By Jessica Remitz
Just like every other pet owner, veterinarians are responsible for giving their pets the best possible exercise, nutrition, and care needed to keep them happy and healthy. But how does their chosen profession give them a leg up on the rest of us? And are there any tips they can share for keeping our pets healthy? Here’s a look at the ways veterinarians provide a healthy lifestyle for their pets.
Nutrition and Exercise
Feeding your pet a well-balanced diet will help prevent obesity, and the various conditions associated with being overweight, as well as help your pet manage existing health conditions and food allergies. Fortunately, many commercial pet foods are now sophisticated enough to help maintain your pet’s health in addition to their teeth and coat, says Katie Grzyb, DVM and emergency clinician at the Veterinary Emergency and Referral Group in Brooklyn, New York.
For Camille DeClementi, DVM and senior director of medical records at the ASPCA, feeding her greyhound a healthy and nutritious diet was essential from the day she brought her home.
“When my greyhound came off of the racetrack, she was very thin and her coat was dry because of bad nutrition. When she got back on a proper diet, her hair grew back in,”according to Dr. DeClementi. “If our nutrition isn’t good, it shows in our hair and nails, just like our pets.”
It’s important to discuss any questions you have about your pet’s diet with your veterinarian and be sure to follow the recommended serving sizes on food labels to help prevent overfeeding and obesity. Dr. DeClementi also recommends being cautious of feeding your pet any people food that may be poisonous to them, including raisins, grapes, and onions.
When it comes to exercise, it’s essential to learn about the ways your pet likes to be active and encourage them to engage in moderate activity on a regular basis. “Cats can be entertained with catnip, toys and stairs to get to their food,” Dr. DeClementi says, “while a look at your dog’s breed and lifestyle will determine the right fit for their exercise regimen.”
“Since my dog was bred to run, I need to make sure she gets some running in. Make sure they have opportunities to get out bursts of energy and play with other dogs, it’s important both physically and mentally,” she says. Jogging, swimming, walking and a long game of fetch at the dog park are also great ways to keep your pup fit and active.
Grooming and Oral Care
Because they see the issues that go hand in hand with a lack of grooming and trimming your pet’s nails, veterinarians are generally good about keeping up with their pet’s coat and nails, says Louise Murray, DVM, DACVIM and vice president of the ASPCA Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital.
“We see animals that come in with matting so severe that it causes discomfort and health problems, and see older cats come in with nails so long, they’ve grown into their paw pads and are extremely uncomfortable,” Dr. Murray says. “The best thing you can do is keep your pet’s coat clean and their nails short.”
While the grooming needs of your pet will vary depending on their breed, coat length and the time of year, pets with long hair will generally need more frequent brushing and bathing than those with shorter coats. Dr. DeClementi suggests talking to your breeder or shelter about your pet’s grooming needs when you take them home to get an idea of what will work for your pet.
Frequent grooming will also allow you to check in on the condition of your pet’s skin and catch any irregularities before they become an issue. Fleas and ticks can be difficult to spot on pets with long coats, and grooming them regularly will help you to know when to treat your pet with preventative medication. “Just remember to use the proper products for your cat or dog,” Dr. DeClementi says, “as many flea and tick medications are safe for only one species.”
“While some vets may be better than average in keeping up with their pet’s oral care, not all are as dedicated as they should be,” according to Dr. Murray. “Tartar formation and gingivitis can lead to significant dental diseases such as tooth loss, abscesses and infections of the jawbone, particularly in dogs,” adds Dr. Grzyb, “making preventive oral care very crucial.”
Try cleaning your pet’s teeth at home if you can — even brushing with wet gauze will work — and get your pet’s teeth checked every six months or so, says Dr. Murray. You can also talk to your vet about oral care products, from toothbrushes and toothpastes to foods and treats, that will help keep your pet’s teeth and gums clean.
Mental Health and Companionship
While our pets may not get as much stimulation as we do, good mental health is as important for our animals as it is to us.
“It’s important to think about how to enhance your pet’s mental life and make sure they’re stimulated,” Dr. DeClementi says. “They’ve been domesticated for a long time, but in the wild they’d be hunting and chasing their food and doing different things. Altering their environment helps change things up.”
Stimulate your pet with interactive treat toys, exercise or a ride in the car and experiment with different things like food dispensers, water fountains or puzzle toys to keep them motivated. Just make sure your pet has the proper identification tags on them at all times and is micro chipped before heading somewhere new. And one of the best ways to keep your pet stimulated? Plenty of love and attention from their owners.
“Love, affection and bonding time is very important in supporting your animal’s quality of life,” Dr. Grzyb says, “and is probably the most important aspect of their health.”
Although veterinarians get busy with work and their personal lives (just like we do!), many are vigilant about their pet’s preventative care because they understand its importance from firsthand experience.
“We see the animals that have severe health problems, Dr. Murray says, “which makes vets good about flea, tick and heartworm prevention, vaccinating their pets and keeping their pets at a healthy weight.”
Understanding the effects of obesity, heartworm and certain diseases that can be prevented by vaccinations and keeping up with check-ups and preventative care will help your pet live a long, healthy life. Dr. Murray also recommends spaying or neutering your pet in order to reduce their chances of testicular and breast cancer or prostate and uterus infections.
“Because our pets don’t always tell us when they aren’t feeling well,” Dr. DeClementi says, “bringing your dog or cat to the veterinarian on a yearly basis will allow your doctor to check their teeth, hearts and immunization records for any signs of concern. As your pet ages, your veterinarian may recommend seeing your dog or cat more than once a year and running basic blood work to monitor kidney and liver function at these appointments. They can also refer you to a veterinary specialist, should there be an issue with your pet’s health.
“Veterinary surgeons, dermatologists and oncologists all exist and can help quickly diagnose a problem and get to the issue faster,” Dr. Murray says. “If a pet is struggling with a health problem, they can ask for a referral to a specialist rather than go to another general veterinarian for a second opinion. A lot of people don’t realize that specialists exist for pets.”