Dr. Pawz: New Year’s resolutions for your pets

Dr. Katy Nelson (Courtesy Rich Kessler Designs)

Editor’s Note: Dr. Katy Nelson, also known as WTOP’s Dr. Pawz, is a veterinarian in the D.C. area. She will answer your pet questions in her blog on Wednesdays or during WTOP live chats.

Katy Nelson, special to wtop.com

As we welcome in a new year, most of us begin to reflect on what we could have done better in the past year. Many of us make resolutions that we will eat healthier, exercise, call our moms more frequently, or even check a few things off our bucket lists. But have you ever included your pets in your New Year’s resolutions? I’ve got a few ideas on how you can improve the lives of your pets just by including them in your list of resolutions.

1) Take pets to the veterinarian.

While the old wives’ tale of “dog years” may not be entirely accurate, pets do age more quickly than humans. This is why it is incredibly important to have them examined by their veterinarian at a wellness appointment at least once a year for pets younger than 7 to 8 years old and twice a year for older pets. Things change so quickly in animals’ bodies that if you wait until your pet is displaying signs of an illness, it may be too late to do anything about it.

By going for wellness appointments, you can hopefully catch changes in your pet’s health early on and prevent conditions from worsening or even reverse them completely. Your veterinarian will do a full physical examination (including oral and ocular evaluations, listen to the heart and lungs and assess weight, joints, changes in skin or coat, and much more) and make recommendations for improved or continued health based on his or her findings. Slight changes in weight, inflammation in the oral cavity or small lumps or bumps can all indicate more serious disease conditions and early intervention could be lifesaving.

At this time, your veterinarian may recommend a dental cleaning, lab work, vaccinations, nutritional supplements, weight loss or even medications to improve your pet’s health. Following the advice of your veterinarian can help keep your pet happy and healthy for years to come.

2) Examine their diet.

If your pet has been eating the same food for some time, it may be worthwhile to examine whether their food is the optimal diet for your pet. If your pet has chronic ear, eye or skin issues, or is overweight, aging or has bad breath, a change in diet may improve your pet’s health.

There are so many choices on the shelves these days that it may be overwhelming to make the decision when you walk into the pet store, so do your research before you walk through those doors.

Ask your veterinarian’s opinion on what type of food would be best, read labels and ingredients, research companies online and make an educated decision on the appropriate nutrition based on knowledge, rather than advertising. Just because the bag says “organic,” or the company has a great commercial, that doesn’t mean that particular food will be the best one for your pet.

Note, abrupt switches in diet can lead to serious issues. Anytime you switch your pet’s food, do it slowly (over a period of 10 to 14 days) to prevent gastrointestinal upset.

Every person has specific dietary needs, and so does each pet. Treat your pets as individuals, and put them on a diet that will not just help them survive, but help them thrive.

3) Help pets lose excess weight.

Obesity in Americans has hit an all-time high, and our pets are following suit. It is estimated that more than 60 percent of household pets in the United States are overweight or obese. This number is staggering. Just as in people, obesity predisposes our pets to numerous disease conditions such as cardiac disease, diabetes, joint problems, and even cancer, to name a few.

Also similar to people, it is often a challenge to get the weight off our pets. However, it is not impossible and is well worth the effort. Consult with your veterinarian to get an idea of your pet’s ideal weight, and address any medical conditions that may have led to weight gain or that have risen as a result of the weight gain.

Together you can create a healthy weight loss plan that includes a diet with appropriate fat, calorie, carb and protein content and an exercise program that will help maintain lean muscle mass and improve activity level.

A study by Nestle Purina Pet Care, conducted over a 14-year period, found that pets with a normal weight lived an average of two years longer than overweight pets. So, just by getting the excess weight off your pets, you may be able to help them live longer, and that means more years of loving and laughing with your furry friend.

4) Give preventative medications year-round.

Flea, tick and heartworm preventatives are not just for dogs, and they’re not just for the warm months. Dogs, cats, and ferrets should all be on preventative medications year-round. Most pet owners know that heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition, but what many don’t know is that it can be spread year-round by mosquitoes.

The medications we have these days are highly effective, very safe and most act as a monthly deworming agent to help prevent intestinal parasites. Fleas and ticks are not just itchy and annoying, they are carriers of deadly diseases such as Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and many others.

As a veterinarian in the D.C. area for almost 10 years, I can’t tell you the number of pets I’ve seen come in over the years covered in fleas or ticks while there is snow on the ground! Keeping your pets on preventative medications year-round can not only help you stay in a routine of giving their meds, but also help to keep you, your pets and your family safe.

5) Be more like your pet.

My New Year’s resolution is pretty much always the same — to try to be more like my dog. My dog is the happiest, most alive creature I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I always joke that Papi (named after Big Papi from the Red Sox) has never had a bad day because every day is the greatest day of his entire life. I think we could all learn a few lessons from our pets, because as we all have seen far too many times in this world, you just never know if today is going to be your last.

When our pets are happy to see someone they purr, they rub on pant legs, they dance in circles, they wag their tails and they kiss them affectionately. If they don’t like someone, they put up their hackles, they may even growl or bark, but they’re always quick to forgive if the situation calls for it.

If they’re feeling good, they throw their ears back and frolick, not caring what they look like, just enjoying the breeze on their face. Pets know how live in the moment — they lay in the sunny spots when they’re tired, they stop and smell things that smell good and they enjoy every meal and treat as if it may be their last. If people could be more like this, I can guarantee the world would be a much nicer place to live in.

I hope you all have a happy, healthy and blessed new year. Stay tuned to my new blog here every week as I’ll answer your pet questions, write about timely topics and give you hints of what’s upcoming on my WTOP live spots as well as my weekly television show “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy” on News Channel 8 Saturday mornings at 11 a.m.

Have a question for Dr. Nelson? Submit it on the comment’s section, and it may be answered in next week’s blog or during a live web chat Thursday at 1 p.m.

Follow @WTOPLiving on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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