General Care for Pets
General pet care
To most people, a companion dog or cat is considered as much a family member as a child. The health of a pet then is of utmost importance to its owner. Illness can be stressful for both the owner and animal, causing worry, financial burden, and often some degree of inconvenience. It is now common to emphasize preventative health care as a means of preventing disease if possible, rather than treating the outcome. With advances in medicine, there are many ways that you and your veterinarian can ensure your pet is in optimal health.
Annual Physical Exam
A yearly visit to the veterinarian is perhaps the most important thing you can do to ensure your pet’s well-being. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam to look for early signs of abnormalities. Vital functions, such as circulatory, cardiovascular, and respiratory status will be assessed.
Your veterinarian will look for signs of infections throughout the body, including the eyes and ears if the animal will allow it. An assessment of dental hygiene will be performed to determine if dental disease or tooth abnormalities are present.
Your pet’s weight will be assessed, usually for obesity, and a nutritional program can be designed. Finally, the animal will be checked over for lumps and bumps, both on the surface of the body and within the abdomen. This check-up can be extremely useful to catch diseases in their early stages, allowing for prompt treatment if necessary and usually better outcomes.
Annual vaccinations are paramount in preventative care for your pet. These vaccinations include: Rabies, Canine Distemper Virus, Adenovirus Type 2, Parainfluenza, and Parvovirus for your dog. Optional vaccines include Canine Leptospirosis, Kennel Cough, Lyme Disease, and Giardia. For your cat, annual vaccines required are Rabies, Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia. If your cat is allowed outdoors, Feline Leukemia is also recommended. Vaccines are important to provide protection against highly contagious and serious diseases. Although it may seem expensive to vaccinate every year, treating these diseases (if even possible) when serious, is much more costly and may not result in a cure. It is highly recommended that your pet be up to date on vaccines so that these diseases will not be of concern.
Spay / Neuter
It is recommended that your pet be spayed/neutered at the age of six months or slightly earlier. This practice is important for several reasons, including unwanted puppies/kittens, pet overpopulation issues, and the future health of your animal. A litter of puppies or kittens are not only a lot of work, but also expensive to care for. They need constant care for at least eight weeks, before they are able to be adopted out. As well, there are many health benefits to fixing your pet early in life. For females, spaying decreases or eliminates the risk of mammary, ovarian, and uterine cancer. It also greatly decreases the risk of pyometra, a life-threatening infection of the uterus. In males, early castration eliminates the risk of testicular cancer, and greatly decreases the incidence of prostate disease. There can also be positive behaviour changes, such as decreased aggressiveness in dogs and urine spraying in cats.
Heartworm Testing & Prevention
Heartworm is a parasite endemic to many parts of North America and is transmitted by mosquitoes. When an infected mosquito bites a dog, the parasite travels to the bloodstream and eventually matures in the heart, producing offspring. If you live in an area where heartworm is present, basically anywhere with mosquitoes, testing and prevention is important. In areas where heartworm is endemic, for example the southern United States and some select areas in Canada, annual testing for heartworm disease is extremely important. In other areas, annual and bi-annual testing is used as a screening too to check for early infections. Because infection with heartworm can lead to heart failure and requires costly treatment, early detection of disease results in a better prognosis. Monthly prevention of heartworm with medication is now a regular practice, with the medications being extremely safe and effective. They come in a variety of formulations (topical or oral), and can include protection against fleas and worms. It is important to remember to administer the medication regularly once a month to ensure the best protection.
As your pet gets older, organ systems such as the liver and kidneys may begin to diminish in function. Wellness testing refers to checking all the internal body functions for changes that may indicate disease. Your veterinarian will collect blood to check for changes in blood parameters and organ function. This can allow for early detection of diseases before symptoms are present, leading to earlier treatment, which in some cases may slow down the progression of a disease. If your pet’s bloodwork is normal, this can provide a baseline for future wellness tests. Your pet’s urine can also be tested, in conjunction with blood, for changes in kidney function, often leading to earlier diagnosis of kidney disease.
If there was only one thing that most dogs live for, it would be food. That is why dental hygiene for our pets is so important. It is ideal to start brushing your pet’s teeth when they are still young, so that they can grow accustomed to the procedure. A toothpaste that is specially formulated for pets and a soft bristled dog tooth brush should be used (both available online or at your local pet store or veterinarian’s office). If necessary, your veterinarian can perform a total dental examination and cleaning under general anesthesia. Your pet’s teeth will be scaled and polished, and the teeth and gums will be examined thoroughly, with problem teeth extracted if necessary. Keeping your pet’s teeth clean can prevent painful dental problems that can also lead to blood-borne infections of the heart.
In summary, preventative medicine for your pet is as important as seeing your veterinarian when your animal is not feeling well. Many common problems, especially in older animals, can be treated more effectively or even prevented when a prevention program is in place for your pet.
By Beverly Wong – Pets.ca writer