According to a 2007 national survey, nearly half of all pet owners consider their pets to be part of the family. Show Buster or Mittens the same love and respect you would any other family member by caring for its health in a responsible way. These tips can help ensure a long and happy life for your furry loved one.
Have Your Pet Spayed or Neutered
Even if your dog or cat stays indoors, there are plenty of medical and behavioral reasons for having the procedure performed, says Gerald Barker, DVM, a veterinarian in Cookeville, Tennessee. Spayed or neutered pets have a lower risk of certain kinds of cancers, tend to fight less with other animals, and are less likely to roam. Plus, even if you think your pet will never get outside to mate, Barker says, "they often find a way."
Feed Your Pet Sensibly
It's not just people who are growing pudgy; as much as 40 percent of pets in the U.S. are overweight, according to some estimates. That could be partly because many pet-food labels tend to overestimate serving sizes. But pet owners often tend to overlook those Labrador love handles, says Barker. "Either people don't recognize that their pet is overweight or they think it's endearing," he says. To help your pet maintain a healthy weight, talk to your vet about how much to feed and how often. Think, too, about the quality of the food. Steer clear of store or generic brands, which often use cheap meats and fillers. "Don't just go for the lowest price, even if your dog [or cat] will eat it," Barker says.
Treating your dog or cat to people food every once in a while is probably OK, Barker adds. Just avoid fatty foods like bacon. Onions and chocolate are taboo for dogs. For a full list of people foods to avoid, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Once upon a time, all cats got the same shots—and ditto for dogs. Nowadays, vets take into account the animal's size, breed, and lifestyle. "An apartment dog in Manhattan doesn't need the same shots as a hunting dog," Barker explains. Ask your vet what vaccinations your pet needs, and keep up with regular physicals (once a year for younger pets, twice a year for older ones).
Don't Forget About Dental Care
These days, dogs and cats are living longer, and as they age, they often require special dental care. "The health of a dog's [or cat's] teeth affects how much it eats and teeth problems can also be a sign of infection," Barker says. "Besides that, think how you would feel if you had to live with a toothache." There are special pet foods available that help fight plaque and tartar buildup. But the best way to fend off dental problems in pets is with a regular brushing regimen. Ask your vet about how to implement home dental care and how to choose the appropriate toothpaste and brush for your pet size and breed.
Find a Vet Who Offers Emergency Care
You need someone who knows your pet, especially in crisis, Barker urges. Not only will the vet be able to provide better care, but your pet will be more at ease in a familiar setting. The Humane Society has more information on choosing a vet in your area.
Consider Pet Insurance
It's a growing trend in some parts of the country, Barker says. Depending on the type of plan you choose, you can get coverage for catastrophic events plus vaccines, dental cleaning, and more. "It's not for everybody, but it can help," Barker says, adding that many clients have said they wished they had it when faced with an unexpected bill. For more information, you can check out programs like Veterinary Pet Insurance or ASPCA Pet Health Insurance.