Friday, October 31, 2008

Prevention as a key to healthy, well aging pets

Tamera Manzanares wrote in the Steam Boat Pilot & Today, a Steamboat, CO based newspaper, an article on the topic “Aging Well: Prevention key to keeping 4-legged friends healthy”. Though Tamara usually writes for the Aging Well program (Aging Well is a community based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older) and normally talks about different topics than pets, I would say she has earned quite some credit for her article, which addresses a number of important issue related to our pets.
“Few people would refute the benefits of sharing time with a pet. For older adults who look forward to fresh air exercise with a pup or the unconditional love of a lap cat, pet companionship may be even more powerful.
Although studies suggest pets can help lower a person’s risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and depression, a special bond between an animal and older person, especially an adult coping with ailing health and loneliness, speaks for itself.
If pets can make us healthier, it makes sense to do everything we can to keep them healthy, especially if it means preventing expensive pet illnesses and emergencies that could make it hard to keep and care for our pets.”
Many health habits for humans can be applied to pets. One of the most important of these is weight management because, just like their owners, obese pets are more likely to develop heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.
A veterinarian can advise each owner about a pet’s ideal weight and how much and how often that animal should eat. Limiting treats and snacks and not feeding pets table scraps are among ways owners can help animals lose weight and stay trim.
When money is tight, pet owners may opt to buy less expensive pet food. Although low quality food is better than no food at all, they should keep in mind that purchasing a good quality food is an investment into their pet’s long term health, said Craig Stanton, a veterinarian at Pet Kare Clinic in Steamboat Springs.
“If they spend a little bit more on good nutrition ... then they avoid a lot of other problems,” he said.
Inexpensive pet food tends to have more grains and less protein, which can cause pets, especially cats, to lose lean body mass and gain fat, leading to conditions such as diabetes and liver disease, Stanton explained.
Just as they would with their own food, pet owners should compare pet food labels, looking for brands with minimal grains and more protein and other recognizable nutrients.
Owners considering less expensive pet should make sure nutrition information on the food they choose includes a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials that a food is “complete and balanced” or meets minimum nutrition recommendations for dogs and cats, Stanton said.
Although nutritious food costs more, pets likely won’t need to eat as much as they would a lower quality food that won’t go as far in meeting their nutrition needs.
Taking care of a pet’s teeth also is very important in preventing bacterial infections that can lead to kidney and heart disease in animals, said Stanton, noting that by the time he usually sees animals for dental problems, they are experiencing chronic pain and must have teeth and bone removed.
“Dental disease is probably the No.1 killer of animals,” he said.
Special chewy treats for dogs and cats and water additives are among dental health techniques that may be helpful for older adults and others having a hard time using a finger brush to keep their pet’s teeth clean.
Regular grooming and removal of seeds, burrs and other objects from a pet’s fur can save a pet owner from visits to a professional groomer or veterinarian to have painful mats removed.
The issue of vaccines can be very confusing because there are so many types of vaccines available to pets. To avoid unnecessary vaccines (which can be money-making schemes in less-reputable clinics) pet owners should request only core vaccines, or those that are required by law and/or protect against diseases a pet is more likely to encounter, Stanton said.
A trusted veterinarian also can recommend noncore vaccines and vaccination frequency based on a pet’s lifestyle.
Overall, a person who is attentive to a pet’s behavior and tendencies can prevent expensive pet emergencies and catch illnesses or other problems early, when they are easier to treat.
It only takes few minutes for an unleashed or wandering dog to get a face full of porcupine quills that can cost an owner $250 to $1,000 to have removed. More than a few local dogs have had the rather undistinguished honor of ending up on the “Porcupine Hall of Fame” page on the Pet Kare Clinic’s Website.
Leashing dogs, keeping cats indoors and removing items pets may ingest from homes and yards are just a few ways pet owners can help keep their animals out of trouble.
Pet owners hoping for a little more peace of mind may consider pet insurance. Policies typically cost $30 to S40 a month and will cover about 80 percent of emergency veterinarian costs and 100 percent of prevention costs, Stanton said, noting that it’s best to ask a veterinarian about the best policies.
Pet owners on tight budgets shouldn’t delay taking their pet to a veterinarian for fear of not being able to pay the bill. Some clinics will work with clients to establish a payment plan, especially if that client has good payment history. Many communities also have programs to help low-income individuals with emergency veterinarian expenses.”
Thank you Tamera and also Dr. Stanton for speaking my mind and for providing good basic advise. I would say you have addressed the issues on hand better than some of the so called “specialists” of my local newspaper in the “Pet corner” sometimes do. Needless to say that I especially liked the comments related to pet nutrition.

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