Pets are an amazing addition to our lives, enriching us with love, companionship, and laughter. So it’s only natural that we want our pets to live the longest, happiest lives possible. Here are 10 ways to help maintain their pet health:
ON THIS PAGE:
- Diet and Pet Health
- Physical (and Mental!) Exercise
- Regular Wellness Exams
- Be Alert to Changes
- Parasite Prevention
- “Fix” Your Pet
- Regularly Brush Teeth
- Keep Them Safe
1. Diet and Pet Health
To feel their best, pets need proper nutrition and need to maintain a healthy body weight. Obesity-related illnesses and injuries—such as intervertebral disk disease, diabetes, and knee injuries—can decrease your pet’s quality of life and life span. Many commercially made pet foods are filled with fillers and flavor enhancers, rendering them low in nutrition even if your pet does seem to like them.
Some pet food companies are jumping on the natural food bandwagon that is so popular with humans. They come up with healthy-sounding names or use health-conscious adjectives on the packaging to describe what are essentially foods that lack optimum nutrition.
Unless your veterinarian has suggested that your pet be on a specific diet, look for pet food with protein as the first or second ingredient, and avoid grain-free foods or those with exotic proteins.
For pets that are a proper weight, treats should only make up around 10% of their diet. Try feeding healthy treats like apples, carrots, and blueberries; but avoid natural sugar if your pet is diabetic. Be aware that jerky treats often made in China have a history of making pets ill. Hundreds of pets have even died from jerky treats, so be sure to check the label.
2. Physical (and Mental!) Exercise
Physical Exercise: To help maintain a healthy body weight, and for good cardiovascular health, pets need a source of exercise. Simply having a fenced-in yard for your dog to roam isn’t enough to get your dog the amount of exercise that they may need.
Walking for longer distances, running in short spurts, fetching, and swimming are all excellent ways to get your dog moving. Not only that, but a tired dog is a happy dog. Working off excess energy can help curb unwanted behaviors such as chewing, barking, and trash raiding that stem from being bored.
Dogs also make great workout partners, so explore new parks or streets to keep things exciting and interesting for your dog while you reap the benefits of a healthier lifestyle. And bonus points for it being a great bonding experience each time you go.
For cats, tossing kibble across the room can help get a kitty running and satisfies their hunting instinct.
Mental Stimulation: Going hand in hand with physical exercise and stimulation, pets need mental stimulation to keep from being bored. Puzzle toys, snuffle mats you can hide treats or kibble in, or learning new tricks can help keep pets happy and engaged.
3. Regular Wellness Exams
Wellness exams, or exams performed when your pet isn’t sick, allows your veterinarian to establish a baseline of health so that if any changes occur, they will be easier to recognize. Another valuable tool utilized at your pet’s wellness exam is diagnostic testing. Routine health screenings, bloodwork, and urinalyses can alert your veterinarian to a pet’s decline in health before clinical signs appear. Treating diseases early leads to better outcomes and less expense.
4. Be Alert to Changes In Pet Health
While your veterinarian needs to know what normal is for your pet, you are your pet’s first alert system if any warning signs appear in their health. Things like a change in behavior, whether it be acting more aggressively—which can indicate pain—or sleeping more, can be a sign of a health problem.
Decrease or increase of appetite, excessive thirst, a change in the color or consistency of their stool, urinating more frequently, unexplained weight loss, sudden excessive scratching, overall loss of fur or just in spots are just some of the reasons to see a vet to make sure everything is okay.
Vaccines protect your pets against serious diseases that can cause lifelong consequences and even death. To learn more about core and non-core vaccines and the diseases they protect against, read our blog posts for both dogs and cats.
6. Parasite Prevention
Parasites like fleas are more than just pesky, they can lead to anemia and/or tapeworms. Heartworms can cause death if left untreated in dogs—there is no treatment for cats. Ticks come with their own illnesses that they can pass on to pets.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly true in this case. There are many types of preventatives available for pets, including topical, oral, and injectables, so be sure to ask your veterinarian which one is right for your pet.
7. “Fix” Your Pet
Spaying and neutering can improve pet health? Yes, they can help your pet keep living longer. That is because spaying females helps prevent some types of cancers and uterine infections, and neutering males also helps prevent certain types of cancers and prostate disease. Spaying and neutering also help curb unwanted behavior like roaming from home, which can be dangerous in itself.
8. Regularly Brush Teeth
Brushing your pet’s teeth isn’t just to keep them shiny and white. It’s the single most important thing you can do for at-home prevention of periodontal disease and should be done everyday—or at the very least, every other day.
Frequency is key because plaque returns to the surfaces of your pet’s teeth in as little as 24 hours and becomes plaque in about 48 hours. That means in just a few days your pet will have tartar that can’t be removed by brushing or dental chews; dentistry tools will be the only means of removal. Tartar also forms below the gumline, making a dental cleaning by a veterinarian necessary at some point in your pet’s life.
Periodontal disease is a serious threat, but not just to tooth and jaw bone health. Left untreated, periodontal disease can affect the heart, liver, and kidneys, leading to death. Dental chews and water additives can help somewhat, but make sure to look for the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal of approval. Those products have gone through additional testing to prove that they are effective at helping reduce tartar accumulation.
9. Grooming and Pet Health
Many think of pet grooming—aside from nail trims and ear cleanings—as something that’s only necessary for long-haired dogs and cats, but grooming any pet serves many purposes, including pet health. First, it’s a good time to bond with your pet.
Second, removing loose hair from pets can help keep them from ingesting it, which can lead to hairballs (yes, dogs can get hairballs too!) and intestinal blockages. Finally, grooming your pet is a good time to check for any parasites, dry skin, hot spots, bald patches, lumps, or bumps that may need to be checked by a vet.
10. Keep them Safe
Pet safety is a big subject because it ranges from making sure they are microchipped to pet-proofing your home and having an emergency plan in place in case of an evacuation, accident, or illness.
- Pet-proofing: It actually helps to get down on your pet’s level. What do you see? Electrical cords, medications for both humans and pets, household cleaners and chemicals, even unsafe “people food” should all be secured. Think about pool safety if you own one, install child proof oven knobs if they are located on the front of your stove (this is one of the top reasons for house fires set by pets), and never leave burning candles unattended.
- Yard patrol: Ensure your yard is free of toxic plants like sago palms, or chemical toxins. Rat poison doesn’t just kill rats, so if you choose to use this, keep it well out of pets’ reach. Consider humane traps to keep pets safe.
- Environmental dangers: In the summer, hot pavement can seriously burn paws and hot cars can kill. Never leave your pet alone in a car—not even for a minute. For those that have harsh winters to contend with, be aware of salt that’s used on sidewalks and roads and rinse it from your pet’s paws when they come inside. Antifreeze is sweet tasting to pets but is deadly, so clean up any spills quickly.
- Emergency preparedness: Assemble a first aid kit, and make sure you have the numbers to your vet and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) programmed in your phone and as a hard copy that’s easily located. Have a list of pet-friendly shelters and hotels handy in case of a natural disaster. Consider learning basic pet first-aid and CPR that you can perform while someone drives you both to the vet.
We hope these tips for pet health to make it easier to help your beloved companion keep living their best life for as long as possible.