How much work you have to put into keeping your adult pet happy and healthy depends on many factors. For starters, pets that received good health care when they were young will have a better chance at staying healthy later on. For example, kittens and puppies that received all their core vaccines at the appropriate ages are less likely to contract serious diseases such as feline panleukopenia (FVRCP) or canine parvo virus, which cause severe illness as these viruses attack the animals immune system. In addition, pets that receive good nutrition and maintain an optimal weight throughout their lives will have healthier bones and a stronger immune system.
Good Nutrition is Key
Just as a healthy diet can do wonders for you, diet also impacts the overall health of all our pets. In most cases, good-quality commercial pet food is the best choice, as it contains all necessary nutrients to keep your pet strong and well-nourished. As your pets veterinarian, we are always happy to help you choose the best type of food based on your pet’s nutritional needs, health and age. If you’re searching for food on your own, look for brands that contain meat as the first ingredient. If the list of ingredients starts with something like corn or wheat, the food is likely to be of lower quality and contain too many fillers. However, there is lots of buzz in the vet community and the dog owning public right now concerning grain-free diets for pets. The FDA has some concerns and are investigating the link between grain-free diets and Canine Heart Disease. You can read the information here.
Stay away from table scraps. Human food can cause illness, such as pancreatits or toxicity, but is also often high in calories and fat and can contribute to the pet obesity epidemic sweeping through the nation. How bad is it? According to the 2012 National Pet Obesity Survey Results, 58.3 percent of cats and 52.5 percent of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. Obese pets are more likely to develop musculoskeletal conditions, insulin resistance and diabetes, heart disease, breathing difficulties, liver disease and high blood pressure. In addition, overweight and obese pets have a lowered immune system and a higher risk of developing cancer. Many studies have proven a distinct link between obesity and shorter life span for both people and animals alike.
If you are determined to feed your pet human foods, stick with lower calorie healthy snacks such as veggies (carrots, green beans, and sweet potatoes) and some fruits (apples and bananas). Some human foods you absolutely need to avoid giving your pet include all chocolate (especially dark cooking chocolates), onions/onion powder, grapes and raisins, macadamia nuts, mushrooms, pits from any fruits, moldy foods, and xylitol (artificial sweetener found in sugar free gum and other candies). There are complete lists of dangerous foods, plants, and toxins to avoid giving animals at www.aspca.org.
Keeping Your Pet Active
Lack of physical activity contributes to obesity, loss of muscle tone, and increased risk of arthritis. In dogs and cats, a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to many problems later on in life.
Exercise is also important to keep your pet happy and well-adjusted. It stimulates and helps develop their brains and in many cases will help prevent destructive behavior at home (often a result of boredom).
How much exercise your pet needs depends on the species and breed. Some dogs are more active than others and need several walks/runs every day in order to burn off excess energy. Other breeds might be happy and healthy with several daily short walks. There are also dogs who need an actual “job” to keep them entertained and fully stimulated. Jobs can include fun activities such as agility, obedience, therapy dog, fly ball, herding events, search and rescue, and so many other forms of exercise and mental stimulation for both dog and owner. A quick internet search will yield a large number of activities you can do with your dog.
Don’t forget cats need exercise too, especially indoor only cats. Encourage your cat to move around by getting interactive toys or using something as simple as a laser point light, which you can use to encourage your cat to run and chase. You can try hiding little cat treats around the house every day to give them both physical and mental stimulation. Cat nip works wonders for some cats and can be put on scratching posts or inside toys to keep them entertained.
Watch for Early Warning Signs
Even the best well-cared for pets get sick. The key to a successful recovery is to catch the problem as early as possible so it can be treated. To do that, always pay close attention to your pet’s routine and usual behavior. If you notice even subtle changes in eating, drinking or usual behavior, it is always a good idea to call in for a consultation to seek advice on what to be on the look out for, to have the change documented in your pets medical record for future reference, and to ensure that if the change is concerning we are able to make appropriate recommendations.
More serious signs to watch for include:
- Weight gain or loss
- New growths or masses, open wounds, or changing/rapidly growing masses
- Pale, blue, dry or bright red gums
- Difficulty breathing
- Imbalance or dizziness
- Limping or non-weight bearing lameness
- Foul odor from mouth, ears, or skin
- Bloated abdomen
- Crying loudly as a sign of pain
- Very hot body (which could indicate a fever)
- Lack of response when called or offered food
- Poor appetite or refusal to eat
- Vomiting or diarrhea that lasts more than 24 hours
- Excessive thirst
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
- Nasal or eye discharge
If you notice any of these or any concerning changes no matter how minor it is always a good idea to call your veterinarian’s office right away. They could be signs of an emergency or a serious problem that needs to be addressed quickly.