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Regular checkups keep pets healthy
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- When Mississippi State University President Charles Lee bought his wife Pat a puppy for Christmas, the family grew in much the same way as if a child had been born.
Little Grands Yeux -- that's French for Big Eyes -- celebrated her first birthday Sept. 20, and Mrs. Lee said the standard schnauzer is a beloved part of the Lee family.
"I absolutely do consider her a member of our family and, frankly, I give her everything I would give a child," Lee said. "She's a bit spoiled, actually."
Lee brings her "German dog with a French name" to the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine's Primary Care clinic for her wellness checkups and when she has health problems. Dr. Mark Russak is Grands Yeux's veterinarian.
"When we first got her here, she had a little anxiety and upset stomach; Dr. Russak nursed her through that," Lee said. "We've also had her spayed, and we keep up with her shots and checkups. She went every few weeks as a puppy to get shots, but now we let our veterinarian be our guide -- he recommends how often we should bring her."
Russak, an assistant clinical professor in MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine, said Lee is an example of the ideal pet owner because she takes such good care of her dog. He said that as Grands Yeux gets older, she will need to have wellness exams more often.
Russak said the old adage is true: on average, pets really do age seven times faster than humans. This rapid aging process means pets need frequent wellness checkups to prevent common health problems.
"It's OK to just do yearly visits when a pet is young, but when pets get into their senior years, it's more important to bring them in for checkups twice a year," Russak said. "The purpose of having wellness exams is to diagnose diseases that can be managed if caught early."
Russak said most diseases tend to show up when pets reach the 8- to 10-year-old range. Knowing a pet's adjusted age can help owners take better care of their animals.
"The size and breed of a dog is very important in determining its age. A 7-year-old Great Dane is a very old dog, but a 7-year-old poodle still is relatively young," Russak said. Dogs that weigh more than 100 pounds are considered large breeds, and those that reach 12 years of age are considered true seniors.
Because cats are smaller, Russak said their adjusted age depends more on whether they live indoors or outdoors. With good care, good nutrition and frequent wellness exams, it is not unusual for a cat to reach 18 to 20 years old.
Both cats and dogs face more health problems as they age, including heart, kidney and periodontal disease, diseases of the thyroid gland, and cancer. Treating these and other diseases can be costly, but Russak finds many owners are willing to spend that money because the pet is part of their family.
"Many people throw birthday parties for their pets and give them Christmas gifts. Many owners share their beds with their pets. That's where wellness has become important -- we want to keep our pets with us as long as we can," Russak said. "Owners also are investing in pet health insurance because they want to take better care of these animals."
Reports from the American Veterinary Medical Association and Fort Dodge Animal Health show more than half of pet owners consider their pets to be family members and nearly 70 percent think their pet's health care is as important as their own.
Those two organizations are partnering to promote National Pet Wellness Month. The program begins in October and continues as a year-round effort to raise consumer awareness about the pet aging process and the health benefits of twice-a-year pet wellness exams.
Russak said the health services and treatments currently available to animals reflect the importance owners place on their pets. The MSU veterinary clinic, for instance, offers digital radiography, full dental services and chemotherapy. Other services, like MRI, CT scans and some radiation services, will be available in the future.
"If you think of something that can be done in humans, we can probably do that in animals," Russak said.
Contact: Dr. Mark Russak, (662) 325-3432