DR. TOM BURNS
Yes, all dogs should be protected against heartworm throughout the year. New England, for example, has seen progressively more cases of heartworm in recent years, a trend that may worsen as our wildlife population becomes infected. Heartworm infection is costly to treat and is life threatening if untreated. The Companion Animal Prevention Council has a great website for pet owners that addresses parasite threats by region (capcvet.org). Many heartworm medications also protect against more than just heartworm. There are many options ranging in cost and degree of protection. Some of these preventative products combine heartworm, flea, tick, and other intestinal parasite protection into one dose. Some manufacturers offer a free reminder service that will email or text you when your pet’s monthly dose is due. Talk to your veterinary team about what is right for you and your pet.
Regular physical exams are the most important first line of medical care for your pet. Getting regular exams rather than waiting until the pet is sick affords the opportunity to detect medical conditions before the owner or pet is aware, often resulting in less invasive and costly treatment, not to mention more successful outcomes. From heart murmurs to dental disease, many serious conditions can be found before more advanced stages develop. It’s always good to remember that pets cannot speak for themselves and tend to hide signs of illness, often resulting in sicknesses that could have been avoided with a simple checkup. The annual exam is also a great time to focus on long-term preventative care planning for your pet. It is also an ideal time to discuss nutrition, periodontal care, and other steps you can take to plan a long and healthy life for your pet. The American Animal Hospital Association has a wonderful website with resources for pet owners who are interested in current pet health care topics (aaha.org/pet owner/).
Preoperative bloodwork is recommended to rule out underlying issues that can be detected by simple blood tests. Your veterinarian needs as much information as possible about your pet’s health before your pet undergoes anesthesia. While your pet is under anesthesia is perhaps the worst time to uncover health problems. Tests to assess the health of internal organs such as the kidneys and liver can help your veterinarian choose the most appropriate anesthetic drugs for your pet and avoid drugs that might not be safe for a particular pet.
Spaying reduces the risk of mammary cancer, prevents pyometra (infection of the uterus that can be life threatening), and eliminates heat cycles and the possibility of pregnancy. Neutering eliminates the risk of testicular cancer and helps prevent prostatic disease and other health concerns such as perianal adenomas. It has also been noted that neutering reduces a male’s desire to wander, and it curbs aggressive behavior and inappropriate urination. In addition, limiting the ability to reproduce greatly reduces the number of unwanted pets in shelters.
Dental disease is the number one disease of pets. Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), infection, and tooth loss are common in pets that do not receive routine dental care. Left untreated, gingivitis and the resulting infection can become a serious health concern if the infection gets into the bloodstream. Proper dental care also reduces the risk of pain, tooth loss, and the formation of painful abscesses. Dogs and cats rarely stop eating when they have severe dental disease; instead, they often just seem “older,” with a little less mobility and spirit. Veterinary technicians can be great resources to help you learn how to brush your pet’s teeth. If your pet already has significant periodontal disease, a more involved scaling and polishing procedure may be required. The American Animal Hospital Association has some great Internet resources about periodontal care for your pets (https://www.aaha.org/pet_owner/about_aaha/why_accreditation_matters/guidelines_position_statements/aaha_dental_care_guidelines_for_dogs_and_cats.aspx).
Your veterinarian has dedicated enormous time and effort to becoming the expert when it comes to your pets. While your breeder, groomer, or other animal professional possesses knowledge in their particular field, they often lack crucial and significant medical training. Your veterinarian is the best source of information to enable you to make important decisions on nutrition, vaccinating, and other pet care concerns. The knowledge that can be obtained only through attending a veterinary school allows your veterinarians to provide science-based conclusions and diagnoses.
Vaccinating your pet protects against preventable diseases and viruses, especially from unvaccinated animals. Your veterinarian will recommend the vaccines that are best for your pet based on a series of questions that assess your pet’s risk category (i.e., a risk assessment). For instance, a cat that lives completely indoors may not require the same protection as one who lives a more adventurous outdoor lifestyle. If you want to know more about vaccines, check out the American Veterinary Medical Association’s website (avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/vaccinations.aspx).
Rechecks or medical progress exams ensure the original problem your pet presented with is completely resolved, thus reducing the chance that the problem will reoccur or even escalate.
We must keep in mind that many medications are by prescription only. If used in the appropriate circumstances, they can work wonderfully. However, using the wrong medication can increase the time needed for healing or can be otherwise detrimental to your pet’s health. A thorough physical exam and consideration of your pet’s full medical history reduce the risk of prescribing medications that may counteract current medications or preexisting conditions that would not have been brought to light without the examination.
It’s great to stay informed on all aspects of your pet’s health. It’s definitely the sign of a dedicated owner! Stick to forums managed by veterinary professionals such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (https://www.avma.org/public/Pages/default.aspx) or the American Animal Hospital Association (https://www.aaha.org/pet_owner/default.aspx). Online advice can be written by anyone, but it’s often hard to determine the true source behind it. While it can be tempting to “research” conditions online, it’s best to seek professional knowledge from a trusted veterinarian to avoid confusion and problems down the road.
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