10 tips to help your pet live a long life
A client recently asked me a simple but critical question: “What can I do to ensure that my pet lives a long life?” I thought about that question for a long time. Here is what I would answer.
1. Prevent dangers you can’t afford to fix
Countless pets end up in pain or euthanized because their owner can’t afford treatment. Yet with a little bit of common sense, many tragedies could be avoided.
In fact, even if you can afford treatment, I would highly suggest to:
. Keep cats indoors.
. Keep dogs on a leash.
. Keep the collar snug.
. Avoid leaving your pet outside when you’re getting out of (or into) your garage.
Bottom line, don’t let your pet get lost or hit by a car.
If you think that it’s cruel to keep a cat indoors or a dog on a leash “because (s)he loves roaming outside”, I invite you to spend a few days with your vet, a local surgeon or a nearby emergency clinic. I think you’ll be impressed with the number of accidents that could have been avoided.
2. Get pet insurance
It is always surprising to read that only 3% of the pet population is insured. Most clients don’t even know that pet insurance exists. Yet it can be a life saver – literally.
Of course, pet insurance is no panacea. There are exclusions, such as pre-existing conditions. And you still need to be able to pay for medical care up front until you get reimbursed by the insurance company.
3. You are what you eat
This is one of the most controversial topics out there, so we won’t spend too much time on this one. Some people try to convince the rest of the world that they are right and everyone else is wrong when feeding their pet brand XYZ.
At the very least, discuss your choice with your vet.
4. Don’t self-medicate
It is scary to see how many pets get in trouble because their well-meaning owners decided to trust their neighbor, the Internet or their brother-in-law. Using the wrong drug, the wrong dosage or the wrong drug cocktail could prove deadly.
According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, the top 10 human medications that poison our pets are:
. Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen.
. Acetaminophen in cats, but also dogs.
. Methylphenidate, a drug used to treat ADHD.
. Fluorouracil, a chemo drug.
. Isoniazid, a drug used against tuberculosis (you’d think it’s rare!).
. Pseudo-ephedrine, the decongestant.
. Anti-diabetes treatments.
. Vitamin D derivatives.
. Baclofen, a muscle relaxant.
We’ve discussed several times the dangers of aspirin. A couple of weeks ago, 2 dogs were hospitalized at our emergency clinic because they had gotten into one of the dogs’ own anti-inflammatory drug. Remember, child-proof medication vials are not dog-proof!
And last week, my own patient Ranger chewed a vial of ibuprofen…
Emergency clinic also see routinely pets who were shampooed with the wrong anti-flea medication. Most often, it is a cat, washed with doggy shampoo.
Bottom line, accidents do happen. At least, never use a medication without checking with your vet. We’re there to help, so please ask!
5. Take care of small problems before they become big disasters
We recently had a very sad case. The owners noticed that their dog’s belly kept growing over one week. Meanwhile, their dog’s appetite and energy level kept decreasing. By the time the dog made it to the surgery table, he had 3 quarts of blood in his belly. It had leaked from a cancerous tumor of the liver.
The same goes for skin masses. We often see patients with masses so large, that it is difficult if not impossible to remove it entirely. We also see patients, -mostly dogs-, with skin masses that were dismissed as “benign fatty tumors” (lipomas)… which weren’t.
So, “pet your pet” often to notice skin lumps and bumps early. And please do not procrastinate to have them tested or removed.
6. Prevent preventable cancers
There are very few cancers we can actually prevent.
Some cancers are due to second-hand smoke.
Others can be 100% prevented by neutering and spaying. Think about it:
. No testicles, no testicular cancer (granted, it’s rare).
. No ovaries, no ovarian cancer (granted, it’s rare).
. No uterus, no uterine cancer (granted, it’s rare).
But a common and aggressive cancer is breast (mammary) cancer, and it can be 100% prevented by spaying dogs and cats BEFORE their first heat.
Spaying also eliminates the risk of pyometra, a potentially deadly infection of the uterus.
7. Thinner pets outlive chubby pets
Keep your pet thin. Chubby pets are at risk for a number of diseases (including ACL tears), and statistically die on average 2 years earlier than thin pets.
So by keeping your pet thin, you will increase quality AND quantity of life. Isn’t that what any pet owner wishes?
8. Pet proof your house
Pet proof your house, especially “at risk” rooms:
. Kitchen: chocolate, among many others, is toxic in pets.
. Bathroom: beware of toilet cleaner, bleach, deodorant, toiletries… and medications.
. Garage: it contains tons of toxic substances, such as antifreeze, rat poison, insecticides, snail bait and other anti-pest products.
. Other rooms may be at risk as well if they have liquid potpourri or toxic plants.
There are countless other poisons throughout the house, so store them in locked cabinets. Pet proofing is not much different from kid proofing… except that pets, especially cats, can jump onto counters!
As a reminder, cats love playing with strings, ribbons and other “linear foreign bodies.” They will sometimes even swallow them. They can be deadly as they cut through the intestine.
9. Teach your pet some manners
Invest in puppy kindergarten or training. Bad behavior is one of the top reasons for pet relinquishment or euthanasia.
A colleague explains: “It’s very likely that more dogs lose their homes and even die due to behavior problems than any other reason.
An obvious example is biting, but there are many more subtle ones: running away from home, not coming back when called, endless barking, jumping or pulling on older people and injuring them and more.”
If you think your pet has a behavioral problem, you can get help from your family vet or a behaviorist.
10. Prevention is the best medicine
Prevention encompasses many, many things. It includes:
. A physical exam every 6 months, rather than the traditional 1 year check up.
. Yearly blood work and urinalysis (I do that with my own crazy cats).
. Older pets may benefit from an EKG, X-rays or ultrasound. You might want to discuss this with your vet, who might offer a “geriatric work up.” Think of it as a screening test.
. Vaccinations, following your vet’s recommendations as far as which ones to give, how often etc.
. Parasite control, both internal (ie intestinal worms, heartworms) and external (ie fleas and ticks).
. Dental care.
. Spaying and neutering.
. Grooming, a simple way to avoid problems, from “hot spots” and ear infections, to hair rubbing on the eyeballs.
11. Bonus tip: Exercise with your pet!
OK, here’s one last tip as a bonus.
A tired pet is a happy pet, and less likely to look for trouble, such as chewing on your favorite shoes.
Exercise with your pet, even if it’s just playing or a daily walk. It’s good for both of you, and it is a great and cheap way to bond with your pet.
Granted, I am perfectly aware that you could follow every single tip above and still discover that your pet has some horrible condition. Cancer, genetic diseases, even an ACL tear… Most pet conditions are nobody’s fault. Nobody can prevent the unavoidable.
Similarly, you could brush your own teeth 3 times a day and still get a cavity.
That’s obviously not my point.
My point is, let’s at least do everything we can to eliminate dangers that are easy to avoid. And if something bad does happen, at least you will hopefully find comfort in the fact that you’ve done everything you possibly could to keep your pet healthy and happy.
Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS
Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a Traveling Board-Certified Surgeon.
He writes a free, weekly newsletter dedicated to true pet lovers. It is available at www.drphilzeltzman.com