“My Pet Is Perfectly Healthy. Why do I need an annual exam?”
It’s that time of year again – time for your pet’s annual exam. It is always a hassle trying to wrangle your cat and try to get him into a carrier and you feel awful as he serenades you with the yowls of his sorrows during the car ride. You don’t want to ruin your dog’s day by bringing her to a place where she gets super anxious while you try to console your other dog who is barking non-stop in the lobby.
Why do we go through this year after year? In the past, medicine was reactive. It used to be that only when an animal or person got sick or was dying they would see a doctor. Our modern view of medicine is pro-active, meaning that we try to prevent diseases from occurring or catch them at the earliest stages. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is equal to a pound of cure.” When we take our pets for their annual exam we are looking for warning signs and trying to detect issues before they cause damage or become irreversible. We are practicing preventative care during annual exams. As much as it hurts to think about, our pets’ lifespans are far shorter than our own. Pets age much faster than we do; so taking an animal to the veterinarian once yearly is comparable to you visiting the doctor once every seven years! A lot can happen in that timespan and when you are around your pet constantly you may not notice subtle changes that a veterinarian can pick up.
We understand that you know your pet better than anyone else and we love that you share a bond; but unfortunately animals cannot talk, so there may be signs of illness that are missed. Cats and dogs hide pain because they were initially prey animals in the wild. Oftentimes they do not overtly show discomfort until it is overwhelming. At that point there may be irreversible damage to your pet. Small things like your cat losing two pounds may go unnoticed until your pet’s annual exam. That does not seem like a lot but in a ten pound cat that is twenty percent of their body weight. That would be like an average adult male losing forty pounds! You are not a bad owner for not recognizing this, we all get busy and distracted with our own lives and these changes can be subtle. Annual exams can help you keep track of your pet’s health and ensure that they are as healthy as they can be!
What do we look at during your pet’s annual exam?
We make sure that your pet is not gaining or losing weight unintentionally. We are able to discuss proper diet to ensure optimal wellness for your pet. We may recommend prescription diets to prevent or delay progression of diseases.
We make sure that your pet’s vision is normal; we are able to detect changes in neurologic function and screen for certain diseases including dry eye, glaucoma, and cataracts.
Ear infections are painful. Some pets get frequent ear infections and show very little discomfort at home. Subtle head shaking or pawing may be the only indication of inflamed and infected ears. We also make sure that your pet’s eardrum is intact and that there are no abnormalities (like masses or foreign material) in their ear canals.
Dental disease is very common in animals as they age faster than we do and they do not have the same oral hygiene practices as people. Dental disease causes discomfort in the mouth and can cause inflammation and infections in the body. Could you imagine walking around with multiple cavities, fractured, or loose teeth? We see many animals that have these issues come in wagging their tails – not giving any indications of pain. We are also able to monitor for ulcers, which can be a sign of systemic disease, as well as masses and other abnormalities within the oral cavity.
Heart and Lungs
Animals get heart disease just like people. A heart murmur is one of the first indications of heart disease in an animal. We have diagnostics and heart medications for pets so that we can detect and treat heart disease. Early detection is crucial when it comes to something as vital as the heart and lungs.
Abdomen and Lymph Nodes
We palpate every pet’s lymph nodes to monitor for changes in size and shape which can be indications of infection, inflammation, or some cancers. We feel every animal’s abdomen to detect changes in size or shape of organs and palpate for masses or abnormalities. If abnormalities are noted we are able to perform diagnostics and initiate the necessary treatments.
So many animals that we see have skin allergies, fleas, or lesions that owners have not detected. By detecting these subtle changes in pets’ skin we can make their lives more comfortable!
We feel every animal’s spine and joints and monitor for subtle gait abnormalities and can detect early changes such as arthritis so that we can start preventative supplements or medications to make them more comfortable on a daily basis.
This is not the most glamorous part of your pet’s examination but we make sure that your animal’s temperature is normal and check for any abnormalities on rectal palpation. When we perform a rectal exam on a dog we can make sure that the anal glands and prostate (if male) are normal and that there are no masses or abnormalities.
We want to make sure that your pet is doing great behaviorally and that there are no issues within your home. We want your pet to have the strongest relationship with you possible and love seeing you both happy!
Why Do Screening Tests?
We may recommend several tests to screen for systemic diseases. The two annual tests that we recommend are the heartworm test and the fecal. Depending on your pet’s physical exam we may recommend other tests including bloodwork, radiographs, and urinalysis.
Heartworm is a parasite that is spread by mosquitoes. It is exactly what it sounds like, worms that live within the heart. Preventatives are given monthly to prevent the infection but it is important to still test yearly. The test is a simple blood test that is performed in the hospital. We have seen cases of heartworm and its prevalence in this area is increasing due to pet’s travelling to different parts of the country and new animals entering our area from out of state rescue organizations. Prevention for this disease is much less expensive than treatment and will save your animal from the health damage caused by this parasite.
A fecal test will check for intestinal parasites that animal’s pick up from the environment. Some parasites are contagious to people and other animals so early detection is key for prevention of disease to your pets and children.
If your veterinarian recommends bloodwork they may be monitoring organ function, screening for systemic diseases, and making sure that there is no evidence of inflammation or infection. Even if your pet is healthy on the outside, we may be able to detect early signs of disease so that we can initiate treatment earlier. It is also good to have baseline bloodwork values for your animal in case they ever do become ill.
As you can see many important things are monitored during your pet’s annual exam. The hassle of taking your pet to the veterinarian is definitely worth the payoff of having the healthiest and happiest animal possible! Take one hour out of your year to ensure that your pet is enjoying their fullest quality of life. Annual exams are important for illness prevention and by detecting illness early we can prevent further damage and discomfort and can save you money in the long run!