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At-Home Pet Wellness Check-Ins

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Pet wellness can include many things relating to their physical health. Yearly check-ups with the veterinarian are a fantastic time to check that your pet is happy and healthy, but there are many ways to prioritize your pet’s health between appointments.

How To Take Care of Your Pets at Home

When it comes to taking care of your feline or canine companion, many of their healthcare needs require attention on a monthly schedule. These preventive steps can make all the difference in keeping your pal in tip-top shape.

At-Home Dental Care for Pets

People prioritize their pearly whites, and the same should be done for pets. Without proper care, cats and dogs could be affected by periodontal disease, which could lead to inflamed gums, bad breath, and other problems.

It’s worth purchasing pet-safe toothbrushes and toothpaste for your cat and dog. The process itself is simple and near identical to your routine. Wet the brush, apply a small amount of your pet-safe toothpaste, and gently brush their teeth. You may need to help by holding their lips or jowls out of the way. Some pets may not immediately allow you to brush their teeth but may be more open to the idea after they become comfortable with this routine. Try starting by just brushing a few seconds at a time, giving them a little break in between. Continue to be patient, praise them, and reward them with treats.

Unlike people, dogs and cats don’t need to rinse their mouths after brushing—they are good to go. It’s typically recommended that you try brushing their teeth a few times per week or even daily.

If you are worried your dog won’t allow you to brush their teeth, there are a few alternatives to consider. Dental powder can be added to the top of your pet’s food. This powder contains probiotics that support healthy bacteria. Dental chews can help reduce plaque and tartar buildup on your pet’s teeth. Just be sure to ask your veterinarian which brands and size they recommend for your dog. You can also talk to your veterinarian about getting prescription dental food, which may be ideal if your pet’s breed is prone to periodontal disease.

Home Skin and Coat Care for Pets

Grooming your pet at home means keeping an eye on their skin and coat health. Try to keep an eye on the appearance of any rash, bug bite, or dry skin—our four-legged friends can also get dandruff. If your pet seems to be scratching or chewing on themselves excessively, you may need to take them to see their veterinarian, as there could be a more serious issue.

Be sure that any product you use on your pet’s skin or coat, whether shampoo or sunscreen, is safe for them. Also, be mindful of non-pet-friendly products you may be using around your pet that could accidentally get on them, such as spray sunscreen or bug spray.

Your pet’s diet can significantly affect their skin and coat health, depending on what supplements and nutritional value it contains. Like people, if they become dehydrated, their skin could become dry. Be sure always to have clean drinking water available. Keep an eye on how much your pet drinks since some tend to turn their noses to water all day long. To help their water intake, you can give dogs ice cubes as a treat, and for cats, you can switch out dry kibble for a wet food mixture—but be sure to consult your veterinarian first.

Depending on your dog’s coat type, they may need to be brushed anywhere from once a week to nearly every day. For longer-haired dogs, keep a close eye on the area behind their ears and legs, as these areas are prone to matting. After a walk or hike, it’s crucial that you do a quick scan over and through their coat to ensure that no burrs have gotten stuck or that any unwanted bugs or ticks aren’t hiding. If you don’t take your dog to a professional groomer, then you may opt to bathe your dog every few months.

Felines mainly take care of their own coat. However, if your cat were to develop arthritis or other health issues when they get older, they may need some help with an occasional bath. Depending on how much your cat sheds and how long their coat is, you may find that brushing them daily helps limit the amount of cat hair on your furniture while keeping their coat tangle-free. This can also help reduce hairballs.

Pet Nail Care

Although cats and dogs can’t go to the salon to get a mani-pedi, you can treat them to proper nail care from the comfort of your home. Animals naturally wear their nails down through playing, scratching, and walking on hard surfaces like concrete. That said, they will all still require a nail trim from time to time.

Dogs’ nails normally need to be trimmed when you hear them clicking on the floor. This could be every month or every other month. Using a nail trimmer specifically for dogs, be mindful not to hit the quick, the center of each nail that contains blood vessels and nerves. Clipping this causes discomfort, and quicks are known to bleed quite a bit. To help stop the bleeding if you accidentally hit the quick, keep some styptic powder close by when trimming their nails.

Allow your dog to sit or lay in a comfortable position while you trim their nails. Start small, and reward them with a few treats after each nail. Aim to clip just a few nails at a time if you and your dog are new to this, or give them short breaks here and there. It’s also good to get them used to having their feet handled before trimming their nails and then to continue handling their feet between trims, so it isn’t a big deal.

For your feline friend, it’s ideal to choose a quiet spot in your home where they can feel relaxed. Since cats don’t wear their nails down quite like dogs, they may need their nails trimmed more frequently, possibly many times per month. When their nails are too long, you may notice them getting stuck on the carpet or toys more often.

Just like dogs, it’s helpful to familiarize your cat with having their feet touched and handled. Practice picking up their paws and rewarding them with treats.

When trimming your cat’s nails, you can wait to begin this process right after they’ve played or eaten a meal, when they will naturally feel more tired. After gently grabbing their paw, you will need to push down gently near their toe until you can see the nail. To help avoid cutting the quick, only cut the sharp edge at the tip of their nail. Like with dogs, styptic powder can be helpful if the quick gets nipped. If your cat gets fidgety, let them go and finish trimming their nails later.

Best Way To Weigh Your Pets at Home

Keeping an eye on your pet’s weight is a significant part of ensuring they are at their healthiest. Losing or gaining too much weight can indicate that a more serious problem could be occurring. Although your pet is always weighed during their yearly check-ups, monitoring their weight more frequently than once annually can be helpful.

One of the easiest ways to weigh your pet at home is to use the scale you already have. Stand on the scale and take note of your weight, then pick up your pet and get back on the scale. Take the new weight and subtract the previous weight—the difference is your pet’s weight.

If you have an extra-large dog breed, such as a Great Dane or Saint Bernard, picking them up, standing still on a scale, and being able to read the numbers may all be easier said than done—though this may be a fun challenge for some dog parents. An option to consider is purchasing a large floor scale for your home. This would give your dog enough room to stand directly on the scale.

Another option is to call your animal clinic and see if you can stop in for a quick weight check. Most places will not mind and will happily let you come in to use the scales.

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Pet Obesity Prevention

Any cat or dog could become overweight, though some breeds may be predisposed to obesity issues. It may be helpful to talk with your veterinarian about your pet’s breed and what a healthy weight looks and feels like.

Regarding obesity prevention, there are many things to keep in mind.

  • Learn about the healthy weight range for your cat’s breed. Some may be 5-10 pounds, while others could be closer to 20 pounds.
  • The same is true for dogs. A healthy weight for a French Bulldog will look quite different from that of a Greyhound. Remember that you may occasionally have a dog that is naturally larger than its breed size. This simply means adjusting their healthy weight accordingly.
  • What your pet eats significantly contributes to their weight. At a younger age, pets may require three meals, but this should be reduced to two meals when they are older. Meal size suggestions are often listed on the back of food bags and are based on your pet’s weight. Talk with your veterinarian before making any major changes to your cat or dog’s diet.
  • Your pet’s exercise routine can also play a significant role in their weight gain or loss.
  • If you’re training your pet and using lots of treats, use small pieces. If you’re concerned about weight gain, you can also reduce your dog’s daily meal ration to account for the difference. Ask your veterinarian about alternatives if your dog is on a special diet (like low-calorie treats or even certain chopped-up vegetables).
  • Be mindful of what, if any, table scraps you feed your pet. There’s a lot of human food that can be unhealthy or even toxic to them.
  • Cats, who spend their days indoors, need an enriching environment that encourages them to explore and play. Try rotating which toys are out and providing them with scratching posts and a cat tower.
  • Set aside time daily to play with your cat and help them stay active.
  • While dogs also need their indoor living space to have enrichment opportunities, most canines require some physical exercise as well. Whether in the form of a walk, hike, run, swim, or play session. Getting outside to stretch their legs gives dogs a chance to burn off their extra energy and maintain a healthy weight.

Pet obesity can be a serious health issue that can quickly lead to many other health concerns. Once your pet becomes overweight, it could affect their grooming habits, ability to exercise, overall mobility, and mood. It could also lead to heart and joint problems.

At-Home Parasite Prevention

Parasites can be nasty, unwanted pests that, if left untreated, could become a serious health risk to your cat or dog. Thankfully, many parasite prevention options are available and easy to administer right at home.

Pet Flea and Tick Prevention

Fleas and ticks can be found in nearly any climate or location, so it’s typically recommended that you give your pet prevention year-round. If your dog spends a great deal of time outside or goes on frequent hikes, always check for ticks upon returning to your car or home.

Numerous companies provide flea and tick prevention options. You can talk with your veterinarian about what they may recommend and see which options would fit you and your pet’s needs (and budget) best.

Some things to keep in mind concerning flea and tick prevention:

  1. Read instructions for topical medicines carefully—apply treatment to the specific area of your pet’s skin as directed and avoid getting it on yourself. If your cat or dog has long hair, be sure to part their hair so that the medicine goes directly on their skin and not on top of their coat.
  2. Don’t give topical preventives right before your pet receives a bath.
  3. Another preventive option is a chew, which is typically divided by dosage based on your pet’s weight. It’s crucial that you have a recent and accurate measurement for your pet. Since puppies and kittens grow rapidly within the first year, they may require a different dosage each month.
  4. With any preventive, check on specific options for kittens and puppies, adults, and senior pets.
  5. Flea collars can also be an option to consider. This is something your pet would wear all the time, in addition to their regular collar.
  6. When getting preventive medicines, they are not interchangeable for your cat and dog—you will need a species-specific medication for each pet.
  7. Based on your chosen preventive method, check how frequently your pet will need a dosage—some need to be given every month, while others are every three months. Some flea and tick collars can even last six months. To help you keep track, put a reminder on your calendar or your phone.
  8. Some preventive medicine options can be ordered for an entire year’s supply, or you can pick up one dose at a time from your veterinarian’s office.
  9. Check if there are any restrictions on what time of day you give them their medicine and if any oral medication needs to be given with a meal. You may have to get sneaky with some pets and hide their chew inside a spoonful of xylitol-free peanut butter or a piece of cheese. Most importantly, be sure your pet doesn’t spit their chew back out and that they eat the entire thing.
  10. Be aware of possible side effects, particularly if you have switched dosage or brands recently.

Pet heartworm prevention is also an essential part of parasite prevention. Heartworm prevention medicine, based on weight and not age, can be given to pets as young as eight weeks. Be sure always to have an updated weight measurement for your pet before giving them their heartworm medicine, whether it be oral or topical. Many of the precautions used for flea and tick medication also translate to heartworm administration.

If you have young children in your house, it is best not to let them handle any preventive medicines for the family pet. It is also crucial that you keep your pet’s medications in a secure location where your child cannot get into them.

An ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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