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Paw prints

Dear readers, it’s that time of the year when we all resolve to do better for ourselves and our families. These days most people consider their pets to be part of their families and many of my clients have asked what they can do to help ensure that their pets have a long and happy life. Here are a few of my recommendations.

Annual exams. Our pets age 4 to 7 times faster than we do. As they get older, they are more prone to chronic conditions such as overactive thyroid, kidney disease, diabetes and arthritis. So we recommend yearly wellness exams – which are very thorough, covering your pet from head to toe – to detect any health issues early so we can keep your pet healthy and happy as long as possible.

Keep your pet at a healthy weight. An overweight animal is at greater risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes and painful arthritis. Too much weight makes it harder for your pet to run and play, which can lead to inactivity, which can lead to becoming even more overweight.

Spay or neuter. Most people think about spaying or neutering their pets to prevent unwanted puppies and kittens, but there are numerous health benefits to these procedures. Spaying your female cat before her first heat cycle will reduce her risk of malignant breast cancer to virtually zero. Female dogs and cats that have been spayed won’t develop uterine infections, which are life-threatening.

For males, neutering eliminates the risk of testicular cancer and dramatically reduces prostate gland infections. Neutered dogs are less likely to exhibit aggressive behavior. And having your dog neutered will not change who he is; it will just change how he behaves in certain situations. For dogs and cats, male or female, the best time to spay or neuter is when they are young – around six months old – and involves virtually no risk.

Keep your cats indoors. Indoor cats live longer and have far fewer problems than outdoor cats. They are not exposed to predators, aggressive cats, diseases or other threats to their health.

Keep your dogs on their leashes. No matter how well-trained, animals are emotional creatures and sometimes can't help reacting to that chattering squirrel or that cat crossing the street. For their safety and your peace of mind, dogs need to be kept on a leash when they're out with you.

Annual dental cleanings after the age of five (35 years in human terms). Neglecting dental care can cause serious medical problems, especially as your pet ages. Brushing your pet’s teeth or providing dental treats can help slow down the onset of dental disease. But almost all animals will need a dental cleaning at some point. These days, anesthesia is very safe and the benefits of having clean teeth far outweigh any risks.

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Pay attention to their behavior. Animals are often very stoic about showing pain or an illness. Changes in water intake, chewing/eating habits, the way your pet interacts with others, bad breath, or unexpected weight loss or gain can all be signs that your pet isn't feeling well. Anything out of the ordinary and an immediate appointment with your veterinarian should be your first step.

Pay attention to your aging pet. Adult dogs and cats don’t tend to look older as they age, so it’s easy to ignore the fact that they are aging and may require additional help and attention along the way. As with humans, any issue that is detected and treated early has the potential for a better outcome.

Work to improve communication with your vet. Your vet is an expert at evaluating how your pet is aging over time and addressing health issues. But you know your pet better than anyone else, so you can inform them about what's normal for your pet. The more openly you communicate with your vet, the better they can care for your pet.

Dr. Julianne Miller is a Flagstaff veterinarian. She can be reached at


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