Look for the Most Natural Animals. The best way to avoid a lot of health problems in animals is really pretty simple. Choose breeds or mixes that best resemble canine or feline ancestors. Look for size, face shape, ear shape, color, coat length and texture, tail shape, and limb proportions that most closely match that of wolves, coyotes, and wildcats.

The best way to avoid a lot of health problems in animals

Dogs: For midsize dogs, mixed breeds are often among the healthiest. With mongrels, most likely the parents selected each other, and there’s something to be said for that! Working dogs can be good choices unless overly popular or inbred. Consider retrievers, sled dog breeds, basenjis, shepherds, pointers, and spitzes. If you prefer a smaller dog, choices are more limited, as most have been intentionally bred by selecting for neoteny, characteristics in puppies (silky hair, dependence and yapping, floppy ears). Do your homework online, in books, and by asking around.

Cats: Generally most shorthairs are best, especially those with more natural colors such as tabbies, silvers, and ancient breeds such as Korats and Abyssinians. Avoid ones with curly coats, which attract stickers, or pushed-in faces, which will cause breathing problems. Long, floppy ears may harbor mites.
Occasionally, I have had the opportunity to examine and treat injured coyotes or foxes, and never have I found one with a foxtail in its ears or anywhere else on its body! Every inch of their bodies reflects the intelligence of millions of years of natural evolution and adaptation. I have been quite impressed with how perfectly their teeth fit together and with their fine hair coats, fastidious cleanliness, natural grace, and high intelligence. (Don’t try to adopt a truly wild animal: The place for them is in the wild, and they do not make good pets.)

Protecting the Mother

Protect fertile and litter-bearing females. If you plan to breed your female pet, avoid use of potentially damaging flea powders, cortisone, vaccinations, sedatives, anesthetics, and x-rays, unless natural aids fail and circumstances demand this kind of medical treatment. Feed her an optimal diet, preferably organic, and make sure she does not consume food additives, moldy foods, poisonous household chemicals, or lawn grass or other plants treated with toxic herbicides, insecticides, or fungicides. Protect her from exposure to cigarette smoke and the fumes from riding in the back of a pickup truck. Use common sense and keep the home clean before and during pregnancy and during lactation.

Also, see that she does not become overheated. Excess heat can retard fetal brain growth. Don’t leave her locked in a hot car with the windows closed (a good piece of advice concerning any animal) or overexercise her in hot weather (likewise). Nor should you take her on an arduous trek into high country or transport her in the baggage compartment of an airplane, because the lack of oxygen at high altitudes can induce a variety of fetal abnormalities.

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Selecting a Healthy: A Checkup

How can you tell if a particular animal is healthy? Here is a “checkup” you can use to pinpoint any congenital defects present. It also helps assess the likelihood of chronic health problems to come. Wait until you have some trust from the animal or help from its person, of course, before doing the more physical parts of this exam.

•Check the nose and jaws. Are they unusually long and pointed or short and pushed in? Are the upper and lower jaws the same size? Do the teeth fit together well? (This particularly applies to dogs.) Are the gums pale or inflamed? Is there a red line at the edge of the gums next to the teeth?

•Are the eyes normal looking? Are they both the same color? Unusually small or large? Eye discharges signal plugged tear ducts.

•Does the animal move normally? Or does it swing its hips from side to side as it walks—a warning sign of possible canine hip dysplasia? Are the legs normal length, and in the right proportion front and back?

•Does the pigmentation over the nose look normal? If not, the animal may be subject to sunburn and skin cancer.

•Does the animal behave normally? Observe carefully and be wary of animals that seem unusually aggressive, clinging, jealous, fearful, suspicious, hyperactive, noisy, or unaware. Whether because of inheritance or their history, such problems may be difficult to live with and even harder to correct. If you want a playful or affectionate animal, choose the one that responds to your overtures. Roll a dog on its back and hold him there. If he fights to get up, he may be difficult to train and aggressive. A dog that keeps its tail low or acts submissive will be the most devoted and easiest to train.

•Is the coat attractive? Does it look and smell healthy and clean, or is it slightly greasy or thin? Are there reddish patches? Is the skin light pink or off-white in color, pliant and firm, or are some areas unusually thin, thick, dry, dark, red, or crusty? Is the skin covered with fleas?

•Does the animal breathe quietly and easily? Raspy, heavy sounds, especially after a little exertion, are not good signs.

•Look inside the ears. Check for any signs of inflammation or dark, waxy discharge. This could signal a chronic tendency toward ear trouble.

•Feel around the navel. You’re looking for a lump, which could be a sign of a hernia.

•Check the scrotum in an adult male for the presence of both testicles.
In spite of the many problems inappropriate breeding has caused, you can still find a genetically healthy animal or one with only minor problems. If you don’t plan to breed the animal and don’t mind the extra work of caring for an animal with inherited problems, you can select from a wider variety.

Although you cannot always foresee or control potential congenital problems, with just a bit of common sense you can actually do a great deal to minimize the risks. In the process, you will be doing a big favor not only for your own animals and yourself, but also for those whose time is yet to come.