Dogs and cats are often a never-ending source of love and companionship for their owners. As such, caregivers should do their best to keep them healthy and thriving.
Providing for their basic needs -- food, shelter, clothing (OK, nature takes care of clothing, but some dogs look so darn cute in argyle sweaters) -- is a good start. But there’s much more that can be done to ensure their health, happiness and longevity.
Here are five suggestions:
— See the veterinarian. Dogs and outdoor cats are at risk for a number of diseases and pests such as Lyme disease, heartworm, flees, ticks and other parasites, said Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, chairwoman of the department of medicine at The Animal Medical Center of New York.
“For preventing disease, you need to make sure that the dog and cat goes to the vet every year,” she said. “That’s the person who will determine whether your pet has problems and how it needs to be treated. Each animal is different and one might not need the same treatment as another.”
The veterinarian is the best place to obtain advice on neutering and spaying and can dispense heartworm treatments, which are important for both dogs and cats, said Hohenhaus.
“Many people don’t think that cats need heartworm preventatives,” she said. “And we don’t see a big need for it in New York City, because most cats are indoors. But if your cat is outdoors a lot, they are just as susceptible to the disease as dogs are.”
— Vaccinate. Dogs should be given a combination vaccine for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus and parainfluenza several times as puppies and once annually as adult dogs.
Some dogs may need a kennel cough vaccine, and there are also some parasitic diseases that can be passed from dogs to humans for which there are preventative medications. Dogs can contract parasites when coming into contact with the feces of other dogs while playing outside, said Hohenhaus.
Cats and kittens should be given a combo-vaccine against panleukopenia (also called feline distemper), calicivirus and rhinotracheitis (flu-like viruses). There is a vaccine available for feline leukemia virus (FeLV).
Dog owners living in areas of the country where Lyme disease is prevalent should vaccinate their pets against the disease.
“If you live somewhere that it’s not common, you may be able to get away with just flee and tick treatments,” Hohenhaus said. “But the vet is the best person to answer that question.”
— Exercise. Just like humans, dogs and cats need exercise. Overweight dogs and cats are prone to diseases.
“Assess whether your pet has weight problem,” said Hohenhaus. “Unfortunately, this is a common problem and obesity in cats can result in diabetes and fat dogs have shorter lives. Food doesn’t equal love it equals death.”
— Proper Nutrition. Dogs and cats should be fed a healthy diet, not table scraps, said Hohenhaus. Certain foods, like chocolate, can be deadly to dogs. Cats also should avoid certain foods. Cats and dogs also need certain nutrients, as well as protein, carbohydrates and fat.
Some pet owners prefer to cook for their pets, while others opt to feed them a “raw” diet. However, certain meats, including pork, should never be served raw. Again, check with the vet.
— Monitor weight loss. Although an overweight pet is never good, weight loss can also be problematic, said Hohenhaus.
“Weight loss is a clue the pet has a problem,” she said. “In a cat, diabetes and hyperthyroidism cause weight loss. And, in dogs and cats both, cancer is big cause of weight loss. So the key is monitoring any changes in the weight of your pet, either up or down.”