Keeping Your Dogs & Cats Happy & Healthy

People & Place

Most pet owners want to provide the best care possible for their pets, but aren’t always sure of what needs to be done or even how to do it. Much information is available online, but what do you really need to do to keep your pet healthy for the long run? Keep it basic, keep it natural, keep it sensible.

First, develop a good relationship with a veterinarian you respect and that shares the same philosophies you do. Go prepared with your questions about vaccine schedules and dosage, the cost of general procedures, or when it’s most advantageous to spay or neuter. Thoughts on these points have dramatically changed in recent years and you’ll want to be informed of your choices.

Puppies and kittens need to see your vet for a thorough health inspection upon first being welcomed into your family, but the less you have to take them into the clinic the better, since their young immune systems aren’t yet prepared to handle some of the contaminants they may be exposed to.

Also be prepared to answer questions like “Will this animal be used for hunting, companionship, or service? Will it be boarded? Traveling extensively?” These answers will help you to determine what type of preventative care you’ll want to provide. After year one, annual blood work should be done and recorded so as to have a record of a “baseline” as our pets rarely let on if they’re not feeling well. This will reveal things like thyroid function, liver function, insulin production, cancer precursors, enzymatic function and will really tell you how your pet’s immune system is functioning, plus having an ongoing history of it will alert you to any changes. Knowing something is amiss is the key to treating something before it gets out of hand. Older animals or those with chronic medical conditions should be seen more often to keep closer tabs on them.

Pets should be fed a quality diet. For dogs and cats that means a diet of fresh foods free of artificial preservatives and poor quality byproducts and grains, two to three times a day. Most health problems in pets can be prevented with proper nutrition. Avoiding obesity is a primary factor for longevity. Leaving a bowl of food down tends to lead to obesity and also allows food to oxidize, losing important nutrients and in the worst-case scenario, goes rancid. When storing your pet’s food, keep it sealed up tightly in a dark, cool place. Cats do much better long term on a high-quality canned food rather than dry. This maintains their hydration and prevents urinary tract infections, kidney disease, and liver disease. Warm water, enzymes, probiotics, and fresh meat should be added to your pets’ meal whenever possible. Avoid any foods high in fats like grease drippings, or high in starches like breads and cookies as both these types of foods can cause problems. Of course, fresh water needs to be available and don’t forget to wash the water bowl frequently. 

Dogs and cats need regular exercise and mental stimulation. That doesn’t mean having the run of the yard (where they sleep 99% of the time.) It means structured, regular exercise multiple times a week…just like you! Regular exercise helps maintain healthy weight, helps you bond with your pet, and alleviates behavioral problems due to boredom and loneliness. Rotating through different safe toys, providing outside views for animals confined to the indoors, and providing different areas to explore (think cat houses, paper bags, boxes) change your pet’s environment. Using dog-friendly parks or trail systems we have here in Montana is always great and one of the reasons why we live here, so get out there and use them, but don’t forget your leash, water bottle & poop bags!

Most animals are efficient at maintaining their own cleanliness. Some may need periodic bathing to remove odor, dirt, or before a trim as in the “hair”-type breeds like poodles. When bathing, be sure to pick out a shampoo free of sulfates and don’t shampoo too frequently as this will strip the skin of its natural oils. If you have a muddy dog, there’s no harm in just hosing the mud off rather than giving it a full bubbly every time. Avoid shampoo in the eyes and keep water out of their ear canals by first stuffing them with a cotton ball; this helps pets with sensitive ears; and of course rinse thoroughly…all suds out! If you want to bathe your cat, keep in mind that most cats will not appreciate your efforts so exercise caution. Longhaired cats and dogs should be brushed daily to avoid mats. If burrs become lodged in the fur, get them out ASAP using silicone-based grooming sprays. Nails of both cats and dogs need to be trimmed regularly, using caution to avoid “wicking them” (often groomers or vets will allow walk-ins for this service.) Keeping indoor cats’ nails trimmed back helps with furniture scratching and is a must for older dogs that may begin to slip on hard surfaces due to foot degeneration.

Pets need a place of their own. Both cats and dogs do better having their own space, where they can take refuge from too much stimulation (like a vacuum or hyperactive child), where they can hide their favorite toys, and feel safe and settled. It could be a round cuddle bed for a kitty or maybe a spot under their favorite person’s bed. Dogs often do very well with a crate or kennel with soft blankets, towels or a bed in it — so long as none of the bedding poses a blockage threat to a “chewer.” A pet should never be reprimanded in its “place.” They may get sent there or put there, but it is always a “safe place,” a “home base,” or time-out if you will. If you travel with your pet, make sure your pet’s “place” is also portable; this will insure they know where to be when in a strange place.

Climate control. When it comes to seasonal changes, be considerate of your pets. Never leave animals in cars in the summer; don’t even take them with you unless you have A/C. Provide a shady spot for them to get out of the sun with lots of water. In the winter, pets need shelter from the wind and cold. Most of us will have ours indoors with us so keep in mind that dry warmth can do the same thing to them that it does to us: dry out skin. Winter is a great time to add some fish oils to your pet’s food to help combat the winter “itchies.” If your older cat or dog is soothed by the heat of a fireplace or heating pad, be sure they have room to move away from it and have lots of fresh water to drink. Remember, dogs and cats can’t regulate their body temperatures like we can.

Applying common sense to daily activities with your pet like proper feeding, regular exercise, cleanliness, a safe space of their own, fresh water, love, and play can go a long way in extending the years of joy you can share.

“To provide the best care for your pet, seek advice from a licensed veterinarian. Unfortunately, Dr. Google has not provided their credentials for a veterinary degree yet, so be forewarned that not everything you read on the Internet is correct.” 

- Dr. Dawn Reisinger, DVM, Helena Veterinary Service

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