DEAR READERS: Proper preventive health care for our dogs and cats entails more than providing good nutrition; a safe, stress-free and clean environment; the satisfaction of behavioral needs; and a caring and understanding primary caregiver. It must include an annual wellness exam by a veterinarian, a key factor emphasized by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association responding to a decadelong decline in the utilization of veterinary care. But too many primary caregivers fish for animal health and behavior answers on the Internet -- including on my own website -- and in the process could put their animals at risk, especially when an annual veterinary examination has not been done.
I applaud people assuming more responsibility for their own and their animals' preventive health care. It's true that I berate some veterinary health care providers in my books for overprescribing vaccinations, anti-flea drugs and special prescription diets, and for performing questionable diagnostic tests, all of which add to the costs of a wellness exam. However, there is no better person than a veterinarian to advise, on an annual basis after a full physical examination and basic blood panel evaluation, if you are on the right track with maintaining your animal companion's health and well-being.
Make the wellness exam part of the needed annual blood test for heartworm prior to resuming post-winter preventive medication; this exam should evaluate kidney and liver function, blood glucose and other essential health indicators. A visit to the veterinarian is stressful, especially for cats, and I am encouraged by the increasing number of veterinarians doing house calls and in-home wellness exams. This is also of great help to the elderly and the homebound.
An annual wellness exam may reveal neglected dental issues, early signs of kidney failure, heart disease or endocrine dysfunction, and you can nip the problem in the bud -- ultimately saving animals from considerable suffering, pain and distress.
DEAR DR. FOX: Our two wonderful female miniature longhaired dachshunds just turned 7 years old in July, and every year at their annual checkup, our veterinarian wants them to have their teeth cleaned. Unfortunately, that means sedation, and since our other two dogs (a female dachshund mix and a female poodle-Chihuahua mix) "contracted" congestive heart failure within months of being sedated for their teeth cleaning and then passed away within a year, we are vehemently against having our dogs sedated.
We brush their teeth every other day and give them fresh carrots and occasional Greenies to help with tartar. Unfortunately, working full-time, we end up not getting them brushed on a daily basis, which we know is preferable.
The vet continues to almost harass us every year to have their teeth cleaned by their office. We are not against teeth cleaning; we are against having them be sedated to have it done. When we brush their teeth, they give us a hard time, but it is nothing that we cannot handle.
Now our family is in search of a veterinarian or veterinary dentist who will perform a dental cleaning without sedation. Do you know if such a thing is possible? We are due to take our dogs to the vet at the end of the month, and I know she will give us a hard time about bringing them back in for a dental cleaning. -- L.K., Alexandria, Virginia
DEAR L.K.: I hear from many readers whose veterinarians are insisting on sedating, even anesthetizing, their dogs and cats for routine dental cleaning (scaling tartar as needed) and oral examination. Other veterinarians are doing the treatment simply with an assistant providing safe and effective physical restraint. For animals with diagnosed or possible heart disease, mild sedation to reduce the fear associated with being restrained and the violent escape response that may then be triggered may be necessary.
Many veterinarians promoting preventive health care are prescribing VetzLife oral care spray or gel to help keep their clients' animals' teeth and gums healthy. As a routine application, this is easier than daily brushing. It is also for use for a few days prior to dental work being done in cases where tooth extractions are needed. Also available at lower potency from Petzlife, this formula helps reduce oral infection and inflammation. For details, visit Petzlife.com. To find a holistic veterinarian in your area who does not use general anesthetics for routine dental work, visit holisticvetlist.com
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.com.)