By Dr. Becker
Recently I came across the following sentiment in a veterinary industry magazine:
“It's time we give preventive healthcare recognition as a vital part of animal health and maintaining the human-animal bond.”
As a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian, I certainly agree!
As the article’s author (also a DVM) points out, the “heroics” part of veterinary medicine – the part where we successfully diagnose and treat illness or save an injured pet’s life – is the part that gets us recognition and appreciation. It also plays a big role in keeping our veterinary teams motivated and excited to come to work each day.
The author believes other aspects of a DVM’s job, for instance, helping clients with information, services and products they need, are considered the “ugly stepsister” of our roles as veterinarians. I can’t go quite that far, but I do concede that performing proactive wellness exams is probably considered less sexy than “fighting fires” and performing heroics to save a sick or injured animal.
Isn’t Preventing Disease as Important as Treating It?
The author poses the question, “… isn't it just as important, if not more so, to prevent disease than to treat it?”
I certainly think so.
While I’m very gratified each time I’m able to cure a cat’s bladder infection or get a lame dog back on her feet, I get much more satisfaction from helping my clients keep their pets disease and disability-free. Just this week I celebrated with the owner of a 14 year-old Golden Retriever the fact that throughout her dog’s life, I have only seen her for wellness exams. Through our diligent proactive care, her old dog has never been sick. Through the years we have updated her protocol to address the dynamically changing needs of her body as she ages, and by doing so, we’ve prevented degeneration and disease.
My goal is always to help prevent pets from suffering at some future time from a preventable disease. That, to me, is the essence of caring for animals. Waiting around until a pet is sick or debilitated and then attempting to fix the problem doesn’t feel very caring to me, and is actually stressful for me, as a practitioner. I aspire to keep pets healthy, comfortable and with an excellent quality of life, all the years of their life.
Helping You Be a Proactive Pet Owner
As a pet parent, the health and quality of life of your companion animal is up to you. No matter how active a role your vet plays in keeping your dog or cat well, ultimately, your pet’s health is your responsibility.
That’s why I recommend finding a proactive DVM to partner with to create a wellness lifestyle for your pet. I also recommend having several animal healthcare resources you can turn to, for example, a holistic vet, an animal chiropractor, and maybe an expert in species-appropriate nutrition. Sometimes you can find all those skills in a single practitioner, but not often.
In my veterinary practice and with my own pets, I use what I call the Three Pillars of Health as a proactive approach to wellness. These pillars form the foundation for your pet’s health, quality of life, and longevity:
Pillar #1: Species-appropriate nutrition. The diet you feed your pet should be balanced and biologically appropriate for a carnivore (assuming your pet is a cat or dog). Biologically inappropriate foods cause metabolic stress. Foods that generate the least amount of metabolic stress are whole, raw, unprocessed -- in their natural form. Foods that have not been dehydrated or processed provide the most nutrition for your pet’s body.
Species-appropriate for your dog or cat means food high in protein and low in grain content. Your pet is a carnivore – dogs are scavenging carnivores and cats are obligate carnivores. Carnivores need to eat animal protein and fat in order to be healthy.
I recommend serving your pet food in its natural state to provide needed moisture, and to insure the highest level of biologic assimilation and digestion. Proper nutrition will benefit the two following pillars of health.
Pillar #2: A sound, resilient frame. This aspect of your pet’s health involves maintenance of the musculoskeletal system and organs.
There are a number of ways to help your pet keep her body in great condition. Regular, consistent aerobic exercise is a great way to maintain good physical conditioning. Keeping your pet from becoming overweight or obese is also extremely important.
Massage, chiropractic, acupuncture and other forms of physical therapy, depending on the individual requirements of the animal, are also excellent methods for maintaining a sound frame and organs as well as for managing joint pain and healing injuries.
Also, don’t overlook the importance of a healthy mouth. Keeping your pet’s teeth and gums in good shape through regular brushing at home and as-needed professional cleanings by your vet is a very important key to good health for a lifetime.
Pillar #3: A balanced, functional immune system. The goal here is to keep your pet’s immune system in balance. It should protect against pathogens, but not be over-reactive to the point of creating allergies and other autoimmune conditions.
One of the keys to keeping your dog’s or cat’s immune system strong is to avoid over-vaccinating. The role of vaccines is to stimulate the immune system to respond. Repeated vaccinations can send your pet’s immune system into overdrive, which can result in autoimmune disorders. Animals don’t need yearly re-vaccinations any more than humans do, so I encourage you to work with a holistic vet to titer rather than vaccinate.
Other keys to balanced immune system function are to avoid overuse of drugs like antibiotics, steroids, chemical pest repellents and parasite preventives. The more toxins that build up in your pet’s body, the less effective the immune system will be.
The Importance of Regular Veterinary Wellness Exams
For healthy pets I suggest preferably two (especially important if your pet is over eight years old), but at least one wellness checkup with your veterinarian per year. These visits shouldn’t be about re-vaccinations – they should be a proactive review of the status of your pet’s health.
The goal of these exams is to keep you and your vet on top of any changes in your pet’s health so you can take appropriate action immediately.
Also, regularly reviewing your pet’s diet, supplement protocol and exercise habits with a health care practitioner insures you’re meeting your pet’s dynamic healthcare needs. My patients’ wellness and nutritional goals change yearly and over the age of eight can require fine-tuning every four to six months, depending on their vitality.
What we want to do is keep your pet in the white zone of good health and out of the black zone of disease. In between those two zones lies the grey zone, which is where dysfunction in the body begins and gradually moves the state of your pet’s health in the direction of full-blown disease. In order to reverse or stall dysfunction in the grey zone, we have to deal with it there, which means we must regularly check your pet’s health status.