We’ve all heard the advice that, for many important reasons, humans should see their doctors once a year. This advice is true for your pet, too. Here we count down the top 10 reasons your pet should see his vet every single year.
10 MICROCHIP SCANNING
This simple step should be part of every check-up. Microchips are so common, we almost take them for granted these days. They are placed when we adopt a pet from a shelter or rescue, they may be placed by a breeder or, within a few weeks of bringing your pet home, your vet can place a microchip. Then, it seems, we forget all about them until the animal escapes its yard or runs outside during a fireworks display. But those tiny devices occasionally stop working, or they “migrate” to a location away from the original implantation site.
By routinely scanning for a chip during annual check-ups, we’ve found microchips people didn’t know they had and we’ve discovered weak chips that have become difficult to detect. A microchip that can’t be detected or read will not help reunite you with your pet if he gets lost. And remember, if you move or rehome a pet, you need to update the microchip contact information— otherwise, the chip is useless.
9 WEIGHT MONITORING
Of course we weigh your dog or cat, typically as the first step in his or her visit. But healthy body weight is more than just a number on the scale. Your vet can assess your pet’s weight based on a number of factors—such as physical conformation, age and lifestyle—then discuss diet and offer tips for improvement if needed. More importantly, it gives us a clue if a pet unexpectedly loses (or gains) weight, as this can be a sign of various health problems.
One of the excuses we hear for why pets aren’t brought in is, “He hates going to the vet!” This breaks my heart, because anxiety only gets worse with time. Then when the day comes that you have no choice but to bring him in, the whole trip is even more traumatic for all concerned. If your pet is anxious about a trip to the vet—or any trip away from home—work with your vet and trainer. There are many ways to reduce anxiety in pets. We often dispense calming medications or supplements to give in advance of a visit, and we find that most pets actually become less anxious if we see them more often.
7 PHYSICAL EXAM
The term “annual physical” can encompass the entire visit, including appropriate screening tests, just like for humans. But for this article, I use it to refer to the actual hands-on evaluation of the pet by the vet. This actually begins from the minute you walk in the door, when clinic personnel can tell at a glance whether your pet is moving easily, breathing normally, limping or showing signs of anxiety. The vet then does a “nose-to-tail” check-up that typically includes evaluation of the eyes, ears, teeth, skin, respiratory system, heart, abdomen, gait, limbs, and overall condition.
It’s true that the animal world has long moved away from the “yearly shots” model of one-size-fits-all where immunizations are concerned. But that doesn’t mean your pet shouldn’t receive vaccinations. In fact, more than ever, this is a reason to see your vet to make sure your pet has the right disease protection to fit his or her lifestyle.
Do you board your pet? Take him to the groomer or the local dog park? Take him to lunch at local restaurants? Travel with him? Visit schools or health facilities? All these factors should be considered, along with age and basic health, when deciding which vaccinations are appropriate for your dog or cat.
5 EARLY DISEASE DETECTION
“My dog is completely healthy.” That’s a comment we hear a lot. But is that really true? Heart murmurs, dental disease and eye problems are just a few conditions vets find every week in somebody’s “completely healthy” pet. It’s always a good idea to get that weird skin lump checked out, too. Yes, they’re frequently benign, but do you want to take that chance?
4 DENTAL DISEASE
This deserves to be mentioned again. If there is one medical condition that is undertreated in pets, it’s gingivitis. Obviously, some pets need a lot of dental care and others very little. But it’s so much easier (and potentially less expensive) to maintain oral health over the life of a pet than to wait until things have gone too far, only to face a lengthy procedure to extract multiple rotting teeth in a senior pet who has been suffering for years.
3 LAB TESTING AND OTHER SCREENING
More important in older pets, routine blood testing helps us monitor function of internal organs such as kidneys, liver, thyroid gland, pancreas and bone marrow. X-rays and electrocardiograms, as well as eye tests and cytology, give us insight into the size and function of the heart and other organs. There is so much our pets can’t tell us and so much we can find with these screening tests.
2 PARASITE PREVENTION AND TREATMENT
Stool sample testing is a well-known screening test for intestinal parasites, such as worms and Giardia. Once uncommon in the desert, these scourges have been on the increase here in the Coachella Valley in the past few years.
Of more concern is the rise in heartworm cases. This is due to the increasing numbers of mosquitoes—particularly the aedes aegypti, which has made headlines lately as a carrier of the West Nile virus that impacts humans. Less publicized is the fact that these tenacious bugs also carry deadly heart-worm disease to cats and dogs. Periodic blood testing and inexpensive preventive measures could save your dog’s life.
And the number 1 reason you should take your pet to see his veterinarian every year is …
1 ONGOING CARE
Even if your pet is healthy today, it’s important to have a regular, ongoing relationship with your vet. Eventually, every pet owner will have an emergency requiring urgent veterinary care. Where will you go when that happens? To paraphrase the old Cheers intro, you want to go where everybody knows your pet’s name! Having a practice that knows you and your pet may speed the service you receive and goes a long way to helping you make decisions that could affect your pet’s health, both short term and over time.