As temperatures become colder, officials say October is the perfect time to take pets to the veterinarian to check up on their health.
October is National Pet Wellness Month and the Humane Society of Missouri wants people to use this month as a way to reevaluate their pet’s health including veterinarian visits, diet, exercise, and living conditions.
“It’s about helping clients and helping pet owners understand the importance of well being for their pet,” said Dr. Travis Arndt, Director of the Humane Society of Missouri's Animal Medical Center of Mid-America. “That includes everything from just routine exams, vaccinations, preventative diagnostic tests, nutrition, and then as well as just pain management.”
Arndt said one of the biggest mistakes he sees is pet owners assuming their pet is healthy and thinking it’s OK to skip an exam because their pet is not showing any obvious signs of a problem. All pets need to have a yearly checkup, according to Arndt, and if the pet is 7 years old or older they should have two a year.
“By doing routine annual exams it will help detect problems quickly when it’s still very, very subtle, not life-threatening,” he explained. “It can then be treated and increase your pet's quality of life. By increasing their quality of life you also increase their quantity of life. I think really just partnering with the veterinarian to get that routine exam at least once a year...That’s really the biggest thing that will impact your pet’s health.”
A major issue many veterinarians are seeing across the country is high obesity rates in pets. Nationally, 60% of cats and 55% of dogs are overweight, according to Arndt. This has led to a higher incidence in obesity-related issues like arthritis and diabetes. Arndt stressed the importance of talking with a veterinarian to come up with the right type of food, amount of food, and exercise regimen for a pet. Every pet is different and will have different needs. Exercise needs for cats versus dogs is especially different.
“With cats, they tend to be more sprinters rather than marathon runners,” he said. “You’ve got to find ways that you can engage your cat and get them to do minutes equals miles with cats. If you can get them to five to 10 more minutes a day and keep building that up. That definitely will help them. With dogs again it really will depend based on breed and size and age…
“There’s a lot of different exercise programs that are out there where we will again prescribe specific exercises,” Arndt continued. “Hill climbing, stair climbing, there's rails and some other real specific sit stands that will exercise specific muscle groups.”
Another thing to consider during National Pet Wellness Month is a pet’s dental hygiene. Arndt said 50% of the pets he sees around the age of 3 have some sort of dental disease. A way to prevent this is to start brushing a pet's teeth when they are young rather than waiting until tartar forms.
“Once you start seeing tartar formation the only way you're going to get rid of it is through a professional dental cleaning,” he said. “...Just like we have to go to the dentist twice a year, pets will need to have their teeth cleaned on a regular basis, which also will vary based on the pet.”
As temperatures begin to drop, a pet’s outdoor arrangements should also be evaluated. Pet owners should watch temperatures for sudden drops over a short period of time that can be too extreme for a pet to handle. If there is a gradual drop, a pet who spends a lot of time outside will have time to adjust.
Pets should also have adequate bedding, a warm, draft-free place to sleep, plenty of fresh water and more food than usual since their bodies will be working to keep them warm. Arndt cautioned each situation and pet is different. Owners should also be careful with their pets who spend short amounts of time outside for walks or play.
“Dogs and cats that are used to spending a lot of time inside, you just have to be careful when you’re taking them outside to walk,” he explained. “If you have a sudden drop in temperature over a very short time they might not be able to stay out there that same amount of time.”
Arndt said the main point he wants to stress with pet owners is to work with their veterinarians. Many people try to do it alone or look stuff up on the internet, which often ends up being frustrating, more expensive, and worse for their pet.
“Your veterinarian has your pet’s best interest at heart,” Arndt said.” They're not going to recommend something that they wouldn't do for their own pets. You’ll end up finding a really good relationship with the veterinarian.”