New Year’s Resolutions to Help Your Pet Live Longer

The New Year is well underway, and resolutions are being made all over the world for the betterment of ourselves (you may even have one or more yourself). But have you thought about making New Year’s resolutions for your pets? Our fur babies may already be spoiled rotten to the core, but what about aiming to improve their lifespans?

The sad fact is, as parents of fur babies, we generally outlive our four-legged children. There are no miracle methods or products to stretch their lifespans out to that of our own, but we can, with veterinary advice and sound planning, add a number of happy years to the time we have with our pets. Here are several New Year’s resolutions we can make to add to their longevity.

A Resolution to Maintain Current Vaccinations

Vaccines present one of the greatest achievements in preventive medicine. Keeping vaccines current will give your pet what is close to 100% efficacy in staving off the variety of infectious diseases your pet can contract. There is a certain “core” of vaccines a pet should get, and they are generally administered at 8, 12, and 16 weeks, then on an annual basis after that, with the rabies vaccine being every three years.

For dogs, the vaccines that should be administered are for adenovirus-2 (hepatitis), parvovirus, parainfluenza (dog flu), distemper (these four are commonly grouped together in one combo vaccine, the DAPP), rabies, leptospira, and bordatella. Your regular veterinarian would be happy to go in depth with you on the details of any of these illnesses.

For cats, the vaccines that should be administered are for panleukopenia (feline distemper), feline herpesvirus (viral rhinotracheitis), calicivirus, rabies, and feline leukemia virus (FELV). As with dogs, your regular veterinarian would be happy to discuss the details on any of these illnesses.

There are typically several concerns some pet owners may have about vaccinations and the risks involved. Some pet owners may worry about bad reactions to vaccinations. These seldom occur, and if they do, a reaction to a vaccine is far less damaging (and far less expensive to treat!) than the pet contracting the illness the vaccine was intended to prevent. Feel free to discuss any concerns about any long- or short-term side effects with your regular veterinarian.

Preventing your pet from contracting any of these illnesses will help to add lengthy years to your pet’s lifespan!

A Resolution to Prevent Internal and External Parasites

Similar to vaccination is the prevention of fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal parasites. For fleas, and ticks, ask your veterinarian about preventative products such as NexGard, Advantage, Bravecto, and other preventatives. You can also ask about products like HeartGard for heartworms. Fleas can cause a wide variety of dermal issues, and some ticks are notorious for the spread of Lyme disease. Heartworms cause gruesome issues when they infest a fur baby’s heart. All of these are completely preventable by use of the products mentioned. Using a flea comb regularly to find fleas and ticks is also a great idea.

There are also preventatives for intestinal parasites, and your veterinarian will be happy to discuss which are best for your pet. These are easy to administer, and should be given year-round. In the meantime, keeping your yard free of feces, keeping your pet from eating feces or drinking standing water, and having an annual (semi-annual for some pets) fecal float done will also ensure that your pet is free from intestinal parasites. 

Parasites of all kinds are easily preventable. Picking up these preventatives from your local veterinarian and using them year-round will go a long way toward ensuring healthy, happy years.

A Resolution to Maintain a Healthy Diet

When it comes to feeding our pets, sometimes less is more. According to a study done in 2011, dogs being fed a restricted-calorie diet (approximately 25% less than the “normal” recommended serving of food per meal) lived an average of two years longer than dogs that were fed more. Of course, consulting your regular veterinarian before drastically reducing your pet’s serving size per meal is a good idea, but, just as with us humans, a pet maintaining a healthy weight is a pet with a longer lifespan. Maintaining a healthy diet and weight will also help to prevent heart disease and painful joint issues.

Just like with us two-legged things, our four-legged family members also have important nutritional requirements that must be met. This is not always accomplished by feeding pet foods marketed as being “natural.” It’s a good idea to check labels and look for a nutritional adequacy statement from the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). This will ensure that the food meets certain minimal nutritional requirements.

As with vaccines, feel free to ask your regular veterinarian about quality food, and appropriate portioning. He or she will be happy to discuss with you what formulas and portioning would likely work best for your pet particular age, weight, and level of health, as well as to discuss what sort of things to avoid when reading the labels on a bag or can of food.

A Resolution to Exercise

Exercise goes as hand-in-hand with proper dieting for our furry friends as it does for us. Exercise is proven to reduce stress, increase endorphins, balance mood and emotions, and maintain physical fitness in pets and humans alike. A dog chasing a ball or a Frisbee on a regular basis will be as happy as he or she is fit, and a cat with a cat tree to climb on and a dangling toy to bat around is active and bliss. And what healthy dog doesn’t like to bounce around the yard with another four-legged pal? And how entertaining is it to watch a cat chase the red dot from a laser pointer around the house?

Regular exercise is paramount to your pet’s longevity, so remember to jot down playtimes on your daily planner!

A Resolution to Practice Good Dental Hygiene

Our fur babies’ teeth are, of course, as important to them as ours are to us. Their teeth can also encounter all the same problems as ours. Plaque, tartar, and gingivitis are as likely to develop on the teeth of a carnivore as it is for us omnivores. Furthermore, hair can frequently build up around the teeth of some pets. For dogs, chewing at an itch can result in a mouthful of hair, and for cats, grooming themselves can result in those hairballs they love to yack up. Ultimately, poor dental hygiene can cause periodontal disease (a bacterial infection of the mouth), which has been linked to heart disease and organ damage.

There are signs to watch for to know whether your pet has a dental issue. The most common indicators are bad breath and yellow- or brown-colored teeth. Others to watch for are chewing on only one side of the mouth, drooling, dropping food, pawing at the mouth, gingival bleeding, and sensitivity of the mouth. Cats may also groom themselves less frequently. It’s also important to note that dogs and cats are good at hiding pain, so routine exams (like your regular veterinarian’s annual wellness examination) are important to catch these issues early and treat them before they get out of hand.

The good news is, all this is completely preventable. You can train your pet (yes, even cats) to accept regular tooth brushing. Starting slowly and gently is key. You can let your pet lick a small amount of pet toothpaste from your finger. Next, you can introduce a small toothbrush by allowing your pet to lick the toothpaste from that. From there, you can place the toothbrush on your pet’s mouth, focusing on the outside surfaces of the teeth. Training your pet to allow you to brush their teeth can take some time, but it can be done. And then, behold your pet’s glorious smile!

Feel free to talk over pet toothpaste recommendations with your regular veterinarian, and remember, February is National Pet Dental Month, so take advantage of our 10% dental discount we’ll have all month long!

A Resolution to Ensure Mental Health

Our furry family members have emotions that can run deeper than some people may believe. Animals, just like people, can experience boredom, depression, and anxiety. We all know how happy a dog is when played with, but it’s easy to be lulled into a subconscious belief that cats, as self-sufficient as they typically seem to be, are little more than house decorations with the capability of moving itself from room to room before going back in display in a new spot. Keeping our pets busy on a regular basis is not only important for physical fitness, but the emotional stimulation and excitement of playtimes keeps our furry friends happy, thinking, and engaged. Young or old, keeping them busy with training, socialization, and playtimes will enrich their overall happiness, as well as less physically strenuous activities, like simply cuddling up to watch TV.

A Resolution to Follow the Doctor's Orders

An unfortunate reality is, sometimes, life happens. Despite all our care, all our preventative safety measures, all our watchfulness, sometimes the unexpected can happen. A sprain, a broken bone, a contracted infection, a laceration, any number of things may happen. A quick drive to the vet, and the problem has been handled, but now there are go-home instructions, a bag of medications, and even, perhaps, an Elizabethan collar (AKA the cone of shame). Treatment at home is planned for each case by your fur baby’s doctor, and these are designed to speed his or her recovery.

It’s important that the instructions outlined in your pet’s discharge instructions are followed implicitly. An E-collar on a large dog may make it difficult for him or her to maneuver without getting hung up on things or knocking things over, but it’s designed to prevent a pet from licking or chewing on a laceration or surgical incision, and this prevention is far less problematic than another emergency visit to the animal hospital due to a bleeding or infected wound. Oral medications can be a hassle to administer to some animals, but it beats an emergency visit to handle further medical complications due to the medications not being given.

Even recommendations for regular care, such as annual wellness exams, vaccinations, flea, tick, and heartworm prevention, and proper dieting should be followed, to ensure optimal preventative measures, and catching medical issues early.

As you kick off the New Year, remember your furriest, funniest, floppiest family members in your resolutions, and here’s to a Happy New Year from all of us at Junaluska Animal Hospital!

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