Take simple steps now to prevent costly problems

Last reviewed: August 2011
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Shelter pets, such as Peanut, above, often have been spayed or neutered and have received the appropriate vaccines.
Photograph by Michael Smith

Brushing your dog's teeth with chicken-flavored toothpaste or your cat's with the fish-flavored variety might seem silly, but it's a preventive measure that can be beneficial. Tooth plaque can lead to periodontal disease in pets, which, in turn, can cause kidney and lung disease.

Steve Thompson, director of the Pet Wellness Clinic at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, Ind., recommends daily brushing. But he says that if that's impractical, try to give your cats and dogs dental chews. "Enzymes are designed to minimize and remove plaque bacteria," he says, and dental chews do that.

Other smart preventatives: Spaying reduces mammary tumors in female animals, and neutering might reduce aggression as well as some diseases in males. Keep shots current, but don't over-vaccinate; the core vaccines are needed every three years, not annually.

Keep dogs leashed and fenced in for the protection of the animals and your neighbors. Julie Meadows, D.V.M., an assistant health sciences clinical professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, also recommends puppy socialization classes followed by obedience training.

Last, try not to overfeed your pet. Obesity rates in cats and dogs mirror those of humans these days. Being significantly overweight can lead to arthritis and diabetes for your pet and huge prescription bills for you.