As a 1999 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, the past 16 years have afforded me many opportunities to witness trends of illness and wellness in my patients. Such experiences have yielded many insights contributing to my perspective on what are the most critical aspects of pet care by which I recommend owners abide.
Most puppies and kittens are born healthy, but then time and human influence contributes to a variety of ailments or injury that affects a pet’s quality of life. Owner complacency, lack of veterinary influence when making decisions about health care, financial constraints, and even pet product company misinformation are some of the top reasons our canine and feline companions ultimately die or are euthanized.
Prevent Obesity Through Calorie Control and Exercise
Owners must better understand the irreversible health consequences associated with obesity and put daily effort into preventing pets from becoming overweight or obese. In the United States, over 54% of cats and dogs and (approximately 98 million pets) are overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). Arthritis, high blood pressure, heart and lung problems, diabetes, hypothyroidism, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, and other ailments can be avoided or minimized if pets maintain a normal body condition score (see The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Body Condition Scoring Chart).
When feeding your canine or feline companion, always follow manufacturer-recommended guidelines, feed smaller portions (at the lower end or less of manufacturer guidelines), and use a metric measuring cup to determine the proper amount. Research has proven that dogs consuming diets where calories are restricted by only 25% live two years longer and suffer fewer obesity-related health problems than those lacking calorie control (see Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs).
Make physical activity for your pet a daily priority, as exercise benefits more than just the body; it provides behavioral stimulation that helps satisfy a pet’s need for interaction and strengthens the companion animal-owner bond.
Your Pet’s Primary Diet Should Not Be One Made with Processed Nor Feed-Grade Ingredients
I’m continually floored by the perspective of dog and cat owners who feel that the most ideal food for their pets is commercially-available dry or canned pet food. After all, nature just makes food. We humans then highly process nature’s ingredients to create a ‘nutritionally complete and balanced’ option to conveniently dispense from a bag or can.
Unfortunately for our companion canine and felines, there are serious short and long- term-health implications associated when feedings are primarily composed of grain and protein meals and by-products, artificial colors and flavors, moistening agents (propylene glycol, etc.), chemical preservatives (BHT, ethoxyquin, etc.) and even carcinogens (carageenan, BHA, etc.) found in many commercially available pet foods and treats. The skin, stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver, pancreas, thyroid glands, immune system, and others can be negatively affected by such ingredients that don’t serve the best interests of our pets’ health.
Additionally, radically altering food components from nature’s original format via high-heat cooking and fractionating ingredients instead of keeping them whole can reduce foods’ nutritive content or induce illness. Processed dry or canned pet foods should be replaced by home-prepared or commercially available diets having undergone minimal refinement that are: Human-grade (instead of feed-grade, which means food has been deemed inedible for human consumption and is appropriate only for animals) Whole-food (instead of processed) Lacking in chemical preservatives and artificial colors and flavors Freshly prepared (cooking, defrosting, hydrating, etc.)
Dental Care Is a Crucial Component of Pet Ownership
Many pet owners don’t recognize the serious health repercussions of periodontal disease (that affecting the teeth and gums). Millions of bacteria thrive on food residues found in the mouth’s warm and moist environment that can enter the bloodstream through inflamed gums (gingivitis) or loose or fractured teeth. The heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, joints, and other body systems are continually damaged from the shower of toxic bacteria entering the blood from the mouth.
Just like in humans, periodontal disease in pets is preventable. Many pet owners are uncomfortable with the concept of regularly cleaning their dog or cat’s teeth. Yet most parents will brush a young child’s teeth until a level of maturity has been reached where the child can care for his own dental health. The same perspective should be applied to our pets, but we need to care for our dogs and cats’ teeth on a lifelong basis.
If you can’t sufficiently care for your pet’s teeth, then a veterinarian will need to be involved in providing a dental cleaning. Going under anesthesia is the most thorough means of evaluating our pets’ oral health (via examination, gingival probing, and x-rays) and scaling and polishing their teeth. Without anesthesia, it’s often prohibitively challenging to perform a thorough examination or clean under the gumline and dental x-rays or teeth extraction definitely cannot be performed.
Pets are never ‘too old’ to undergo anesthesia, yet they certainly can be ‘too unhealthy’. Age is not a disease, but the bacterial infection in your dog or cat’s mouth the ability for infection to damage other both tissues certainly is. Pets having very mild periodontal disease and those that are cooperative enough to be comfortably restrained may be candidates for anesthesia-free dental, which should only be formed by a veterinarian or licensed veterinarian technician.
Alternative Strategies to Traditional Vaccination Protocols
I am not anti-vaccine, but I advocate the judicious use of vaccinations according to the 2011 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines or the 2006 AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines. Life threatening health consequences may be associated with vaccination administration. Even a single vaccine can elicit a Vaccine Associated Adverse Event (VAAE), including hypersensitivity (‘allergic’) reaction, emergence or worsening of immune system diseases (including cancer), organ system failure, seizures, and death.
Pets should be vaccinated only when they are in the best state of health; illnesses should be resolved to the utmost extent before a vaccination is given. Additionally, vaccinations should be given singly, as giving more than one vaccination in one setting increasing the likelihood of VAAE.
Receiving more than one vaccination in a single veterinary appointment will not make your pet healthier; it only saves an additional trip to the veterinary hospital. A 3-4 week interval between vaccinations is ideal. Health and safety should always trump convenience.
Pending the overall health status of a pet and the potential for exposure to a particular infectious organism, owners should request their veterinarian to perform antibody titers (levels) where blood is tested for antibodies produced to previous immunizations. If a titer is equivalent to or greater than an acceptable threshold and the likelihood a pet will be exposed to these organisms is low, then the decision to hold off on the vaccination can be made under the guidance of the veterinarian providing care. If the titer is low and the animal is healthy enough, then the vaccine can be appropriately given.
I hope you found these topics useful and can apply them to your pets. If I didn’t believe in the subject matter through my own experience in veterinary medicine, I wouldn’t be sharing it with my clients and pet owners world-wide.