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Pet Health Articles
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 Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian who writes
regularly for The Knoxville News-Sentinel and Exceptional Canine. “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.”
Kim Boatman is a journalist based in Northern California. She is also the managing editor of
ExceptionalCanine.com. Boatman's work has appeared in The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and
the San Jose Mercury News. She is a lifelong lover of animals, and a frequent contributor to The Dog