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Dr. Pawz: Shelter dogs don't carry more health risks

Thursday - 7/24/2014, 3:09pm  ET

Shelter pets don't have more health risks

Dr. Katy Nelson, WTOP's Dr. Pawz

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WASHINGTON - All dogs and cats carry the risk of disease no matter whether they come from a shelter or breeder.

But adopting families shouldn't focus on what might eventually end their pet's life but focus on enjoying that life as long as it lasts, says Dr. Katy Nelson, WTOP's Dr. Pawz.

"If you look at the end, then you can't enjoy the middle," Nelson says. "Go out and find the best fit for you and your family, that's really what matters."

Nelson, an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, spoke to WTOP in response to an opinion piece written by Los Angeles-based writer Erin Auerbach for the Washington Post. Auerbach writes that she won't adopt a shelter dog again after several dogs she adopted died after several years.

The column has generated national attention, Nelson says. And it also prompted a response from the president of the Washington Humane Society for the Huffington Post.

Dogs can live 10 to 15 years and cats live a bit longer - as long as 15 to 20 years, Nelson says.

And certain breeds are more likely to feature certain ailments. For example, pugs as a breed are more likely to experience seizures and 60 percent of golden retrievers die of cancer, Nelson says.

Although breeders can tell pet owners about the animal's family history and its behavioral traits, shelters also can inform adoptive owners about any behavior concerns and will conduct veterinary health screenings. Shelters frequently clean dogs' teeth, check for heartworm disease and likely conduct blood screenings and X-rays for older dogs.

Shelters don't want the animals they adopt out to return and want to make the best match possible, Nelson says.

"I think a shelter is a wonderful way to go and you can help prevent some of those 4 million dogs that go into shelters every year from getting put to sleep."

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