By Dr. Beth Guerra
With the New Year comes the inevitable resolutions. While you are making your own list, consider making one for your pet as well. Whether it’s as simple as learning to trim your pets nails, or focusing on finally getting that extra weight off your beloved companion, remember that you are your pet’s advocate and change starts with you.
Yearly physical exams are important for all pets. In the past, pets usually received a yearly physical when vaccines were due. Because vaccines are not needed as often (every three years is now recommended for adult animals), yearly physicals have sometimes been skipped. Even if your pet has never had an illness, these exams are important to establish a good health baseline and can also be crucial in detecting emerging disease. A thorough exam combined with an extensive history can often aid in disease prevention or help establish a diagnostic and treatment plan early in the progression of a disease. For example, if kidney disease is caught early, a simple diet change can often prolong life for many years.
Obesity has become a major problem in household pets. This may be due to inappropriate diet, lack of exercise, injury, or metabolic disease. If you notice your pet has packed on a few pounds, or seems lethargic, schedule an exam with your veterinarian to discuss weight loss. It may be as simple as reducing the amount of food, switching to a lower calorie/higher fiber or high protein diet, or increasing activity. It is also important for your pet to have an exam to make sure there isn’t another reason for the weight gain, such as hypothyroidism. Consistent weigh-ins with your vet can help chart progress and identify any setbacks.
Dental hygiene is also extremely important. Frequent dental cleanings are recommended for both cats and dogs. Some pet owners may be reluctant due to cost and the need for general anesthesia, but the benefits often outweigh the cost. Dental cleanings focus on removing the tartar visible on teeth and can improve the health of gingiva. Problems with teeth, such as erosions, fractures, or tooth root abscesses can be detected and treated appropriately. The mouth is examined for ulcers or masses that are often not observed by the owner. And, your pet will most likely have fresher breath!
For older pets on medications, a yearly exam is an important part of the monitoring process. Anti-inflammatories for arthritis, thyroid supplements, seizure medications, and insulin are some examples of medications that need to be closely monitored. Bloodwork, such as a complete blood count and serum chemistry, is often an integral part of the monitoring process and may be recommended yearly as well. This also helps to establish a baseline and can provide useful information for comparison if your pet becomes ill.
For 2012, take some time to establish goals for you and your pet. Prevention is the best medicine, and it may keep your pet from having to visit the emergency clinic!