Image via iStock.com/4FR
By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
Providing good pet care for your fur babies is essential in ensuring a long, healthy life.
From keeping up-to-date on prescription flea and tick prevention and heartworm pet meds, to scheduling routine dental pet care and getting pet microchips, there are plenty of ways that we can help pets live their very best lives.
Here are eight tips from veterinarians about often overlooked pet care tasks that can help you provide the very best care for your furry family member:
1. Help Prevent Pet Obesity With a Healthy Pet Food
Providing a balanced and healthy pet food that is appropriate to our pet’s needs is one of the most overlooked preventative care measures, according to Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, chief veterinarian at Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital in Toronto.
You should also rethink your pet’s snack intake and exercise routine. “Pet obesity is rising around the world,” says Dr. Greenstein. “A lot of it can come from excess snacks and table scraps and our pets not getting enough exercise.”
The first step, says Dr. Amanda Landis-Hanna, DVM, senior manager of veterinary outreach for PetSmart Charities in Phoenix, is to talk with your veterinarian and choose a pet food that is appropriate for your pet. That way, you can ensure that your pet’s diet is healthy for them, meets their nutritional needs and is appealing to them, too.
Research is key, but so is talking to your veterinarian, says Dr. Bruce Silverman, a veterinarian at Village West Veterinary and founder of the Critical Animal Relief Foundation in Chicago. “If you don’t know how much to feed your pet for optimal health, discuss the proper amount with your veterinarian,” says Dr. Silverman. Knowing the proper portion size is just as important as choosing the right healthy pet food.
Your veterinarian can calculate your pet’s resting energy requirements and come up with a weight loss plan that is slow and steady, as weight loss should never be abrupt.
Another key point is not to add too many additional dog treats or cat treats to your pet’s diet. “It’s amazing; if you look at the calorie count, you could be adding 50-100 calories per treat,” says Dr. Greenstein.
Finally, Dr. Greenstein advises that to maintain your pet’s weight, you need to make sure your dog gets at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. She also recommends that cats get at least three instances of 5 minutes of play each day.
2. Get Pet Microchips That Can Save Your Pet’s Life
There are a lot of misconceptions amongst pet owners about how pet microchips work. Dr. Greenstein explains, “We try to educate our patients that microchips are for helping reunite lost pets with their people.”
A pet microchip is a form of permanent identification that is placed underneath your pet’s skin, between their shoulder blades. It is about the size of a small grain of rice, and your pet will never even notice it is there.
You should make sure that you choose a company that is widely scanned in your area and can be scanned outside of the country if you plan on international travel. ISO-compliant microchips are the type that are accepted internationally. Usually these are 16 digits long, but not always.
Dr. Travis Arndt, the medical director at the Humane Society of Missouri Animal Center of Mid-America in St. Louis, says it’s important to choose a company that won’t charge you for changing your information. “Some companies charge a fee each time,” says Dr. Arndt. “That can deter you from keeping your information current, and that’s critical to return your pet.”
You can talk to your veterinarian for their recommendation on pet microchips.
3. Consider Insurance for Pets That Can Help You in an Emergency
If you’ve investigated your options and think that buying pet insurance is right for you , the most important thing to know is that not all insurance for pets is created equal.
“It’s really important to choose a policy that’s best for your pet; some of the policies are mostly wellness policies and don’t cover costs when your pet has an accident or gets sick,” says Dr. Arndt. “Many pet parents don’t understand what they’re signing up for, and they get frustrated with their policies.”
Find out how you will be reimbursed by the company, whether there are lifetime limits on some conditions, and if there are any exclusions.
“Some pet parents only look at one or two brochures, and I know of at least six different companies from which to choose,” says Dr. Landis-Hanna. “It’s important to do your research.”
4. Use Prescription Flea and Tick Prevention
Dr. Landis-Hanna says she has practiced all over the country, and there is one common misconception she’s heard everywhere. “A lot of individuals use flea and tick prevention as a treatment rather than a prevention,” says Dr. Landis-Hanna.
“Both fleas and ticks carry diseases, and if used as a treatment, your pet may already be exposed. It’s also cheaper as a prevention than waiting until you have a flea infestation and having to clean carpets and other items in your home,” says Dr. Landis-Hanna.
Dr. Arndt also says even if you are not purchasing the preventative from your veterinarian, you should discuss what is best for your pet in your area with your veterinarian. “Some of the over-the-counter flea products do not cover ticks,” says Dr. Arndt.
Also, some products are no longer working well in some areas of the country. “We’ve really moved away from topical treatments as we’re seeing a lot of resistance,” says Dr. Silverman. “We’re working more with oral flea and tick treatments now.”
Dr. Greenstein says that the current thought is that there is no flea or tick “season” now. “With the climate warming all over the world, we recommend prescription flea and tick prevention year round.”
5. Keep Up With Dental Pet Care That’s Vital to Your Pet’s Overall Health
Another overlooked area of pet care is making sure your pet has proper dental care. “I don’t think people appreciate how dental health is linked to overall health of their pet,” says Dr. Greenstein.
Dr. Landis-Hanna says that brushing is the key to keeping your pet’s teeth in good shape. “Just as with people, if your pet eats, their teeth need to be brushed every day; it’s also a great way to bond with your pet.”
She adds that brushing also can help you head off problems before they become too severe. “If you see pink, red or bleeding gums, or discolored or cracked teeth, you can call your veterinarian for a further check.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association says that your pet’s teeth should be checked by your veterinarian at least once a year, and earlier if you see signs of dental problems.
6. Always Stay Current With Prescription Heartworm Prevention
As with flea and tick prevention, heartworm prevention must be used to prevent heartworms. It cannot treat a pet that has already been infected with this potential deadly disease.
It’s also key that you choose a prevention option that best fits your lifestyle. “We recommend it to be given once a month year-round, but we’re seeing some 12 month supplies lasting 16 months,” says Dr. Landis-Hanna. “Pet parents need to make sure they’re using it consistently.”
If you let the heartworm coverage lapse, your vet will require that your pet be screened for heartworms before prescribing more.
Dr. Arndt also advises not to forget giving your cats heartworm prevention. “This is often overlooked in cat care,” says Dr. Arndt. “We recommend it for all outdoor, as well as indoor, cats.”
7. Watch for Signs of Pain and Arthritis
As our pets age, they may get arthritis, just as we do, and some people miss the signs. “Pets don’t exhibit pain as we do and they tend to internalize, which can affect their quality of life,” says Dr. Arndt.
If your pet is becoming withdrawn, has a change in bathroom habits, is limping consistently or doesn’t like being touched in certain areas, Dr. Arndt says it’s important to talk to your veterinarian. They can help you to determine if your pet needs to be on a pain management plan, which can improve their quality of life.
8. Create and Maintain a Strong Bond With Your Pet
“When we talk about the human-animal bond, a lot of times, we hear about the health benefits for humans,” says Dr. Landis-Hanna. “A lot of people overlook the health benefits it has on our pets.”
Dr. Landis-Hanna says that creating a strong bond with your pet by petting her, spending time with her, walking her and playing with her can all greatly enhance socialization skills. These types of activities can also reduce your pet’s stress level.
“It’s the same benefit as you’d expect with spending time with a child; it’s a very symbiotic relationship,” says Dr. Landis-Hanna.