Pet Talk: It's the economy, Fido!

Tough economic times have made us all get back to the basics and ask the question "is this something that I need or just something that I want?" When it comes to your pet's needs, here are some basics that will help you save money in the long run.

Keep your pet lean and active. Overweight dogs and cats are much more prone to several diseases -- from arthritis to slipped discs in the back and even cancer -- obesity is a serious (and expensive) health problem in pets. Helping your pet attain an ideal bodyweight usually is a two-step program: feed less food and exercise him more.

Exercise for health and good behavior. It takes energy for pets to get into mischief. If your dog or cat is tired, he is less likely to be destructive or misbehave. With dogs, the solution is straightforward -- go for walks around the block on a routine schedule. Your dog will not only look forward to the exercise, he will start to demand it. Exercising cats is a bit more challenging. Besides cat toys, I recommend feeding fat cats small meals (a few kibbles in each dish) in multiple locations around the house. Even the laziest cat is food-motivated, and will at least make laps around the house in search of the many food dishes.

The most expensive food your pet will eat is the one that doesn't keep him healthy. In the long run, cheap foods will cost your pet his good health. It is very tricky to read the ingredients label on a bag of pet food and determine the quality of the food. Instead, simply compare the price tag. In almost all cases, a more expensive food is going to have more consistent, higher quality ingredients and be more concentrated. In other words, you won't need to feed as much of the expensive food as you do the cheap food, because the premium diets are packed with nutrition. A simple rule of thumb: The better dry pet foods will cost close to $1 per pound.

Of course, regular checkups are important for everyone's health. Since pets age much more quickly than we do, a once-a-year exam is like us visiting our doctor once every six years. When you go to the vet, come with a list of written questions and hand it over to doctor or veterinary nurse. Don't leave until you're satisfied that your pet has been fully examined and your questions are answered.

Vaccination schedules vary based on your pet's age, lifestyle and where you live. Though there's a lot of "chatter" out there, undervaccinating poses a much more serious and deadly risk to the average pet than overvaccinating. Every month, I treat many animals with serious infections that could have been prevented with appropriate vaccinations. This is another excellent discussion to have with your pet's doctor so that you can make an informed decision about what is best for your furry friend.

The silver lining to a troubled economy is that many people are spending more time at home and rediscovering the joy that their pets bring. Keeping your animal companions healthy doesn't have to be expensive, and a little effort will save you a lot of money in the long run. It's like having kibble in the bank!

Dr. Jon Klingborg is a veterinarian associated with Valley Animal Hospital in Merced. He can be contacted at