“My dear human, I look to you for food, shelter and love. My health is in your hands. Keep me well.” – your loyal and faithful companion
A Personal Story
It was April of 2014 when I received my dog’s liver biopsy diagnosis: Chronic Hepatitis. I was told that she would need to be on medication for the rest of her life. “If she responds well,” I was told, “she should have years ahead of her still.”
Chronic Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver common to certain breeds of dogs. It is a fatal disease, but if diagnosed early, there are treatments that can slow its progress. The diagnosis is the difficult part. A liver will suffer a lot of damage before a dog shows any signs of discomfort.
My dog, Zip, was 8 years old at the time, active and outwardly healthy. She went on all my hiking and backpacking trips. Every time I was reminded of her ‘senior pet’ status I felt surprised. Eight years doesn’t feel like such a long time, but veterinarians classify dogs and cats as senior once they reach the age of 7.
When she became a senior, Zip’s vet had emphasized the importance of getting annual blood work done. It was an extra expense, but I took the advice. When some of her blood values came back as borderline, Zip’s vet pointed them out as something to monitor. When future bloodwork showed that that her values were further off, the discussion continued. Eventually a biopsy was suggested.
At first I hesitated. A liver biopsy was an outpatient procedure, yes, but it sounded so serious. The only thing wrong in my dog’s life seemed to be a couple of dots on a graph. And the biopsy was expensive, more than $800. But because I trusted Zip’s vet, I decided to go ahead with the procedure.
And that is how my dog received an early diagnosis of an invisible disease; something that wouldn’t have been possible without regular vet care –Wendy
Meet the Expert
Here at KirinGie.Me, one of our goals to to help every pet owner make the best choices to keep their pet happy and healthy through the power of community and education. But regular veterinary care is a vital component to maintaining pet health. In celebration of National Veterinary Technician Week, we decided to go straight to the source and find out what a vet tech wants new and current pet parents to know to best take care of their precious companions.
We spoke on the phone with Maddy Kennedy, a veterinary nurse at River City Veterinary Hospital in Meridian, Idaho. As a recent graduate of the College of Southern Idaho, Kennedy has only worked at River City for a few months, but has seen hundreds of animals come and go in her short time in the office. We got the inside scoop on what first time pet-parents need to know about vet care, and how to monitor and maintain the proper health of our pets.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Why Should I Spay or Neuter My Pet?
The ASPCA cites that only 10% of shelter animals have been spayed or neutered when received. With the average fertile cat able to produce up to 12 kittens per year and the average dog producing anywhere from 4-6 per litter, neglecting to fix a pet only adds to the heartbreaking number of animals euthanized each year in the US — 56% of dogs and 71% of cats according to the American Humane Association.
Preventing unwanted companion animal pregnancies is one way to combat the growing euthanasia and animal homelessness problem. In fact, the cost of spaying or neutering a pet is less than the cost of raising puppies or kittens for a year. Neutering may also help curb some unwanted behaviors as well, such as aggression.
Kennedy recommends that small to medium-sized dogs be spayed or neutered at 6-9 months of age. For larger breeds like great Danes and German shepherds, the recommended timeframe is sometimes extended out to the 9-12 month range. Clinics do cat spays and neuterings early on at about 4-6 months.
2. What Vaccinations Does My Pet Need?
There are a lot of scary diseases out there that target pets, which means vaccines are key to protecting your companion from unnecessary health issues and illnesses. But while every species requires a different set of shots to keep them safe and at their peak, it is also important to note that the topic of vaccinations in animals is a controversial yet highly understudied practice, and that over-vaccination can be just as harmful as no vaccination at all.
Varying lifestyle factors, including whether or not the animal was nursed directly from their mother, can mean that not every pet is at risk for every disease. Likewise, certain studies have shown that booster shots can in fact aggravate the immune system with overstimulation of antibodies due to the fact that immunity lasts much longer than 1 year. Furthermore, many vaccines are simply administered too early, putting pets at risk of developing other autoimmune issues. However, not vaccinating at all can counteract “herd immunity” and put countless other pets at risk for contracting an untreatable form of any number of diseases.
Always be sure to do your own research, monitor your pet for side effects after a vaccination, and return to the vet immediately if unusual symptoms appear. The best thing you can do for your companion is to talk thoroughly with your veterinarian about what is best for your specific animal, as well as know specific laws in your state to ensure that you meet regulations.
- DHPP combo: Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, Parainfluenza
- Lyme vaccine
- Rabies vaccine. The timing of this vaccine may depend on the laws in your area (since this can be a human disease, too). Confirm with your veterinarian and check your local and state laws.
- Ongoing: A booster may be required 1 year after the rabies initial shot.
- Distemper/Upper Respiratory 4-in-1 Combo
- Rabies Vaccine
- Feline Leukemia Vaccine (FLV)
For safer and more efficient pet vaccination, the recent emergence of titers testing offers the opportunity for pet owners to screen their animal for immunity to determine whether or not subsequent shots are needed, although titering has its limits according to PetMD. As for birds, vaccinations are typically unnecessary, but always be sure to check with your vet tech or other trusted health care professional.
3. How to Prevent and Treat Fleas, Ticks, and Heartworms
Various topical and oral flea, tick, and heartworm prevention medications are commercially available to keep your pet safe and healthy. But it is important to use the product that is specifically for your animal — dog treatments can cause skin irritation in cats, for instance, so pay close attention to labels.
Topical medications are usually the safest route to prevent flea and tick infestations due to their targeted application and lack of serious side effects; however, your vet tech can recommend the best product for your pet based on their risk factors and habitat. But from the moment you bring home your sweet, new pet, it is important to protect them from environmental threats as well.
Creating a flea and tick-free environment outside your home is a simple process. If possible, install a fence that enclose your property to prevent unknown and potentially flea infested animals from passing through your yard. In addition, regularly water and mow your lawn and keep standing brush maintained to create a less hospitable environment for crawly critters. And if you do find a tick? The CDC recommends direct tick removal with tweezers and an alcohol rub.
Heartworm prevention in dogs and cats takes a more proactive approach than that of fleas and ticks, however. As the name suggests, these little buggers live inside your pet’s heart valves, where they nestle in, weakening the heart. A heartworm outbreak can ultimately be fatal. While heartworms are easily preventable through chewable, prescription medications, pets should be regularly screened for heartworms prior to starting any treatment regimen to avoid internal organ damage.
4. Dental Care Basics
Regular dental cleanings are important as well, but “people usually take a lot of shortcuts with dental work,” Kennedy says. Teeth that are not cared for may have to be pulled, which is more expensive in the long run. As Kennedy notes, “Smaller dogs are easier to have in apartments, but they are more prone to things like dental disease. They tend to build up more plaque faster than larger [dogs].” This is often due to lower saliva production, which accelerates plaque growth.
- DO: Take advantage of teeth cleaning products and toys.There are hundreds of products on the market that can help prevent natural plaque buildup, including various snacks, bones, and chews, but always be sure to do thorough research on a product before purchase to ensure its quality and safety.
- DO: Utilize pet-specific products. Human toothpaste, which contains Fluoride, is toxic to pets. Investing in an pet-grade toothbrush and paste and following proper oral hygiene from the start can save hundreds down the road.
- DO: Start early. Brushing your pet’s teeth from their youth gives them time to become familiar with the routine. Continue brushing once a week, even though your vet will no doubt perform a routine cleaning as part of a wellness checkup.
- DO: Be gentle. As with human dentistry, having one’s mouth poked and prodded can be stressful. Speak in soothing tones and massage your pet as you brush in gentle circles to keep the experience as pleasant as possible.
5. How to Administer Pet First Aid
Pets can’t communicate with words when they are hurt or ill, but knowing the signs and proper first aid steps to a number of common pet emergencies can ultimately save your pet’s life, although it is no substitute for veterinary care.
Poisoning & Exposure: In addition to toxic foods, everyday cleaning products, rodent poisons, and antifreeze are all common — but dangerous — household hazards that curious pets can ingest. If you know your pet has consumed something that may be harmful, or if the animal is having seizures, losing consciousness, is unconscious, or is having difficulty breathing, call your veterinarian, emergency veterinary clinic, or the Animal Poison Control Center hotline (888.426.4435 – available 24/7/365) immediately.
Seizures: Any number of things can trigger seizures in pets, but while it can be tempting to restrain your pet, it’s important to maintain a safe distance. Instead, keep 3 things in mind:
- Keep your pet away from any objects (including furniture) that might hurt it. Do not try to restrain the pet, but it can be helpful to speak in soothing tones and maintain constant reassurance.
- Time the seizure (they usually last 2-3 minutes).
- After the seizure has stopped, keep your pet as warm and quiet as possible and contact your veterinarian.
Choking: Symptoms: difficulty breathing, excessive pawing at the mouth, choking sounds when breathing or coughing, blue-tinged lips/tongue
- Use caution – a choking pet is more likely to bite in its panic.
- If the pet can still breathe, keep it calm and get it to a veterinarian. If possible, have another person call the vet while you help your pet.
- Look into the pet’s mouth to see if a foreign object is visible. If you see an object, gently try to remove it with pliers or tweezers, but be careful not to push the object further down the throat. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to remove it if it’s not easy to reach—don’t delay, and get your pet to a veterinarian immediately.
- If you can’t remove the object or your pet collapses, lay your pet on its side and strike the rib cage firmly with the palm of your hand 3-4 times. The idea behind this is to sharply push air out of their lungs and push the object out from behind. Keep repeating this until the object is dislodged or until you arrive at the veterinarian’s office.
But because emergencies can happen at any time, we’ve created a convenient Emergency Pet First Aid Infographic for you to download and keep as a handy reference.
6. Senior Pet and End of Life Care
As pets get older they often get more expensive, which is why Kennedy continues, “Be prepared for end of life provisions. A lot of times people have a hard time playing God – I guess that’s a way to put it. You have to mentally prepare yourself on that.”
Regular monitoring for a senior pet can include things like EKG screening, which tests the heart’s rhythm, as well as glaucoma checks and arthritis treatment. Talk to your vet to see what they recommend. Special accommodations for the home may also need to be considered, including ramps for pets with lessened mobility and additional heating sources to help aging pets stay comfortable.
Feeling financially overwhelmed? Kennedy suggests, “A lot of people see [insurance] as just another expense to be paid.” However, in addition to being more financially able to tend to unexpected circumstances, “People who have pet health insurance or wellness plans are more open to treatment.” There are a number of companies who provide health insurance for pets that cover everything from basic wellness checks and vaccinations, to injuries and advanced care and testing for seniors, including insurance plans from the ASPCA and major companies like Nationwide for around $10-$40 per month.
Are you thinking about becoming a pet owner? Kennedy says there are three major considerations you should take into account. First, there is the time commitment. “[Dog and cat owners] have to prepare for, at the minimum, ten years,” says Kennedy. Oftentimes new pet parents adopt spontaneously, drawn to the first floppy-eared puppy or teacup-sized kitten that catches their eye — but those tiny rascals eventually grow up, and they depend on their new owners to ensure their long-term health. That’s why responsible pet ownership is what KirinGie.Me is all about! From education before, during, and after adoption to ensure happy pets, we also encourage a forever home mentality, and strive to help pet owners nourish relationships with their pets from start to finish.
The second consideration is financial: Can you afford to have a pet? From food, training pads, kitty litter, and toys, to regular veterinary care on into old age, animals require just as much regular attention and care as their human counterparts.
And lastly, think about end of life care. Dogs and cats simply don’t live long enough. Even if you are getting a puppy or a kitten, one day you will have to make a number difficult healthcare decisions for your pet. The more you prepare yourself for that in advance, the better you will be able to take care of your pet in their time of need.
At KirinGie.Me, our goal is for every pet to have a forever home, which is why we provide the education and resources to ensure pet parents can make the best, most informed decisions for their pet.