5 ways to keep your pet healthy

From vaccines to teeth brushing, Dr. Troye McPherson reveals what you need to know to keep your pet healthy.

By Robin Stevenson

5 ways to keep your pet healthy
Photography by Carlyle Routh
1. How can I tell if my pet is ill?
Pets seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to their guardians feeling under the weather, but it's not always clear to us when they are unwell. Some signs that your pet needs medical care—limping, skiing rash or noticeable weight loss unrelated to diet—are obvious. But owners should also watch for the following symptoms:

- Prolonged episodes of vomiting or diarrhea (or blood in either)
- Changes in coat appearance, from thick and shiny to dull or patchy
- Refusal to eat or drink for more than one day or a sudden spike in drinking with excessive urination
- Changes in behaviour, such as lethargy if normally perky or hiding, if normally outgoing or friendly

2. What is the easiest way to get my pet to take meds?

In most cases, it can be as simple as mixing the medication into your pet's meal or soft pet treat, says Dr. McPherson. If Fluffy still manages to avoid swallowing the capsule at every turn, ask a veterinarian if the medication is available in another form, such as powder, tablet or liquid. Some medications can even be absorbed through the skin or mucous membranes (inside of the lip, under the tongue or on the gums).

3. Do I really need to brush my pet's teeth?
According to a recent surgery by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, only 10 percent of dog or cat owners brush their pet's teeth every day. But as with humans, tartar control is an issue in animals and can affect their overall health. Getting your pet accustomed to having it's teeth cleaned with a pet-specific toothpaste and toothbrush at an early age is best, says Dr. McPherson.

A dental cleaning may be recommended if there's tartar that can't be removed by brushing or if the gums are swollen, red and irritated. Signs your pet may be experiencing mouth and teeth issues include rubbing or pawing the mouth and face, bad breath, food falling out of its mouth when eating, excessive drooling, and facial swelling.

4. Is my pet overweight?
Is Rover getting a little thick around in the midsection? It's worth a mention at your next veterinary appointment. Published in 2011, Canada's Pet Wellness Report identified weight management as the number one preventative measure pet owners can take to reduce health risks (such as arthritis and heart disease) and increase longevity. "We have diagrams and charts that score your pet's body," says Dr. McPherson.

Your veterinarian will weigh and record your pet's weight, examine its waistline and determine how easy or hard it is to feel its ribs before recommending how many calories your pet should be eating each day. Even birds and hamsters have normal weights that need to be maintained for good overall health.

5. What vaccines does my pet really need?

"Core vaccines (such as rabies) are those that the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners have determined are important for puppies and kitties and adult animals," says Dr. McPherson. These protect pets from diseases that are widespread or highly contagious, as well as those that can cause serious illness. Vaccines that are not considered core (such as for Lyme disease and feline-leukemia) are administered after you and your veterinarian determine your pet's risk level. 

For more tips on keeping your dog healthy, try these easy dog exercises.
                                               
This story was originally titled "Take Care" in the March 2014 issue.
           
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This article is featured on The pet owner's guide to healthy, happy pets