Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pet Heroes

Many little kids think that their pets are superheros. They comfort them when they're sad, they play with them when they're lonely, they eat unwanted vegetables when Mom's not looking, and they make a pretty good pillow and snuggle buddy when it's time to sleep. But our pets really can be heroes for our kids sometimes.

Researchers have shown that kids who are raised with animals tend to be healthier than those who do not grow up with animals. Children who are exposed to dogs especially have fewer respiratory and ear infections than those who only have occasional exposure. Exposure to cats can also be beneficial, but the research showed the highest health benefits in infants who were around dogs on a daily basis.

Our pets can also be real heroes when there's an emergency. There are stories about pets waking their owners during a fire, barking and alerting neighbors if their owner has collapsed, pulling kids out of water, fighting off snakes or other dangerous animals, and protecting owners from intruders. There are also numerous types of therapy pets who help with physical and emotional disabilities as well as alerting their owners to seizures and other medical issues. Our pets truly can be our heroes.

So, we need to be our pets' heroes. Make sure they are up to date on the vaccines they need. Not every dog or cat needs every vaccine that's out there. Talk to your veterinarian and see what vaccines your pet needs and how often they need them. Take your pet in for regular visits. I recommend exams every 6 months to catch problems before they get too big. Dogs and cats don't tell us how they're feeling, and they're very good at hiding symptoms. Having a physical exam twice a year can really help stay on top of things. We monitor things like weight loss or gain, dental health, and mobility during the exam. We also listen for heart murmurs and unusual lung sounds and feel for changes in abdominal organs that may point to health problems that haven't yet become obviously apparent. Yearly blood work can also help to catch serious problems before they even start showing signs. It's a good idea to do blood work once a year on any animal, but I especially recommend it for older animals. Depending on the breed that may mean as early as 6 years old.
There are plenty of things you can do at home to take better care of your animal too. Make sure your pet is on the proper parasite control. Both dogs and cats can get heartworms from mosquito bites and they can pick up fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites from grass in the yard. Run your hand over your animal's body often to look for lumps, bumps, or balding areas. If you find anything unusual make an appointment right away - catching these things when they're small can really make a difference in treatment and outcome. Make sure you're feeding your pets a healthy diet and don't give them people food. People food can cause stomach and intestinal irritation in dogs and cats, and that can lead to things like pancreatitis. Monitor how much your pet is drinking and urinating. There are several medical conditions where the first sign is increased thirst or increased urination. This could be as simple as a bladder infection or as serious as diabetes or kidney failure.

The easiest thing you can do is spend time with your pet. Include them in activities with your kids. Go on walks, throw balls around the yard, snuggle on the couch together while watching TV. The emotional support you can give each other is wonderful. Kids and adults are healthier when they spend time every day playing with an animal. It also give you more chances to catch things like arthritis, weight changes, and skin changes early on. So be your pet's hero, and let them be yours.