You love them, so keep them healthy

A local veterinarian offers owners a primer on pet care


Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 2:44 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 2:44 p.m.

Our pets are an important part of our family. We count on them for love and support and try to give them the same in return. But how do we keep them healthy and happy?

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Dr. Laura Kotinsley's two dogs, Duffy, at left, and Matilda.

Whether we’re first-time pet owners or have never lived without a dog or cat, we can benefit from a primer on basic pet care. Dr. Laura Kotinsley, a University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine graduate, shares a list of dos and don’ts to help us take better care of our furry friends, ensuring them a longer, happier life.

Do...

Schedule annual physical exams for cats and dogs

Between working with clients at her clinics, Micanopy Animal Hospital and Rainbow River Animal Hospital, and caring for her dogs, Kotinsley has learned the importance of preventative care, including an annual physical exam.

“Your pets can experience significant changes within the span of a year,” she says, “even if their vaccinations are up to date, so it is a good idea to have a physical exam.” This is true for cats, too, as changes in felines’ health can be more subtle. Even cats that are extremely ill, she says, may show only minor changes at home.

Apply/administer necessary parasite prevention on a monthly basis

“Our unique environment is home to many parasites that can cause great harm to your pets,” says Kotinsley. She recommends choosing an effective monthly flea/tick and heartworm-disease preventative product. Heartworm disease can be expensive and difficult to treat, and advanced cases have a poor prognosis.

Get informed

“Your vet has access to practical and reliable reading material as well as where to find this type of information online,” she says. If your pet is prescribed a medication, ask for an informational brochure.

Have phone numbers handy

“Vets and technicians are a valuable source of knowledge, so have the contact information to your vet’s office and an emergency clinic easily accessible,” Kotinsley says.

Pay attention

Your pet’s type of diet, medication dosages, type of parasite prevention, and duration of clinical signs (if your pet is sick) are all important to know during an exam.

Be a hands-on owner (literally)

Use the time when your pet is resting, playing, etc. to check for external parasites, feel the skin for sores or growths, lift the lips to examine dental tartar, etc. “This will give you an opportunity to notice subtle changes that may be important to alert to your vet.”

Be aware of household toxins

Toxic items commonly found around homes, such as antifreeze, drain cleaner and rat poison, as well as toxic plants, such as lilies, philodendron, elephant ear, eucalyptus, spider plants, azalea, ivy and poinsettias, can cause serious illness. If ingested, it is best to notify your vet or an emergency clinic immediately. Do not try to induce vomiting at home unless instructed by your vet. If your vet is unavailable, contact the Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435.

Don't...

Give Over-The-Counter medications to your pet

“Some medications we give pets are human grade, but some aren’t,” she says. Vets are often presented with situations in which owners have given some of their own medication to their pets. “This can lead to very dangerous, and sometimes deadly, situations.”

Assume a “healthy looking” pet must be healthy

This is true especially for older pets. “Remember that a pet’s health status can change dramatically within a matter of months,” says Kotinsley. “Comprehensive lab work has the ability to catch certain diseases early, thus facilitating their treatment.”

Feed your pet these foods

Many foods are poisonous and can be lethal to animals, such as chocolate, onions, grapes, raisins, and xylitol (artificial sweetener), says Kotinsley. Avoid these.

Try to take treatment into your own hands

Consult your veterinarian’s office or an emergency animal hospital during after-hours or holidays if your pet has sustained trauma or appears to be in crisis, such as suffering seizures, having difficulty walking, collapsing or having difficulty breathing.

Feed your pet from the table

This can can lead to begging habits, GI conditions, obesity, toxicities, etc. Abrupt changes to a pet’s diet and certain foods from the table commonly cause vomiting or diarrhea. In worst cases, a pet may need to be hospitalized for a serious condition, such as pancreatitis.

Believe everything you read on the Internet

“There is plenty of information online about feeding, training, behavioral issues and medications for pets. The problem is deciphering fact from fiction,” she says. When in doubt, ask your vet.

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