By Mara Ratnofsky, DVM
Here are 5 relatively simple ways to improve your dog’s quality of life and hopefully keep him or her by your side for as long as possible.
Regular Wellness Exams
A healthy, small breed dog should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year between the ages of 1 and 10, and at least twice a year after age 10. Larger breeds should have exams every 6 months starting around 7 years of age. Routine check-ups will allow your veterinarian to look for early signs of disease that can show up even before your pet starts acting sick. This is very important, as most diseases respond better to treatment when it is started early. Your pet may be vaccinated at the wellness visits in order to protect her against serious illnesses, and she will likely be screened for internal and external parasites. Blood and urine tests may be recommended to get a more complete picture of your dog’s overall health. The wellness visit is also a great time for you to ask questions about your dog’s routine care, such as how to brush her teeth or ways to decrease her anxiety in the car.
Studies have shown that dental disease not only causes bad breath and mouth pain, but can also cause damage to a dog’s heart, liver, and kidneys. Daily tooth brushing is the best way to prevent dental disease between professional dental cleanings, and most dogs can be trained to accept the toothbrush. Start very gradually by showing your dog the toothbrush and rewarding with a treat. Over the course of a few weeks, work your way up to touching his face with the brush, brushing one tooth, and eventually brushing the outer aspect of the teeth where they touch the cheek. Always follow with a reward. Use toothpaste formulated specifically for dogs, along with a soft-bristled toothbrush. If brushing really isn’t working out for you and/or your dog, other options such as prescription dental diets and water additives are available. Check out www.VOHC.org to find recommended products that have earned the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance.
Obesity in pets has become a serious problem in this country. Overweight animals suffer more from arthritis as they age, because the excess weight puts more stress on their joints. They are also more likely to have trouble breathing and are at higher risk for heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer. A study of Labrador retrievers showed that even moderately overweight dogs died almost 2 years earlier than their ideal-weight counterparts. Weight loss techniques include decreased feeding of treats and table scraps, measurement of dry food with a measuring cup or kitchen scale to prevent overfeeding, use of prescription weight loss diets, and increased exercise.
Physical and Mental stimulation
We all know that regular exercise helps us to stay healthy, and the same is true for our canine companions. Daily exercise helps a dog maintain optimal weight, muscle strength, and bone strength. It can also help alleviate pain from arthritis. Lack of exercise can lead to frustration and boredom, which your dog may express by chewing up your new loveseat or barking incessantly. Other forms of mental stimulation, such as having your dog work to find a treat hidden in a toy or teaching her some new tricks, will also promote good behavior. A tired dog is a happy dog and a happy owner!
A parasite is an organism that lives on another organism (a host) and obtains nutrients at the host’s expense. Unfortunately, many canine parasites can be found in New England. There are external parasites such as fleas and ticks, as well as internal parasites such as roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, whipworms, giardia, coccidia, and heartworm. Not only can these parasites cause severe health problems for your dog, many of them can be transmitted to humans. The good news is that safe and effective preventatives against most of these organisms are readily available and easy to use. Your veterinarian will likely screen your dog for the presence of parasites (and the diseases they cause) at each wellness visit and whenever your dog is showing symptoms that could be caused by parasites (vomiting and diarrhea, scratching, hair loss, coughing, weight loss, etc.).