(Photo: Getty Images/Monty Rakusen)
Make the most of your next visit to the veterinarian.
When you bring your dog or cat to the vet, chances are both you and your pet, who is likely shaking like a leaf, want to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. But in the rush, you may be missing an opportunity to ask important questions that can help improve your furry friend’s health and lifespan.
Not sure where to begin? Here are seven questions that veterinarians would like you to ask the next time you bring in Fido or Fluffy.
1. “How often should I bring in my pet for wellness visits?”
As much as we’d like to not think about it, dogs age faster than people. That means they need checkups more often, notes Joseph Kinnarney, veterinarian and president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Wellness visits — which include a physical exam, such as listening to your pet’s heart and examining its teeth, and administration of any booster shots needed — should happen twice a year. That may sound like a lot, but look at it this way: A trip to the vet every six months is “like going to your physician every three to four years,” Kinnarney says. “They change that fast.”
2. “Why is it important to give once-a-month parasite protection medication?”
Medications that protect your pet from parasites are essential no matter where you live, points out Kinnarney. Parasites, such as heartworm, can infect both dogs and cats (though primarily dogs), and cause health issues, including lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs, according to the American Heartworm Society. Other parasites, such as roundworms, commonly infect dogs, but can also infect people. Children are more vulnerable since they can come into contact with soil in playgrounds or sandboxes that are contaminated with infected dog or cat feces. If the contaminated soil is ingested, which can easily happen when your kid plays in a sandbox and then puts his or her hands in his or her mouth before washing them, the roundworm larvae can cause serious problems, including blindness. So by making sure your pet is on parasite medication, you’re not just protecting your dog or cat from disease, but your family and others as well.
3. “Is my pet at a healthy weight? If not, what should I be doing?”
Although it’s tempting to treat Fido to your table scraps each night, those extra bites can really add up, especially if he’s not getting enough exercise. But sometimes it’s not always so obvious that your pet is overweight. How can you tell? In dogs, for example, you should be able to feel their backbone and ribs, according to the ASPCA. If you can’t feel their ribs without pressing into the skin, your pet is carrying around excess fat. That extra weight puts pressure on joints and increases the risk of liver problems and diabetes. If your dog or cat is overweight and already has arthritis, the most effective way to control that is through weight loss, notes Kinnarney. Ask your vet for healthy eating recommendations, including serving smaller portion sizes, nixing the table scraps, and upping the amount of exercise your pet gets to help your furry friend trim down.
4. “How important are dental cleanings?”
Just as in humans, regular professional dental cleanings are important to maintain your pet’s health. These cleanings, typically done under anesthesia, remove plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth to prevent periodontal disease. “Addressing dental issues is huge,” says Kinnarney. Although people often joke about dog breath, it’s a sign that your pet’s teeth need attention: “If you have a pet that you don’t want near you because their breath smells, there is something going on there that needs to be addressed,” he says. The likely culprit? Dental or gum disease. Routine dental cleanings — usually, every one to two years — can be quite expensive because of the anesthesia and time involved, but as Kinnarney points out, regular cleanings help your pet stay one step ahead of dental problems and save you from even more costly health problems down the road.
6. “Should I be vaccinating my pet?”
Inoculating children isn’t the only vaccine controversy — some pet owners question whether their furry friends need to receive vaccines. But just like in humans, vaccines prevent several diseases. “Not vaccinating will lead to a health problem,” says Kinnarney, who points out that the immune systems of dogs and cats are not as advanced and competent as ours. “They can’t fight off disease and cancer as much as we can,” he says, “and they can’t maintain a long-lasting immune response.”
In some cases, skipping an important vaccine — namely, rabies — can lead to losing your beloved pet. “If you don’t follow your state’s rabies vaccination protocol,” notes Kinnarney, “dogs or cats have to be quarantined for months. Or in some cases, dogs are euthanized because they [were exposed to rabies and] weren’t vaccinated.” Ask your veterinarian to share with you the recommended vaccination schedule for your pet; most vets will remind you when each one is due.
6. “What are the best foods to feed my pet?”
“Quality in, quality out,” says Kinnarney. Feeding your animal quality food means a healthy and energized pet, but don’t purchase brand-name food just because it’s familiar. “Look at the ingredients,” suggests Kinnarney, “and look at what your dog’s reaction is.” You want real ingredients — chicken, beef, fish — that you can easily identify, and avoid any animal byproducts, preservatives, and additives. Pay attention to how your animal reacts after eating the food, such as whether or not there’s diarrhea or itchy skin, which can be a sign of a food allergy.
7. “Do I need pet insurance?”
As anyone with a pet knows, taking care of your animal is an expensive endeavor. Although it can feel like a waste of money, pet insurance can come in handy if your cat or dog ever needs major surgery, according to Kinnarney. “If you were put in [a] predicament where you could not come up with $3,000 or $4,000 for emergency surgery, then insurance would be a good idea,” he advises. “If you can afford it, then maybe you play roulette.”
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