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There is nothing quite like the companionship of our animal friends to make our lives complete. They enrich our lives with unconditional love and somehow make the world a better place.

Providing preventative medical care to help them stay healthy and comfortable helps ensure that they live longer, happier lives with us.

One of the most important things you can do for your four-legged friends is to have them spayed or neutered. Getting your buddy “fixed” is the responsible thing to do for many reasons. It guarantees that you will not be contributing to dog and cat overpopulation when there are simply not enough homes for them all.

Also very important are the many medical and behavioral problems you can avoid by having your companion altered. Intact female dogs are at greatly increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to spayed females. There is also the serious risk of developing pyometra, or life-threatening uterine infection, in both dogs and cats.

Intact male dogs have a significant risk of developing an enlarged prostate. Intact male cats “spray,” and intact male dogs are more likely to “mark” their territory with urine. Intact animals are more likely to show aggressive behavior and are more likely to roam away from home. All of these issues can be avoided by altering early in life.

Providing good dental care is also critical to keeping your friend healthy and comfortable. Can you imagine the condition of your mouth if you never brushed your teeth? Even with twice daily brushing and flossing, we humans require twice yearly dental cleanings to keep our mouths healthy and clean.

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Most dogs and cats never have their teeth brushed at all, so dental tartar, containing bacteria, hardens on their teeth and works below the gum line to damage the integrity of their teeth and gums. Perhaps even worse, the bacteria in that tartar gets into their bloodstreams through the capillaries in their gums, which can result in damage to their hearts and other internal organs over time. All of this can be prevented by having a dental prophylaxis done at your veterinarian’s office before serious problems develop.

Many people ask about dentals done while the animal is awake. The American Veterinary Dental College does not endorse awake dentals for several reasons. “Awake” dentals are cosmetic only and do not address the serious problems that develop below the gum line, nor can problem teeth be repaired or extracted while awake.

Furthermore, it can be painful or traumatic for animals to be physically restrained while dental tools are used inside their mouths. There is risk of injury, such as broken jaws, when frightened animals struggle against mouth gags often used to hold their jaws open for awake dentals. Anesthetics and monitoring equipment used in veterinary medicine are equivalent to what is used in human medicine, so the anesthetic risk is equivalent to the risk we accept for our own health procedures. It is far better to take care of preventative dental care routinely in healthy animals rather than to wait until a tooth root infection requires anesthesia of a sick animal for resolution.

Maintaining current vaccinations and prevention of parasites are also relatively inexpensive but important steps in keeping your companions healthy. Many serious, life-threatening diseases can be avoided by keeping your companions’ vaccines up-to-date and having their stool tested annually. Your veterinarian can advise you at your friend’s yearly check-up which vaccines are most important depending on your lifestyle and activities.