Do you remember when your pet first came home to you? Of course you do! Adding a family member is a thrilling time filled with discovery, play, and more advice than you probably know what to do with. From food to preventive care to training tips, new pet parents find themselves inundated with ways to successfully transition their new addition into their busy lives.

But then what? Aside from routine annual checks, many pets fall off the health radar for a long period- until something happens and they have to go to the vet for a medical concern. Pets age more quickly than we do, which also means all the little things we do to support their long-term health add up more rapidly. I can’t tell you how many times I see pets in the later stage of a disease process and hear an owner say, “I wish I had addressed this earlier!”

While we have many tools at our disposal for managing diseases in pets, it is of course always ideal to try and prevent problems from happening in the first place. This means starting a good health care regimen while your dog or cat is, you guessed it, still healthy. So what are the best means to prevent or reduce common health conditions?

Weight-Related Disease

Believe it or not, the number one thing you can do as a pet owner to give your pet a long and healthy life is to keep him or her at a trim weight. Obesity affects up to half the pets in the United States, and is associated with a number of problems such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, and even certain forms of cancer.

Many owners overestimate the amount of food their pet needs. Well-intentioned owners who select a high-quality pet food because of its excellent protein sources or limited fillers often don’t realize these nutrient-dense foods have more calories per cup than lower quality kibbles. In addition, it’s common to overdo treats because they’re fun to give and pets love to get them. Ask your vet how many calories your pet should be getting in a day; she can help you figure out how many cups that translates to, which varies depending on the food. And when it comes to treats, make sure you’re giving nutritious pet treats without artificial colors or flavors; protein-packed freeze-dried meats are a huge hit with most pets!

Oh, Those Achy Joints!

While obesity worsens signs of arthritis, degenerative joint disease can occur in any pet. It’s just something that happens with age. For that reason, I recommend joint supplements to all senior pets- yes, even cats! Did you know between 60-90% of senior cats have joint disease? They’re just really good at hiding it. One of the most common misconceptions amongst pet owners is the idea that pets will clearly communicate when they are in pain. Often the signs of chronic pain are very subtle.

Joint supplements for pets come from a variety of sources: glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and green-lipped mussels are just some of the most common ingredients. Many joint supplements include a combination of these sources for an additive effect.

Trust Your Gut

Gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances are one of the leading causes of calls to the vet. When pets are having messy accidents in the house, owners don’t like to take a wait-and-see approach. While ongoing problems do warrant a medical evaluation, fortunately many cases of diarrhea are mild and resolve on their own.

Stress, eating the wrong food, or even certain medications such as antibiotics can disrupt the normal gut flora and cause problems. Prevention aims at keeping the good bacteria healthy and happy with pre and probiotics. Prebiotics are nutrients that feed the good bacteria, while probiotics are doses of the bacteria itself. Because prebiotics support the health of the probiotics, GI supplements can include one, or both. When choosing a pre or probiotic supplement for your pet, make sure you select one designated specifically for pets as they have different microorganisms than we do.

The I’s Have It: Immune System Health

Up until recently, most people wouldn’t give the immune system a second thought. The immune system is the body’s defense, largely unseen and unheralded unless it’s misfiring and attacking itself with diseases such as allergies or lupus. As anyone who has dealt with such diseases can tell you, the immune system is extraordinarily powerful.

As we learn more about preventive care and wellness, we’re beginning to understand the importance of nurturing a healthy immune system. When properly functioning, it obliterates infection, walls off foreign materials, and recognizes abnormal cells before they become a problem. For this reason, many pet owners add immune support supplements to their pet’s daily regimen. While formulations vary, look for vitamin C and a source of antioxidants to eliminate destructive free radicals.

The best thing we can do for our pets is to maximize their average lifespan and make those years comfortable, fun, and pain-free. Along with exercise, good nutrition, and love, preventive care including appropriate supplements is a great way for pet parents to give their dogs and cats a chance at the very best life.