When it comes to taking care of your pet, a yearly trip to the vet is all you need, right? Wrong! Though annual visits to your cat or dog's doc are essential for maintaining their health and well-being, there are many more things you should be doing for Fido and Fluffy in order to keep them in tip-top shape. And since your pets can't tell you what they need, we did the next best thing: We talked to veterinarians across the country to get the scoop on everything they're thinking, wishing and disapproving of during your appointments. Read on to find out how you can boost your pet's health and make your trips to the vet easier and more productive.
1. Your pet isn't "extra-fluffy" or "big-boned." According to Bernadine Cruz, DVM, member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council, it is estimated that 40 percent of pets in the U.S. are overweight. Obesity in pets can cause a number of health problems, from heart disease to diabetes to skin inflammation. "I wish that more pet owners monitored their pets’ weight," says board certified veterinary nutritionist Edward Moser, DVM who works with Wellness Natural Pet Food. To do so, Dr. Moser recommends visiting the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine website to help determine the presence or absence of body fat. Though ideal weights vary within breeds, there are general indicators of an overweight pet, including not being able to feel their ribs, seeing a pooch in their abdomen from the side, and panting and shortness of breath. After noting these factors, consult your vet to figure out if your pet needs to be put on a weight-loss plan.
2. Veterinarians are available for consultation—consider sitting down with us before you buy or adopt a pet. Caring for a pet is a big decision, and one that you should put a lot of thought into. "It would be ideal if more owners would thoroughly evaluate if they are financially and emotionally capable of caring for a pet both in health and sickness," says Patrick Mahaney, DVM. Along those lines, Cierra Tabony, DVM, uses consultations to talk to potential pet owners about their work schedule and family life to ensure that they have adequate time to care for a cat or dog. She also informs potential owners of the varying needs of different types of pets, because some breeds can have more medical problems than others. “It’s crucial for pet owners to understand they must budget beyond the initial purchase of the pet, especially for veterinary care.”
3. Correctly reporting your pet's symptoms to us is essential. "Seventy percent of our diagnosis can be made based on getting a good history and getting the correct information out of owners," says Gary Ryder, DVM and expert on JustAnswer.com. "There are differences between vomiting and regurgitation, upper respiratory coughing and lung coughing, pain and anxiety, etc." So take careful notes when you notice unusual behavior in your pet, and don't try to diagnose them yourself.
4. Just because your pet stays indoors or in your yard doesn't mean that it shouldn't wear a collar. There is no reason that your pet should be without an ID collar, according to Dr. Cruz. "Earthquakes, fires, floods and other disasters can happen at any time. A pet without identification has little chance of being reunited with its owner." On the other hand, if your pet has a habit of roaming the neighborhood or wandering away, Dr. Cruz suggests having a microchip implanted for extra security.
5. Neutering pets is generally better for their overall health. "Cats who are spayed before six months of age are 92 percent less likely to develop breast cancer, which is highly malignant in cats," says Louise Murray, DVM, director of medicine at the ASPCA. Not to mention that approximately 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year simply because there are not enough homes for them, say Laureen Bartfield, DVM, program director of the Spay Neuter Assistance Program of North Carolina. "Spaying and neutering is the only answer."
6. We wish that you'd regularly brush your pet's teeth. Ensuring that your pet has good dental hygiene is essential for their health and well-being. According to Gary Edlin, DVM, "Potentially harmful bacteria live in the gums of your pet's mouth. Skipping your pet's regular dental cleaning means that harmful bacteria can enter their bloodstream, leading to infection." Other common problems that stem from poor dental care include bladder infections and rotten teeth. So get brushing! A few minutes a day will save you a lot of time and money down the road.
7. Prepare your pets for a visit to the vet. A trip to the doctor can be a stressful experience for dogs and cats, but there are a few things that you can do to make the visit easier on everyone. "Pets that have been exercised prior to their vet visit are less stressed, and the visit is more pleasant for them, the owner and the veterinarian," says Tami Shearer, DVM, founder and executive director of Pet Hospice and Education Center. She also recommends that pets afraid of the vet come in for social visits and treats until they feel comfortable enough for their actual checkup.
8. If you have a cat, keep lily plants out of your house. Any kind of lily plant is toxic to cats, according to Jennifer Jones Shults, DVM. "Cats seem to love to chew on the leaves, but even a small amount can send them into acute kidney failure, and only about 50 percent survive with aggressive treatment." Acetaminophen and other human pain medications are also very toxic to cats, says Dr. Murray.
9. The type and frequency of vaccinations needed depends on your pet—there's no standard formula. "Vaccine protocols have changed dramatically over the years," says Dr. Cruz. "Vets no longer recommend vaccinating yearly with all possible vaccines—the ones that a pet needs are based on lifestyle and life stage. A puppy or kitten needs a series of vaccines to help 'set' the immunity. Older pets need periodic boosters." How frequently your pet needs these immunizations should be a decision made between you and your vet.
10. We wish you'd call us for medical advice. "Calling our office is free," says Eleanor Lenher, DVM. "If you're concerned about your pet's heath, call as soon as you notice the problem. Don't ask the dog walker or the newspaper delivery boy. We are always here, and we went into this profession to help pets and their owners."