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Health and lifestyle risk assessments: Is your pet living on the edge?

As a pet owner, you make important decisions on a daily basis that determine your pet’s health and quality of life. While these decisions may seem small when you make them, they can have significant consequences on your pet’s risk of contracting common diseases.

This article lists some of the health and lifestyle factors that can elevate your pet’s risk of contracting common diseases.

If any of them sound familiar in your household, it may be time to work with your veterinarian to make improvements that will keep your pet healthy and happy for years to come.

Signs that your pet may be living on the edge:

  • Carrying extra pounds—If your pet is overweight or obese, his chances of coming down with common diseases are greatly increased. Overweight pets are more vulnerable to diseases and health problems, including diabetes, osteoarthritis, cancer, cranial cruciate ligament injury, and kidney, heart, and respiratory disease. In addition to those dangerous health conditions, plump pets also have lifespans that are decreased by an average of 2.5 years, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
  • Poor dental care—Ensuring high-quality dental care for your pets isn’t just about making sure their smiles shine brightly in photos. Poor teeth and gum health can lead to periodontal disease, which is one of the indications that veterinarians most commonly treat. Pets suffering from periodontal disease often have to endure constant pain and undergo tooth extractions and other dental procedures. In addition, dental infections can be life-threatening, since the bacteria that causes them can enter the bloodstream from the mouth and be carried to the kidneys, heart, and other organs, said American Veterinary Medical Association President Clark K. Fobian, DVM.
  • Lack of exercise—Pets thrive on physical activity, whether it’s walking, running, pouncing, fetching, or tug-of-warring. Not spending enough time engaging in these important activities increases their risk of gaining excess weight, which leads to the health problems mentioned above in the first risk factor. An added bonus of providing pets with adequate exercise is that it can reduce some behavioral problems, such as chewing, digging, and hyperactivity.
  • Incomplete vaccination record—Pets need to be kept up to date with vaccinations and medications to prevent diseases such as rabies, parvovirus, heartworm, distemper, coronavirus, and bordetella. Pets who don’t have access to veterinarian-prescribed vaccinations, because they don’t visit their veterinarians on an annual basis, are prime targets for costly and potentially deadly diseases.
  • Outdoor-roaming pets—Your pets might always come home after you let them roam around in the wild, but their outdoor excursions could be exposing them to diseases. In the outdoors, pets are free to sniff potentially infected waste from other animals, drink from contaminated water sources, pick up nasty parasites, interact with or eat diseased animals, and engage in countless other risky activities. Pets can be exposed to many of these same risks when visiting outdoor locations with high concentrations of pets, including dog parks and indoor areas, such as daycare and boarding facilities, according to the 2014 Banfield State of Pet Health report.
  • Cancer-causing agents in the environment—Your pet’s risk of tumors or cancer can be higher or lower based on the levels of cancer-causing agents in her environment. Merck’s Pet Health Manual identifies several of these contributors to cancer risk, several of which can be controlled or avoided:
    • Ultraviolet radiation from long exposure to the sun
    • Second-hand tobacco smoke
    • A variety of herbicides, insecticides, and pesticides commonly used in agriculture
    • Air pollution and smog common in many urban areas
    • Carcinogens, including common substances such as nickel, uranium, benzidene, benzene, radon, vinyl chloride, cadmium, and asbestos
  • Aging—One risk factor that simply cannot be avoided is aging. As your pet grows older, she is more susceptible to certain health conditions, such as osteoarthritis, dental disease, and cancer. But by providing her with a consistently healthy lifestyle over the years and making sure she pays regular visits to your veterinarian, you can increase her chance of aging gracefully.

There are many threats to your pet’s health, but you can play an active role in making sure his lifestyle is free of many of the risk factors mentioned above. Visiting your veterinarian on a regularly scheduled basis will provide you with the information and resources you need to make sure your pet is not living close to the edge.

Seth Davis is a first-time pet owner from Denver, Colo. He works for the American Animal Hospital Association and enjoys spending each day learning more about the ins and outs of veterinary medicine.


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