Dogs have it pretty good these days, as Karen B. London, PhD recently pointed out in THE BARK. In 8 Reasons it’s Better to be a Dog Now than 25 Years Ago, London points out some of the ways dogs have it better now than they did in the 80’s. Written from her perspective as a behaviorist, London’s list understandably focuses on behavioral issues. I’ll admit we’ve made great strides in this area during the last three decades, but veterinary medicine has made progress during this time, too. So here’s our list of 8 advantages today’s pets have over those of yesteryear.
- Safe, effective vaccinations against common contagious diseases. Canine parvovirus wasn’t known to science 30 years ago, and within a couple years this deadly virus spread worldwide. The development of effective vaccines has made parvo a disease of puppies and other unvaccinated dogs. Similarly, vaccinations against feline leukemia have been brought to market during the last few decades. Ongoing research has helped vaccines become more effective and less likely to cause unwanted side effects, and veterinarians have embraced the fact that vaccines’ protection often lasts more than a year—so most pets aren’t being vaccinated as much, either.
- A focus on wellness has helped veterinarians shift their role from “firefighters” dealing with acute, preventable problems to “consultants” who educate pet owners about optimum health and focus on keeping pets well. We still do our share of “fixing” things, but we spend more time working to prevent problems to begin with. This same sort of shift occurred with human dentists during the last 40 years; instead of waiting until their patients needed their diseased teeth extracted, dentists changed focus to teach us how to care for our teeth better and keep them longer.
- A wealth of information is now available at pet owners’ fingertips. Some veterinarians love it, and others hate it, but the internet is an unparalleled source of information about pet care and health topics. And while you need to be careful to make sure that the information is coming from a source you can trust, access to knowledge generally makes pet owners better able to work with us as partners in their pets’ care.
- Pets have made their way from the backyard and barnyard and into our homes. Pets really are part of the family these days. Rare is the dog that is confined to the yard or the cat that lives exclusively in the barn. Living indoors helps protect pets from many dangers, including the weather, predators, cars, parasites, infectious diseases, and exposure to poisons. Indoor life also helps strengthen the bond we share with our pets.
- Dog breath is more than bad breath. Veterinarians and pet owners are coming to realize that dental care improves and extends our pets’ lives. From brushing and other home care to professional cleanings, preventing and treating gum disease is a growing—and important—part of overall wellness. Veterinarians are finally making the same transition that dentists made: we’re learning to preserve teeth instead of just extracting them, and we’re helping pet owners do the same.
- Specialty care has never been more available. Most urban areas now boast veterinary specialists in such areas as surgery, internal medicine, radiology, dermatology, dentistry, ophthalmology, oncology, cardiology, neurology, and even emergency and critical care. The days of driving for hours to a veterinary school when a specialist is needed are long gone in many parts of the country. In the Valley of the Sun, pet owners even have a choice among individual specialists in several disciplines.
- Nutrition has become a focus. Research into pet nutrition continues to improve our knowledge of nutritional requirements, and consumer demand has resulted in unparalleled choice when it comes to pet foods. Pet obesity has become a topic of discussion during annual veterinary visits. And although contamination and recalls have made the news in recent years, they’ve also begun a wave of change in the pet food industry. Companies are now more proactive when there might be a problem with a product and don’t just sit back and wait to see what happens.
- Behavioral wellness is starting to make its way into progressive veterinary practices. Instead of waiting for a dog to develop separation anxiety and destroy the couch or a cat to begin destructively scratching, some veterinarians have finally begun helping clients and pets by teaching pet owners how to avoid some predictable problems in the first place. Behavioral wellness is a kind of preventative care for the human-animal bond, and it’s an area that we hope to see more of our colleagues start emphasizing in the future.
So there you have it, eight ways in which veterinary practice has improved—and improved the lives of pets—over the last 25 years. What other reasons can you think of that make it better to be a pet today than 25 years ago?