Regular wellness exams allow your veterinarian to evaluate your pet's general health and become aware of any health problems before they become serious illnesses. Since your pet cannot vocalize his feelings, you must rely on regular physical examinations by a veterinarian and your at-home observations to assess your pet's health. Your veterinarian may also wish to perform diagnostic tests, including blood tests and/or x-rays, to evaluate your pet's health.
Routine blood testing, urinalysis (urine testing) and other tests are recommended for all pets in their "senior years." Your veterinarian may recommend routine blood testing and urinalysis for younger pets to establish baseline values, which can be used for comparison as pets age.
How often does my pet need a wellness exam?
Every year for a dog or cat is equivalent to five to seven human years, so it is important that your pet receives a wellness exam at least every year, and more often when he enters his senior years. Many aspects of your pet's health can change in a short amount of time, so make sure your pet does not miss even one exam!
Similar to people, pets need to visit the veterinarian more often as they get older in order to prevent and treat illnesses that come with age (visit Senior Pet Care for more information). AAHA recommends that healthy dogs and cats visit the veterinarian once a year for a complete exam and laboratory testing. Healthy senior dogs and cats should receive a wellness exam and lab testing every six months. Depending on your pet's age and health, your veterinarian will suggest an appropriate physical examination schedule to help keep your pet in tip-top shape.
What can I expect during my pet's wellness examination?
Your veterinarian will request a complete history of your pet's health. Don't forget to mention any unusual behavior that you have noticed in your pet, including:
- Eating more than usual
- Excessive drinking of water, panting, scratching or urination
- Weight gain or weight loss
Your veterinarian will also want to know about your pet's daily behavior, including his diet, how much water he drinks and his exercise routine. Your veterinarian may ask:
- Does your pet have trouble getting up in the morning?
- Does your pet show signs of weakness or unbalance?
- Does your pet show an unwillingness to exercise?
Depending on where you live, your pet's lifestyle and age, and other factors, your veterinarian may also ask about your pet's exposure to fleas, ticks, heartworms and intestinal parasites. He or she will develop an individualized treatment and/or preventative plan to address these issues.
Usually at the beginning of the exam, your veterinarian, a veterinary technician or an assistant will take your pet's temperature, pulse, respiration (breathing) rate and body weight. If your pet has lost weight since his last physical exam, he may be experiencing the early stages of metabolic disease, such as kidney disease or diabetes. If your pet has gained weight since his last exam, your veterinarian will work with you to develop an appropriate diet and exercise plan to return your pet to a healthier weight. Weight is an important consideration in your pet's health - an extra two or three pounds could mean the difference between your pet being fit and healthy or obese.
Your veterinarian may ask if your pet has been shaking his head or scratching at his ears, and if you have noticed an odor coming from your pet's ears. Your pet's ear canals protect his inner ear, but can also become a home for parasites and other foreign objects. Your veterinarian will closely examine your pet's ears to make sure they are healthy.
Eye examinations often reveal many health issues, including anemia, infections, glaucoma, cataracts, high blood pressure, jaundice, kidney problems and allergies, in addition to eye injuries and ulcers. Your veterinarian may examine your cat's eyes to evaluate her past and present nutritional condition. Observation of the inner structures and outward appearances of the eyes will be included in an eye examination.
Your veterinarian will inspect your pet's gums, teeth, tongue and palate (roof of the mouth) for tartar buildup, dental abnormalities, fractures, loose teeth, tumors, infection and other problems. For example, similar to people, a lack of red or pink color in your pet's gums or lining of his lips could signal anemia. Your veterinarian will discuss the importance of regular at-home and professional teeth cleaning to prevent periodontal disease, which can cause bad breath and tooth loss.
Heart and Lungs
Your veterinarian will use a stethoscope to listen to your pet's heart and lungs for early signs of heart and respiratory disease.
If your pet has not been spayed or neutered, your veterinarian may discuss with you the many health benefits of spaying/neutering beyond just birth control. Your veterinarian will check your pet's reproductive system for swellings, discharges and breast lumps.
Your pet's skin is his largest organ and a good gauge of his health. Your veterinarian will check your pet's skin and hair for fleas, ticks, other external parasites, tumors and wounds, as well as signs of allergies, infection, warts and tumors.
From Head to Toe
Your veterinarian will feel your pet's abdomen for abnormalities, including enlarged organs, masses or painful areas, to detect problems with the stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver and other organs. Your veterinarian will also examine your pet's legs and feet and the condition of your pet's joints, muscles, lymph nodes and nose.
Your veterinarian may recommend additional testing to diagnose or verify a health problem if he finds any abnormalities during your pet's examination.
Vaccinations are one of the most important preventive measure you can take for the health of your pet. Dogs can be immunized against distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, parvovirus, coronavirus, Bordetella, rabies, and Lyme disease. Cats can be immunized against feline panleukopenia (distemper), rabies, feline rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, chlamydia, feline leukemia, and FIP.
How frequently you should have your pet vaccinated against certain diseases depends on many factors, so talk to your veterinarian to understand what is recommended for your pet's unique environment and lifestyle. Visit the Healthypet article Vaccinations for more information.
Do not underestimate the importance of taking your pet to the veterinarian for regular wellness examinations. These regular examinations will help your pet live a longer and healthier life, so do your part to care for your furry friend!
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