While pet owners often think they are providing a healthy and happy life for their furry friends, it is important to know there is much more to raising a dog than feeding it quality pet food and scratching Rover behind the ears.
Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University, said while a pet owner’s intentions may be good, some practices they are doing may not be in the best interest of their dog.
“Our busy lifestyles can cause us to overlook some simple measures that will help ensure you are taking the best care possible of man’s best friend,” Giedt said. “Just as it’s unhealthy for people to gain too much weight, the same is true for dogs. It’s currently estimated about 53 percent of dogs are overweight. Dogs don’t process foods the way humans do. Closely monitor the amount of pet food and don’t overdo it on the treats. Think of treats the same way you do candy bars. Parents probably aren’t letting their child eat four or five candy bars a day, so don’t give your pet multiple treats each day.”
Alternatively choose some low-calorie treats such as green beans or carrots. Some dogs enjoy fruits such as banana slices, berries, watermelon or apple slices. Be sure to remove the seeds. Plain rice cakes broken into pieces also can provide a low calorie treat.
Gum disease is common in dogs and it is estimated about 85 percent of canines over 5 years of age suffer from gum disease. This condition develops after food and bacteria collect along the gum line and form plaque in a dog’s mouth. If left untreated, this can lead to other health problems. The solution is to brush your dog’s teeth as often as possible. There also are chew toys and bones that help to reduce plaque. Your veterinarian can assess gum and teeth health during an annual exam. Your dog may benefit from a professional cleaning by your veterinarian.
Just as most people get regular health checkups, dogs also need a health exam, even if they act completely healthy. This exam could very likely diagnose a health problem before any symptoms arise.
“Depending on the illness, it’s sometimes too late to do much to help by the time some symptoms become noticeable,” she said. “Getting treatment started early is one way to improve your pet’s quality and quantity of life.”
Regular heartworm medication, along with flea and tick control, is vital for your pet’s optimum health. Fleas and ticks spread several diseases, some of which can be life threatening. Consult with your veterinarian for the best way to control these pests.
Daily exercise is important for both people and pets. Exercise not only helps keep the weight off, it also provides mental stimulation for your furry family member. It also is a great way for your pet to expel energy.
“You don’t have to load up your dog and go to the dog park. Walk around your neighborhood or toss the ball in your yard,” she said. “Everyone’s schedule is busy, but exercising with your pet is beneficial for both of you. Be aware, however, small and toy dog breeds, along with short-nosed breeds, have different exercise requirements than other types of dogs.”
Second-hand smoke can be detrimental to your pet and cause various ailments. The best option is to quit smoking altogether, but for those dog owners who cannot do this, keep your pet inside while you step outside to light up.
Although it can be cute for Fido or Rover to beg as you are eating your meals, fatty table foods can increase the risk of pancreatitis. Pet owners who have a hard time saying no to those big, pleading eyes may want to consider feeding the dog in another room while the family eats.
“Some foods, such as garlic and chocolate, can be toxic for pets. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the various types of foods that are dangerous for dogs to consume,” Giedt said.
Good parents do not let their children run around unsupervised, and the same holds true for responsible dog owners. Do not let your pet roam free, even if they are tagged or microchipped. When your pet needs to be outside, make sure to enclose them in a fenced yard. Always keep your pet on a leash when out for a stroll.
Giedt said forgoing spaying and neutering can be a danger to your dog’s health. This is still one of the best ways to reduce the risk of various cancers. Each heat cycle a female dog goes through makes her more prone to the development of mammary cancer. In addition, intact males are more likely to develop prostatic diseases and testicular cancer than neutered dogs.
“Keeping these things in mind is the first step to ensure your pet lives a long and healthy life,” she said.
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By Trisha Gedon