Regular wellness physical exams allow our veterinarians to evaluate your pet’s general health and become aware of any health problems before they become serious illnesses. Since your pet cannot vocalize his/her feelings, you must rely on regular physical examinations by a veterinarian and your at-home observations to assess your pet’s health.
Routine blood testing, urinalysis (urine testing) and other tests, including blood pressure, are recommended for all pets in their “senior years.” Your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic blood testing, a urinalysis, and even x-rays for younger pets to establish baseline information, which can detect disease before your pet becomes ill, or can be used for comparison as your pet ages.
How often does my pet need a wellness exam?
Every year for a dog or cat is equivalent to five to seven human years, so it is important that your pet receives a wellness exam at least every year, and more often when they enter their senior years. Many aspects of your pet’s health can change in a short amount of time, so make sure your pet does not miss even one exam!
Similar to people, pets need to visit the veterinarian more often as they get older in order to prevent and treat illnesses that come with age. The American Animal Hospital Association recommends that healthy dogs and cats visit the veterinarian once a year for a complete exam and laboratory testing. Healthy senior dogs and cats should receive a wellness exam and lab testing every six months. Depending on your pet’s age and health, your veterinarian will suggest an appropriate physical examination schedule to help keep your pet in tip-top shape.
What can I expect during my pet’s wellness examination?
Your veterinarian will need a complete history of your pet’s health, so don’t forget to mention any unusual behavior that you have noticed in your pet, including:
- Any coughing or difficulty breathing
- Loose stools, diarrhea and/or vomiting
- Eating more or less than usual
- Excessive drinking or urinating
- Excessive scratching and itchiness
Your veterinarian will also want to know about your pet’s daily behavior, including his diet, how much water he drinks and his exercise routine. For example, your veterinarian may ask:
- Does your pet have trouble getting up in the morning?
- Does your pet show signs of weakness or imbalance?
- Does your pet show an unwillingness to exercise?
- Does your pet show signs of stress or aggravation?
- Does your pet run a risk of exposure to fleas, ticks, heart worms and intestinal parasites?
Getting a thorough history will help your veterinarian develop an individualized treatment and/ or preventative health care plan specifically for your pet.
Usually, at the beginning of the exam, your veterinarian, or a veterinary technician will obtain your pet’s temperature, pulse, respiration (breathing) rate and body weight. If your pet has lost weight since his last physical exam, they may be experiencing the early stages of metabolic disease, such as kidney disease or diabetes. If your pet has gained weight since his last exam, your veterinarian will work with you to develop an appropriate diet and exercise plan to return your pet to a healthier weight. Weight is an important consideration in your pet’s health — an extra two or three pounds could mean the difference between your pet being fit and healthy or obese and at risk.
Your veterinarian may ask if your pet has been shaking their head or scratching at their ears, and if you have noticed an odor coming from your pet’s ears. Your pet’s ear canals protect their inner ear, but can also become a home for infectious bacteria, troublesome yeast, parasites and other foreign objects. Your veterinarian will closely examine your pet’s ears to make sure they are healthy.
Eye examinations often reveal many health issues, including anemia, infections, glaucoma, cataracts, high blood pressure, jaundice, and allergies, in addition to eye injuries and ulcers. Careful observation of the inner structures and outward appearances of the eyes are all part of a proper eye examination.
Assuming your pet will allow it, your veterinarian will inspect your pet’s gums, teeth, tongue and palate (roof of the mouth) for tartar buildup, dental abnormalities, fractures, loose teeth, tumors, infection and other problems. For example, similar to people, a lack of red or pink color in your pet’s gums could signal anemia. Your veterinarian will discuss the importance of regular at-home and professional teeth cleaning to prevent periodontal disease, which can cause bad breath, a painful mouth, and tooth loss.
Heart and Lungs
Your veterinarian will use a stethoscope to listen to your pet’s heart and lungs for early signs of heart and lung disease.
If your pet has not been spayed or neutered, your veterinarian may discuss with you the many health benefits of spaying/neutering. Your veterinarian will check your pet’s reproductive system for any swelling, or abnormal discharge, as well as checking for any breast lumps.
Did you know your pet’s skin is the largest organ of their body and a good gauge of their health? Hair loss and skin changes can indicate a more serious internal disease problem. Your veterinarian will check your pet’s skin and hair for fleas, ticks, other external parasites, as well as signs of allergies, infection, warts, and tumors.
From Head to Toe
Your veterinarian will palpate (feel) your pet’s entire body for abnormalities, including enlarged organs, masses or painful areas, to detect problems with the head, neck, chest, stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver and other organs. Your veterinarian will also examine your pet’s legs and feet and the condition of your pet’s joints, muscles, lymph nodes and lastly the tail, assuming your pet has one. Your veterinarian may recommend additional testing to diagnose or verify a health problem if she finds any abnormalities during your pet’s thorough examination.
Vaccinations are one of the most important preventive measures you can take for the health of your pet. Dogs can be immunized against distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, parvovirus, coronavirus, bordetella, rabies, Lyme disease, and canine influenza. Cats can be immunized against feline panleukopenia (distemper), rabies, feline rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, chlamydia, and feline leukemia. How frequently you should have your pet vaccinated against certain diseases depends on many factors, including where your pets lives or will live, so talk to your veterinarian to understand what is recommended for your pet’s unique environment and lifestyle. Do not underestimate the importance of taking your pet to the veterinarian for regular wellness examinations. Someone (probably a veterinarian) once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” These regular examinations will help your pet live a longer and healthier life, so do your part to care for your furry friend!