Preventive Pet Care: Your Pet’s Wellness Program
By Dr. Bruce Little
The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly holds true when it comes to pet health. Veterinarians recommend regular wellness exams for the same reason your physician and dentist recommend them – if you can detect a problem in its early stages, it’s more likely to be treated and resolved with less difficulty, less expense, and better success. Call a veterinarian near you to schedule a wellness visit.
Vaccinations, heartworm prevention and routine deworming are important components of wellness care and can prevent diseases that are not only life-threatening, but very expensive to treat. Your veterinarian can recommend a wellness program based on your pet’s age, lifestyle, overall health, or breed (some breeds are predisposed to certain health problems).
The cost of prevention is often a fraction of the cost of treating a disease or problem once it has become more advanced, and early diagnosis and treatment of developing problems or diseases can increase the likelihood of successful outcomes.
Preventive healthcare involves a multi-faceted approach that includes veterinary evaluation of your pet’s overall health and risks of disease or other health problems. Based on the findings, your veterinarian will provide you with recommendations for your pet’s nutrition, dental care, vaccinations and heartworm/flea/tick prevention, as well as recommendations specifically tailored to your pet’s health status and risk factors.
The centerpiece of a pet wellness program is an annual veterinary exam. Pets should visit the veterinarian at least once a year. These exams provide an opportunity to check on their overall health, and to review the vaccination status, parasite control process and various programs that are appropriate for each pet at that moment in time depending on their lifestyle, environmental conditions, age and condition of health.
Here are additional factors to consider for your pet’s wellness program:
- Spay/neuter. These procedures prevent individual medical problems such as mammary and testicular tumors and uterine infections. Spaying or neutering helps curb pet overpopulation and reduces the number of unwanted pets who are euthanized every day. Spay and neuter surgeries can be safely performed as early as 8-12 weeks of age.
- Weight management. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), veterinarians found that 54 percent of adult dogs and 59 percent of cats were classified as overweight or obese. Prevention is much easier to accomplish than treatment, so help pets get on the right diet and exercise regimen.
- Balanced diet. Commercial dog and cat foods make it easy to provide a nutritionally balanced and complete diet. Dog and cat foods contain all the different nutrients pets need in the appropriate quantities. It’s difficult to create a balanced and complete diet from people foods or home produced cooked or raw foods.
- Dental care. Evaluate teeth and oral health annually. Your veterinarian will encourage you to brush your pet’s teeth. Unchecked, dental disease may cause periodontal disease, and can lead to kidney problems or nutritional issues if the pet cannot adequately chew and digest food.
- Consideration of age. As animals age, their dietary requirements and ability to digest certain foods changes. When pets grow older, they lose some ability to concentrate urine, so they need to produce more, and therefore need more water intake. By feeding pets better quality proteins and avoiding red meats like beef and beef by-products will decrease the workload on the kidneys and help prevent premature kidney disease.
- Environmental factors. If pets go outside for eliminating waste, excessive heat or cold can be a factor in their management of these conditions. Cold, snowy weather can rob them of the scents and geography with which they are familiar, many times causing them to hold in their urine or bowel movement, which leads to severe constipation and/or urinary infection. Excessive heat can cause dehydration and burning of the pads on their paws. During your pet’s annual exam, your veterinarian can inform you of the best current actions you can take to protect your pet from the forces of nature.
No one knows your pet as well as you, but veterinarians are trained to detect diseases before they become issues for both you and your pet. Make it a habit to schedule a checkup for your pet every year. There is no better gift you can give to your pet than a long, healthy life and annual checkups are an easy way to ensure your pet is receiving preventive care on a regular basis. It will be less expensive for you, and it will be better for your pet.