Aging Well: Prevention key to keeping 4-legged friends healthy

Local pet assistance

Steamboat Springs Animal Shelter - Offers pets for adoption and accepts unwanted pets. Volunteers are welcome. For adoption hours, fees or other information, call 879-0621.

Routt County Humane Society - Works with local veterinarians to provide low-income residents reduced fees for spaying or neutering their pets. For more information, 879-7247.

Craig Animal Shelter - Offers pets for adoption but rarely accepts relinquished pets because of limited space. A new animal shelter is in the planning stages. For adoption hours and fees, call 824-7235.

Moffat County Humane Society - Works with local veterinarians to help low-come residents with veterinarian expenses. The program also provides pet food to residents in need. For more information, call 870-7500.

Animal Assistance League of Northwest Colorado - Provides emergency veterinarian care and helps find homes for injured and homeless animals. For more information, call 870-7554.

On the 'Net

For information about other resources available to help low income pet owners with veterinarian costs, visit www.littlebigcat.com. Click on "Free Article Library" and scroll down to "Financial Assistance for Pets' Veterinary Bills."

Few people would refute the benefits of sharing time with a pet. For older adults who look forward to fresh air exercise with a pup or the unconditional love of a lap cat, pet companionship may be even more powerful.

Although studies suggest pets can help lower a person's risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and depression, a special bond between an animal and older person, especially an adult coping with ailing health and loneliness, speaks for itself.

If pets can make us healthier, it makes sense to do everything we can to keep them healthy, especially if it means preventing expensive pet illnesses and emergencies that could make it hard to keep and care for our pets.

Many health habits for humans can be applied to pets. One of the most important of these is weight management because, just like their owners, obese pets are more likely to develop heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.

A veterinarian can advise each owner about a pet's ideal weight and how much and how often that animal should eat. Limiting treats and snacks and not feeding pets table scraps are among ways owners can help animals lose weight and stay trim.

When money is tight, pet owners may opt to buy less expensive pet food. Although low-quality food is better than no food at all, they should keep in mind that purchasing a good-quality food is an investment into their pet's long-term health, said Craig Stanton, a veterinarian at Pet Kare Clinic in Steamboat Springs.

"If they spend a little bit more on good nutrition ... then they avoid a lot of other problems," he said.

Inexpensive pet food tends to have more grains and less protein, which can cause pets, especially cats, to lose lean body mass and gain fat, leading to conditions such as diabetes and liver disease, Stanton explained.

Just as they would with their own food, pet owners should compare pet food labels, looking for brands with minimal grains and more protein and other recognizable nutrients.

Owners considering less expensive pet should make sure nutrition information on the food they choose includes a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials that a food is "complete and balanced" or meets minimum nutrition recommendations for dogs and cats, Stanton said.

Although nutritious food costs more, pets likely won't need to eat as much as they would a lower quality food that won't go as far in meeting their nutrition needs.

Taking care of a pet's teeth also is very important in preventing bacterial infections that can lead to kidney and heart disease in animals, said Stanton, noting that by the time he usually sees animals for dental problems, they are experiencing chronic pain and must have teeth and bone removed.

"Dental disease is probably the No.1 killer of animals," he said.

Special chewy treats for dogs and cats and water additives are among dental health techniques that may be helpful for older adults and others having a hard time using a finger brush to keep their pet's teeth clean.

Regular grooming and removal of seeds, burrs and other objects from a pet's fur can save a pet owner from visits to a professional groomer or veterinarian to have painful mats removed.

The issue of vaccines can be very confusing because there are so many types of vaccines available to pets. To avoid unnecessary vaccines (which can be money-making schemes in less-reputable clinics) pet owners should request only core vaccines, or those that are required by law and/or protect against diseases a pet is more likely to encounter, Stanton said.

A trusted veterinarian also can recommend noncore vaccines and vaccination frequency based on a pet's lifestyle.

Overall, a person who is attentive to a pet's behavior and tendencies can prevent expensive pet emergencies and catch illnesses or other problems early, when they are easier to treat.

It only takes few minutes for an unleashed or wandering dog to get a face full of porcupine quills that can cost an owner $250 to $1,000 to have removed. More than a few local dogs have had the rather undistinguished honor of ending up on the "Porcupine Hall of Fame" page on the Pet Kare Clinic's Website.

Leashing dogs, keeping cats indoors and removing items pets may ingest from homes and yards are just a few ways pet owners can help keep their animals out of trouble.

Pet owners hoping for a little more peace of mind may consider pet insurance. Policies typically cost $30 to S40 a month and will cover about 80 percent of emergency veterinarian costs and 100 percent of prevention costs, Stanton said, noting that it's best to ask a veterinarian about the best policies.

Pet owners on tight budgets shouldn't delay taking their pet to a veterinarian for fear of not being able to pay the bill. Some clinics will work with clients to establish a payment plan, especially if that client has good payment history. Many communities also have programs to help low-income individuals with emergency veterinarian expenses.

- Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tammarie74@yahoo.com. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information or to view past articles, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 871-7676.

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