The SF Bay Area: A Healthy Haven for Dogs

There can’t be a more dedicated group of pet owners than the residents of Northern California. For so many of us, our pets are family. We take them with us almost everywhere we go. And when it comes to health care, just like for our human family members, we want and expect the best for our dogs.

If cutting-edge care and quality of life for ourselves and our pets is a high priority, we are living in the right place at the right time. This article explores the abundance of effective health care options available to our furry friends here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Vaccines, Nutrition, and Wellness Care

All pets should have routine medical exams once or twice yearly to ensure their good health. Vaccinations should not be the cornerstone of this routine care, however; in fact, many pets require few (if any) vaccines on an annual basis. Decisions about what to vaccinate against, and when, should be based on breed, age, lifestyle, and the health status of the individual dog. Please do not allow your pet to be vaccinated for anything just because he is “due.”

The most important facet of anyone’s general heath is nutrition. Savvy dog owners know that the well-known, brand-name pet foods are not necessarily the best sources of nutrition for their pets.

There are smaller companies our there that produce excellent foods, but keep in mind that store-bought food may not always be the answer. Raw foods and home-prepared diets can be excellent alternatives to help pets thrive.

I encourage all dog owners to educate themselves on nutrition strategies for their pets.

Good resources include books, veterinarians with an interest in nutrition, and a magazine called The Whole Dog Journal. In addition, some people who work in the smaller pet stores scattered throughout the Bay Area are very knowledgeable on the topic.

Routine dental care is another factor critical to good health. The risk of ignoring oral hygiene could well be an expensive anesthetic procedure performed by your veterinarian that includes pulling multiple teeth. Furthermore, a chronically infected mouth has serious consequences and will shorten the life of your pet.

Regular brushing is the gold standard for keeping teeth clean and avoiding infection. Many dogs enjoy chewing on raw bones that help keep their teeth clean, as well. In addition, I have found a product called Healthy Mouth® to be a very effective adjunct to a dog’s oral hygiene program.

Orthopedics and Arthritis

Our pets live active lives and, just like us, get their share of aches and pains as they get older. In addition, some animals experience fractures, damaged ligaments, or back problems. In many parts of the country, surgery and/or anti-inflammatory drugs are the beginning and end of treatment options in such cases. Dogs with cruciate ligament damage in their knees are often referred for surgery, but the truth is that not all of them need it. Many can be rehabilitated using a stabilizing knee brace, physical therapy, and acupuncture. Do your research before sending your dog to surgery.

Arthritis can be treated in a multitude of ways beyond anti-inflammatory drugs. Acupuncture, herbs, chiropractic, physical therapy, and stem cell treatments are all effective and available to dogs in the Bay Area. A new electronic device for home use called an Ivivi® is FDA approved for pain treatment and is now available for pets. Technological solutions for arthritis and fracture healing such as Pulsed Signal Therapy® are also highly effective and only available for animals.

Advances in Oncology

The diagnosis and treatment of cancer often evokes a highly emotional response. Although the words “chemotherapy” and “radiation” carry a lot of baggage with most people, the Bay Area has some truly cutting-edge options for pets in need. Highly specific medications and targeted radiation therapy can improve the lives of many pets with cancer.

Advances in human oncology in recent years have provided new options for the treatment of canine cancer, as well. Linear accelerators can provide focused radiation that maximizes results while minimizing side effects. There is now a vaccine to help treat malignant melanoma in dogs that can slow down the progression of these aggressive tumors and improve the quality of life of the patient.

The integration of conventional oncology with nutritional therapy, herbal medications, and acupuncture are improving the quality and quantity of life for many animal patients in our area.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

“CAM” is a term that describes treatment modalities outside the scope of traditional “Western” medicine. In the veterinary world, this includes acupuncture, chiropractic, nutritional therapy, physical therapy, homeopathy, reiki, and just about anything else you can think of that isn’t on the Western medicine “menu.” All of these therapeutic options (and more) are available to pet owners in the Bay Area.

As many of us know from personal experience, CAM works. Not every health care solution comes in a pill or with a scalpel. Canine patients with diabetes, kidney problems, digestive issues, orthopedic problems, cancer, etc., have been helped through complementary and alternative care. More of my patients than I can count have been helped through CAM after Western medicine said there was nothing left to do. Furthermore, many patients benefit through the synergistic effect of the integration of CAM and Western medicine.

There are so many great things about being a dog in the Bay Area. For starters, you get to be outside in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. You also have access to the healthiest food and best health care options for pets anywhere on the planet.

But the very best part is the people. Bay Area pet owners are educated, informed, and discerning. They ask intelligent questions and make decisions based on their pets as individuals, just as they would for themselves and their human family members.

Without a doubt, this place we call home is a healthy haven for lots of lucky dogs.

Gary Richter has been a veterinarian in the East Bay for 12 years. He is the owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital as well as Holistic Veterinary Care, a facility dedicated to providing alternative and complementary health options for pets. Dr. Richter lives in Oakland with his wife, daughter, and several pets. 

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