Creating a Pet Health & Wellness Plan
It’s that time of year where we wish friends and family a “Happy New Year!”. The same time that we often make resolutions regarding our health and fitness. While I am not qualified to help you develop your own health resolutions, I would love to share some information that can help you plan for your pet’s wellness in 2020 and beyond.
The truth is, a good health and wellness plan can help your pet live the longest, healthiest life with you possible. By considering aspects specific to your pet and their environment, you can make decisions for care at home and through your veterinarian that avoid many major health and lifestyle complications. Who can’t get behind more wags, licks, purrs and pets?
Where do we start? Veterinarians, the World Health Organization and many others have adopted the Five Freedoms of animal welfare. I’ll share them with you here so that they help us develop ways to think about our own pets’ wellness. The five freedoms currently recognized are:
- Freedom from hunger or thirst
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease (including prevention or rapid diagnosis & treatment)
- Freedom to express normal behavior
- Freedom from fear and distress
How can we adapt these to our pets? I’m sharing my take with you below!
- Does your pet demonstrate basic aspects of normal health? Things to consider include eating well, drinking well, going to the bathroom normally, and being active in a way consistent with the species, breed, and individual animal.
You know your pet best! If he or she starts to drink more water or no longer jumps into the car, these are changes that indicate an underlying change in their body. While it can be easy to believe that some changes are just signs of aging, there may be an underlying disease like diabetes or arthritis that should be addressed medically for a pet to avoid declining health. Even something like vomiting once a week in a cat, easily attributed to hairballs, can be a sign of significant internal disease.
Routine physical exams and communication with your veterinarian about changes in your pet are a key component to a good wellness plan for your pet. Also, veterinarians consider assessment for pain a “vital sign” and can help ensure your pet is comfortable, especially as they age.
- Is your pet’s body condition and nutrition appropriate? Body condition is how we describe an animal’s relative body fat content based on brief physical assessment. Why is this important? A study performed by Purina over 10 years ago found that dogs maintaining a healthy, lean body weight lived approximately 1.8 years longer than dogs that were moderately overweight. That’s a lot more time, and it was comparatively healthier time too!
Ask your veterinarian how to assess body condition in your pet at your next checkup. I have this conversation a lot with clients, frequently because they ask about how to gauge whether their pet is a healthy weight.
I know – nutrition for your pet is a personal subject. We often have different values or goals for our pet’s nutrition. That said, there are some important, science-based truths to consider about nutrition for your pet. For example, if a diet is not nutritionally balanced (providing all the necessary nutrients) there can be serious health consequences. Your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist can help you meet your goals for your pet’s nutrition in a safe, healthy way. Ask your veterinarian if the diet you are providing your pet is appropriately balanced for your pet’s stage in life. Different sizes and ages of pets may need or benefit from different nutrient quantities.
- Are we doing what we can to prevent disease appropriately? Preventative medicine frequently includes vaccinations, evaluation for internal and external parasites, as well as use of medications to prevent parasites. What is best for an animal, however, will vary depending on where it lives and its lifestyle. For instance, my dog goes hiking with me but does not go to dog parks or groomers. Certain vaccinations and preventatives may be more important than others for her.
Be able to share specifics about your pet’s lifestyle with your veterinarian. Ask your veterinarian what diseases are most important to protect your pet against based on your region and lifestyle.
Actions at home can also help prevent pets from illness. Know your pet’s behavior and modulate their exposure to things you know will get them into trouble. For example, my beagle is very food motivated. She will get into anything food-related which has led to breaking into the pantry and eating food or getting into human products that can be toxic. I have had to adapt our lifestyle in the home to prevent those types of concerns. She can give us a lot of work!
- How is your pet’s behavioral/psychological health? Animals have natural instinctive behaviors that are important for them to express to avoid psychological stress. Learn about your pet’s natural behaviors, especially those that are breed related. Find a way to provide your pet the opportunity to express their natural behavior in a safe way that works in your home. For instance, scratching is a natural behavior for cats and they should be provided appropriate scratching posts or materials. Every cat can be a little different in preferences so you may need to try a few different orientations or materials to get it right. There are many simple, and fun, ways to enrich your pet’s environment.
Are there any behaviors your pet does that worry you or you would prefer they did not do? Confer with your veterinarian. Often times appropriate training with positive reinforcement, what we call behavioral modification, can be utilized to adjust behaviors based on the underlying cause. Veterinary behaviorists and other types of training opportunities will help you and your pet understand each other better. Don’t forget – unfortunately we, as people, also need some training. Engage in all training activities directly with your pet so that you learn together. As you grow together so will your bond!
On a last note, it is important to consider finances when you develop your pet’s wellness plan. Pets are family members, and like any family member there are costs associated with their maintenance. Both for food and preventative care but also for sick care. Veterinarians want to do the best that they can to help you and your pet within the circumstances and within your means.
Be honest with yourself and your veterinarian about your budget for your pet’s care. You may wish to put aside money in a savings account specifically for care or you may wish to look into pet health insurance. Some veterinarians will offer bundled wellness package plans that include a variety of preventative options including vaccines, spay/neuter, and routine dental care. Explore – there are a variety of different veterinary service providers and assistance programs out there that can meet a variety of budgets. By providing good wellness and preventative care for your pet you can help avoid illnesses that require more intensive and expensive care.
Hopefully these points have helped you think about your pet’s wellness and how you can develop a plan for them with support of a variety of professionals. I will end by wishing all of you and your pets a happy, healthy New Year! Cheers to many more wiggles, wags and years of love!
Gillian Angliss, DVM