Around the holidays, many people make the decision to add a new canine or feline family member, either from a shelter or breeder. Health care decisions will be dependent upon the age of the newly adopted pet. Every new pet should have full veterinary exam and evaluation, including a stool check for intestinal parasites, as well as a heartworm blood test for dogs and feline leukemia/FIV virus blood test for newly adopted cats. In most areas of the country, monthly heartworm medication is recommended to prevent the transmission of heartworm disease.
Vaccination decisions will depend on the individual pet in terms of age and overall health. While most traditional veterinarians still vaccinate for certain core viral diseases, the recommended number and frequency of vaccinations is decreasing, as there is increased recognition of over-vaccination of pets and the short- and long-term effects on the immune system. Especially in adult or senior pets, I usually recommend a vaccination titer, which is a blood test to evaluate immunity, instead of giving vaccinations that often are not necessary. In most pets, immunity to the core viruses lasts for years to the life of the pet, so that booster vaccinations are rarely necessary, except in areas where rabies vaccination is required by law, usually every 3 years in most states.
Probably the most important health care decision a new animal guardian can make is how they are going to feed their new animal companion. Given that most veterinarians receive very little formal training on nutrition in veterinary school, I usually recommend animal guardians consult a more holistic-oriented veterinarian, who is usually more knowledgeable and aware of the quality of diets available. Even traditional veterinarians are now starting to appreciate the value of feeding a proper raw meat home based diet to animals–one that mimics the more evolutionarily appropriate diet in most cases. If this is not possible, then there are some healthier options, as well as more natural commercial pet food options that are minimally processed and lower in grain content. Some of my favorites here include the companies Wysong, PetGuard, Nature’s Variety, and Halo.
Along with a good quality diet, I usually recommend a general multivitamin for most pets, a probiotic added to meals and an antioxidant supplement like Proanthozone, which can help lessen the development of chronic degenerative and immune mediated diseases. I find that the pets on raw meat based diets and/or minimally processed natural diets usually have much less dental disease and plaque than pets raised on processed commercial pet foods.
While the inclusion of raw meaty bones can be immensely helpful for dental and oral health, there are some excellent products that guardians may use in a preventative fashion for optimal dental health, such as the C.E.T. line, which can be helpful in minimizing tartar and/or dental disease. Using these products regularly can help with dental and overall health.
While younger pets usually only need veterinary exams and evaluations once yearly, I usually will suggest biannual exams for senior pets. I usually recommend a complete CBC/hem blood panel for the elder patients, as well as urine analysis in order to detect any early disease or pathology. By following some of these simple suggestions, animal guardians will be going a long way towards optimal health for their new companions.