Preventive Medicine: for Healthy Pets, and their People, too!

We have all heard that laughter is the best medicine.  Well, certainly another front runner is preventive medicine.  When it comes to our pets, they can keep us healthy by keeping us smiling and we, in turn, can optimize their health through preventive care.  Some ways to keep our pets healthy include regular health checks, vaccinations, parasite control, dental care, regular exercise and a diet appropriate to age, breed and lifestyle.

The odds are that we will outlive our pets, as one of our years is equal to about seven or eight years in our pets’ lives.  Because pets age so much more quickly, keeping up with their health care is of utmost importance.  The American Veterinary Medical Association now recommends two physical exams per year.  Twice-a-year visits give pets a better chance to live longer, healthier lives because diseases can be detected and treated more quickly.

Vaccinations are important means of preventing disease and individual protocols can be designed by your veterinarian taking into account the pet’s age, breed, health history and environmental exposure.  Some of the diseases we vaccinate against not only protect our pets, but us too, as some of these preventable diseases are zoonotic (can be passed from pet to person).

Ecto- (external) and endo- (internal) parasites can pose a risk to both our four legged family members as well as our two legged.  Parasite prevention for our pets includes flea and tick control, heartworm prevention, regular fecal checks and deworming.  This is the season for fleas!  They are aware of the cooling temperatures and are trying desperately to find a warm body and a warm home.  Besides being a terrible nuisance and causing allergic reactions, fleas carry tapeworms that can be transmitted to your pet by ingestion of the flea during grooming.  As we all know, ticks pose an increasing threat to our health as well as our pets’ health.  Ticks can carry organisms that can cause a host of diseases including Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  Heartworm disease is carried by mosquitoes but can be easily prevented with a monthly Heartworm preventative.  Annual blood tests can test for the presence of Heartworm disease, Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis so infections can be treated.  There are many prevention products on the market, but buyers beware – they do not all work and some can even be harmful to your pet.  Your veterinarian can recommend the safest and most effective products.

When your pet goes in for a check up it is always a good idea to bring a (fresh) fecal sample to rule out intestinal parasites.  The common ones here in Maine are hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, tapeworms and coccidia.  Dogs and cats are the primary targets for these parasites, but people can also be infected.  Detection and prevention are easy and can go a long way toward keeping your household safe.  Many of the monthly preventions for fleas, ticks and heartworms also deworm your dog or cat for some (but not all) of the common intestinal parasites.

How many of us go to the dentist twice a year?  Well, you are supposed to!  If you consider that a visit to the veterinarian once a year is equivalent to people seeing their dentist once every seven years, you might think twice about your pet’s dental care.  Oral health has everything to do with whole body health, not just for us, but for our pets too.  While it may be easy to chuckle about Fido’s “dog breath” it is no laughing matter.  Studies show that more than 80 percent of dogs by age three and 70 percent of cats by age three show some signs of gum disease.  Bad breath is one of the first signs of gingivitis.  Gingivitis occurs when plaque and bacteria get under the gum line.  Once infection is in the mouth not only can it compromise the health of the teeth and gums, but it can also get into the blood stream allowing bacteria to invade heart valves, kidneys and other organs where further problems ensue.  Prevention is the key to helping your pet maintain good oral health.  The American Veterinary Dental Society recommends regular dental checkups with your veterinarian, as well as home dental care including brushing and/or specially formulated foods that help reduce the build up of plaque.

We all know that proper diet and exercise is the mantra for a healthy lifestyle.  Of course this is true for our pets, too.  Obesity has risks for pets that are very similar to people: heart disease, cancer and joint problems to name a few.  Why not get both of you up and off the couch to enjoy our beautiful state of Maine in every one of its glorious seasons?  The benefits are too many to list.  Pets with specific health concerns can also benefit from a diet tailored to their life stage, life style or even as a part of disease treatment.

So, yes, there is so much we can do to help our beloved pets optimize their health and live out their life spans.  On the flip side, many of us know first hand the benefits that we derive from our four legged family members.  While laughter is, perhaps the best medicine, and pets often give us plenty of that, did you know that pets are also good for a myriad of health benefits?  Recent research by Dr. Marty Becker, the author of The Healing Power of Pets, includes the following interesting findings regarding the effect pets have on our daily lives:


Children and pets:

  • Children who help raise animals score higher in empathy, nurturing, cognitive development, IQ scores, and reading scores, social development and motor skills than children who do not help raise animals.
  • Children 3-6 years old report that 61% of the dreams feature animals
  • Children reading a book experience their blood pressure going down after an animal has entered the room, even without the child knowing the animal was there.


Seniors and pets:

  • Seniors with pets have fewer doctor’s visits: 50% fewer minor medical problems within 1 month of acquiring a pet
  • Seniors who own cats or dogs are more physically active longer in life
  • Senior pet owners walk longer distances than non-owners, and have lower triglycerides
  • Seniors with pets report less dissatisfaction with their social, physical and emotional state
  • Senior non-dog owners talked primarily about the past, dog-owners about the present


All you have to do is open one eye on that weary early morning to see that loving face staring at you waiting for that walk, that bowl of half and half, or whatever it may be that you and your pet share to start a day of togetherness, to know the importance of keeping that companion healthy.  Many of the preventions are easy and can become part of the regular family routine.  Pets give us so much and it’s great to know how much we can offer them, too.  They are with us a relatively short time and it feels great to both pet and owner to optimize their health through regular health checks, vaccinations, parasite control, dental care, regular exercise, diet and of course a good daily dose of T.L.C.



PenBay Veterinary Associates is a proud member of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). For more information please visit or call 594-8300.

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