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Ten Top Pet Health Concerns: The Ways to Prevent or Resolve Them

by Dr. Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
Saturday Aug 12, 2017

Having worked in clinical practice as a veterinarian since 1999, I've observed the trends of illness and wellness among my canine and feline patients.
I've survived the intensity of an internship, experienced the vast variety of presenting illnesses in general practice, witnessed extreme states of sickness during emergency shifts and now provide an integrative approach to holistic approach to pet health on a house call basis through California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW ), Inc.

My own perspective on veterinary medicine has evolved over the years and has led me to develop my own perspective on what I feel are the most important aspects of care provision that pet owners should prioritize.

To further delve into this topic, I created a list of the "Ten Top Pet Health Concerns" and "The Ways to Prevent or Resolve Them:"

59 percent of cats and dogs (approximately 92 million pets) in the United States are overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). Painful and mobility-compromising arthritis and ailments affecting the cardiovascular (heart, blood vessels, etc.) and metabolic (endocrine glands) systems like high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney and liver disease, hypothyroidism and others can be avoided or minimized when a pet maintains a normal body condition score on a lifelong basis. The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Body Condition Scoring Chart helps pet owners and veterinarians determine a dog or cat's Body Condition Score (BCS) and if weight loss is needed.

Always practice portion control when feeding your pet by using a metric measuring cup and feeding less than the recommended volume given on the packaging. Research has proven that dogs consuming calorie-restricted diets live two years longer than those lacking calorie restriction and also have reduced incidence of obesity-related health problems.

Additionally, make physical activity a daily priority for your pet. Besides benefitting the body, exercise provides behavioral stimulation that helps suffice a pet's need for interaction and strengthens the pet-owner bond.


Nature makes food then humans highly process nature's ingredients to create'nutritionally complete and balanced'pet foods conveniently available to dispense out of a bag or can.

Unfortunately for our animal companions, most pet foods contain ingredients that are considered to be feed-grade instead of human-grade. As a result, there are higher allowable levels of toxins, like mold-produced aflatoxin, which can end up in your pet's bowl that can cause short or long-term health problems.

Additionally, eating meals and snacks containing grain and protein meals and by-products, artificial colors and flavors, chemical preservatives (BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, etc.), and recognized toxins and carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) found in many commercially available pet foods and treats has been linked to digestive tract upset (vomit, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, etc.), allergic skin conditions, kidney and liver disease, immune system abnormalities (including cancer), behavior problems and other ailments.

As most pet foods are so radically altered from nature's original format, energetic changes occur that reduce the nutritive content of the basic components. Additionally, high-heat cooking used to make kibble and other commercially available foods can alter starches cooked at temperatures exceeding 248F into Acrylamide, a carcinogen. Human-grade, whole-food based, home-prepared or commercial diets undergoing minimal refinement and cooked to temperatures that destroy pathogenic bacteria but don't mutate nature's healthful creations into toxins should replace processed dry or canned pet foods.


There are serious and potentially irreversible health consequences associated with periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a syndrome of conditions affecting the teeth and their adjacent structures, including bacterial infection, gingivitis (gum inflammation), and loss of attachment between the periodontal ligament and underlying bone (causing loose teeth).
Millions of bacteria that thrive in the canine and feline mouth can enter the blood through inflamed gums, showering the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and other body systems with a constant stream of toxic organisms.

Periodontal disease in pets is preventable. Unfortunately, pet owners often don't prioritize the dental health of their canine and feline companions to make cleaning a daily habit. Brushing with moistened toothbrush, cleansing with an oral antiseptic wipe, and chewing on tooth-safe toys and treats are my top picks for home dental care.


Pets are never 'too old' to undergo anesthesia, but they can be 'too unhealthy.' Although there are risks associated with anesthesia, such concerns can be minimized by working with your veterinarian to make your pet is as healthy as possible before the procedure occurs.

Blood testing, radiographs (X-rays), ECG (electrical evaluation of heart rate and rhythm) and possibly other diagnostics (ultrasound of the heart or abdominal organs, urinalysis, etc.) should be performed in the days to weeks before your pet goes under anesthesia. Illnesses should be resolved or improved before an anesthetic dental occurs to reduce potential for complications.

Remember, age is not a disease. The bacterial infection and associated inflammation in your pet's mouth capable of causing problems elsewhere in the body is disease that needs to be treated.


Recognizing when your pet is having a health problem is a key component to determining if immediate evaluation is needed. Be aware of your pet's daily habits so that the abnormalities can be quickly detected, including:

• Food/water consumption-quantity, pace of consumption, time of day, etc.
• Waste elimination-Unusual location, pattern, or appearance to bowel movements and urination, etc.
• Respiratory patterns-Open or closed mouth, fast or slow, effortful or relaxed, etc.
• Mobility-Normal gait or lameness, inability to stand or walk, falling, etc.
• Energy and behavior-Energetic or lethargic, interest in exercise or exercise intolerance, sleeping normally through the night or restlessness, separation anxiety, etc.

If you suspect your pet is sick based on alterations to their day-to-day patterns then immediately schedule an examination with your veterinarian or take him to an emergency veterinary hospital. Early diagnosis typically leads to quicker and simpler resolution of most pet-health issues.


Many human and veterinary prescription drugs are used by veterinarians to treat animal diseases. Although these medications fight infection, reduce inflammation, minimize pain and kill cancer cells, there's potential for mild to severe side effects associated with their use, especially at higher or more frequent dosing. As a result, it's vital that pet owners reduce their furry companions' reliance on such medications.

Means by which owners can work with their veterinarian to take a holistic approach to their's pet's disease management and overall health include:

• Environmental modification-Making your home"pet-safer,"etc.
• Dietary supplements-Omega fatty acids, joint support products, antioxidants, etc.
• Maintaining a lean Body Condition Score-Dietary modification, exercise, etc.
• Providing human-grade, whole-food based diets having none- to minimally-processed nutrients.
• Pursuing physical rehabilitation-Massage, range of motion, stretching, etc. or acupuncture treatment-laser, moxibustion, electrostimulation, etc.

If the healthiest possible state is maintained despite age or history of illness or trauma, then a pet's medication requirements can be minimized.


Although vaccinating your pet is a generally a safe wellness practice, life threatening health consequences may be associated with non-judicious administration of vaccines. Even a single vaccine can incite a hyper- sensitivity (allergic) reaction, emergence of immune system diseases (including cancer, as occurred with Feline Leukemia vaccination in the'90s), worsening of inflammatory conditions, organ system failure, seizure activity, coma and death.

In my practice, I advocate the provision of vaccina- tions according to the UC Davis Canine and Feline Vaccination Guidelines and the 2011 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines. Pets should be vaccinated only when they are in the best state of health. Illnesses should be resolved to the fullest extent before a vac- cination is given.


Some pets receive multiple vaccines during a single office visit. Doing so may or may not contribute to health problems. Since immune health is a complicated process, the body's response to agents that cause immunostimulation can be quite variable.

It's crucial that owners always take the safest approach possible to addressing their pet's immunity. Even if their veterinarian does not recommend giving one vaccine at a time, doing so is in a pet's best interest.
If multiple vaccines are administered and a post-vaccination reaction occurs, it's impossible to determine which agents are at fault. Common post-vaccination adverse events include lethargy, anorexia (decreased appetite), hyperthermia (high body temperature), soreness at the site of injection, or more serious responses like anaphylaxis (hives, tissue swelling, vomit, diarrhea, shock, etc.).

Receiving more than one vaccination in a single appointment doesn't make your pet healthier. Doing so only caters to the convenience of the owner and veterinary staff. A three- to four-week interval between vaccinations is a healthier choice.


If your pet has previously been vaccinated, adequate antibodies (immune system proteins) may exist in the blood. According to AVMA Vaccination Principles, "While there is evidence that some vaccines provide immunity beyond one year, revaccination of patients with sufficient immunity does not necessarily add to their disease protection and may increase the potential risk of post-vaccination adverse events."

Pending the pet's overall health status and the potential for exposure to an infectious organism, owners should consult with their veterinarian about performing antibody titers before a booster vaccine is given. Vaccinations for Distemper, Adenovirus, Parvovirus, and Bordetella for dogs, Calicivirus, Herpesvirus and Panelukopenia for cats and Rabies (among others) for cats and dogs, produce antibodies that can be evaluated through a blood test called an antibody titer.

If the titer is at or above a protective threshold and the likelihood a pet may be exposed to such organisms is low, then the decision to hold off on a booster vaccination may be reached. If the titer is negative or low, then the vaccine can be appropriately administered. Such decisions should be made in partnership with the overseeing veterinarian and should take into consideration the pet's current state of health, history of post-vaccination adverse events and other factors.

Immunity is a complex process, so merely having a protective titer does not 100 percent guarantee a pet will be protected against infection by a particular organism. This is why an individualized, case-based approach that follows your state's legal guidelines is important.


Ownership of a pet is a responsibility only to be undertaken by people able and willing to make lifestyle choices for their companion canine or feline on the basis of health.

Incorporating an animal companion into one's household compromises available time, space and financial resources. Pets are not self-sustaining creatures, so owners have a continuous and life-long role in providing behavioral guidance, feeding, grooming, social interaction and facilities for waste elimination.

Pet owners should never acquire a pet without first carefully evaluating their ability to fiscally and emotionally provide care both in sickness and in health. There's no guarantee a pet will remain free from disease, trauma, or lack exposure to toxins, so the need to expend money on maintaining wellness or treating illness inevitably arises. Visual Economics shares insightful perspective on the lifetime costs of our companion animals. (

Follow Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ (Veterinarian, Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist, and Certified Veterinary Journalist) on Twitter @PatrickMa- haney, on Facebook at, on Instagram at, or catch his many YouTube videos at You can also subscribe to an emailed version of Dr. Mahaney's veterinary blog on his website, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. at

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