A: Pets today generally live longer, healthier lives than they did just fifty years ago. This fact is largely due to reduction in infectious diseases through vaccination, decades of research leading to improved nutrition, and healthier lifestyles from spending more time inside our homes. Most pets that I see every day are neutered, live mostly inside, eat a brand name commercial pet food, and are generally well vaccinated. If your pets do not meet those basic standards, then you should start there.
Despite these widespread improvements, the vast majority of pets are still living shorter, less healthy lives than necessary. Most owners out there are not doing four simple things that could significantly improve their pets’ lifespan and, more importantly, quality of life. Even the most caring owners are often overlooking some or all of these important steps. Here is my four step recipe for maximizing your time with your furry friends:
- Feed less calories. Today’s fad pet foods are heavily marketed online and in pet stores to well-meaning pet owners trying to do the best for their pets. They carry labels that include catchy words like “grain-free,” “human-grade,” or “no fillers.” Slick marketing departments are playing with ingredient lists to make them sound good to typical pet owners: meat, meat, and more meat, followed by fancy carbs like quinoa or tapioca, and rounded out with fruits, vegetables, pre-biotics, and pro-biotics. Throw in anecdotes and advice from breeders and self-labeled “experts” on the Internet and these foods sound really, really good. The problem is that most are very, very high in calories. Even if pet owners properly measures out the small amount that is appropriate to feed most house pets (which most do not), their beloved furry friend seems hungry all the time. So they feed more. And Fluffy keeps getting fatter! You and I both know that fat Fluffy just won’t live as long as lean Fluffy. I firmly believe the pet foods that are currently being marketed as “premium” are shaving years off the lives of typical family pets.
- Schedule regular professional dental cleanings. Yes, I know anesthesia is scary. Yes, I know that dental care is a significant financial investment in your pet’s health. However, it is well established that the level of periodontal disease found in three-quarters of adult pets will shorten their lifespans by somewhere between two and five years! Done properly, dental cleanings should require only a light plane of anesthesia using modern medications that are tailored to your pet’s specific breed and health. Seek out a highly educated professional staff that uses advanced vital systems monitors, IV electrolyte solutions, and modern body temperature support and the risk becomes extremely small, even tiny. Yet, most owners are still allowing their pets to suffer every day from painful dental disease that we know results in regular bacterial showers through the bloodstream three times a month or more. Every month. All year. Although that risk is invisible, it is most certainly doing damage and most certainly shortening lives!
- See the veterinarian twice a year. I bet you get your car’s oil changed twice as often! A year is a very long time in the life of a pet – similar to five years or more in your life. These visits allow us veterinarians to keep track of changes in your pet’s health, to detect problems earlier, and to talk to the most important person in the world for your pet’s health – you. We need to discuss an ideal diet, those nasty jerky treats you’ve been giving, the proper immunization schedule for your pet’s lifestyle, safe and effective parasite prevention options, recent advances in veterinary knowledge that could help your pet, and more. I bet you want to ask us a question or two, too. Also, I want to know your name and remember your pet if you need to page me at two in the morning. All that takes more than twenty minutes every twelve months.
- Run routine lab tests. When you go to your doctor for a physical examination, or even when you apply for simple life insurance, you know there will be a blood draw involved. Why? Can’t you just tell them, “I feel fine?” How about, “I haven’t experienced any changes and I seem healthy?” Any doctor will tell you lab tests help them prevent illness. Detecting and treating your high cholesterol might prevent a heart attack or stroke. Similarly, keeping a year to year log of your pet’s blood values can help your veterinarian detect problems long before they become symptomatic. And guess what? That’s when they are most easily, effectively, and economically treated.