Getting vaccinations early and practicing good daily hygiene and paying attention to nutrition can help your pet stay healthy for years to come.
Vaccinations and parasite control
Vaccinations play an important role in curbing infectious disease and ensuring pets and their owners are protected from many dangerous illnesses. Many vaccinations should be given when your pet is just a few weeks old, so consult your vet as soon as you get your pet – or better still, beforehand – to get them protected at the earliest opportunity. These vaccinations should be scheduled every six months from the kitten or puppy stage.
When determining whether a certain vaccine is right for your pet, a vet may ask about your pet’s lifestyle and those of other animals in your home. Dogs and cats that live in multipet homes and cats that go outside are at a higher risk of disease, while indoor cats are generally at a lower risk. Time spent in catteries and boarding kennels can also increase the risk—that’s why it’s a good idea to choose a place that requests all boarders to be vaccinated.
In most cases, the health risk of not vaccinating is much higher than the risk of a bad reaction to a vaccine. Making sure your pets are up to date on their vaccines can give you peace of mind from knowing your pets are protected from serious diseases.
Your pets may have a run-in with internal or external parasites at some point in their lives. Parasites can cause simple irritation, but they can also be life threatening. Some parasites can even be transmitted to humans, including hookworms, roundworms, and toxoplasmosis. There are many ways parasites can travel between animals, including through poop or contaminated soil.
Collecting and throwing away dog poop can help ensure that any potential parasites don’t infect other animals. People with weak immune systems, elderly people, small children, and pregnant women should take special care. Always wear gloves when cleaning a cat litter tray, and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
In some parts of the world, owners must be able to present a vaccination certificate at any time. Be sure to get informed about any other similar must-haves.
It’s crucial that dogs and cats are not allowed to reproduce at random. Neutering, or removing reproductive organs, is the single most effective way to control the unwanted animal population. The procedure is called spaying in females and castration (neutering) in males. Alternatives to surgery do exist—including chemical and hormone injections or implants. If you decide not to neuter your pet at all, you must control his or her breeding activity and prevent him or her from roaming freely. Everyone loves puppies and kittens, but uncontrolled breeding will only result in more unwanted cats and dogs.
Neutering before maturity will often prevent certain unsavory behaviors, including dogs and cats marking the indoors with urine. Mating, roaming, fighting, and other behaviors that place animals at risk of injury or disease can also be reduced by neutering—at least in cats.
Dental disease affects nearly two-thirds of all cats and dogs. Small dogs, especially toy breeds like Yorkshire terriers and Chihuahuas, are more prone to gum disease than larger breeds. Cats often don’t show obvious signs of pain and discomfort from oral disease, so your awareness and veterinary checkups are key. Good oral care includes a vet exam. Consult your veterinarian for advice on just how often your pet needs oral cleaning. Prevention early in life can reduce chances of disease later in life, and introducing kittens and puppies to regular oral care at home will train them to accept and even enjoy it.
Here are five tips to help keep cats’ and dogs’ teeth and gums healthy:
- Start a daily dental care routine early—ideally at the puppy or kitten stage.
- Check the gums; they should be pale pink (redness means inflammation and is a sign of disease). Also check the buildup of tartar (a discolored deposit), and share these details with your vet.
- Brush your cat’s or dog’s teeth—toothbrushing is the single most effective method. Introduce the practice gradually using the right-sized toothbrush with medium bristles (e.g., medium–large dogs = human adult size; medium dogs = child size; toy size/miniature dogs and cats = small special pet toothbrush). The bacteria that causes gum disease in pets are not so similar to human bacteria, so it’s essential to get special oral care products for pets. Brush your pet’s teeth in a quiet place without distractions, and be patient. Brush at least once a day to prevent plaque from hardening into tartar.
- Support your home dental care routine with a veterinary dental care plan that includes an oral checkup every six months and professional dental cleaning at least once a year.
- Provide dental chews, dry food designed to clean teeth, and toys recommended as safe for cats and dogs. Pets shouldn’t chew on hard or abrasive objects that can damage teeth and gums (e.g., bones, hard nylon chew toys, or tennis balls). Don’t use hard or heavy toys during play. Always watch your pets around dental chews to make sure they don’t choke.
Keeping them fit
Exercise is crucial for strong muscles and bones, ensuring a healthy body weight, and keeping pets mentally engaged. Physical activity is particularly important for highly active or working dog breeds. That said, you must make sure puppies don’t get too much exercise, as it can lead to joint problems in adulthood. Pets should get a minimum of twenty minutes of exercise a day, with thirty to sixty minutes being ideal—though it depends on age and breed.
Changing up the route when walking a dog can increase brain stimulation. When out walking, dogs are exposed to a variety of different smells, sights, and sounds—as well as other dogs and people. By letting them experience this, they will become less sensitive to noise. They will also deal better with being separated from their owners.
Outdoor cats get stimulation and exercise while roaming outside. Installing a cat flap on your door can give them a way to get out whenever they choose. Indoor cats have a greater need for stimulation from their owners, and they are more likely to initiate contact with the people they live with. Cat toys and activity posts keep indoor cats entertained and active.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Did you know that depending on the breed, an overweight dog’s life can be up to two and a half years shorter than a healthy dog’s? Obesity is the most common nutritional disorder in pets today, and it increases the risk of other health problems that may reduce life span (e.g., joint problems and diabetes). Building on the latest petcare research, the WALTHAMTM pocket book of healthy weight maintenance for cats and dogs offers useful advice on how to ensure that pets stay at a healthy weight. Regular weighing, exercise and appropriate nutrition are key. Always discuss any concerns about a pet’s body weight or condition with a vet.
Caring for older dogs and cats
Amazing advancements in veterinary health care and nutrition have helped dogs and cats live longer, which means there are more older pets around than ever. Older cats and dogs make wonderful pets—they’re often perfectly happy spending more time around the home, and they tend to be more laid back than younger animals. If well cared for, many cats and dogs can live into their midteens. Some cats even live into their twenties!
A pet’s energy and nutrient needs change with life stage, neutering status, and physical activity. There are special types of food that have fewer calories and more nutrients, meeting the nutritional needs of older cats and dogs.
Older pets go through a number of health changes that may require more frequent visits to the vet than the standard two times a year. More frequent screenings may lead to life changes that help improve quality of life for as long as possible.
Here are the top tips for maintaining a high quality of life for a senior cat or dog:
- Continue twice-yearly visits to the vet.
- Continue to spend time with your pet.
- Keep up regular grooming, and make sure claws don’t become overgrown.
- Make sure they have easy access to food, water, and sleeping or resting areas by placing several dishes around the home and ramps or steps to raised sleeping or resting areas.
- Make sure senior cats have large litter trays with easy access and raised sides so they can go to the bathroom more easily.
- Set up a stable and predictable routine; older animals are more sensitive to stress.
- Support their mental health by creating a fun home environment with outlets for natural behaviors (e.g., food puzzles and toys).
- Avoid the hottest times of day for dog walks. Older pets can’t control their body temperature as well as younger pets and are sensitive to extreme hot or cold. In cold weather, older dogs may need sweaters or coats and heated beds.
Changes in a pet’s behavior may indicate that a pet isn’t feeling his or herself. Although even the most tentative owners can sometimes have trouble noticing that their pet is in pain because pets express pain differently than humans. Pets, especially cats, rarely cry out in pain and may simply become less active, sleep more or adopt different behaviors such as hiding away or grooming less. Making sure your pet has a healthy weight can help reduce the risk of joint disease and other painful conditions. If you suspect that your pet is in pain, consult a vet for treatment recommendations. A vet can also prescribe painkillers after routine procedures.