Our pets age much faster than we, as humans, do. A human’s life expectancy is approximately 80 years. A dog’s life expectancy is approximately 10-15 years. A cat’s life expectancy is approximately 16 years. So, if you think about it, because pets age much faster than humans, it only makes sense that pets would need a thorough physical every 6 months rather than yearly, as recommended for humans. For comparison, a one year old dog is said to be about 7 human years old. When your dog is 4 years old, it is about 28 human years old.
Preventive medicine is important in keeping your pet healthy and prolonging your pet’s life. Preventive medicine includes a thorough physical examination, complete blood-work, vaccinations, dental prophylaxis, heartworm and flea prevention, and spay and castration.
A thorough physical examination is very valuable in your pet’s care. Many things can be noted on a physical examination. Eye problems such as cataracts or keratoconjunctivitis- dry eye- can be detected. Ear infections and dental disease can be detected. Some heart problems can be heard with a stethoscope. Skin problems such as a skin infection or tumors can be noted as well. The sooner these abnormalities are detected and treated, the better the outcome will be.
Complete blood-work should be done yearly on a young pet and every six months on an older pet. The reason for this is that when blood-work is done on a healthy pet, we can see what that individual pet’s normal values are on blood-work. There is a normal range for reference on blood-work. Each pet will have different values within this range. Because of this, it is important to know what the pet’s normal is while healthy. For instance, if a cat is beginning to develop kidney disease, and we see that the kidney values on the blood-work are beginning to rise from that cat’s healthy normal value, we can begin treatment early before that cat begins to show clinical signs from the disease. By treating early, this will prolong the cat’s life span.
Vaccinations are needed to prevent deadly diseases in our pets. Some of these diseases include distemper virus, parvovirus, and rabies just to name a few. A series of vaccines are needed on young pets. Vaccines are still needed on a routine basis for adult pets to ensure continuous immunity against these diseases.
As humans need regular dental care, our pets need it even more because they can’t brush their teeth as we can. It is important that our pets have their teeth cleaned at least yearly, because tartar build-up contains bacteria that is harmful not only to our pet’s teeth, but the bacteria can spread to other parts of the body. This bacteria can spread to the heart, lungs, and kidneys and cause disease there. Also dental disease in pets can cause bad breath and significant pain.
Heartworm and flea prevention are strongly recommended to prolong our pets lives. If a pet gets heartworms, that pet’s life span is decreased significantly because heartworms cause heart damage, as well as lung damage among other problems. Heartworm disease will eventually kill the animal if not treated. Fleas can cause skin irritation and infection. Fleas can also allow your pet to contract tapeworms and become a major problem quickly.
It has been proven through research that pets that are spayed and castrated have a longer life span. The reasons for this are that there is no chance of reproductive cancer if the reproductive tract is removed. Spaying a pet before the first heat cycle decreases the chance of mammary cancer to almost zero! Also, pets that are intact travel more seeking a mate and are much more likely to get hit by a vehicle or fight with other pets thus living a more risky lifestyle.
In short, simple preventive veterinary care can prolong your beloved pet’s life by years.
Editor’s note: Dr. Brandy Middleton Boykin is a veterinarian with Brandy’s Animal Care Center in Eupora.