A Vet's Tips for Healthier, Happier Pets

Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, author of The Healing Power of Pets, writes a nationally syndicated veterinary column and is the CEO of FearFreePets.com, a company that looks after the emotional wellbeing of pets. He explains how we can improve our pets’ quality of life.

Having a happy, healthy pet depends a lot on choosing the right one FOR YOU. Here are a few tips: 

For most seniors, the smaller the pet the better. Think about the fact that you might need to pick up and carry a pet in an emergency. Smaller pets also take up less room (think about your bed), require less food and medications, go #2 in smaller quantities, cost less to board/groom, etc. Plus, smaller pets tend to go more places with their families. 

Cats are called “the pet of convenience.” That’s because they can easily be left alone for significant periods of time or can just require someone to check in on them for a few minutes. If you’re getting a cat, the type of cat that produces the least allergic responses is a light-colored, spayed, female cat. (The worst for causing allergies is an unneutered, male, black cat.) 

For dogs, my favorite is an adult, 15-30 lb. dog with a long coat. The dog is big enough to be hearty, can easily be handled, and can easily travel with you. Long hair is genetically triggered to fall out less often than short hair; if you keep a long-haired dog groomed short, you’ll have the least amount of hair in your home. 


How about a few tips from the trenches to help save money on health care, without shortchanging your pet: 

Don’t be swayed by tantalizing ads about super-premium pet food. This is THE biggest waste of money in pet care. My advice is to tell your veterinarian where you tend to shop for pet food—whether it’s a grocery store, big box store, farm & garden store or pet store—and ask for a recommendation of a couple of brands. 

Do embrace lifetime parasite control for your pet. There are many great products to kill fleas, ticks, heartworm, roundworms, etc. that can be given orally or as a topical. I joke that they kill everything but the dog or cat! 

Do take your pet into the vet annually for a physical exam/consultation. 

Don’t vaccinate your pet every year for most viruses. Exceptions are Bordetella (kennel cough), Canine Influenza and Leptospirosis.  

Do keep your pet’s teeth clean. You don’t necessarily need a toothbrush to do this. Milk-Bone brushing chewsGreenies and Bark Bright are all products that can help.

Do have pet insurance for your pets.  


We don’t just want your pet healthy, but happy as well. Here are some tips to help make your pet happier and calmer: 

Don’t feed your pets out of food bowls. Use food puzzles or food dispensing devices. I like the Kong Wobbler, the Kong Genius or Nina Ottosson puzzles.

Ask people who want to greet your dog to do it the right way. Don’t have them face the dog, look into the dog’s eyes and stick out a hand/fist. Have them turn sideways, take a knee, if possible, avoid prolonged, direct eye contact, and just pat their side to encourage the pet to come over to them. 

Get your pet panting tired every day. If you’re unable to do this yourself, you can pay for a dog walker, or there are often people who will walk your dog just to get the exercise and feel safer. 

Don’t let your pet suffer from noise phobias triggered by thunder, fireworks, etc. Ask your veterinarian about some great new solutions, including Adaptil, a dog-appeasing pheromone.


For more advice from Dr. Becker, check out our webinar on the Best Pets for Older Adults.


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