by Dr. Bernardine Cruz, DVM
Dr. Cruz practices small animal medicine at Laguna Hills Animal Hospital. She is Resident Veterinary Medical Advisor for the TV show "Sightings," the national cable network show "Help Around the House," and the Orange County News Channel, on which she hosts a weekly, two-hour live TV program.
No one knows an individual pet as well as the owner. Subtle changes in behavior, eating patterns and/or elimination routines can signal early signs of disease. Early recognition and treatment of ailments allows for faster recovery rate and often less costly diagnostic workup and treatments.
Concerned pet owners should familiarize themselves with what is "normal" for their pets. Routine, thorough physical examinations by the owner will detect lumps and bumps that could be cancer. Knowledge of what the skin and coat is supposed to look like can alert the owner when early signs of skin disorders appear. A change in exercise tolerance, breathing rates and coughing can warn owners of lung and heart maladies. When an owner discovers conditions in the pet that deviate from normal, they should be promptly brought to their veterinarian's attention.
Preventative medical care for pets should include a thorough physical examination by a veterinarian. Besides the doctor's examination, a complete history by the owner is essential.
Reporting an increase in water consumption may seem irrelevant to an owner, or a change in a "bark" or "meow" may seem to silly to relate, but items like these can be a forewarning of more serious problems.
Routine veterinarian visits help the pet owner build rapport with the veterinarian. Trust is one of the most important aspects of a doctor/patient relationship. This trust can only be built on mutual respect and understanding, and this takes time. Routine visits allow the doctor to determine the level of concern the owner has for various types of problems and how aggressively or conservatively the owner wishes to pursue them.
The annual professional exam should include recommended vaccinations to help prevent often fatal diseases. Fecal exams can detect internal parasites that can rob the pet of nutrients and cause damage to the intestines. Some types of internal parasites can be contagious to children. Dental cleansing is essential to a pet's long-term good health. Dental disease can cause not only tooth pain and bad breathe, but can also -- over time -- lead to irreversible damage to the heart muscle, liver, kidneys and joints.
Careful consideration should be given to the acquisition of a pet before bringing one home. The first year of a puppy's or a kitten's life can cost several hundred dollars: vaccines, neutering, training for dogs, supplies and grooming add up very quickly. Long-term care and feeding can also be costly. A cat or dog with proper medical care and some good luck can expect to live 10 to 15 years. Truly, a pet is an investment for life -- the pet's life.