Why do I need to bring my pet in for an annual checkup?

Sadly, our pets cannot tell us how they are feeling.  Your dog cannot tell you that his teeth hurt when he eats and your cat cannot tell you that her hind leg hurts when she jumps on the chair.  Our pets are often stoic and hide symptoms that could, in reality, be underlying health issues in the making. “When you consider that our pets age at approximately six to seven times the rate that we do, it’s easy to see that yearly veterinary exams are important not only for vaccinations and vital statistics but also to notice any early signs of disease or other problems,” states the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Web site.

So….What is involved in a physical exam?

  • Weigh in- Obesity is one of the most common problems with our pets.  It can cause arthritis to worsen, increase the risk of knee, hip, and spine problems, cause your pet to have an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and even an increased strain on your pet’s heart.  Weight loss could also be a sign of such underlying problems as insufficient calorie intake or intestinal parasites, but could also be a symptom of something more serious such as liver or bladder disease.
  • Concerns-This is a time to talk with your vet about any changes that you have noticed such as excessive water drinking, vomiting, diarrhea, diet changes, coughing, loss of appetite, suspicious lumps or bumps.  It is also a time for your vet to ask questions and compare your pet’s current health to that of past visits. Vaccination decisions, food choices, exercise, parasite control products, current medications can be reviewed that your pet may be taking, as well as a general discussion of your pet’s lifestyle.
  • Complete Physical Exam-A head to tail exam includes a weigh in and a temperature.  Ears should also be checked, especially on dog breeds with floppy ones that trap bacteria.   Many of these dogs have ongoing problems. Your veterinarian can bring you up to date on the best way to manage them at home and will prescribe medication, if necessary. Using a stethoscope, the veterinarian listens for clear lungs and a healthy heart rhythm. If an abnormality is detected, further investigation is warranted. If not, then it’s onto the pet’s underside to palpate the liver, kidneys, and other vital organs.  Lymph nodes are check, as well as the anal glands, and in male dogs, the prostate is examined.  It’s also essential for a veterinarian to examine your pet’s mouth. Loose or rotted teeth, infected gums and other problems can be causing your pet discomfort without your knowing it. Even if bad breath is the only problem, a cleaning at a later date may be in order.   Skin is checked for fleas and any skin conditions, skin pigment changes, or suspicious lumps or growths.  Paws and toenails are also examined.
  • Suggested tests-  A yearly heartworm test is strongly encouraged  for dogs to ensure that they are heartworm free.  Monthly heartworm preventative cannot be prescribed without a current heartworm test.  A stool sample to check for parasites is important and can also be done at this time.  Bringing in a stool sample with you is helpful to both your pet and your vet! Blood tests are essential tools for identifying diseases at the earliest stage possible, when they are the most treatable.  Your veterinarian may recommend blood tests to screen your pet for potential developing problems so that they can be treated before becoming more serious.  Blood tests are also needed to determine if your pet is healthy enough to take certain medications, or to have an upcoming surgical procedure that involves anesthesia.  Blood work can also establish a baseline picture of the health of your pet, especially as he or she becomes older.

Regular annual check ups help your veterinarian understand what is “normal” with your pet.  If a patient has not been seen for extended periods of time, then it becomes more difficult to treat and diagnose a problem.  Veterinarians want their clients to be healthy.  By coming in for regular exams, you can help your furry family members stay tail wagging happy and in purrfect shape.

(Information provided by VetStreet, PetMD, and Pet Health Network)