Here is a good way for new pet owners, as well as old, to start the year off right with a 12-month preventive health checklist for your pet. The idea behind preventive medicine is to prevent as many potential problems as you can before they develop into actual problems.

(It might be a good idea to save this column and place it near a wall calendar, for future reference.)January - Protect your pet against cold and frostbite by providing it with a warm, dry, draft-free shelter. Make sure the animal has an adequate water supply at all times, instead of an empty bowl. An acute change of temperature is difficult for pets - a dog jacket or sweater may help prevent respiratory problems.

February - A month before the weather's warming trend and the coming of mosquito season is the time to check your dog for heartworms (with a simple blood test) and begin preventive medication if the test is negative. This is also a good time to have your dog or cat spayed or neutered, before the animal goes into season. Dogs and cats can be sterilized at six months of age. Sterilization prevents unwanted pets, but it also can help your pet have a longer and healthier life.

March - A wet spring brings out ticks, gnats and other parasites that can cause your pet skin problems. Get a head start on these pests and the discomfort they can cause. Check with your veterinarian for the most effective preventive products.

April - Along with the spring thaw and new plant growth animal owners see the rekindling of old viruses that can cause severe illness and even the death of a pet, especially a puppy or kitten. Vaccinations are a must to prevent many diseases.

The first vaccinations can be given at six to eight weeks. Follow-up vaccinations may vary, but the second vaccination is usually given between nine and 11 weeks, and the third between 12 and 16 weeks. This should provide immunity for one year. Check with your veterinarian for the best schedule for your pet.

Rabies vaccine is usually first given at four to six months. The second vaccination should be given one year later, and dogs should be inoculated every other year thereafter, and cats every year.

Once your pet becomes an adult, annual revaccinations are essential for its continued well-being, whatever its age or living conditions.

May - Poisonous snake bites are an especially prevalent danger in many areas during the warm months. If bitten, your animal will show a rapid swelling and a great deal of pain in the area. The leg and face are the most likely spots to sustain bites, and if you look closely, you may be able to locate two fang marks. Apply ice to the area and keep the animal as quiet as possible. If you are able, carry the animal to the veterinarian immediately. Even if you are not dealing with a poisonous snake, treatment is still advised, because many snakes carry dangerous bacterium in their mouths.

June - Heat and sunstroke are realities of summer. Always provide fresh water, and never leave pets in closed cars. Groom them often to remove dead hair. If you see an animal in closed in a parked car during the summer, report it to your animal control agency immediately. Signs of sunstroke include heavy breathing or panting, breathing with difficulty, excessive salivation, collapse, anxious expression on the face and rectal temperature of 105 degrees or higher. If the animal is suffering from heat stroke immediately immerse it or hose it down in cold water. Keep the animal in water until its temperature goes down. Hold the animal's head above water if it is unable to do so itself.

July - The Fourth and Twenty-fourth of July bring fun, fireworks and very nervous pets. Explain the dangers of fireworks to your children for their own and their pets' safety. If the situation warrants it, you should consider putting your pet in a safe shelter for the night.

August - Check and treat for internal parasites by having a stool exam performed by your veterinary hospital. Once the type of parasite, if any, is identified, treatment can be specific.

September - This is a great month to have your pet's teeth cleaned and check for possible problems. Gum or periodontal disease is one of the most common problems seen by veterinarians today. Periodontal disease is known as the "silent disease" because of its slow, progressive nature. Periodontal disease can lead to loss of appetite, weight loss, serious generalized infections, and even heart disease. As with humans, the problem begins when plaque and tartar are allowed to build up on a pet's teeth. Plaque harbors the bacteria which can lead to infection.

October - As you prepare your car for winter with antifreeze and oil changes, take special care for your pet's sake. The sweet taste of antifreeze is appealing to many dogs and cats, but even a sip can be fatal. Keep lids tightly capped and wipe spills or excess from the ground.

Also in October, Halloween can be an extremely dangerous time for pets. Keep your pet inside for a few days before and after Halloween. Some people may try to harm your pets, especially black cats, because they think it is "fun."

November - Thanksgiving brings rich and wonderful foods, as well as pancreatitis, gastritis and other gastrointestinal ailments. Don't feed your dog or cat poultry bones or any other bones that can splinter. If you must feed your animal something special, turkey meat, with the fat removed, is OK.

December - Christmas decorations can be pet traps. Put poinsettias, mistletoe and other poisonous plants out of your animal's reach and take care in your placement of tinsel and other shiny ornaments.

Throughout the next two months Pet Questions will be focusing on preventive health care techniques.

- If you have a question about health, behavior problems, laws, etc., regarding wild or domestic animals, please write Leslie Kelson-Probert, Salt Lake County Animal Services, 511 W. 3900 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84123 or call 264-2247.