Top Ten Tips for a Healthy Pet

Today dogs and cats are living longer and healthier lives than ever. Many of the most common pet ailments can be prevented. Here are some tips to help keep your pet in good health.


1. Spay/Neuter: Spaying or neutering your pet has many benefits including preventing disease (such as cancer and infection of reproductive organs), preventing behavioral problems (such as aggression and urine marking) and preventing the birth of unwanted puppies or kittens. Some people would like their pet to have "just one litter." We highly discourage this for several reasons: 1. If your pet is female, having her spayed before the first heat cycle is the best way to prevent mammary gland tumors 2. Animal breeding is not to be undertaken lightly — inexperienced pet owners usually have difficulty recognizing and handling problems with delivery and care of the young. Inexperienced breeders often do not complete recommended health certification of the parents. 3. There is a pet overpopulation problem in this country ; breeding dogs and cats increases the likelihood that more unwanted animals will be euthanized at shelters. Spay/neuter results in happier healthier pet. Your dog or cat should be spayed or neutered at 6 months of age, or as directed by your veterinarian.


2. Good Nutrition. There IS a difference in pet foods. Premium foods cost more because higher quality meat products are used along with other high quality sources of essential fatty acids and other essential nutrients. Large amounts of grain in cheaper foods may contribute to diseases such as urinary tract blockage and diabetes. We highly recommend the following brands: Iams, Science Diet, NutroMax, and Waltham . We believe you will see a significant improvement in coat quality and overall condition when feeding a premium diet. Other premium brands are available — if you are not sure, please ask. The worst possible diet for dogs and cats is one that is comprised mainly of "human" foods such a meat from the grocery store and/or table scraps. These diets rarely contain the proper balance of nutrients and pets on these diets are at risk for numerous health problems.


3. Weight Control. Obesity is an extremely common problem in dogs and cats. Obesity is a major contributing cause of numerous diseases including diabetes, arthritis, spinal disk disease (dogs), and liver disease (cats). In some cases, a pet may be overweight because of a hormonal problem and your veterinarian may recommend testing, but the majority of pets are overweight because their owners feed them too much . Pets depend on their owners to make good nutritional decisions for them — this includes feeding the right amount! Most owners seem to have difficulty understanding that their overweight pet is being overfed. If your pet is overweight, you MUST reduce his/her caloric intake. Using a prescription low calorie food may help, but leaving a full bowl of "lite" food out all day will not help your pet lose weight. Food must be carefully measured and rationed. This means that food cannot be left out all day and that each pet must be fed separately. Weigh your pet every 2-4 weeks to make sure weight is being lost. Remember, keeping your pet at an ideal weight is an essential part of keeping him or her healthy!


4. Dental Care. By the time they are 3 years of age, most dogs and cats will start accumulating noticeable amounts of tartar on their teeth. Left untreated, tartar buildup leads to bad breath, severe gum inflammation, infection, tooth loss, and abscesses. Not only is dental disease painful for your pet, many internal organ problems may be caused or worsened by infected teeth. To prevent tartar accumulation, we recommend that you brush your pet’s teeth twice weekly if possible. Treats that can help include rawhide, dental chews, and tartar control treats for cats. In general, we do not recommend feeding canned foods or table scraps as these promote dental disease. Most pets will need their teeth professionally cleaned every 1-2 years; this must be done under general anesthesia. Do not wait until your pet’s teeth are so diseased that they need to be pulled — this level of dental disease is a major drain on your pet’s health and comfort.  


5. Flea and Tick Prevention. Fleas and ticks cause intense discomfort to pets (and often their owners as well!). Fleas can also cause severe allergies and ticks cause Lyme disease in dogs and humans. In the past decade, several new products have revolutionized flea and tick control. With appropriate monthly treatment, pet owners no longer have to worry about having to bomb their whole house with insecticides. Your veterinarian will help you select a product that is best for your pet(s) and convenient for you to use.


6. Intestinal Parasite Prevention. Intestinal parasites can cause diarrhea, weight loss, discomfort, and other problems. Some types of intestinal parasites may be transmitted from pets to humans, in some cases with serious consequences. In accordance with the United States Center for Disease Control recommendations, we recommend testing and treating puppies and kittens every month, and adult pets annually.


7. Heartworm Prevention. Heartworm is a worm that lives in the heart and blood vessels, not in the intestines. This is a life-threatening parasite. Dogs in our area should receive a heartworm blood test annually (this test also tests for exposure to Lyme disease) and monthly prevention year round. Monthly prevention is also available for cats, although the incidence of heartworm disease in cats in the DE/PA area  is low.


8. Behavior. Behavioral problems are among the top reasons pets lose their homes. For dogs, basic obedience training is a must. In many cases, working with a trainer will be needed. Canine aggression is especially serious - an aggressive dog is a danger to him or herself as bites to humans may lead to legally imposed euthanasia. A dog that is too aggressive to handle cannot receive the same level of veterinary care as a well behaved dog. For cats, providing a clean, easily accessible litter box (at least one box per cat in the home) in a quiet location can prevent elimination outside the box. Preferred scratching post types include cardboard, sisal rope, and burlap; plush carpet scratching surfaces are usually ignored.


9. Injury and Loss Prevention. The most common injuries in cats and dogs can be prevented by keeping them confined in a pet proof home or yard, and by using a secure collar and leash when the pet is off the owner’s property. Make sure that your dog’s collar is snug enough to stay around the neck and not slip over the head. Not only is a leash a good idea for your dog, it is also the law. For dogs and puppies that are confined to a crate, make sure that collars are removed to prevent accidental hanging. Cats should be confined indoors; make sure that windows are equipped with secure screens. We recommend microchipping your pet. The rice sized microchip is placed under the skin, and a 24 hour service ensures you will be notified if your lost pet is recovered by a shelter or veterinary office.


10. Annual Examinations: Your pet should receive a complete check up annually (every 6 months if he/she is a dog older than 8 years or a cat older than 12). Your veterinarian will check for early signs of disease and will let you know if your pet’s teeth need cleaning or if your pet needs to lose weight. Dogs and cats should receive an annual fecal examination, and all dogs should receive an annual heartworm test. For older pets, general blood and urine testing (blood count, chemistry panel, thyroid, and urinalysis) are also recommended. Recommended vaccinations include DHLPP, Lyme, and rabies for dogs; FVRCP and rabies for cats. Cats that go outside or have contact with other cats should also be vaccinated against feline leukemia.