Having been a veterinary clinical practitioner since 1999, I’ve had had numerous opportunities to observe trends of illness and wellness in my patients. My professional experiences have provided valuable insight into the most important aspects of care by which pet owners should abide.
How do thriving puppies and kittens become unhealthy dogs and cats in their adult and senior years? Human laziness, misinformation from pet product companies, owner financial constraints, and lack of veterinary persuasion about the most essential components of a holistic wellness plan top my list.
To further explore this topic, I created a list — Top Ten Topics Veterinarians Wish Pets Owners Better Understood. Here are the first five:
1. Care Taking Responsibilities and Financial Obligations Associated with Pet Ownership
Having a pet is a responsibility only to be undertaken by those who are willing and able to always make lifestyle choices on the basis of health. Incorporating a pet into one’s household compromises available time, space, and financial resources (see Prepare Yourself for the Evolving Challenge of Dog Ownership).
Caring for a pet is akin to having a human child stuck in a permanent adolescent state. Pets are not autonomous beings; they require continuous feeding, social interaction, behavior training, grooming, and established facilities for waste elimination.
Pet owners should not adopt a pet without thoroughly evaluating their ability to fiscally and emotionally provide care — both in sickness and in health (sounds like a commitment ceremony, yes?). Pets are not guaranteed to indefinitely remain free from disease, stay clear of exposure to toxins, or avoid incurring trauma, so expenses for maintaining wellness or treating illness inevitably arise. Visual Economics shares insightful perspective on the lifetime costs of our companion animals.
So is pet ownership really the best choice for you and your family?
2. Obesity Prevention through Calorie Restriction and Exercise
Pet owners must better understand the potentially irreversible health consequences caused by obesity. Around 51 percent of dogs and cats (approximately 89 million pets) in the United States are overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). Arthritis and diseases affecting the cardiovascular (heart, blood vessels, etc.) and metabolic (diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, hypothyroidism, etc.) systems can be avoided or minimized when pets maintain a normal body condition score (see The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Body Condition Scoring Chart).
When feeding your pet, always practice portion control by using a metric measuring cup, and err on the side of feeding less. Dogs consuming a calorie restricted diet have been proven to live two years longer than those lacking calorie restriction.
Make physical activity for your pet a daily priority (see How My Personal Journey from Fat to Fit Applies to You and Your Pets). Exercise benefits more than just the body; it provides behavioral stimulation that satisfies a pet’s need for interaction as it strengthens the pet-owner bond.
3. Daily Home Dental Care is an Essential Part of Pet Ownership
Pet owners must realize the serious health repercussions of periodontal disease. The mouth harbors millions of bacteria that are permitted to enter the bloodstream through inflamed gums (gingivitis), enabling the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, joints, and other body systems to be continually showered with a stream of toxic bacteria.
Just like in humans, periodontal disease in pets is very preventable. Unfortunately, pet owners typically squirm at the idea of regularly cleaning their dog or cat’s teeth. Top Three Tips for Pet Dental Care from a Veterinary Dental Specialist details the practical ways you can help keep your pet’s mouth cleaner and healthier.
4. Pursue Anesthesia Based Teeth Cleaning Regardless of Age
Pet owners mustn’t let a numerical age deter them from pursuing an anesthetic procedure to resolve a health problem. Pets are never “too old” to undergo anesthesia, yet they can be "too unhealthy."
Not resolving your pet’s periodontal disease amounts to neglect. Periodontal disease has many negative implications, especially for vital organs like the heart (see Importance of Periodontal Health in Maintaining Your Pet’s Healthy Heart).
However, any illnesses affecting a pet should be resolved or improved before an anesthetic procedure is performed. Blood testing, radiographs (X-rays), an ECG (electrical evaluation of heart rate and rhythm), and possibly other tests (ultrasound of heart or abdominal organs) should be done in an appropriate pre-anesthetic period.
Anesthesia will be better tolerated and quick recovery will occur when efforts have been made to promote a pet’s best health. Remember, age is not a disease; but bacterial infection and associated inflammation in your pet’s mouth are.
5. Your Pet May Survive, but Won’t Thrive on a Diet of Processed Foods
Why do dog and cat owners consider the most ideal food to be dry or canned pet food? Nature makes food, then humans highly process nature’s ingredients to create a "nutritionally complete and balanced" option conveniently available to pour out of a bag or can.
Unfortunately for our animal companions, there are serious short- and long-term health consequences associated with eating grain and protein meals, by-products, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and the recognized toxins and carcinogens found in many commercially available pet foods and treats. Diseases of the gastrointestinal (stomach, small and large intestine), dermatologic (skin), and metabolic (kidneys, liver, pancreas, etc.) systems, and immune system abnormalities (including cancer), can be correlated to these unnecessary food ingredients (see Are You Poisoning Your Companion Animal by Feeding Pet Grade Foods?).
When food substances are so radically altered from nature’s original format, energetic changes occur that reduce foods’ nutritive content. Human grade, whole food based, home prepared, or commercial diets having undergone minimal refinement should replace processed dry or canned pet foods.
Most pet foods cater to owner convenience instead of promoting a pet’s best health. Dogs and cats can survive, but will not thrive by eating pet-grade foods.
Check back next week for Part 2 of my Top Ten Topics Veterinarians Wish Pet Owners Better Understood.
An example of less than responsible care taking.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney