1. Wellness examinations
Our four-legged friends age more quickly than humans, so it is necessary to have your veterinarian perform a physical exam once a year. Dogs and cats are also very stoic animals and can show subtle signs of illness that you may not notice. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that senior pets have an examination every 6 months as well as blood tests.
2. Spay and Neuter
Spaying and neutering helps keep the pet population under control and prevents unnecessary euthanasia due to shelter over-crowding. Also, neutering eliminates the chance of testicular cancer and greatly reduces the risk of prostate disease as your male dog ages. Females who are spayed before their first heat cycle are significantly less likely to develop mammary cancer.
3. Healthy Weight
The human population world-wide is getting larger – not just by population but by the size of our waistlines. The same ‘obesity epidemic’ is seen in our pet populations as well. 1 in 3 pets in the United States is now overweight or obese. Overweight and obese pets are more likely to suffer from arthritis, respiratory compromise, skin disease and even Type 2 diabetes. Cats are especially prone to Type 2 or insulin resistance diabetes when they have excess body fat and eat a high carbohydrate diet. Keep your pet’s weight in check by encouraging exercise and avoid overfeeding.
4. Parasite Control
Fleas and ticks are the most common parasites to affect our pets. They not only cause skin irritation and infection; they can also carry diseases and internal parasites such as tapeworms and Babesia. It is necessary to use appropriate products to prevent infection, especially during the summertime. Talk to your veterinarian about which products work best in your area.
Internal parasites or ‘worms’ are very common in young animals and can cause diarrhea and other health issues. Fecal parasite screenings should be done once a year at the wellness examination. Deworming should be done periodically if your pet becomes infected. Avoid hunting and scavenging behaviours, as this can also lead to parasite infection. Roundworms can also pose a human health risk and can cause blindness, especially in children. Soil contaminated with infected pet feces in the soil is the leading source of roundworm infection in children, so pick up your pet’s feces and dispose of them properly.
Heartworms are endemic in much of the southern regions of the United States, Africa, southeast Asia and in European countries around the Mediterranean Sea. If you live in these regions or are travelling there, talk to your veterinarian about monthly heartworm prevention.
5. Dental Care
Good oral health doesn’t only ensure fresh-smelling breath – it can also prevent oral pain and tooth loss. Your veterinarian will check your pet’s teeth at the yearly wellness exam and recommend at-home care or prophylactic dentistry. Daily tooth brushing with a pet-friendly enzymatic toothpaste will reduce tartar and plaque buildup, which can lead to periodontal disease. Oral rinses and dental treats will also promote dental health.
Microchipping is an affordable permanent method of identification. Collars and tags can be easily lost, but a microchip (about the size of a grain of rice) will remain under your pet’s skin for life. Microchips are also required for travel within the European Union and to many other countries abroad.
7. Travel Safety
Unsecured pets can easily be thrown from the vehicle even in a minor traffic accident, causing serious injury or death. Some people think that keeping your pet in a crate is cruel, but it is the safest way for them to travel, much like a child in a car seat. Small crates should be secured to the car’s seat with the seat belt. If a crate is not for you, other pet restraint devices such as so-called ‘dog seat belts’ can also be used for restraint in an automobile or airline seat. It is best for your pet to travel in the back seat of the vehicle. If this is not possible, disable the front passenger air bag, as it can kill pets if deployed. Never allow your pet to stick his or her head out of the window of a moving car or ride in the bed of a pickup truck.
8. Toxin Awareness
Many foods, medications and household items that are okay for humans are actually toxic for dogs and cats. The common pain reliever ibuprofen is toxic to dogs in cats and causes stomach ulcers and kidney failure even at small doses. Household plants such as the Easter lily are toxic to cats, leading to vomiting and kidney failure. Common foods like chocolate also contain toxic substances for our pets, including caffeine. For more information about pet toxins, please use the free database link here at the ASPCA Poison Control Center. If you think that your pet has been exposed to a toxin, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian.
Puppies and kittens receive their “childhood vaccines” within the first 16 weeks of life and these vaccines are repeated periodically to maintain immunity. In many countries, yearly vaccination is a thing of the past. However, some countries and local governments require yearly vaccination for Rabies. Three-year vaccines are available for dog diseases such as Canine Distemper and Parvovirus and cat diseases like Panleukopenia. Some veterinarians even offer antibody checks in lieu of vaccination.
When preparing for travel within the European Union, yearly vaccination for Rabies is necessary. Some countries, like Japan, not only require current vaccination but an additional blood test before import.
10. Healthy Environment
Many of our four-legged friends live exclusively indoors with us. This may be the safest alternative for our pets but it can be boring. Indoor cats especially benefit from “environmental enrichment” such as toys, cat trees for climbing and sleeping, and even periodic access to a secure balcony. Dogs need daily exercise and some need this more than others. Enrolling your dog into an agility club or obedience course is a great way to exercise together and challenge your dog’s intellect.