Dear Dr. Dog: Cosmo, my beloved Cocker Spaniel, is a few years old now, and I want him to have a long and healthy life. What can I do to help this happen?
Perhaps the most common New Year’s resolution for people is to get in shape. Most of us agree that it’s important to stay as healthy as we can for as long as we can. My opinion as a veterinarian is that this attitude should extend to the health of our pets, as well. It sounds like you already have this mindset, and that’s a great starting point.
My first suggestion to help your pet stay in shape is that you call your veterinarian whenever you have questions about your pet’s health. Most vets are generous with their advice, and sometimes a simple phone call can provide information that makes a huge improvement in your pet’s health and quality of life. Some examples: “What antihistamines can be given to dogs for allergies and itching?” (answer: benadryl) and “What can I do if my dog vomits in the morning before breakfast?” (answer: try feeding a late-night snack before bed).
Of course, staying healthy involves more than consulting with your veterinarian when things go wrong. Preventative health care is really the key to staying healthy, for people and for dogs. To that end, here are some basic preventative health care measures you can resolve to take:
1. Provide Cosmo with lots of TLC
As with children, pets who receive more direct attention and physical contact from their guardians have better emotional and intellectual development. A smart, happy dog is much easier to live with than one who has trouble understanding what you expect of him or her, or who is grumpy or bored and burns off excess energy in inappropriate ways (such as barking, chewing, urinating indoors, etc.).
Not only are healthy pets a pleasure to live with, but they are likely to be healthier overall. For example, in a 2002 study at the Veterinary School of Boston’s Tufts University, dogs whose owners judged them to be “depressed” had a significantly higher risk of death from bloating (having the stomach twist into a life-threatening position).
2. Keep Cosmo up-to-date on immunizations
For most pets, the main immunizations are only required every 3 years. Exceptions are the vaccination for kennel cough, called “Bordetella”, and for a water-borne infection called “Leptospirosis” that can cause kidney and liver failure. Both of these immunizations should be given annually.
3. Keep Cosmo on a once-a-month parasite preventative
There are three medications – Sentinel, Heartgard, and Interceptor – that can prevent the most common types of intestinal worms and heartworms in dogs, and a dog only needs to take one of them. Sentinel also helps prevent fleas. These prescription medications are available from any veterinarian.
4. Brush Cosmo’s teeth
The mouth, as any dentist will tell you, is the gateway to the rest of the body, and gingivitis and periodontal disease can lead to the development of serious health problems, including liver and kidney damage – two of the main causes of death in older pets.
The easiest way to brush a dog’s teeth is to gently but firmly hold his mouth closed and insert the toothbrush inside the cheek, brushing as you would your own teeth. Dogs tend to accept tooth brushing better when their mouths are not pried open. While this means you can’t brush the inner surface of the teeth, you can keep the outer surfaces clean, which is where most of the tartar accumulates.
If Cosmo’s teeth already have a yellow/brown tartar accumulation, make an appointment to have them cleaned by your veterinarian. Anesthesia is needed in order to do a thorough subgingival cleaning. This is the zone behind the edge of the gum where hidden tartar causes inflammation or recession of the gums and jaw bone, ultimately leading to pain and tooth loss. Removing tartar from only the visible crown of the tooth does little to prevent the progression of disease below the gum line.
5. Have Cosmo microchipped
A microchip is a small glass implant about the size of a grain of rice that can be injected below the skin over your dog’s neck as a permanent means of identification should he get lost and end up in an animal shelter or veterinary office. This is one ounce of prevention that is worth a TON of cure if your pet escapes the confines of your yard or neighborhood and can’t find his way home.
These suggestions can make a huge difference in Cosmo’s health, and there are many more preventative health strategies, as well. When you take your dog to your veterinarian for a well-check this year, ask the doctor what else you can do to ensure a long a healthy life for your beloved canine companion.
Dr. Franklin Utchen has been practicing veterinary medicine in San Ramon since 1989 and currently co-owns Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care. Feel free to email email@example.com with your questions or comments.