Our pets age at a rate much faster ours, with one human year often being the equivalent of seven or more ‘pet ‘ years for our dogs and cats. To keep your companion healthy, we recommend you take them to your veterinarian at least once per year for a routine examination, often dubbed a wellness exam.
Since animals age at a much faster rate than humans, this could be equivalent to a physical examination by your family physician every four to eight years, which most human doctors would frown upon! It is for this reason that middle-aged to senior pets may benefit from physical examinations, or wellness examinations, twice a year. Puppies or kittens should receive at least three examinations in their first year of life. These crucial examinations through their rapid development can help detect abnormalities with their growth, behaviour, dentition (such as extra or missing teeth, that can have deleterious effects on their oral health), eyes, and much more.
Come prepared with answers for the following questions, which will give clues as to your animal’s health and wellbeing, and aid in formulating a vaccine and prevention protocol specific to your pets lifestyle:
- Does your pet go outdoors unsupervised?
- Is there wildlife in your area?
- Does your pet drink from puddles or ponds?
- Does your pet swim in a pond, lake or river?
- Does your pet go into wooded areas? Up north to the cottage?
- Does your cat go outside at all? This entails any outdoor activity, even if its just in your backyard.
- How much water does your pet drink on a daily basis? Has there been any change in their water consumption?
- What brand and what quantity of food does your pet eat? Has there been any change in their eating habits or amounts?
- How many treats or table scraps does your pet get on a daily basis?
- Do you visit dog parks or other communal pet areas?
- Does your pet ever cough, sneeze or vomit?
- What are your pet’s elimination habits like? Have there been any changes, for example, in the frequency and volume of urination? Does your pet always have formed stools, or is it often loose in consistency?
- Does your pet show any signs of pain, stiffness, or decreased activity? Remember, such findings as difficulty rising from a downed position, slowing down, exercise intolerance and difficulty with stairs often aren’t simply ‘old age’, but rather can be clues to such painful conditions as osteoarthritis that is common in our pets.
- Do you, or will you be, travelling with your pet? Many other areas of the world have different or much more common viruses, bacteria and parasites that may require additional vaccinations or preventative medications.
- If it’s our first time seeing your pet, does your pet have any previous medical conditions or illnesses? Reactions to any vaccines, food, environmental factors? Vaccine history?
Talk to other family members who provide care for your pet before coming to the appointment, and make sure you answer these questions accurately. Don’t underestimate what table scraps or treats you feed or anything else about how you care for your pet. Your veterinarian is there to help you to provide the best care for your pet and they can only do that if they know the facts, and things you may think are irrelevant can be important information in your pets medical history and clinical findings.
Questions you should ask your veterinarian, which will help you maintain your pet’s future health, include:
- Is your pet’s weight normal or abnormal for its overall size and breed?
- What should your pet be eating? Nutrition is one of the most rapidly expanding areas of research in animals, and veterinarians are your best source for learning about the most recent recommendations for optimal nutrition.
- Were there any abnormal findings on the exam? If so, what are the next steps?
- What vaccines, heartworm prevention, flea control or tick control is recommended for your pet’s individual lifestyle?
- Are there any other problems that might pose a risk for your pet? Examples include risks associated with genetics (breed-specific problems), or risks for animals that are not spayed or neutered. For example, brachycephalic breeds such as the Old English Bulldogs often have restricted airways, which makes them more sensitive to exercise and weather intolerance, being much more at risk for hyperthermia during the warmer months.
- How often should your pet have a wellness examination? This interval will change according to your animal’s breed and age, as well as their current health or medical conditions, and your veterinarian will make specific recommendations based on findings from the current visit.
Based on your pets age, breed, and findings on physical examination, your veterinarian may recommend “wellness testing” that may include blood tests, urine tests, x-rays, or other diagnostic procedures. The purpose of wellness testing is to uncover subclinical or underlying problems in their early stages, where they are more easily treatable. Veterinarians are trained to interpret the results of wellness testing, along with the pet’s lifestyle and travel history, and results of the physical examination, and formulate the most appropriate treatment and prevention plan for the individual pet.
Research has shown unequivocally that sharing your home with a pet can help keep you healthy by reducing stress in your life. However, if we choose to share our lives with companion animals, it becomes our duty to make sure that we provide them with the care they need to stay happy and healthy. In many cases, early detection and treatment of sub-clinical disease can lead to a longer and better life for the pets that we love and care for.