Take dental health seriously
Dental and gum disease not only causes direct pain, but it also is linked directly to immune compromise, kidney disease, heart disease, liver disease, respiratory disease, gastrointestinal disease, and oral cancer. The sad part is that the consequences of dental and gum disease are very preventable. Many pet owners choose to dismiss the veterinarian’s recommendation for dental cleanings when periodontal disease is diagnosed on routine physical examination. They find the idea of a dog or cat receiving dental hygienic care silly.
Pet owners also commonly assume that as long as the pet continues to eat and not show outright signs of oral pain, that all is well enough…even when I show them severe dental lesions with gum recession, bone loss, and tooth root exposure. They are not aware that animals by their nature hide signs of pain; they internalize it and suffer silently. In a wild setting, animals that show pain or weakness attract predators; invite younger, stronger animals to chase them from territory, steal their food, and threaten their young. It is thus instinctive for animals to do their best to hide pain.
But make no mistake, if you were living with stage 3 out of 4 periodontal disease or worse, as I commonly see my patents living with, not only would your general health be suffering, but you would be living in agony. Hence, once resistant owners finally take the recommendation seriously enough to finally invest in dentistry for their pet, we commonly get the report that in addition to markedly improved breath, the pet generally has more pep, sometimes even seemingly a new lease on life.
Engage in real wellness care
The past several years of economic turmoil saw the rise of the bottom of the veterinary barrel, discount vaccine clinics. Whether in an actual building or in mobile units that pull up to pharmacies, pet stores, and even gas stations, these facilities have left a dark stain on veterinary medicine, by significantly lowering the standard of care of pets in the United States.
Discount vaccine clinics do not take medical history, take temperature, or provide a physical examination prior to plugging your pet with vaccines. Since their primary income source is vaccines, they usually do not follow AVMA or AAHA vaccine standards that call for a strong emphasis on 3 year core vaccines and lifestyle/geographically tailored vaccines protocols based on risk assessment. They will pound away with every vaccine available every year, even when diseases may not be endemic to your given area, or your pet’s lifestyle may not leave him at significant risk for a given disease.
The lack of comprehensive physical examination not only misses health conditions that may make a pet a poor candidate to receive vaccines. Not having the pet properly examined at least yearly does not allow for early detection of disease. Early disease detection allows for early treatment intervention before it is too late. This is especially true for senior aged animals. Not a day goes by that I do not detect early signs of disease in a patient during a routine wellness visit.
Take nutrition seriously
I commonly observe people filling the gas tanks of their automobiles with premium gas that costs a dollar or more per gallon, yet they will feed their pet the cheapest pet food that is on sale at the nearby superstore. On one hand they make the investment to spend more money on fuel to optimize the performance and life of their cars, but when it comes to the fuel they choose for their pets’ bodies, they do not apply the same standard.
The truth is that nutrition is perhaps the most important aspect of a pet’s quality of life and longevity. Poor quality diets have poor quality ingredients that provide for reduced nutrient absorption, while creating excess metabolic waste. They subsequently do not optimally nourish the pet’s body, negatively affecting vigor and quality of life, predisposing to disease, and ultimately shortening lifespan.
At the same time, just because a diet is expensive does not mean it is necessarily a good diet. Using terms like “all natural” and “holistic,” and/or showing pictures of wild cats and wolves on their labels, gimmicky pet food companies fool many pet owners into paying a lot of money for diets that are not appropriately nutrient balanced. Some of these foods gain underserved status through cult followings in internet pet forums. Not having a species appropriate nutrient balanced diet can lead to many of the negative effects we see associated with poor quality superstore or grocery store pet foods.
Don’t be fooled by labels like “all natural” or “holistic.” Any food that is put into a can or is processed into a kibble form cannot possibly be all natural. Since there is no criteria by which a diet can be called holistic, thus it holds no real meaning in the pet food industry…it is little more than a promotional ploy.
Your veterinarian remains your best source for pet food recommendations.
Consider pet insurance
If you have a healthy, young to middle aged pet, you may want to give serious consideration to purchasing pet insurance if you are not in a financial position to be able to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for diagnosis and treatment of unexpected injury or illness. Good pet insurance companies will reimburse 80%-90% of a claim, which for many pet owners could mean the difference between being able to afford treatment for their pet, or not.
When shopping for pet insurance, always remember that like in any other industry, not all are created equal. Before purchasing a policy for your pet, ask your veterinarian who likely has experience with many different pet insurance companies and can provide you valuable feedback.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital and CEO/Chief Editor of the veterinary information and blog online community, Web-DVM.
Great blog post. I especially like your,
“Take nutrition seriously” section.