I am often asked, “What is the most important thing I can do for my dog or cat to help him or her live as long as possible?” So many things that we do for our furry loved ones are important that it is impossible for me to pick just one thing. So here are five things, in no particular order, to really focus on so that your furry kids live a long and healthy life.
Choose your Pet’s Food Wisely
I say all the time that there is nothing that I can do for your pet when I see them once or twice a year that is remotely as important as what you feed them every day. There is a lot of competition between dog food companies right now and we and our furry loved ones are definitely the winners. There are so many good foods, I won’t attempt to list them. A good general rule is to avoid buying your pet’s food at the grocery store. Stick with pet stores and veterinarians who carry only the premium brands. Avoid additives, preservatives and by-products, if you can. Most of our pets eat far healthier diets than we do. I wish someone else would choose my food for me!
I usually recommend avoiding the brand new foods that no one has heard of simply because there are not many strict rules or laws governing dog food so the best test is often “the test of time”. Look for an AAFCO sticker on bags of food. AAFCO stands for Association of American Feed Control Officials. They are a non-profit group that sets standards for dog and cat food. This is a good “bare minimum” because not too terribly much is required to earn the AAFCO sticker: just either a chemical analysis of the ingredients for one type sticker and a few weeks feeding trial for a different sticker. The AAFCO feeding trial sticker is slightly better but my biggest complaint is that it’s not long enough.
Keep your Dogs and Cats at a Healthy Weight
Allowing your furry loved one to become overweight predisposes them to multiple health problems (arthritis, diabetes, Cushings disease, pancreatitis, heart disease, etc.) Doing this is simple: watch their calories and increase their exercise. We tend to treat some of our dogs and many of our cats like little animated stuffed animals but they are really athletes that love to exercise, so let them!
Don’t go solely by breed standards to determine what a healthy weight is for your pet. I had an owner just yesterday bring me an extremely tall, skinny pointer that he wanted to enter in dog shows. I commented that he was a little too lean and the owner became aggravated because after we weighed him, he was 2 pounds over the “breed standard”. Then again he is slightly too tall for the “breed standard” as well. I told his disappointed dad that I really wouldn’t recommend showing him because he is really too light for his frame, so HIS personal “weight standard” is always going to be higher than the “breed standard”. This discussion was an unusual one for me because my patients are usually overweight…but the same logic applies.
This may not seem that important, but through the years, my healthiest patients that live the longest have owners that obsess over their dental health. Chronically infected mouths are just not healthy for many reasons. The biggest fear is from bacteria in the mouth that can enter the bloodstream and travel to other organs like kidneys, liver and/or heart valves and cause these organ problems or even failure.
Proper Canine and Feline Dental Care Matters!
We need to be really diligent with our pet’s dental care, starting when they are very young. Ideally the day you get your new loved one, you want to start brushing their teeth. If you are like most normal people and can’t brush your dog’s teeth every day, there is still a lot that you can do for them. Feeding dry food instead of canned or a combination of dry and canned is best for their teeth. There are many products available now for them to chew on that they really enjoy and help maintain tooth and gum health.
Quite possibly the easiest way to help your dog or cat fight periodontal disease is homeopathically. With just one spray every day in their water or in their mouth, “Dental Problems” helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
Keep your Furry Loved Ones “Parasite Free”
Did you know fleas can kill a small puppy or kitten by literally sucking too much blood from them? This thankfully doesn’t happen very often, but it can. Fleas aren’t even the parasites I worry about most. Coccidia is an intestinal parasite that we are seeing more and more in pure bred animals. A heavy coccidia infestation can be deadly as well, especially in very small, young puppies. Ticks transmit all sorts of awful things (Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, etc). And last but not least, keep your dog on heartworm preventative year round if you live in the continental United States. Check with your local veterinarian for recommendations outside the continental United States.
Consider using our natural remedy “Parasites and Worms” especially if you have repeatedly tried traditional treatments that have failed. It works nicely for the two types of worms that you can see in your dog and cat’s feces: roundworms and tapeworms. If you are seeing a recurrence of tapeworms, be sure your animal is flea-free, because ingesting fleas is the most common way our pets get tapeworms.
Have your veterinarian do a FULL physical exam on your Pet at least once a year
Notice how I won’t say anything about vaccines in this list. It drives me crazy when my staff routinely catch animals that are behind on vaccines but miss that we haven’t done a physical exam in 3 years. Easily the most important thing that I do for my patients every year is a good, THOROUGH physical exam. I stress thorough because it is important. Be sure that you know and trust your veterinarian. It is ideal to be in the room with him or her while they are doing the physical exam to watch what they are doing and ask questions. Have them explain what they are doing to you if they don’t already as they go along. This was advice that my first boss gave me right out of veterinary school and I still do it twenty years later! This is because it may look like I am just petting their dog and cat, when in fact I’m feeling for masses, checking lymph nodes, feeling for joint fluid, etc.
Be sure your veterinarian isn’t just a great conversationalist and is really doing a thorough physical exam (checking all the teeth in their mouth, opening their mouth, shining a light into their eyes and ears is mandatory, feeling their entire body, putting all joints through range of motion, etc). A seasoned veterinarian can do a very thorough physical exam in less than five minutes because they know exactly what they are feeling for, so it doesn’t necessarily take very long, but nothing should be skipped.
Catching heart murmurs early allows you to begin medication earlier, thus prolonging or avoiding congestive heart failure all together. Catching masses early allows quick removal decreasing recovery time and preventing metastasis. Catching dental problems early saves teeth and prevents harmful bacterial showers from their mouth to organs like their heart, liver and kidneys . Our furry loved ones age much faster than we do. The average is seven of our years equal one of theirs. So when my patients are over eight years old, I recommend they come in every six months.
Following these five simple recommendations should keep your furry loved one with you for as long as possible!