Don’t wait for your pet to display signs of illness to visit your veterinarian. Like us, our pets need regular monitoring by a medical professional to keep them healthy .
A once-a-year trip to the veterinarian is the best way to identify – and prevent – potential health problems. An annual physical gives you a chance to talk with your vet about any changes in your pet’s behaviors and habits. Routine check-ups at regular interviews allow your pet’s doctor to develop a record of what is “normal” for your pet, making it easier to identify when something is wrong. And, importantly, finding diseases in their earliest stages improve the pet’s chance for successful treatment.
The experts at University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana offer the following guidelines for pet health check-ups:
What to Expect
An annual check-up should include a physical examination in which your vet checks your pet from nose to tail — examining eyes, ears, nose and mouth; feeling your pet’s body for lumps and bumps; and assessing heart, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. Be prepared to tell your veterinarian about any changes you may have noticed in your pet’s behavior, appetite, playfulness, and so on that might be clues to a health problem.
The exam should also include a check for parasites. Heartworm, a potentially-fatal disease transmitted to dogs by mosquitoes, can be diagnosed with a blood test. Intestinal worms in both cats and dogs can be diagnosed by checking a fecal sample. Your vet should also discuss with you medicines to prevent parasite infections.
The annual check-up is also a good time to update vaccinations. Pet owners are required by law to have their dogs – and cats, in many areas – vaccinated against rabies. Rabies vaccination is required every one to three years, depending upon the vaccine your vet uses.
Cats also need protection against upper respiratory tract viruses and feline distemper. Cats that spend unsupervised time outside should also get a feline leukemia vaccination.
After the initial puppy shots, adult dogs should have an annual DHPPv/DA2PPv injection to boost their protection again distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus. If your dog spends time with other dogs – whether in a dog park or at a boarding kennel – you should also have your pet protected against bordetella.
When else to see your vet
Between annual exams, be on the lookout for any signs your pet is having health problems. Significant changes in weight, elimination problems, coughing, vomiting and changes in behavior could all be signs that your pet needs a extra visit to the vet.
A serious accident or injury will also demand a special visit to the vet, as should your pet’s ingestion of a poisonous substance. If you are unsure about whether or not your pet’s condition requires a special visit, call and ask.
It’s important to remember that dogs age at much faster rate than humans – the rule of thumb is that one human year equal approximately seven “dog” years – which means an annual physical exam is actually a once-every-seven-years exam. Veterinary experts recommend that once dogs pass middle age – about age six in people years — twice yearly visits are a good idea to ensure early detection and treatment of problems.