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by Kim Boatman
A few simple steps on your part could mean more years of happy times with your dog. You are likely your dog's primary health advocate, playing a critical role in your pet's continued good health and long life.
Too often, illnesses and injuries that affect a dog's health and even shorten its lifespan are easily preventable, say the experts. Yet it needn't take great effort on your part to avoid these canine health problems. "That's how most of life is," says veterinarian Dr. Tracy Dewhirst. "We find ourselves in these predicaments sometimes when we could have easily done the right thing. Most of the common dog diseases can be avoided."
Helping to Prevent Dog Illnesses
You can hopefully look forward to a number of years filled with games of fetch, rambles on the beach and other pleasures of dog companionship if you work to prevent these health problems, say Dewhirst and other veterinarians.
"Heartworm tops the list," says Dr. Duffy Jones, owner of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta.
The heartworm is a parasite spread through the bite of mosquitoes. Heartworm disease, which affects the lungs and sometimes the heart, can be fatal if untreated. "Heartworm is such a devastating disease, and it can almost be totally prevented," says Jones. Consistently administer a monthly preventative, such as Revolution, to protect your pooch, he advises. In the past, dog owners in cold-weather areas might not administer prevention during winter months. However, the disease is spreading, and it's critical to treat your dog year-round. "Get the monthly Revolution and don't worry about it," he says.
Your dog's upset tummy is likely preventable, according to Dr. Katy J. Nelson, a veterinarian who hosts a local pet show on a Washington, D.C., TV station. "Pets' GI tracts are not equipped to handle all sorts of different protein and carbohydrate sources as ours are," explains Nelson. "We routinely eat high-fat, high-protein or sugar-loaded foods, though they might not be the healthiest options. Our pets, however, are accustomed to a more controlled diet." Even the smallest morsels of people food can lead to anything from diarrhea to pancreatitis in your dog. Limit your dog's diet to canine food.
Nelson considers this debilitating illness to be the No. 1 preventable disease in veterinary medicine. "Obesity is the predisposing factor to this awful disease, and the way to avoid it is to keep your pets slim and trim," she says. Practice portion control as you feed your dog, and provide regular exercise. Diabetes can lead to multiple health problems for your dog, such as heart and kidney problems.
"Weight is a big thing that contributes to disease, and it's one of the things that owners can directly have some control over," advises Dewhirst.
Your dog's dental health has implications throughout its body, notes Nelson. "Dental disease has been linked to heart disease, kidney and liver disease and even some cancers," she says. Brush your dog's teeth regularly, and ask your veterinarian for advice if you've never done this before. Regular veterinary exams will let you know when your dog's teeth need cleaning.
Injuries and Trauma
Too many emergency veterinary visits could be avoided, says Dewhirst. Make sure fencing is secure if your dog spends time outdoors, and use a restraint, such as a leash, on outings. Dewhirst sees many traumas caused by dogs being bitten by other animals or injured while chasing cars. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight will help prevent injuries, says Nelson. Don't engage in bursts of activity (e.g., weekend warrior outings), but look for steady, frequent exercise opportunities.
Take practical steps to prevent illness, and you'll reap the rewards for years to come, says Dewhirst. "Your dog will live into its geriatric years very healthy, mobile and happy."
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