At some point, every dog or cat, horse or parrot, pet pig, ferret or even lizard owner will need to seek veterinary care for their pet. Some pets need more care than others, and some owners are more prepared to provide it. Veterinarians understand that not everyone has the same means or philosophy, and there is more than one “right” way to go about caring for a pet. This article is intended to explain what vets typically recommend for the typical pet that is considered healthy for its age. We will focus on dogs and cats, which are the species the author treats. Some will also apply to other species but you should seek the advice of a vet who focuses on those animals.
First, any time you adopt a new pet, they should see your vet as soon as possible. This is especially true if you have other pets at home, because it can be hard to tell if your new family member might have some “baggage” in the form of a virus or parasite that could be spread to other pets in the family. When you schedule the appointment, be sure to mention that you just adopted the pet, and from whom.
Bring along a fresh stool sample and a copy of any paperwork you received at the time of adoption. These documents should contain a record of any vaccinations the pet has received to date, whether and when it was spayed or neutered, approximate age and any other health information that is known.
Puppies and kittens (much like human children) typically see their doctors fairly often until they are around 4 to 6 months old. The exact schedule will depend on what shots they already had, at what age, and what you and your vet decide they will need for their expected lifestyle. You can discuss the many choices and make a plan at that first visit. Many veterinarians offer discounted wellness “packages” for pets at various stages of life that can offer a great value.
Young adult, healthy pets are typically “low maintenance.” We recommend they be seen once a year, for a good checkup. This includes a weight check, an examination of the skin, eyes, ears, gait, glands, teeth, and heart, and it’s a good time to ask those questions you’ve wondered about. Things like, “Is it normal for her to have brown stains under the eyes?” and “My cat howls at night” can be clues to minor or, occasionally, major ailments. It’s a good idea to bring a list if you have a lot of questions.
The most common issues we address with young adult pets include obesity and dental disease. In many cases, the owner had no idea there was a problem! If caught early, these can be corrected with relatively little effort and expense. In addition, it’s not uncommon to find a heart murmur, skin tumors, eye problems, and even ear infections that owners never even suspected.
As pets age (again, like humans), vets typically recommend more preventive care. Discussion of joint and digestive issues become more common, along with chronic health problems like arthritis, kidney disease, low thyroid function, and heart disease, to name a few. Though the age at which a pet is considered “senior” depends on breed and species, most vets now suggest basic blood tests starting between the ages of 7 and 10, based on the individual. At first this is once a year, but as they age it’s common for they to be seen more frequently. If you think about it, they age about 7 years for every one of ours, so testing once a year would be like you being tested every 7.
Though it may be possible to save money shopping vaccines at one vet, blood tests at another, etc, this can backfire. Other people need multiple vets because they live in multiple places, for example. This complicates things because it may mean that the medical records are scattered, and no one practice has all the information. Most vets are happy to provide a copy of test results, including digital x-rays. But you usually have to ask!
It’s also a good idea to maintain a relationship with one practice, in case of an emergency or complicated medical problem. Regular clients tend to receive the best care, because the staff get to know them and will bend over backward to get you in for an emergency, expedite referrals if needed, and offer samples of products when available. And if you ever need a little help spreading out payments, you’ll get more consideration if they’ve known you for years!
Lillian Roberts, DVM, is the owner of Country Club Animal Clinic, which is located at 36869 Cook Street in Palm Desert. 760-776-7555 www.countryclubdvm.com.