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Keep Your Pet Healthy: Tips from an MSPCA-Angell Vet

We all want our pets to live long, healthy, and happy lives. October is National Pet Wellness Month, a great time to remember the importance of regular wellness checkups for our pets and healthy lifestyle choices. We chatted with Angela Mazza, DVM, an MSPCA-Angell general medicine veterinarian, for tips on how to help our pets stay healthy and thrive through their golden years.

The importance of annual health exams for pets

It’s all about prevention! Yearly check-ins with your pet’s vet help catch problems early, and a record helps flatten anything that may come up in the future. “Annual trends are helpful. A physical exam can pick up everything from weight trends to heart murmurs or other things we may want to follow up on,” said Dr. Mazza. And, of course, catching issues before they start helps keep the expenses down, too!

Spaying or neutering your pet

The incidence of tumors and uterine infections in female dogs and cats is reduced when spayed. To reduce the risk of mammary tumors in cats and dogs, “we want to spay them before their first heat or certainly between their first and second heat cycles,” said Dr. Mazza. “Waiting to spay after the second heat – the risk of mammary tumors jumps to 25%.” Testicular cancer and prostate problems can be prevented by neutering a male dog or cat. In male dogs, castration aims to keep the prostate size small, thus preventing discomfort that comes with prostatic enlargement and lowering the risk of prostatic infection.

In addition, when your pet is fixed, they are less likely to escape outdoors to mate and thus less likely to get lost, hit by a car, or have a run-in with wildlife. “So, there are health, behavior, and population benefits as well,” added Dr. Mazza.

Pet nutrition is important

The importance of complete nutrition cannot be overstated. “It’s common to see overweight animals,” said Dr. Mazza. “Feeding age-appropriate diets, measuring each feeding, and being careful with treats is always suggested.” The popular “grain-free” diet is now questionable and has been linked to canine heart disease. “We don’t see a benefit to grain-free foods, even though brands tout they’re high protein and more natural,” said Dr. Mazza. “Here at Angell, we recommend food with grain.”

Maintain a healthy weight for your pet

Your pet’s well-being depends on maintaining ideal body weight. It is one of the easiest ways to improve and extend their lives. They are more likely to experience significant health issues, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes if they add on the pounds. “A lot of diseases can be prevented with weight management,” said Dr. Mazza. “Overweight dogs are at higher risk for orthopedic diseases, and cats are more susceptible to diabetes.” She advises avoiding feeding pets human food (no matter how much they beg!) and adjusting their diet according to their activity level.

Exercise your pet’s body and brain 

According to Dr. Mazza, dogs do not necessarily need to go on hikes or long runs. “A simple walk around the block, just so they’re outdoors and can get to sniff, helps your dog physically and mentally.” Mental stimulation is crucial to keeping your pet healthy. “Food toys and puzzles are great for dogs, and perches are perfect for cats – they get to climb up high and explore.”

Preventive dental care for your pet

Most adult pets suffer from some form of dental disease, so regular brushing is essential at home. If the tartar is severe, ultrasonic scaling and cleaning under anesthesia may be necessary. Dr. Mazza suggests starting dental care when your pet is young and likes to refer pet owners to the Veterinary Oral Health Council for approved dental products for cats and dogs. The site contains recommendations for kinds of toothpaste, gels, water additives, and dental-friendly treats.

A clean pet is a healthy (and happy) pet

Grooming your dog or cat keeps them looking fresh and clean and allows you to become familiar with every aspect of your pet. You can detect a problem early before it escalates when you discover a cracked nail or a painful tooth. “Start grooming your pets when they’re young, so they get used to the touch and feel of the clippers.” Dr. Mazza added that many dogs wear their nails down from walking outside and won’t need much trimming – the same with cats, depending on how much they scratch. If your dog shakes his head a lot, it’s a good indication he has a lot of wax in his ears. When you brush your pet, you will be able to notice any irritation or cuts that need attention. When it comes to bathing, less is more. “Most dogs don’t need routine bathing unless they’ve gotten dirty or have a condition that requires medicated bathing,” added Dr. Mazza. It is important to keep an eye on your pet’s needs, as some require more grooming than others.

Prevent fleas and ticks on your pet

Keeping the creepy crawlies off your pets helps you stay safe from Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases. “We recommend keeping up with a monthly flea and tick prevention regimen,” said Dr. Mazza. “And there are tons of different products nowadays – topical, collars, oral. I usually say at least pick one and stick with it.” In addition to preventive medications, Dr. Mazza suggests daily tick checks, especially if you and your pet spend a good deal of time outside or in a wooded area.

Consider buying pet health insurance

When getting health insurance for your pet, Dr. Mazza recommends starting young. “Once a vet documents an illness or concern, it can’t be undocumented. Everyone thinks about pet health insurance after that first big diagnosis.” Dr. Mazza cautions that some pet health insurance does not cover annual checkups, dentals, spays, and neuters. “Make sure you know what insurance you’re buying and that it covers what you need.”

Train and socialize your dog 

Early socialization and training are crucial to your furry friend’s development, so Dr. Mazza recommends starting training when they are puppies. The trick is consistency. A lot of owners want the magic fix. There isn’t one – and it takes effort on their part.” Spend 15 minutes a day reviewing the basic training commands, breaking each command into two to five-minute sessions. Need some professional help? Training and behavior classes are available at the MSPCA-Angell for puppies and dogs of all ages!