How to Be a Better Pet Owner: Finalist 7

by Gajan Retnasaba on June 2, 2013

Today we have some more great advice from veterinary students on how to be a better pet owner, from a finalist in our Veterinary School Scholarship.

Medical care for animals is very important.  Veterinarians not only provide routine care such as vaccines and health checks, but they also see and treat all emergencies that come into their hospital.  Aside from taking your pet to the vet, owners can prevent certain health problems proactively at home.  For example, did you know that grapes, raisins, chocolate, onions, garlic, tobacco, alcohol are all toxic to dogs?  And did you know that cats can be fatally injured if they eat any part of a lily flower?  It would be prudent upon any owner to do the research on dangerous substances to protect their pets.  The ASPCA (www.aspca.org) has a list of toxic substances as well as toxic plants with pictures to easily identify which toxins and plants to be aware of.  Also, did you know that there’s an animal poison control hotline (888-426-4435) open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year?  For a minimal cost of $65, this phone call could just save your pet’s life—I know for a fact that veterinarians in animal clinics call this hotline to find out how to treat certain toxins that aren’t listed in textbooks.

Prevention is key when it comes to providing the best possible care and quality of life for your pet.  Prevention means preventing any possible future tragedies that could have been avoided if the right steps were taken at the beginning.  First, before getting a pet, do the research not only on your future dog or cat but also on yourself!  What kind of person are you—do you have high energy or low energy?  Are you a cuddler or someone who prefers their own space?  Answering these types of questions will greatly help find a compatible dog or cat that suits you, your personality, and your lifestyle, and hopefully decrease the number of unwanted pets that are left at animal shelters.  So many well-behaved, adorable dogs and cats find themselves at the shelter not necessarily because of behavior problems, but often due to the wide variety of reasons for giving up a pet, such as not being a good fit with the person, losing one’s home, losing a job, and not being able to adequately take care of the pet.  My latest adoption is a two year old pitbull named Bella whom I adopted from Sacramento Animal Care—she was found as a injured stray on the street with an unknown history.  She stole my heart when she snuggled up against me after her spay surgery at school.  Two days later, I found myself at the animal shelter adopting her into my family and have never looked back since.  Despite all the negative press and stigma surrounding pitbulls, everyone who comes into contact with Bella is amazed by her unrelenting sweet nature and gentleness.  She not only loves people but she gets along very well with other dogs and loves to socialize with them at dog parks!  But the sad news is that ultimately the price of not choosing the right pet becomes a burden that the animals must bear resulting in millions of euthanized, otherwise healthy dogs and cats due to overcrowded situations and insufficient public funding of animal shelters.  Check out your local animal shelter if you’re thinking about getting a pet—you might be surprised to find many adorable and well-behaved dogs and cats would thrive under the right home and give unconditional love in return!

Once you have found a compatible pet and are fully committed as a pet owner, the next step is to take all the preventative measures to keep them healthy.  Did you know that vaccines prevent against potentially fatal infectious diseases that your dog or cat can get from other pets, wildlife, or in the environment?  Vaccines are so important when it comes to squelching the spread of disease.  An example of the efficacy of vaccines is the case of polio.  Polio, a national epidemic in the early half of the 20th century, has been virtually abolished in the United States to due preemptive vaccinations.  Unfortunately, Polio has not been eradicated in the world due to the lack of vaccines available in other countries.  Likewise, vaccines protect our loved dogs and cats from avoidable fatal diseases.  One such fatal disease that can be easily prevented in dogs is parvo, which is a virus that infects the gut causing bloody diarrhea and marked dehydration.  Unfortunately, despite the advances of modern medicine, there are many diseases such as parvo that don’t have a cure.  In cases like these, veterinarians will try to treat the treatable (such as treating dehydration with fluid therapy) and then hope for the best that the weakened immune system can overcome the infection.  Rabies is another disease without a cure and has the potential to affect humans which makes Rabies vaccination of dogs mandatory in the U.S.

Vaccines will greatly help to avoid your dog or cat from contracting an infectious fatal disease.  But did you know that there are certain diseases that we, pet owners, can take proactive action to prevent?  Most people know that obesity and diabetes is a major epidemic among people, but this trend is also reflected in cats as well.  Unlike dogs that typically have type I diabetes, cats can become insulin resistant if they are fed too much and become overweight.  This insulin resistance, like in people, leads to the development of type II diabetes in cats.  One fact that surprised me is that there is no official cure for diabetes.  We can only manage the problem with insulin, in addition to making lifestyle adjustments, such as eating healthier.  Fortunately with type II diabetes, many people can reverse the effects of diabetes by eating healthier, being more active, and losing weight.  The same is true with cats—their type II diabetes can potentially be reversed if they are fed the right amount of food and keep their body trim.  Too often we as society view overeating in pets as being ‘healthy’ when in fact, overeating can lead to many health problems that can be avoided, such as diabetes, orthopedic problems, and heart problems.

Another example of a problem that can be avoided is pancreatitis in dogs.  Unfortunately, while some human food is okay for dogs to eat, there are many other human foods that can cause serious problems in dogs.  One such problem is feeding dogs any high fat food, such as fried food or fat trimmings.  This can cause the dog’s pancreas to be irritated, which can lead to worrying symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and not feeling good.  Luckily, this problem can be avoided by not giving your dog human food of any kind.  Additionally, not giving human food to pets can prevent obstructions in their stomach or intestines.  For example, corn cobs can get stuck in the intestines of dogs leading to an obstruction that requires an expensive surgery to remove it.  Not only are you preventing such emergency conditions from occurring, pets get their full nutritional needs met on their regular pet food, including all the required daily vitamins and minerals.  If pets like human food too much, they may forgo pet food for human food if their owners permit this, causing vitamin or mineral deficiencies that, in the long run, can be life-threatening.  For example, a diet of bland chicken and rice is deficient in calcium so the lack of calcium in a pet’s diet can lead to fractures that may be irreparable due to lack of mineralization in bones.  Not only does a lack of calcium affect bones, but it has far-reaching consequences on the heart, muscles, brain, kidneys, and virtually every organ in the body.  Calcium is an extremely important mineral provided in pet food that is absolutely necessary for good health.

Unfortunately, there are certain diseases and conditions that cannot be avoided proactively with diet, lifestyle, or vaccines.  Anyone who has a dog or cat with epilepsy knows this to be true and instead try to control the symptoms with medications.  What people may not be aware of is that many of these unavoidable diseases and conditions are inherited through inbreeding in certain breeds of dogs and cats.  This is not to say that mixed breeds can never be afflicted with unavoidable diseases and that all purebreds get the diseases, but that there is a strong genetic component to many health problems.  In people, it’s widely accepted that breast cancer tends to have a familial link, which is attributed to certain breast cancer genes.  The same is true for certain diseases and conditions in animals.  For example, schnauzers and shelties are two breeds of dogs that are predisposed to familial hyperlipidemia.  These dogs with abnormally high lipids in their blood are more likely to have hypothyroidism (low thyroid) which can lead to complications such as a stroke-like event causing seizures in the worst case scenario.  The lesson here is not to scare you and do every single diagnostic test out there for your pets.  The message is to encourage pet owners to do the research–know which diseases and health problems are commonly found in your pet’s breed and prepare to proactively deal with those problems with your veterinarian.  Even if your pet is not purebred, it is a very good idea to do routine lab work once your pet reaches senior age due to increased chance of cancer with age.  I bet your thinking, how can dogs and cats get cancer?  They don’t smoke, eat bad, drink alcohol, but instead they eat, sleep, and do nothing!  While that is true, research has found that cancer has a strong genetic component and as your pet ages, the chance of one cell in their body going haywire dramatically increases with age.  Luckily, with routine check-ups, blood work, urine tests, and other tests, the chance of finding cancer at an early stage increases profoundly and treatment is most beneficial with the most optimal

Even though medical care for animals can be expensive, the good news is that many animal hospitals have payment options, such as Care Credit that enable delayed monthly payments with little or no interest.  Another option is buying pet insurance, such as VPI and Trupanion, which would cover the expenses of unforeseen emergencies for a small monthly payment.  Over the years from 2006 to 2013, I have seen an increase of pet owners buying pet insurance which, in many cases, have saved pet owners thousands of dollars in expenses.  Unlike human medicine where doctors are required by law to give medical attention regardless of payment or insurance, veterinary medicine is very dependent on the pet owner.  I know that there are many people who think that veterinarians are money grubbers because veterinary bills can be quite expensive, but did you know that veterinarians are among the lowest paid health care workers earning less than human nurses and doctors yet having the same debt load?  The only way your veterinarian will be able to best help your pet may be having is to run tests, such as blood work and x-rays, even if the results come out normal.  You would be doing your veterinarian a disservice by refusing to do the necessary recommended medical tests and treatments for your pet.  The best news for pet owners is the knowledge that you can provide the best possible care for your pets by allowing your veterinarian to perform the necessary tests and treatments needed to properly diagnose and treat your pets’ health problem.  To combat any financial issues, take control of your finances by proactively buying pet insurance early on or setting money aside for pet medical expenses.  Even if you can’t proactively combat financial issues early on, your veterinarian can help in adjusting to your budget and/or setting up a payment plan.  You are your pets’ best advocate—your pets depend on you to make the right decisions!

C.Lah

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