As you made your New Year’s resolutions, did you include your pet? If not, you can always add them to your list, since your four-legged family member relies on you for their health and happiness. Excellent health care is the best gift you can give your pet in the new year, despite filling their holiday stocking with treats and toys. Although your pet cannot unwrap this gift, they will undoubtedly thank you with extra slobbery kisses and couch cuddles, since pets who receive regular preventive and wellness care live longer, healthier lives. Here are our Southern Crossing Animal Hospital team’s tips to keep your pet healthy in 2021, and beyond.
#1: Keep your pet’s veterinary appointments
Regular veterinary appointments include much more than vaccines, although they are also essential for your pet’s health. One of the most important parts of your pet’s wellness visit is the physical exam our veterinary team performs. Although your veterinarian may seem to simply pet your dog or cat and listen through their stethoscope for a few minutes, their highly trained eyes, ears, and hands are evaluating your pet for any disease signs. As they run their hands over your pet’s body, they palpate for anything abnormal, including masses and lumps, muscle asymmetry, abnormal organ size or shape, and skin problems. Using their stethoscope, your veterinarian listens for cardiac arrhythmias and murmurs, abnormal lung sounds, and breathing problems.
Your pet’s health can change quickly, and a once-yearly exam is not sufficient to adequately monitor their health status. For this reason, we recommend twice-yearly physical exams for healthy pets, so we can detect illness at the first sign, run the appropriate diagnostic tests, and begin treatment as soon as possible. Pets with chronic health problems and senior pets will likely require more frequent visits to monitor their treatment and progress.
#2: Monitor your pet’s health with blood work
We will likely recommend blood work during your pet’s routine wellness and preventive visits to better monitor their full-body health. Blood work allows us to look deeper than a physical exam, and evaluates a number of important body components and functions, including:
- Red blood cell levels
- While blood cell levels, which can indicate infection or inflammation
- Blood glucose, which screens for diabetes
- Liver function
- Kidney function
- Thyroid function
- Protein levels
Many diseases do not cause obvious clinical signs until they have progressed to an advanced stage. Kidney disease, for example, does not cause clinical signs until two thirds of kidney function is lost, and medical treatment can do little to help. Blood work can detect early signals that the kidneys are not functioning properly, and treatment can be started to slow disease progression and provide extra years with your pet.
#3: Brush your pet’s teeth every day
Dental disease is the most common health problem in dogs and cats, with up to 80% of pets affected by 3 years of age. You may think your pet’s doggy breath is normal, but a bad odor and tartar accumulation are signs that your pet has dental disease that requires medical care. Dental disease that is allowed to progress commonly causes tooth root infections, abscesses, and tooth loss, which can lead to significant pain for your pet. Pairing professional dental cleanings with at-home dental care is the only way to ensure good dental health.
Unfortunately, you cannot brush away tartar that has already accumulated on your pet’s teeth and below their gum line at home. During a professional dental cleaning, we will remove all plaque and tartar to leave your pet’s teeth sparkling clean, and provide a clean slate for you to start your home-care routine. We will also take full-mouth dental X-rays, which is the only way we can identify problems lurking below your pet’s gumline, where most dental problems occur.
Once your pet’s teeth have been professionally cleaned, you should brush them at home, preferably daily. Using a pet toothbrush and pet-friendly toothpaste, gently scrub the outer surfaces of your pet’s teeth to remove plaque before it hardens to tartar. Most pets accept toothbrushing quite well, especially if they earn a tasty treat after each session.
#4: Give your pet year-round parasite preventives
Your pet’s monthly flea, tick, and heartworm preventives protect them from more than itchy pests. Heartworms cause life-long heart and lung damage despite treatment, which is necessary to prevent disease progression, and eventual death. Fleas and ticks can transmit a number of dangerous diseases, including:
- Lyme disease
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Murine typhus
Fleas, ticks, and heartworm-transmitting mosquitoes may not be as active during the winter, but can emerge on warmer (i.e., 50 degrees or more) days, ready to find a warm meal. Year-round preventives are essential to keep your pet protected from these dangerous parasites, and the diseases they cause.
Keeping your pet healthy through 2021 is easy, with Southern Cross Animal Hospital’s help. Give us a call to schedule your pet’s wellness visit, blood work, or dental cleaning, or to refill their parasite preventives.