Annual Wellness Exams for Your Pet

The Importance of Annual Wellness Exams for Your Pet

We all know the importance of seeing our doctor for our annual physical exam. He or she checks your weight (okay, maybe that’s one of the reasons we don’t exactly enjoy going…), monitors your blood pressure, orders blood work and other age-appropriate tests, and verifies your overall status.

For our pets, our perception may be quite different. Most of us are of the mindset that all our pets need to remain healthy are annual vaccinations. And while annual vaccines may be indicated for your pet, they are not the sole reason to bring Fido or Fifi in.

An annual physical exam is, by far, some of the best time and money you’ll invest to ensure your pet’s health. Prevention of disease is at the top of the list of reasons to bring your pet in for a thorough physical exam. Incidental findings, such as dental disease or skin problems, allow us to correct a problem before it becomes significant. Early detection of other problems may be found with subtle indicators such as weight loss (or gain), or other physical changes, such as lumps, which may go unnoticed at home. Also, our pets age much more rapidly than we do. Skipping your pet’s physical exam for three or four years is equivalent to your not seeing your doctor for 15 to 25 years, something the American Medical Association would likely not endorse

Dental disease is probably the likeliest abnormality detected at a physical exam. Roughly 60-80% of cats and dogs over 3 years of age have dental disease that needs care, and dental disease, if left untreated, can decrease life expectancy by 20%.

Obesity is another life-lessening condition, and is another one of the more common findings. Obesity in our pets leads to many of the same health problems we face: diabetes, heart problems, and a greater risk for certain cancers, to name a few.

Blood work and a urinalysis provide us with a picture of ‘what’s going on inside’, giving us valuable information on the functioning of the vital organs. Something as simple as weight loss in a cat could be an indication of a thyroid problem. Blood work allows us to measure the functioning of the kidneys, liver, spleen, bone marrow, heart and thyroid. Establishing normal baseline blood level values on your pet allows us to recognize abnormal values as they appear, which may help us detect and treat certain conditions early.

Inappropriate urination and defecation can mean much more than having a behavior problem. Tests performed on the urine will give us a better idea of how the kidneys and bladder are functioning. Stress, treats, diet and/or changes at home can affect your pet’s kidney and urinary tract health. Stones or crystals can form, causing potentially painful and expensive problems later on.  Because our pets don’t always tell us when something is wrong, diagnostics such as blood work and urinalysis can save us time and money in the long run.  

Annual parasite checks are also recommended. Bringing a fresh stool sample in at your pet’s annual exam will allow us to test for microscopic eggs, and treat accordingly. Intestinal parasites may be transmitted to our pets in a variety of ways. In our region, ascarids (aka roundworms, or Toxocara) are the most prevalent intestinal parasite in pets. Many puppies are born with roundworms, as the parasite may be passed to them through the placenta or through their mothers’ milk. Kittens may also pick up roundworms through nursing. Animals with roundworms pass the infection to other animals when the worm larvae are present in the animal’s droppings. Your pet can pick up roundworms by eating fecal contaminated soil, licking their fur or paws after rolling or walking through contaminated areas, or by drinking contaminated water. Hookworm and whipworm may also be transmitted to our pets this way. Tapeworm is commonly transmitted through fleas.

It is important to be aware of the various modes of parasite transmission, and to also be aware that certain parasites can be transmitted to humans. Children are particularly at risk as they play in areas that may contain infected feces or contaminated soil (dirt piles and sandboxes, for example), and are prone to putting their hands in their mouths. Immune-suppressed adults are also more susceptible to parasitic transmission. Households with pets and young children (and/or immune-suppressed adults) should be diligent about parasite control. Your veterinarian may recommend that your pet be on a monthly dewormer. Also, be sure to ‘scoop the poop’ every time, and clean up the yard daily.           

An annual exam is the time where your veterinarian may educate you on the newest vaccine recommendations, administer any that are needed and discuss flea and parasite control, behavioral issues, or any other concerns you may have.  Well-check visits are one of the most important things we can do for our pets. Seeing your veterinarian yearly will help you provide your pet a long, healthy, happy life.