10/13/2011 03:23 pm ET Updated Dec 13, 2011

Human Diseases Are Making Pets Sick

It's heartbreaking to know that so many animals are suffering needlessly from easily avoidable health problems, all of which can dramatically impact your pet's quality of life.

Diabetes: Preventable

According to a recent Banfield Pet Hospital survey, obesity ranked in the top five health problems of young adult, mature adult and senior dogs in 2010. It was in the top three for cats of the same age. Obesity is the biggest risk factor for diabetes. Other risk factors include:

Over-vaccination. Re-immunizing your pet for diseases he's already protected against thanks to puppy or kitten shots can over-stimulate his immune system. This can result in an immune-mediated disorder. There appears to be an autoimmune component in the development of diabetes mellitus, particularly in dogs. The number of pets with autoimmune disease has been on the increase for several years. Over-vaccinating could possibly be one of the primary causes of this unfortunate trend.

Lack of exercise. Your pet needs physical exertion, every day if possible, to keep her frame strong, her muscles toned and to ward off obesity. If your dog isn't getting from 20 to 40 minutes of aerobic activity on a regular basis, she's just not getting enough exercise. If your companion is a kitty, work with her natural instincts and get her involved in games that encourage her instincts as a hunter.

Biologically-inappropriate diet. Most U.S. pets are fed a high calorie, high carb diet. That's despite the fact that grains are a biologically inappropriate food for dogs and cats. Carbohydrates, which can add up to as much as 80 percent of the contents of many commercial pet formulas, break down into sugar. Excess sugar can result in diabetes. Your carnivorous pet should eat like a carnivore to maintain an optimum state of health.

Don't let your precious dog or cat become another statistic of the diabetes epidemic spreading through the U.S. pet population. Avoid unnecessary vaccinations, make sure your furry pal gets plenty of exercise to maintain a fit body condition, and feed a moisture rich, species-appropriate diet containing few, if any, carbohydrates and no grains.

Dental Disease: Preventable

An astonishing 78 percent of dogs and 68 percent of cats over the age of three have some form of dental disease.

This represents a 12 percent increase for dogs from 2006 to 2010. Periodontal (gum) disease is a particular problem for small breed dogs, including the Maltese, Pomeranian, Shetland Sheepdog, Toy Poodle and Yorkshire Terrier. You can help your pet with oral hygiene by:

• Feeding a species-appropriate diet, preferably raw. The right food builds a healthy foundation for all your pet's tissues and organs, including those in the mouth. Also, when your pet gnaws on raw meat, it acts as both toothbrush and floss.

Brushing your pet's teeth every day or several times a week.

• Taking your dog or cat for regular wellness checkups with your veterinarian. This allows you to stay on top of any changes or problems in your pet's mouth, and schedule professional teeth cleaning if necessary.

• Offer your dog a safe, fully digestible, high quality dental chew.

Flea Infestations: Preventable

According to the Banfield survey, flea infestations are up 16 percent. This is interesting, considering how many advertising dollars are spent by manufacturers of potentially toxic flea and tick preventives.

However, while I recommend reducing chemicals applied to pets whenever possible, it is certainly troubling news that flea infestations are on the rise.

How to prevent an infestation:

• Once again, feeding a balanced, species-appropriate diet is key. Pests are attracted to weak hosts. So feeding your dog or cat what she's designed to eat will help her build optimal health and resilience to opportunistic diseases and critters.

• Brush and bathe your pet. Regular brushing and combing (use a flea comb if you suspect a problem) will help you spot pests on your pet, as will frequent baths. Most cats don't like baths, but if yours happens to, all the better. If kitty spends any time outdoors, this is especially important. Whether your companion is canine or feline, regular grooming sessions and baths will not only help you spot fleas on skin or fur, they will also keep loose hair under control and make your pet look and feel great.

• Tidy up indoors and out. Frequent vacuuming of floors, furniture and window coverings will help rid your home of any fleas that have made their way inside. Outdoors, keep your grass mowed and do regular inspections of your property for places where pests are apt to hide and multiply.

• Instead of a potentially toxic chemical pest preventative, use a safe, all-natural pet pest repellent.

Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at:

Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.

By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.