97-vetTop 5 Ways to Keep Your Pet Healthy: A Veterinarian’s Perspective

As a veterinarian in the busy Twin Cities suburb of Plymouth, I see a lot of sick pets. There is nothing worse than the helpless look of a pet owner who is worried about their sick dog or cat. Often, the signs of illness in pets are subtle and go unnoticed until they are quite ill. As a pet owner, there are things you can do to keep your pet as healthy as possible. Many of the illnesses that I see are directly related to these 5 important things you can do to keep your pet healthy.

1. Feed a good quality food.

Different types of foods are appropriate for different stage of your pet’s life. Be sure you are feeding a food with an appropriate protein level for the age and lifestyle of your pet. Pet’s with diseases like urinary tract disease or skin issues can be fed a special food designed specifically to address those diseases. I recommend working closely with your veterinarian to decide what food is best for your pet.

The price of the food doesn’t always coincide with the quality of the food. Cheaper diets do tend to use lower quality ingredients, but a premium price doesn’t always mean the food is high quality. When I recommend a pet food to my patients, I make sure that the manufacturer has completed a feeding trial. This means that they aren’t just mixing the food according to a recipe and selling it, but that they are actually feeding it to pets to make sure the nutrients are absorbed and utilized properly before it is sold in stores. I also make recommendations based on the manufacturers quality control standards and the quality of the protein and other ingredients. I monitor pet food recalls and don’t recommend diets that have had a major recall.

2. Keep your pet at a healthy weight.

Maintaining a healthy weight can add years to your pet’s life. There is an epidemic of obesity in pets and people in the United States. Just like us, staying at a healthy weight can prevent bone and joint issues in your pet. One of the most common injuries I see is damage to a knee ligament in larger dogs. Even a few extra pounds can put enough pressure on the knee ligament to cause it to rupture, requiring costly surgery or lifelong medications. Extra weight also puts extra strain on the heart and lungs. As pet’s get older, extra weight can prevent them from getting up and down. I see overweight dogs who no longer have the strength to pull themselves up because they have lost too much muscle in their back legs.

The best way to keep your pet at a healthy weight is to monitor their calorie intake. Start by asking your veterinarian for your pet’s Body Condition Score (BCS). The BCS is similar to a Body Mass Index (BMI) in people. Then ask your veterinarian to calculate your pet’s average calorie needs. Pet foods list the number of calories per cup of food, which can be used to determine how much to feed. Feed the recommended calories on a consistent basis (don’t forget to add in calories from treats) and keep track of the progress. At my practice, we can chart the weight loss on a graph to monitor progress closely. I like to check their weight every 1-2 months.

3. Schedule regular check-ups with a veterinarian you trust.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have regular health exams for your pet, even when you think your pet is healthy. As a practicing veterinarian, I think it is even more important to examine patients when they are healthy. It gives me a chance to get to know what is normal for your pet. That makes determining the cause of an illness later so much easier.  It also gives me a chance to get to know my clients better. During a stressful time when a pet is ill, I can help guide clients through difficult medical decisions more easily if we already have a relationship.

Pets are very good at hiding illness. I often find subtle changes during regular check-ups that can indicate early illness. For example, monitoring a patient’s weight every 6-12 months can help me watch for early kidney or intestinal disease. A surprising number of dogs that I see have ear infections that can’t be seen without a thorough ear exam. Like most things, it’s better to catch things early before they become more serious.

It’s equally important that you find a veterinarian that you trust. All veterinarians are trustworthy and I’m proud to be part of this profession. But what I mean by this is, find someone you can communicate with easily so you can work together to keep your pet healthy. Veterinarians have different personalities, communication styles and levels of experience. You should be able to communicate with your veterinarian easily and feel comfortable asking for clarification and answers to your questions.

4. Look inside your pet’s mouth.

Get into the habit of checking your pet’s mouth at least once a month. Look closely at the teeth and gums. Almost every pet I examine has some degree of oral disease ranging from mild tartar accumulation on the teeth to severe gum disease that eats away at the jaw bone. If your pet’s breath smells bad, they probably have oral disease. Tartar and gum disease can lead to a painful mouth, which can cause dogs to bite. It also causes inflammation that damages the liver, kidneys, heart valves and other organs. The inflammation makes them tired and it can be painful to chew which leads to weight loss. My patients usually act younger and more vibrant after a dental procedure. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell just how much the oral disease is affecting them until it is treated.

Bad breath in pets also affects the bond that we share with our pets. Have you ever kicked your dog off of your lap because his breath smelled bad? It’s amazing how much more we want to snuggle with our pets when their breath doesn’t smell bad. After a dental cleaning, brushing your pet’s teeth can help keep them clean and brushing is a good time to redevelop the bond with your dog or cat. Most of my patients love poultry flavored toothpaste. They can’t believe they get to have such a delicious treat smeared on their teeth every day.

5. Spend time with your pet.

This seems like a silly statement doesn’t it? Isn’t this the reason you adopted your pet in the first place? Life can get really busy and we lose sight of important things like taking time to relax and play with your pet. Spending time with your pet will help you notice early changes in your pet’s health. A change in how far they can walk, a new lump or bump or changes in their normal activities are just a few of the things you might notice more quickly when you spend time bonding with your pet.

As a veterinarian with a Master’s degree in Public Health, I’m very interested in how our pets affect our health. Many studies have shown the benefit of having pets. They help decrease our blood pressure and stress levels. They encourage us to get outside more and walk and play. Having a pet can improve your mood and even help you live longer. A study by the American Heart Association showed a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity in people who own pets. In the end, this is reason I became a veterinarian. I go to work every day to promote the bond between pets and their owners so that we can be healthier together.

Please call Dr. Sara Williams at Northwest Animal Hospital at 763-475-2448 for an appointment to discuss more ways to keep your pet healthy.