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Give Your Dog or Cat The Best Care Possible

Updated on March 21, 2011

Deciding to bring that puppy or kitten home with you may have been an easy decision, but in learning how to best care for the animal you may have found the choices and responsibilities a little more overwhelming: what kind of food to buy, when to get vaccinations and flea prevention, how to get rid of that stinky breath. Here is a simple guide to help your cat or dog be as healthy as he can be.

Responsibility Checklist:

  • Is my pet given good veterinary care? Has she had all of her shots and preventive treatments?
  • Do I have healthful, well-balanced food for her?
  • Do I give her fresh clean water often?
  • Is he sheltered from bad weather and extreme temperatures?
  • Does he have identification tags (along with a license and rabies tags)?
  • Is my pet treated and handled in a humane way?
  • Does my pet get exercise and play, interaction with and affection from me?
  • Do I make sure my pet and I abide by all relevant local companion animal laws and ordinances?
  • Is my pet spayed/neutered?

Spaying and Neutering

Go to any local pound or SPCA and you'll witness the result of dog and cat overpopulation. Millions of unwanted cats and dogs are destroyed each year. Spaying and neutering dogs is a solution to this problem. There are additional benefits to spaying and neutering pets. Uterine infections and mammary cancer are very rare in spayed animals, and prostate infection is very rare when animals are neutered. Neutered males are also less likely to roam and fight with other animals, and spraying problems in cats generally cease when they are spayed or neutered.

Spaying is the operation in which the ovaries and uterus of a female cat or dog are removed. Once spayed, heat cycles will cease and pregnancy can no longer occur. Neutering is the surgical removal of a male cat or dog's testicles, resulting in sterilization. Both surgeries are performed under general anesthesia, usually after six months of age, and most cats and dogs recover fully within a few days.

Vet Care: The Annual Check-up

Though it may not seem necessary if your pet looks and seems healthy, regular visits to the vet will ensure that she stay that way. Much of health care for both humans and animals is preventive, and vets can also catch small irregularities before they become big problems. And even if you don't bring yourself in for a check-up, remember how much easier it is for you to not only recognize health problems, but also to make yourself an appointment and drive to the doctor's office if you suspect one. Remember, Fido can't drive.

A vet can also help you make decisions about flea control and other health concerns you may have. It is recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association that dogs and cats be routinely examined once a year, and twice a year after their eighth birthday.


Vaccinations are the best way to protect your pet against disease. As with humans, these vaccines help the dog's natural immune system to produce antibodies for the disease(s) vaccinated against. Since no vaccine is 100% effective, it is even more important for pets to receive regular examinations from their veterinarian.

Dental Care

Included in preventive health is dental care for cats and dogs. They face the same dangers we do: gingivitis, periodontal disease, and other damage that can cause pain, bad breath, weight loss, and infection.

It is recommended that dogs and cats have their teeth brushed every day, but even twice a week will help to eliminate plaque. If it builds up too much, professional cleaning (which requires anesthesia) may be necessary.

Your vet can give you some tips before you begin. It's a good idea, for instance, to start with a washcloth and gently scrub easily reached teeth. When your pet becomes used to this, you can switch to a special toothbrush made for a dog or cat. It is not recommended that you use human toothpaste for dogs or cats because it tends to foam and make the animal throw up - not a pleasant experience for either of you.

Diet & Nutrition

Trying to pick out dog and cat food at the supermarket can be a daunting chore. Usually there is an entire aisle dedicated to different types of food guaranteeing different results: stronger bones or a healthy urinary tract. There are also foods that cater special nutritional needs, not to mention different tastes.

Since government recommendations are minimal, not all pet foods will contain the nutrients and vitamins needed to keep your pet healthy. Generally speaking, the selling price of various brands indicates the quality of the food: premium brands are the most expensive, but are created with nutrition in mind and therefore contain the essential requirements. Though you may spend more money at the register, better nutrition usually means that less food is required to satisfy your pet; this means saving money each day at home as well as the long-term savings on veterinary bills.

Some pet foods are made with specific requirements in mind: diabetes, pancreatitis, dermatitis, constipation, or food allergies, among others. You should not give your dog nutritional supplements without first consulting your vet; unhealthy imbalances may result.


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