When your phone dings with your pet’s annual exam reminder, you may erase the notification, thinking, “My pet is perfectly healthy and doesn’t need to see the vet.” Keeping your pet purr-fectly healthy is exactly the reason you should instead click the link to make your pet’s next wellness appointment.
While you may assume that annual exams are only for sick pets or to administer vaccines, you may not realize all that happens during your pet’s visit. Let’s break down a normal annual wellness appointment to see what your pet may be missing.
Your pet’s thorough physical exam
Your pet’s veterinarian can learn a surprising amount of information from a thorough nose-to-tail physical exam. The veterinarian will first listen to your pet’s heart and lungs to detect any abnormalities, since heart disease risk increases with age. However, heart disease quietly progresses and rarely causes clinical signs until the disease is advanced, but through their stethoscope, the veterinarian can detect a slight abnormal sound or rhythm change that can signal a developing problem. Your veterinarian can also detect breathing problems, potentially cancerous lumps and bumps, abdominal organ enlargement, or arthritis during your pet’s physical exam.
Your pet’s dental health evaluation
Do you know that up to 80% of pets over age 3 have dental disease? Or, that dental disease is the most common health condition diagnosed in dogs and cats? Despite common belief, bad breath and tartar buildup are not normal in pets, and are instead signs that bacteria have taken over your pet’s mouth. As dental disease progresses, bacteria invade the tissue below your pet’s gum line, causing painful tooth root infections, loose teeth, and tooth loss. During your pet’s annual exam, their veterinarian will perform a dental health evaluation and explain how you can stop dental disease progression and prevent further damage.
Your pet’s diagnostic screening tests
While your pet’s physical exam can provide a lot of information, diagnostic screening tests provide a deeper understanding of their internal health. Your veterinarian may recommend the following diagnostic tests to thoroughly evaluate your pet’s health:
Blood work — Blood testing allows us to assess your pet’s internal organ function. For example, blood work provides important information about your pet’s kidney health. Kidney disease is a leading cause of illness and death in older pets, especially cats, but unfortunately, kidney failure does not become apparent until 75% of kidney function is lost, and treatment is less successful. Early detection through blood work allows for earlier management that can potentially extend a pet's life by months or years.
Urinalysis — Evaluating your pet’s urine can also tell us a lot about their kidney health, including urinary tract inflammation or infection.
Heartworm testing — After transmission via a mosquito bite, larval heartworms quietly develop in your pet’s body until they mature, reproduce, and accumulate, often going undetected for years. Without treatment, the growing worm burden will eventually lead to heart failure and death. Through annual testing, your pet’s veterinarian can diagnose heartworm disease early when treatment is more successful and before the damage becomes life-threatening.
Intestinal parasite screening — A simple fecal exam can help the veterinarian detect intestinal parasites that steal nutrition and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration.
Other tests — Your pet’s veterinarian may recommend other testing, such as blood pressure measurement, X-rays, and electrocardiography (ECG), depending on your pet’s age and physical exam results.
Your pet’s vaccinations
Regular vaccinations protect your pet against infectious diseases that can cause dangerous or life-threatening infection. While some vaccinations—such as rabies, because the disease is always fatal—are given to all pets, others are based on your pet’s lifestyle and risk factors. For example, dogs who visit a groomer, boarding facility, or doggy daycare are more likely to be exposed to kennel cough, and should receive this vaccination. Your pet’s veterinarian will discuss your pet’s risk factors and tailor their vaccine plan accordingly.
Your pet’s parasite prevention
Parasites are more than a pesky problem—they can spread disease and infection. During your pet’s appointment, the veterinarian will discuss options for preventing common parasites, including:
Heartworms — Heartworm prevention can be administered as a monthly oral medication or an annual or semi-annual injection.
Fleas — Fleas can transmit tapeworms and infectious diseases to pets, who can also develop severe allergies. Year-round flea prevention can keep fleas off your pet, and out of your home.
Ticks — Ticks can transmit a number of dangerous diseases, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Year-round tick preventives will prevent ticks from attaching to your pet long enough to pass on disease.
Intestinal parasites —Many heartworm preventives also protect against intestinal parasites, which can easily be picked up at dog parks, or in your neighborhood or your own backyard.
Advice about your pet
Your pet’s annual appointment also provides an opportunity to discuss your concerns about your pet. The veterinary team can advise you on the best foods for your pet, concerning behaviors, medical problem signs, and much more. Bring all medications and supplements to your appointment, so your veterinarian knows exactly what your pet receives.
As you can see, your pet’s annual exam is an investment in their future health. Preventive care can actually add years to your pet’s life—and who wouldn’t want more time with their beloved companion? Use this locator tool to find a veterinarian near you, and to schedule your pet’s annual exam.