Are Annual Exams For Our Pets Really Necessary?
There has been much written lately about whether annual physical exams actually benefit human beings. With health care costs rising, more studies are being done on whether annual exams for people have become outdated and unnecessary. Some studies have concluded that they don’t really save lives, since most people visit a doctor only when they’re sick and not because of findings from a routine examination. Others go so far as to say that annual exams for humans may even be potentially harmful because they can lead to unnecessary testing, subjecting us to additional doses of radiation that we don’t need and causing us undue stress and worry.
But what about annual exams for our pets? Is it worth the effort or stress involved for a trip to the veterinarian if our pets seem healthy and happy?
This question came up many times while I was in veterinary practice. And after years of working in veterinary medicine (and caring for my own pets), I believe that annual exams are most definitely worth the time and expense.
- Annual exams provide an important opportunity for you and your veterinarian to discuss the lifestyle, risk factors, and overall wellness of your pet.
This isn’t just limited to your veterinarian administering vaccines, looking in your pet’s ears and listening to his heart. It allows you take advantage of your vet’s undivided attention to create a customized wellness plan for your pet, including proper nutrition, exercise, vaccination decisions, behavioral issues, training, medications, and parasite control, in addition to discussing your pet’s overall health and condition.
When it comes to the health of your pet, never hesitate to ask your veterinarian questions during the exam - vets know that an educated pet parent leads to a happier and healthier pet!
- It provides a baseline comparison for your veterinarian if your pet ever becomes ill.
How will your vet know if your pet is losing (or gaining) weight, acts lethargic, or has changing blood chemistry levels if there is no “normal” to compare it to? If no one has previously noted what blood test values or behavior is normal for your pet, your vet has nothing to compare them against and will be less likely to be aware of any potentially abnormal changes.
- Animals can’t tell us when something is wrong.
Even if our pets appear healthy, there could be a medical condition present that we just aren’t aware of. A thorough physical examination can uncover previously undetected weight loss (especially if the pet has a fluffy hair coat), parasites, dental disease, ear infections, impacted anal glands, skin infections, allergies, arthritis, and a whole host of other problems that may go unnoticed by pet parents.
I’ll never forget the routine annual exam on a 3-year old golden retriever in my veterinary clinic that revealed the dog’s extremely pale gums - a warning sign of severe anemia. After a quick x-ray of the dog’s abdomen, we were able to identify a large tumor growing on his spleen that was causing internal bleeding. The dog was rushed into emergency surgery and underwent a splenectomy (spleen removal), which ultimately saved his life. Without immediate surgical intervention, this dog would have continued to bleed internally until it would have been too late to save him.
Although this is a dramatic example, there are many diseases and conditions that start very subtly and slowly progress, including kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, Cushing’s disease, and canine cognitive dysfunction. When these diseases are caught early, many can be treated successfully and their progression can be slowed, increasing your pet’s lifespan and improving his quality of life.
- Pets age faster than we do.
Although it may seem like you and your pet just saw your veterinarian, it’s important to remember that, in animal years, an annual exam for your pet may be the equivalent to you having a check-up every 5 to 7 years - which certainly wouldn’t be out of the ordinary! For our pets, a lot can change in a year, so an annual exam (or bi-annual, if the pet is older) is a very wise investment.
So please take advantage of the opportunity to have your pet examined by a veterinarian annually. It will give you the chance to discuss all aspects of your pet’s well-being, and it will give your pet the best chance of enjoying life with you for many years to come!
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