Top six (preventable!) pet health problems

You already know preventative care is essential for maintaining your pet’s good health and well-being.

The importance of this is confirmed in the 2011 “State of Pet Health” Report, a 40 page comprehensive summary of research conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital, a nationwide network of veterinary hospitals. Compiled from medical data from more than 2.1 million dogs and 450,000 cats, the report lists the most common diagnoses in dogs and cats, and details six specific and preventable health conditions that are increasingly affecting our pets:

•  DiabetesSince 2006, there has been a 32 percent increase in canine diabetes and a 16 percent increase in feline diabetes cases.

Prevention: Annual, or even better, twice-a-year examinations help veterinarians detect clinical signs of diabetes early.  The best thing that you can do, however, is to keep pets at a healthy weight through proper exercise and feeding a quality diet. Not only will careful nutrition and exercise management help prevent diabetes, but will also lessen the risk of developing many other serious diseases.

•  Heartworm Disease—This is one of the top three health risks for pets living in the Southern United States, though cases have been diagnosed in all 50 states, though incidence is extremely rare in the Western US, and lowest in the Pacific Northwest region. In 2010, this potentially fatal disease was detected in 6.7 percent of  dogs in Mississippi; 6.3 percent in Arkansas; nearly 5 percent in Louisiana; nearly 3 percent in Alabama; 2.6 percent in Texas; and slightly more than 2 percent in South Carolina. Heartworm disease affects dogs, cats, and ferrets, and can be fatal.  Heartworm is typically transmitted by mosquitoes, so both indoor and outdoor pets are at risk for heartworm disease. And although heartworm disease is more common during the warmer months, it is a year-round condition and has been diagnosed in every month and every state. Most frightening is that although there are treatment options for heartworm disease in dogs, it is neither simple nor risk-free, and there isn’t even an option for heartworm treatment in cats or ferrets. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include cough, lethargy, difficulty breathing and sometimes coughing up blood. Sudden death occurs rarely in dogs, but occurs more commonly in cats, though prevention is as simple as visiting your vet annually.

Prevention: Annual heartworm tests for dogs and year-round preventitives in either a monthly medication in topical or pill form, or a twice-yearly injection. Cats in heartworm-heavy areas should receive either form of monthly medication, regardless of whether it’s an indoor or outdoor cat (though outdoor cats are much more at risk).

•  Dental DiseaseThe most common disease in dogs and cats is dental disease, affecting 68 percent of cats and 78 percent of dogs over the age of 3. Just as with humans, dental disease has been associated with changes in liver, kidney and cardiac functions. Interestingly, the top five breeds most likely to develop periodontal disease include: Toy Poodle, Yorkshire Terrier, Maltese, Pomeranian and Shetland Sheepdog.

Prevention: Regular dental examinations by a veterinarian and annual professional dental cleanings, especially for dogs and cats over the age of two. There are also things you can do:
• Brushing at least twice a week! See our post on how to brush your dog’s teeth for more detail!
•  Dental chews, water additives and specially formed dry pet food can be used to help prevent tartar build-up.

•  Ear Infection The second most common disease affecting dogs and cats is ear infection.  This disease has seen a 9.4 percent increase in dogs and a 34 percent increase in cats since 2006, and can be triggered by many different causes. Underlying problems may include food allergies, ear mites, bacterial or yeast infections or irritation from foreign bodies such as parts of plants, shrubs or trees. There are certain purebred dog breeds that are predisposed to ear problems: Basset Hound, Beagle, Bulldog (American and English), Cocker Spaniel (American and English), Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Lhasa Apso, Poodle (all sizes), Pug, Shar-Pei and Springer Spaniel (English).

Prevention: Ear cleaning at least 1-2 times weekly using proper techniques, instructed by your veterinarian, is essential for maintaining
healthy ear canals in dogs that have been diagnosed with ear infections (or are at risk for  ear infections). Certain pets, such as dogs with allergies, may be predisposed to recurrent ear infections. Regular examinations and veterinary-recommended preventive care techniques can help reduce the frequency and severity of ear infections.

•  Fleas and ticksOverall, the proportion of flea infestation has increased 16 percent in dogs and  12 percent in cats over the past five years. Flea allergy dermatits is one of the most common skin conditions in dogs and cats, resulting in discomfort, scratching, hair loss, and infections. In addition to the allergic irritation caused by the bite, fleas can also transmit tapeworms and spread certain infectious diseases.The prevalence of fleas increases through spring and summer before peaking in early fall and decreasing in winter. Ticks are found in most parts of the United States and can transmit diseases to all mammals (including dogs, cats, and humans) such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which are potentially life-threatening. October is the peak month for fleas, while May and June are the peak months for ticks. In both dogs and cats, fleas are generally more common in the Southeast and along the West Coast. In 2010, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida and Alabama had the greatest prevalence of fleas and ticks in dogs, while Oregon, Washington, Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas had the greatest prevalence of fleas in cats.

Prevention: Because fleas seek out dark, warm, humid places—usually carpets, bedding, under furniture or in garden debris, they are very much parasites that live among us. There are a number of topical and ingestible flea and tick preventatives, including shampoos, rinses, sprays, mists/fogs, chewable tablets and spot-on treatments. Prevention of tick infestation involves environmental management (such as building fences and cutting back underbrush, hedges, and grass to reduce access to tick habitat) and application of approved products to animals or the environment.  When returning from outdoor activities, a pet’s skin and coat should be inspected in order to identify and remove fleas and ticks. A flea comb can be used on cats and shorter-haired dogs to discover flea “dirt” and fleas – and if evidence of fleas are found, you can administer a “flea dip” in a bath solution designed to kill fleas. If you find a tick – on yourself or your pet – removing it with tweezers within 24 to 48 hours is thought to prevent transmission of most tick-carried diseases.

•  Internal Parasites—Roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms can be transmitted from animals to humans, making them very dangerous not just for your pets, but for you too. Unfortunately, all of these parasites have been on the rise since 2006.

Prevention: In addition to regular deworming of pets, administered by your vet, proper hygiene is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of parasites (and the potential spread of anything to you or your human family!) The recommended frequency of deworming varies depending on the
life stage and individual environment of the pet. Make sure to quickly clean up after pets to remove potentially infective eggs from the environment before they spread, and discourage children (and dogs) from playing in or near kitty litter areas.

Although all of these diseases have increased in occurrence, it is most encouraging to note that they are all preventable!