Considering that the average human lives 70 to 80 years, our pets’ average 12- to 15-year life span can feel devastatingly short. We all want to help our pets live the longest, healthiest lives possible, and the best way to do that is by proactively approaching pet health, rather than reacting to disease. Your pet’s regular preventive and wellness care is vital to prevent many conditions, and to detect other diseases in their earliest stages—when your veterinarian can provide the most effective treatment. Our Safe Harbor Animal Hospital team believes strongly in preventive care’s power, so we’re sharing these important strategies to help your pet live longer.

#1: Pet wellness examinations

Your pet should see their veterinarian for a wellness examination at least once per year—more often if they are older pets, puppies, or kittens. These exams help your veterinarian establish a baseline for your pet’s normal, enabling them to detect changes over time. Many diseases that can shorten your pet’s life sneak up slowly, and pets are experts at hiding illness signs. So, always keep in mind that wellness exams can alert our Safe Harbor Animal Hospital veterinary team to subtle changes you may not notice at home. The earlier our team begins to treat a problem, the more likely we can slow down or reverse the disease process.

#2: Pet vaccinations

Vaccinations are extremely important for puppies and kittens, who are extremely susceptible to disease because of their immature immune systems. Deadly illnesses, such as rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and panleukopenia, can end your young pet’s life before it even begins, but starting vaccines early helps protect them from life-threatening infectious disease. Once vaccinated against these core diseases, adult pets should receive boosters every one or three years to increase their protective antibodies.

Depending on their lifestyle, some pets are exposed to additional, non-core diseases, which may include Lyme disease, kennel cough, feline leukemia virus, or canine influenza. Disease risks evolve throughout your pet’s lifetime, so during their annual wellness visit, your veterinarian should reassess which vaccines your four-legged friend needs. 

#3: Pet parasite control

Most people consider parasites downright disgusting, but they are highly prevalent in pets, often wreaking havoc on their health. Common companion animal parasites include:

  • Fleas — Fleas may cause itching, allergic reactions, and tapeworm and disease transmission.
  • Ticks — Ticks often transmit serious or deadly diseases, including Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and cytauxzoonosis.
  • Heartworms Heartworms cause permanent damage to pets’ heart and lungs. If heartworms go untreated, an affected pet will die. Canine heartworm treatment is painful and expensive, and cats have no available heartworm treatment.
  • Intestinal parasites — These parasites live in the intestines, causing diarrhea, weight loss, anemia, or no signs. Some parasites can be transmitted to humans, and cause brain damage or blindness in severe cases.

Protect your pet from parasites and the diseases they carry by administering once-per-month oral or topical medications. Prevention, which helps your pet avoid the long-term consequences or permanent tissue damage some parasites can cause, is easier and more cost-effective than treating a full-blown parasite infection. To ensure your four-legged friend’s preventive regimen is effective and they remain parasite-free, your veterinarian will perform annual parasite and vector-borne disease testing during your pet’s regular veterinary visit.

#4: Routine pet disease screenings

In addition to a wellness examination, parasite screening, and vaccinations, your pet’s annual or biannual visit should include age-appropriate disease screenings. To ensure their organs are functioning properly and to track trends and changes over time, middle-aged and older pets benefit from annual blood work, urinalysis, and a blood pressure test. Chest X-rays or an abdominal ultrasound are also helpful in some cases. Some newly available tests help detect some cancers months or years before they become clinical, which is an exciting new development in pet wellness care. The earlier diseases are detected, the more effectively our Safe Harbor Animal Hospital team can treat your pet.

#5: Pet dental care

Dental disease is the most common ailment among dogs and cats. Oral disease develops when mouth bacteria adhere to plaque, which if left untreated, hardens into tartar at the gumline. These bacteria can invade deep into the gums and jawbones, eventually eroding healthy tissue. The end result is pain, bad breath, and tooth loss that diminishes your pet’s quality of life. Dental disease’s most concerning feature is oral bacteria’s ability to leach into your pet’s bloodstream, and travel to important internal organs—usually the kidneys, liver, or heart. These bacteria can then cause permanent organ damage that significantly shortens your pets life. Daily toothbrushing combined with an annual professional dental examination and professional cleaning are the best ways to prevent dental disease from affecting your pet’s overall health. In addition, ask your veterinarian to recommend approved products that may effectively prevent oral bacteria and tartar buildup.

#6: Pet weight control and nutrition

Around half of U.S. dogs and cats are overweight or obese, increasing their risk for arthritis, diabetes, and systemic inflammatory conditions. You can keep your pet at a lean, healthy weight by feeding them a customized diet, which is vital to your four-legged friend’s overall health. If your pet is overweight, consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist to help you determine which food is best to optimize your furry pal’s metabolism and help them lose weight safely. In addition, puppies, kittens, senior pets, and pets who have chronic medical conditions, such as kidney disease, heart disease, or cancer, may benefit from nutrition counseling and specialized diets. The right diet can help your pet’s body function better and extend their life.

If your adult pet hasn’t visited the veterinarian in the last year, or your senior pet has gone longer than 6 months without a veterinary visit, now is the time to prioritize their wellness care, and potentially extend their healthy years. Schedule an appointment with our Safe Harbor Animal Hospital team, or visit Animal Hospitals of the Lowcountry to find another Shuler family-owned veterinary hospital near you. Our hospital teams believe in comprehensive care, and our warm atmosphere will make you and your pet feel like part of our family.