10 elements of comprehensive pet healthcare

By MWI Animal Health |

Building a solid foundation for animal health

Woman with multiple dogs

Routine, preventive pet healthcare is the foundation of veterinary medicine and animal health services. These core products, services, and companion veterinary expertise work together to give pets longer, healthier, more comfortable and enriched lives.

1. Complete, species-specific nutrition

The American Pet Products Association estimates people will spend $38.4 billion on pet food and treats in 2020. Pet owners can easily feel overwhelmed by food options. They can buy pet food both online and in all sorts of brick-and-mortar retailers, from big box stores to tiny specialty stores. Plus, social media gives everyone a platform to spout opinions about what's best for pets to eat — often leaving animal health teams feeling absent from the conversation.

You can change that. To start, document diet in each patient's history. Next, think about asking all clients if they want pet food recommendations. Finally, imagine the impact if you made food recommendations a standard part of your practice. Suggesting clients feed pet foods you know and trust builds their confidence as consumers and their relationship with the practice team. In addition, the health impact extends to the patients themselves, with nutritional support tailored to their needs and based on what you know is best for them.

2. Core vaccinations, noncore vaccinations, and antibody testing

Vaccination guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association provide evidence-based recommendations for core and noncore vaccinations, as appropriate for the pet's lifestyle and risks.

The 2017 updated guidelines also feature differential charts for antibody testing in several scenarios, including adult dogs with health problems and puppies after they complete the initial series of vaccinations.

3. Parasite preventives

Widespread use of modern parasite control preventives for everything from fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes to all manner of intestinal worms makes a real difference to the comfort and health of pets. When offering a preventive appropriate to your climate and risks in your community, educate clients about the importance of compliance. Different product options can support compliance and give you the opportunity to customize recommendations based on individual pets' lifestyles and exposures. For some pets, monthly oral or topical preventives work fine. For others, injections likely provide much better protection.

4. Microchips— implanted, registered, updated, and checked at least annually

Implanted microchips improve the chances of lost dogs and cats returning to their families. One study of 7,700 stray animals that ended up at shelters found:

  • 52.2% of the time dogs with microchips reunited with their families, compared to 21.9% of dogs without microchips
  • 38.5% of cats with microchips reunited with their families, compared to 1.8% without microchips

However, people must register their pets' microchips and keep contact information current. Anytime you update client contacts in your records, remind them to update microchip registrations too.

Also, participate in Check the Chip Day each year on August 15 to remind clients to check or update their contact information. At least once a year during a pet's wellness exam, scan for the chip's location and functionality. Sometimes, microchips migrate, so it's good to know where on the body the chip currently resides.

5. Dental care— both at-home care and products as well as routine dental exams and cleanings

Ideally, dental care will take its rightful place among vaccinations and spay / neuter surgeries as a normal, crucial part of pet health. The challenge, of course, is that dental care must be done at home much more often. So it's important your clients understand how to keep their pets' teeth healthy based on your recommendations for how often to brush and what dental chews and products you suggest they use at home.

6. Safe, effective grooming and skincare

Whether it's done through professional groomers or by family members at home, clean and well maintained pet coats and nails also affect pet health. Far too many pets go through life with overly long nails that alter their gait and can exacerbate joint pain and other joint issues. Plus, broken or cracked nails hurt and can quickly become an urgent situation.

Many companion veterinary teams struggle with continued requests for nail trims, despite pandemic restrictions. The current situation highlights the importance of teaching clients to do pet spa days at home and to keep pets' nails short themselves, using fear-free and cooperative care techniques.

7. Routine assessments for pain

Practices often include pain assessments in every exam, especially for senior pets. Clients also need to understand what pain looks like in dogs and cats and when discomfort requires veterinary intervention. From specific body postures to sudden behavior changes, help clients understand that pain is not normal — at any age.

8. Behavioral basics, including house-training/litterbox training, carrier/crate acclimation, or loose-leash walking

Veterinary teams routinely discuss behavior basics with clients visiting with new puppies or kittens or newly adopted pets. These chats, however, likely need more emphasis, repetition, and concrete recommendations to result in real success. Consider adding specific recommendations for training tools and local trainers to your behavioral health protocols.

9. Behavioral health, including medications and referrals to behaviorists as needed

Behavioral health continues to gain prominence in animal health as people expect more participation by pets in all aspects of their family life, both at home and away. Rather than letting families accept that shy pets or slightly snarky pets simply are who they are, consider making referrals to veterinary behaviorists so that pets get the help they need to feel more comfortable and confident in the world. Sometimes, that means using behavioral medications for more than occasional phobias of fireworks and thunderstorms.

10. Species-appropriate enrichment and exercise

Even with pets more integrated into family life, a lot of them don't get nearly enough species-appropriate enrichment and exercise.

  • Ask questions such as: “How far / how long do you walk your dog each day?" or “How much playtime does your dog get each day?"
  • Talk about catios for cat owners whose homes allow for them.
  • Make recommendations for activity feeders, brain games, and other enrichment activities. For example, because low levels of feline exercise lead to overweight cats, Ken Lambrecht, DVM, at West Towne Veterinary Center in Madison, Wisconsin, created Bug's Cat Gym inside the facility. He even hosts Cat's Night Out to encourage engagement and activities with feline clients and patients.

Defining routine care in your practice

Some practices concentrate on increasing client education and compliance for specific preventive care elements. Others define all parts of routine care through comprehensive annual wellness plans.

Do you offer all 10 elements of comprehensive pet healthcare? Also consider how you promote and explain all the elements of comprehensive veterinary care.

Start by discussing as a team your preventive care standards and identifying any gaps or opportunities to rise to the next level of top-quality pet healthcare.

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