Prevention is the best medicine for a healthy pet (and a healthy wallet)
Staying ahead of the curve when it comes to common pet health issues is a smart strategy for you and your pet. Most importantly, preventative habits, supplements, and measures can lead to a happier, healthier life together with your beloved furry family member.
There is also an added benefit: long-term cost savings that result from avoiding expensive vet bills, required to address health issues that might have been avoided or at least minimized.
To understand how preventative pet care can reduce the cost of living for you and your BFF, we asked our team of Animal Care Experts how to both keep your pet healthy and reduce pet care expenses in the long run.
Preventative vet visits for the win
Regular check ups, seasonal treatment for parasites, and acting quickly when a pet is experiencing a health issue are three cost-effective ways to help your dog or cat remain as healthy as possible over the course of their lifetime.
Veterinarians are experts in spotting potential health issues and advising pet parents about the specific concerns they should look out for, depending on the type and breed of animal they have. Routine blood and urine tests as well as physical exams are just as important for our pets as they are for us.
Veterinarian, Dr. Garrett Schuilenberg says, “regular screenings, regular physical exams, regular blood work, even though we think they may be perfectly well,” ensure pets are genuinely feeling their best and living their lives to the fullest.
“They can't speak to us,” he adds. “My cat can't tell me if every once in a while he feels stomach pain. I'm not going to know that's happening unless I take him to the vet and someone actually checks.”
Scheduling these regular visits, says Dr. Schuilenberg, “means making sure that you're stopping preventable diseases.”
Keeping parasites at bay
Alongside these measures, seasonal treatments for preventing parasites like fleas, ticks, and heartworm from infecting your pet are a must — and far less expensive than treating the diseases these pests cause.
Ask your vet about the time of year to begin treatment (specific to your geographic location) and how long that treatment needs to be continued. These days, parasite season begins earlier and lasts longer, so your pet may need preventative treatment for up to six or more months depending on where you live.
Getting your pet spayed/neutered
Spaying and neutering is yet another facet of preventive veterinary medicine that improves a pet’s overall wellness.
It reduces both the drive to procreate and the behavioural issues associated with that (think: marking, excessive vocalization, heighted drive to roam and sometimes even hormonally driven aggression).
Much more importantly, spaying and neutering have been shown to eliminate the risk of certain cancers like ovarian, uterine, mammary, and testicular cancer. It also lowers the risk of certain prostate issues for male dogs.
Staying clean and well-groomed
Brushing, bathing, and caring for your pet’s coat isn’t just about the aesthetics of having a pretty pup or cat, it actually has an impact on their health.
Taking care of an animal's skin and coat only requires a few inexpensive tools, a little bit of time, and some patience and understanding for pets that might need to warm up to a grooming routine.
The basics of home grooming come down to brushing, bathing, and keeping nails and fur trimmed, to avoid issues like matted fur and split claws. Regular brushing and bathing using shampoos and conditioners designed specifically for pets will keep their fur from matting, which can cause painful, infection-prone spots on their skin.
You probably want to invest in a good brush or a deshedding comb, a pair of round-tipped scissors for knots and other mishaps, and a nail tool (you can opt for a traditional clipper or try an electronic grinder, which can help to avoid accidentally cutting a claw too short).
Talk to a Pet Valu or Bosley’s Animal Care Expert about the kind of coat your dog or cat has, and ask them to direct you to the proper tools.
When it comes to bathing, choose products that are gentle and moisturizing for the skin and don’t over or under do it.
Ultimately your pet’s bathing schedule really depends on their coat type and activity level. A pet who is primarily indoors will require less bathing than a dog who loves a good roll in the grass or dirt on a regular basis.
Cats are likely to take care of their own grooming needs but waterless shampoos are a great option for when they need a little extra help. “It's more like a foam,” says Campbell. “You rub it into the coat and then allow it to dry and then brush it out with the dirt.”
Remember: don’t skip the positive reinforcements (and treats). If your pet associates grooming with a reward, they’ll be much more cooperative while you brush, scrub, and give them regular peticures.
Don’t forget dental
Dental care also falls under the grooming umbrella and is very important for their health.
Vets will give you the straight goods about dental care: brushing is the best way to clean a cat or dog’s teeth. Developing a brushing habit when your pet is a puppy or kitten is the ideal way to get them used to having their teeth cleaned — and while encouragement, patience, and treats will often win them over, it won’t work for every pet.
If your furry BFF isn’t down with brushing (despite the allure of chicken-flavoured toothpaste), there are other options for maintaining good dental hygiene including sprays, gels and foams, as well as treats and water additives that top the list for convenience.
“I usually recommend using two different [dental options],” says Bosley’s assistant store manager, Charlaine Lemay, “a combination of something that scrubs [like a brush or abrasive dental treat] and something that kills bacteria.”
Keeping dangerous human treats and products out of reach
Pet-proofing your home to ensure your bestie has a safe space to live and play is a top pet parent priority. For instance, many of the things we humans eat and enjoy are actually toxic for dogs and cats.
Not these sweet treats
You probably already know about the dangers of a favourite sweet snack. Chocolate, especially the dark variety and in larger quantities, is toxic for both dogs and cats.
“The higher the cocoa percentage, the worse it is, and the more likely that you are going to have issues,” says Dr. Schuilenberg.
“Not that I want anyone to think that they're okay feeding their dog milk chocolate. A small piece of milk chocolate is probably not really going to harm your pet all that much, but I think it's better to be safe than sorry.”
Most often, a dog or cat who’s ingested chocolate will exhibit gastrointestinal issues like vomiting or diarrhea, but with a high-cocoa-content chocolate, the issues can become much more severe.
Then there’s the artificial sweetener xylitol, which is toxic for dogs. The seizure-causing chemical can be found in sugar-free candy, gum, toothpaste, and even some peanut butters.
Less well known toxic foods
Common grocery items like grapes and raisins, macadamia nuts, and allium vegetables (think: garlic, onions, chives, and leeks) can all cause problems for our furry besties.
“Raisins are a little bit more toxic than grapes just because they're dehydrated,” Dr. Schuilenberg explains. “It's like a pure grape essentially, they've taken all the water out. Both are toxic but we don't actually know why. We don't fully understand, but it basically causes kidney toxicity so we can run into kidney failure and that can be pretty serious.”
And while your dog or cat would have to eat a lot of garlic to get sick, it’s the dehydrated allium products to really watch out for.
“We worry when we start to get into things like onion powder and garlic powder, where again, kind of like the raisin thing, it's a really concentrated form,” Dr. Schuilenberg says.
“Allium toxicity damages the red blood cells. Pets can become anemic from it. The red blood cells are what carry oxygen through the body. So that can have a ton of different downstream effects: weakness, collapse, and cardiovascular issues. It’s a big one that people aren't aware of at all.”
Around the house dangers
Pets, naturally, will be pets, which means they’ll get into things that aren’t food items, too.
Be sure to keep cleaning products safely stowed in cupboards or closets. Double check that your houseplants aren’t toxic. Monitor pets to gauge their interest in electrical wires and cords, and check these for any signs of tiny (or big) teeth marks. Let your pets know which items are theirs to play with and enjoy, and which are off-limits.
Feeding: The right food, in the right amount
Because pet parents know diet is one of the most important elements to keeping pets healthy and happy, they typically do a lot of research on what to feed their pet. But sometimes how much can be tricky to figure out as well how much to feed.
Calculating healthy portions
Determining how many calories a dog or cat needs in a day requires some math. Life stage, size, breed, and activity level are all factors to consider. Most pet food makers offer rough feeding guidelines on their packages but consulting with your vet can provide you with more specialized guidance.
Once you’ve determined how many calories they need in a day, you can then figure out how much food to put in their bowl … just remember to also consider the amount of calories that come from treats (and that no more than 10% of total daily calories should be derived from treats).
The majority of pets will happily overeat but what do you do if you’re contending with a picky eater? Nutritionist Kylie Hogan recommends a little bit of tough love. And if all else fails, bribery.
“Most of the time they're not going to starve themselves,” explains Hogan. “They have survival instincts so they'll eat when they need to. Some pets — whether they're anxious or not naturally food-driven — don't really care about food as much.”
However, she adds, “if it's a deeper issue than finding food that they like, there are so many tricks for helping a pet to eat: breaking up some treats, adding water or pet broth, or adding some wet food to the kibble [can] make food more enticing.”
Sometimes the stinkier the food topper, the better!
The benefits of rotational feeding
Rotational feeding is another strategy to keep your pet interested at mealtimes, but it also offers health benefits too. “I think you should be switching your food at least once a year,” says Hogan. “I wouldn't change more than every three to four months, because that might be a little bit too much for them [but] you should be feeding two different foods a year.”
Food can be rotated seasonally, as your pet’s outdoor time or activity level increases or decreases. In fact, food rotation is one of Hogan’s top tips for healthy feeding.
“It's really important that you introduce pets to as much as possible because, similar to kids, if you don't give your kid peanut butter at a young age, they can develop a peanut butter allergy when they're older. It’s the same thing. Switching the proteins up is good and it's really beneficial in regards to the seasons as well,” she says.
“In the winter, you might go for fewer walks because it's colder out so you might want to feed something that's a little lighter in calories and lighter in fat. Or it's a little bit drier out and your pet might have skin and coat issues so you might want to switch to a fish diet or a sensitive skin and stomach diet,” Hogan explains.
A fish-based diet not only nourishes the skin because of natural fish oils, but can be a good hypoallergenic option.
“And then in the summer, they might be more active and you might want to feed them a more robust diet, like beef or lamb or something that has multiple proteins in it,” says Hogan.
For pets with dietary sensitivities, it’s still possible to introduce a range of proteins and ingredients into their diets so they benefit from those nutrients, while keeping their base diet constant. “Even if you just buy fun things to throw on top all the time, and they're different proteins, that's still great because it introduces them to more ingredients,” says Hogan.
But of course, be cautious not to give them an ingredient that causes a negative reaction.
Breed-specific strategies for health and wellness
A healthy diet and lots of exercise are important preventative measures for every type of pet, but when it comes to specific health concerns, certain breeds are prone to particular issues.
Knowing about these potential risks ahead of time means that you can try to minimize their effects or even avoid them altogether. Talk to your breeder and vet about things to watch out for and act early on.
Aiming for prevention
Hogan says you can try to use supplements for prevention in some scenarios.
“When you look at supplements to target something your pet is going to be prone to, you're going to help prevent that later down the road. A very easy one would be a joint supplement like glucosamine and chondroitin if you have a bigger dog,” she says.
“For small breed pets, you typically would try to feed something that's an immune boosting type of supplement because small dogs tend to develop cancer because they live longer. For cats, urinary issue supplements are probably most common.”
“Long-haired cats can receive hairball support supplements, which contain fibre and oils that help push hairballs through their systems and avoid blockages”, Hogan adds.
Part of the treatment
Food can play a big role in addressing breed-specific issues, too.
Breeds known for their sensitive stomachs and skin (like Golden Retrievers) can avoid problems by eating food formulated for that.
“German Shepherds," says Hogan, “usually have hip and joint issues. For them I would typically recommend feeding a senior diet earlier on in life, rather than waiting for them to show signs.”
“Labs are usually overweight so feed them healthy weight food and don't go overboard with treats. Poodles are usually picky dogs, so I recommend rotational feeding, incorporating different textures and different types of diets into their food,” she continues.
“Taking that extra step to learn more about what your pet needs is probably going to be the best way to help prevent future costs, because you're learning about what they're going to need down the line,” Hogan says.
She advises pet owners to talk with vets and nutritionists (or our Animal Care Experts, who can make recommendations from our health and wellness product lines) about the preventative strategies they can adopt to keep their pets in the best shape possible. “It’s a great way to be a little more in tune with them.”