How to Reduce Long Term Health Care Costs through Prevention for your Dog. By Deborah Shores, DVM

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As with humans, preventative medicine is instrumental in keeping your dog happy and healthy from puppy to senior years. Regular care and maintenance is important in keeping up with your dog’s health. Detecting illnesses early on can save your pet’s life, particularly with many types of diseases that progress quickly, and if not caught immediately, can be fatal, not to mention all the hospital costs incurred during treatment.

  • Quality Diet & Nutrition

Feeding a quality, nutrient-dense diet is important for preventing longterm illness. We recommend feeding a life-stage and species-appropriate homemade diet. Although some are available commercially, many pet owners choose to prepare their own. For more information on canine nutrition and for help feeding a homemade diet, visit Dr. Susan Wynn’s website ( 

  • Routine Examinations

Taking your dog for routine checkups to your veterinarian can help to spot illnesses and diseases before they progress. Lab tests are also beneficial in finding issues beneath the surface. You can also perform routine examinations on your pet — every few months or so, check your dog for lumps, bumps, scratches, and painful joints and muscles. Monitor your dog’s appetite and thirst. If something seems off, take your dog to the veterinarian. 

  • Appropriate Vaccination

Although not all vaccinations are necessary, some vaccinations are required by local and state laws, including Rabies vaccines. The minimum age for a Rabies vaccine in 12 weeks in most states. A booster is given at 1 year, and then the vaccine is repeated every 1-3 years, depending on the law in your state. Some people choose to have their veterinarian perform a titer test, which determines if there is still immunity to Rabies left in your dog’s blood stream. This can be a good option for dogs that have had adverse reactions to the Rabies vaccinations or for owners who are trying to minimize the amount of vaccinations given to their dog.

Puppies should be vaccinated for Distemper virus and Parvovirus according to current accepted protocols.(1) As these dogs age, titer tests can be done to make sure they still have immunity to these diseases.   Most holistic vets don’t vaccinate for Corona virus or Kennel cough (Bordetella). Kennel cough can be treated with homeopathy and acupuncture. The average dog won’t be exposed to Corona virus very often, unless they are boarded frequently. It is important to discuss what vaccination plan is best for your dog’s particular situation. 

  • Heartworm Prevention

Unfortunately, there have not been enough case studies and research done on alternative therapies for heartworm prevention to surely recommend something and guarantee that it will be effective. Many drug-free heartworm treatment protocols have ranged from moderate success to utter failure.(2) 

For prevention, it’s best to use common sense. Many pharmaceutical companies recommend giving a heart heartworm preventative year-round, but not all states have mosquitoes year round. Heartworm and heartworm disease is common in States in the deep South, Texas and in some of the Midwest. If you live in these areas, giving heartworm preventatives year-round is necessary. Dogs in New England and in many States along the West Coast (Washington State, Oregon) only take preventative for three to seven months out of the year. However, in some areas of New England, heartworm is becoming more prevalent. Some experts think this is due to the large numbers of heartworm-infected dogs that were re-located after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.(3) Others argue that it is due to climate change and that mosquitos are becoming more of a problem in formerly low-risk areas. Talk to your holistic veterinarian to determine what the risk of heartworm is in your area and for how long the medication might be necessary. 

Some holistic veterinarians might also suggest using heartworm nosodes or other homeopathic treatment options with frequent testing and monitoring, although the results of these treatments are not guaranteed to be successful.(3)

  • Spay and Neuter

Although spaying and neutering your pet helps to cut down unwanted pregnancies and the overpopulation of animals, it also has many medical benefits. Spaying your dog significantly decreases the risk of developing mammary tumors. Bacteria can cause a potentially fatal infection in a female dog’s uterus. It usually occurs in older dogs. Symptoms of pyometra infection include lethargy, excessive thirst, excessive urination, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss. For male dogs, neutering prevents testicular cancer and prostrate problems. Neutered males are also known to become less aggressive and decreases urine marking and roaming.

  • Exercise

Exercise is crucial in keeping your dog healthy and happy well into their senior years. Inactivity leads to weight gain which can cause unnecessary stress on your dog’s joints, sometimes resulting in arthritis. Even if your dog has access to spacious backyard, he is still not getting the type of exercise he needs. Dogs are biologically designed for movement. Without regular aerobic exercise, your dog can develop arthritis and other conditions that affect the bone, joints, and muscles. Many dogs that don’t receive enough exercise often have behaviour problems as well. 

Taking your dog for a 20 minute walk multiple times a week is great. And remember that a leisurely pace is not enough — power walking is crucial. You can also do other types of exercise, such as frisbee, fetch, agility, or flyball. 

Taking the time to provide your dog with regulated, consistent exercise is extremely beneficial for his health. 


(1)  World Small Animal Veterinary Association. (WSAVA) Guidelines for the Vaccination of Dogs and Cats. 2011. 

(2)  Palmquist, R.  March 27, 2013. Alt. Med for Heartworm Treatment. Veterinary Information Network Vet-to-Vet Alternative Medicine Message Board.

(3)  Whitcomb, R. April 1, 2011. Tracking Katrina. DVM 360 Magazine.

About Deborah Shores, DVM
 Dr. Deborah Shores is a graduate of the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She has many years of experience working in animal hospitals and clinics from Virginia to South Carolina, treating mainly dogs and cats. She has a special interest in nutrition and holistic veterinary medicine and plans to pursue an acupuncture certificate at the Chi Institute in Florida. She has two cats and recently lost her 8 year-old Australian Shepard to liver cancer.

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