1.The 6 month check ups:
Why every six months you ask? Six months is biologically a long time for a cat or dog because they age more rapidly than you or I. This would be like going to the dentist every THREE OR MORE YEARS (!), which I think we can all agree is a bad idea. In fact, the number one change I catch in a six month interval is a painful tooth – fractured molars, eroded gumlines, bone loss and gingivitis. These are things that can’t wait an additional six months or they may be past the point of repair and require extractions. This is my biggest tool, looking at and examining your dog or cat with the specific goal of detecting and preventing disease. A dedicated exam allows us to discuss any new lumps or bumps – are they a problem? Do you need to worry or just monitor? Someone may say to me, oh its probably nothing, but…… my pet barks at night, or dribbles urine, or just keeps licking his paws. All of these issues can be helped! The six month exam is a chance to improve the lives of pets and those that live and care for them.
2.Regular weight checks:
If you have read my other blogs, you will know this to be my largest soapbox. If you can keep your dog or cat looking lean (typically what they looked like right after they turned two years old) they will get to see me less frequently over their lifetime! Prevention of pressure on the joints, especially in active dogs (think the overweight bouncy Labrador) will not only prevent joint disease, but help treat it by allowing them to stay active and keep their joints lubricated naturally. This is EASY and FREE to keep track of – just call the front desk to schedule a weight check.
Just like in people, the world of supplements is constantly changing and evolving. Veterinarians are big fans of evidence-based medicine. Luckily there is a lot of growing evidence for the supplements we grab on a regular basis and I love a combination approach to overall health. Here are the top reasons I grab for a particular therapy:
- Dry scaly skin, increased shedding: Fish oil/ omega fatty acids- Love love love this – often at much higher dosages than you would expect. We start slow and use a product that has the right ratio of 6’s and 3’s (so that we don’t inadvertently increase the proinflammatory).
- Cognitive dysfunction/dementia: I reach for the antioxidant and support called Senilife most often. Given preventatively in a geriatric dog, meaning over 6 years of age but variable depending on the breed. I will also use liver support and fish oil for additional benefits.
- Sore legs: In young dogs born with loose kneecaps or early hip dysplasia to older dogs that have trouble rising, my go to is high quality, often more expensive, formulas that have better results than what you can get at Costco or Trader Joes. My first pick is the TRP-TRI-COX with the UC-II with a close second of Dasaquin Advanced. Additionally, these pets can benefit from fish oil, weight monitoring and injectable Adequan – especially for cats where options are limited.
- Liver value changes: Liver support, hands down. There are a lot of liver supplements. I use the tried and true in this category and get great results. In addition, we can do whole milk thistle, diet manipulation, whole food cooking, etc.
- Immunocompromised: I love to grab the immune support complex for young and old – particularly if the patient seems to keep having immune insults that aren’t handled well, like a young dog going to daycare with repeat giardia positives, repeat infections, warts, or other skin issues. I will often add in a proven probiotic to rebalance the system. We also use certain mushroom-based supplements for our cancer patients.
- Post-antibiotics: Dysbiosis in humans can last up to TWO YEARS after antibiotics. I often reach for a different, more broad-spectrum probiotic both to reduce nausea and to try and correct the gut after antibiotic administration. Is your pet nauseous after that pill? This seems to help a lot.
- Anxiety: So many options here! For cats, I love the plug-in pheromone therapy. For dogs, we will use the spray for nervous puppies during the first weeks at home to help them settle into a routine. I have had a lot of our rescues responding well to the probiotic for stress. I am also a big proponent of whole foods and home cooking (with a veterinary nutritionist to fully balance the meal) or at least canned foods to reduce the number of preservatives in the mix. We often work with a local company for diet formulation and distribution of human grade food.
4.Just say no to grain-free:
We have talked about this before, but the fast popularity of a grain-free diet for dogs caused an unexpected crisis in our veterinary cardiology departments. They continue to see more and more heart disease amongst young pets on grain-free diets. The FDA has spent over two years addressing this and there is still not a clear cause. For this reason, we (as a profession) are leaning heavily on dog foods that have not only an AAFCO label (all pet food in the US has an AAFCO statement) but specifically – an AAFCO feeding trial label, meaning this food was tested on dogs for a specified number of years and no adverse outcomes occurred. As you can imagine, this type of testing is expensive and long – so the new, *popular*, and often expensive foods do not have this claim. In addition, regular health checks, screenings, and discussions on prevention are all playing a role to limit this unhealthy side effect. You can read more on my blog and at the FDA website.
5.Blood and urine monitoring:
Pets can’t tell us how they are feeling. We might get an indication upon examination and the history at home, but even more sensitive than these two alone is the addition of blood values reflecting the ongoing internal function of your pet. The most helpful to me is a baseline reading when your pet is healthy – not only do we catch early changes but we also have a reference point to look back on as they age, get sick, or start a new medication. Let me provide some common examples: when your pet is experiencing a bad bout of vomiting and diarrhea, we can look back and say, “oh, his kidney values normally sit a smidge high, so this increase is not necessarily causing this current episode.” Or the opposite, “oh, these are significantly higher than the last wellness visit. We need to test for something infectious like Leptospirosis or add a urine culture and do an ultrasound.”
Tear testing in older, little dogs: Dry eye is particularly common in small breed dogs. Dogs that have had cherry eye or a cherry eye removed are susceptible, as are the short faced (brachycephalic) breeds, like Shih Tzus. We catch a SIGNIFICANT amount of subclinical dry eye cases before it is an issue, which means we are likely to get a better response to medical treatment. If we wait too long and a patient has suffered from dry eye for a long time or is making very little tears, often the only option at this point is surgery, which is not only expensive but more invasive.