TFrazao is a registered Veterinary Practitioner for ten years and a Comp. Science Master recent grad. She believes in the fusion of things.
When dogs and cats are sick, the owners also suffer from them. Not only is it necessary to reach for veterinary medical care (figure 1), which, as obvious, has its financial costs, but sickness also brings an emotional toll. As Erasmus said, "Prevention is better than the cure." The good news is that the most common pet diseases can be prevented, so don't be too discouraged. All it takes is a little effort.
So how do you really prevent disease? There are several basic things that veterinarians recommend to pet owners to prevent disease.
1) Regular Checkups
One of the ideal ways to prevent disease is to be aware of the slightest symptoms. Regularly taking your pet to the vet doctor for a checkup can be the key to saving time and energy. During annual consultations, your vet is going to perform a thorough physical examination (figure 2). This consists of checking the ears, eyes, mouth, coat condition, checking for fleas, ticks, checking the heart and lungs by auscultation examination, palpation of the abdomen, and checking the body temperature. If something is suspicious, the vet doctor will perform additional exams like blood work, x-rays (figure 3), or ultrasounds. Either way, a physical examination is a fundamental step to achieve optimal health.
2) Preventative medication and vaccination
Many conditions can be prevented by using the right medicine. Regular preventative deworming is advisable by all vet doctors to help prevent diseases caused by parasitism. There are two types of deworming. The external deworming (figure 4) prevents bites from fleas, ticks, mosquitos, and flies, and internal deworming, as the name says, is for the prevention and treatment of parasites inside the pet, for example, intestinal parasites.
There is a large spectrum of medications with different ways of administration. You can have spot-on (figure 4) or pills for external deworming. The same happens to internal deworming. Since dogs and cats experience the environment with their mouth, they have a high probability of being infected with intestinal parasites via the ingestion of parasites' eggs from the environment. Both types of deworming should be done at regular intervals concerning the medicine instructions. Some medications provide months of protection while others only a month or even 24h. The vet advises you which medicine your pet should take and how to take the deworming medication, so pay attention. The deworming is done regularly, but the time between deworming administrations should be adequate for your pet lifestyle; for example, if it is an indoor/outdoor pet or a person in the family immunocompromised, the vet doctor will decide the frequency of administration.
Vaccination is also preventative of diseases (figure 5). It is important to keep the vaccination of your pet updated and respect boosters' shots. If you don’t respect the vaccination schedule, it may not be effective. It is up to the vet doctor to decide, but compliance is fundamental for effective vaccinations.
3) Exercising With Your Pet
Take your dog for walks or let it play in the yard. Play catch with your cat also. Just as for us humans, exercising helps your pet's physical and mental health. A few times a day makes a long way to increase the life expectancy of pets and the bond between the pet tutor and the pet.
4) Nutritious pet food
“Food is the best medicine.” Food is the fuel of life. If you want your pet to have a stronger immune system and prevent disease, good quality pet food is of utmost importance. The quality of pet food is important, and the type of food, meaning it is important to choose the right pet food for your pet's physiological status. For example, give the pet food adequate for your pet's age. If it is a puppy, adult, or senior, if the pet is neutered or not, if it is a working dog and very active, these are examples of different physiological requirements. They should be fulfilled by nutritious pet food. Talk to your vet to check options since there is an enormous diversity (figure 7) of pet food in the market.
5) Good Hygiene
Good hygiene is the key to prevent disease since it removes bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc. Your pet should also have “personal” hygiene. Every week I advise the tutors to groom the pet and clean their eyes and ears and clip the nails if necessary. This way, the fur is well maintained, and you will also prevent ear/eye disease. Doing this also helps you check your pet and notice some abnormal physical changes since you know your pet, for example, lumps on the skin. Bathing also complements hygiene and should be given with a good physiological shampoo. Some breeds require bathing every week; for example, dogs are predisposed to allergies. These dogs need to take a bath with a high-frequency shampoo, while most dogs only need a bath every 3 months.
Dental hygiene can also prolong your pet's life expectancy. With the development of pet food, which is mild soft to chew, it is normal to accumulate plaque. Plaque is a film of bacteria that coats the teeth of your pet. In time, it contributes to gum disease and decay. You can use a baby toothbrush with appropriate pet toothpaste (figure 11) to clean your pet’s mouth, or if the pet doesn´t let you clean with the toothbrush, some products have enzymes that can help dissolve the plaque.
In the feeding area, the food bowl should be cleaned every day. The water bowl should also be changed every day. The dry or wet food must be properly stored not to spoil, go rancid, or acquire grain storage mites (figure 12); for example, dry food should be well sealed not to contact air.
A stress-free environment is good not only for people but also for pets. Especially cats who are very sensitive to stressful situations (figure 13), for example, another pet or human, changing houses, and so on. Cats can develop diseases very easily; for example, feline idiopathic cystitis, where even without bacterial infection, the bladder becomes inflamed. Dogs can also show signs of stress-related behaviors; for example, in noisy environments or with children running after them, they can start lick and bite their paws, which leads to dermatitis.
Taking care of your pet is a better way to prevent diseases that can be avoidable. Regular check-ups, a good hygiene routine, and a stress-free environment are the foundation to have a happy, healthy pet.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2020 DVM MSc Tania Frazao