Dr. Pawz: The most avoidable pet diseases

There are some diseases in our pets that are completely unavoidable. However, there are some conditions that we can help to deflect with some simple steps. (Thinkstock)

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.

WASHINGTON – There are some diseases in our pets that are completely unavoidable. However, there are conditions that we can help to deflect with some simple steps. Here is what I consider to be five of the most preventable diseases in pets:

GI upset

Most times when pets come into hospitals for GI distress, the cause is identifiable and preventable. Pets’ GI tracts are not equipped to handle the various protein and carb sources that humans’ tracts can digest.

We routinely eat high fat, high protein or sugar-loaded foods, although they may not be the healthiest options. Our pets, however, are accustomed to a more controlled diet. When we decide to reward our pets with one of our “yummy” treats, we often do more harm than good.

From mild GI upset such, as soft stools or diarrhea, progressing all the way to pancreatitis, pets can get very ill from even the smallest indulgences. When it comes to treats, it’s often best to stick with what their tummies know, and not take a chance on something new. They may live to regret it.


Too many times when pets come into the hospital for an injury, it is something that can be prevented. Over 60 percent of American pets are overweight, and even a slight amount of extra poundage can significantly increase the pressure on our pets’ joints.

Keeping your pet slim and trim can help to keep their muscles lean and strong and their joints intact. And remember, don’t be a “weekend warrior!” Steady, frequent exercise is much healthier than sudden bursts of high activity.


Speaking of overweight, the most preventable disease condition that we see in veterinary medicine is diabetes. Obesity is the predisposing factor to this awful disease, and the way to avoid it is to keep your pets slim and trim.

Diabetes is not only a severely debilitating, life-threatening disease, but it’s also very expensive, very difficult and very time consuming to manage. Starting your pets on a high-quality, low-fat diet in controlled amounts with regular exercise is not only the best way to avoid this disease, but simply the best way to keep your pets happy and healthy for a long, long time.

Ear infections

Simple to treat? For the most part, yes. Even simpler to avoid? Absolutely. Keep your pet’s ears clean and dry by cleaning them at least weekly with a pet- approved ear cleanser. Have your veterinarian show you how.

When you bathe your pet, put a cotton ball in its ear canal to avoid water getting into the ears. When your pet swims, clean its ears immediately afterwards. And, if your pet is predisposed to ear conditions — such as long-eared dogs like beagles or bassett hounds, or if they have allergic skin conditions — cleaning more regularly and treating any irritation or irregular colored discharge proactively can help to avoid serious ear conditions.

Dental disease

Dental disease is a preventable condition that has serious health implications throughout the body. It has been linked to heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease and even some cancers.

Learn how to brush your pet’s teeth and start when they’re young so they learn to tolerate it. Have regular dental exams done by your veterinarian, and have your pet’s teeth cleaned and polished yearly (more frequently if recommended by your veterinarian).

Don’t get fooled by good marketing either: Just because a spray or chew may claim to reduce tartar, remember that it is the plaque and tartar under the gumline that leads to periodontal disease, not just the tartar we can see.

“Awake cleanings” often produce more damage to the surface of the teeth and allow more surface area for plaque and tartar. That’s why sedated cleanings with ultrasonic scalers and polishers produce the best results and serve to avoid serious dental disease.

Dr. Katy Nelson is an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va. Tune in to “The Pet Show” with Dr. Katy every Saturday at 11 a.m. on Washington D.C.’s News Channel 8, and listen on WTOP for her Dr. Pawz segments every two weeks. Have questions for Dr. Katy? You can follow her on Twitter @drkatynelson, on Facebook or email her at askdrkaty@wtop.com.

Follow @WTOPLiving on Twitter.

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