. Chronic dental disease acts like a stable infection in your pet that the body has to continually battle, leading to physiological stress and at worst, infection into more vital organs of the body. This may sound farfetched, but I’ve certainly seen mysterious infections in otherwise healthy animals, with the only culprit being infected gums. Just imagine what would happen if you or I didn’t brush our teeth for 10 years…every tooth would be rotting out of our mouths and unfortunately in many senior pets, this is what happens. I sometimes wonder how animals are able to tolerate such oral discomfort. I performed dentistry on Mr. Peepers once a year, which is not something I expect out of everyone, but I believe had a tremendous positive impact.
Good dental care is all about prevention. In fact, just paying a little bit of attention to this issue can avoid extremely expensive medical intervention in the future and can significantly add to daily comfort and longevity of your pet. The following are examples of product lines that help maintain optimal healthcare. Brushing teeth with enzymatic toothpaste is the best you can do, but sounds in some cases impossible to owners. I prefer to have owners do a quick and easy cleaning, sometimes without a brush, but do it often and consistently which is a much more realistic task for people. There are a few great diets on the market where the kibbles are constructed in such a way that they scrape the teeth of tartar and still are very nutritious, balanced diets. Treats can supplement oral care but I rarely advocate for them because I personally feel they are significantly inferior to the previously mentioned products. Lastly, there are additives that you can combine with drinking water that may improve oral care, with some recently coming on the market that are making strong claims of success. Many of these strategies are simple and inexpensive, and will help to avoid costly dental procedures down the road, not to mention that they improve quality of life in your pet’s senior years.
Blood work. The great predictor.
Blood work can be costly but it’s worth every penny. I see my doctor every six months and have general blood work performed to monitor and improve my health, and I’m already a reasonably healthy guy. Animals age roughly seven years for every one of our years and yet most people don’t perform routine blood work. This is a vital tool in detecting early disease before it becomes a serious and sometimes life-threatening issue for our pets. I performed annual blood work on Mr. Peepers and it provided early detection and treatment of the renal condition that developed, allowing me to significantly slow its progression at an early stage. Despite the cost of blood work, it will typically result in avoiding costly vet visits and discomfort in your pet.
Parasites. The unseen problem that sneaks up on you.
Parasites are everywhere. Fleas, heartworm and intestinal parasites can easily be contracted and are so much easier to prevent than deal with after they’ve found a home on your pet. Exposure to certain environments such as cottage country, warmer climates, lakes, boarding facilities, and even the park will increase the likelihood of parasite contraction. Every dog should be on a heartworm and flea prevention product at least 6 months out of the year, or longer if you’re travelling south during the winter. An outdoor cat has tremendous risk of exposure to parasites due to their hunting behavior and extreme risk to contracting fleas. Keep in mind that some parasites can potentially transfer to humans who live with the pet and therefore, every pet should be screened for parasites on an annual basis to avoid risk to themselves and your family.
The thoughts I’ve shared here are a good start to providing your pet with a healthy active lifestyle. My experience with Mr. Peepers showed me that addressing these issues resulted in benefits far beyond the effort and expense they cost me. Creating an optimal health plan will not only produce a happy healthy pet, but it will help avoid costly future conditions. I hope you have found this helpful and I wish you and your pet great happiness and