Many pets and clients we have seen come in just when their pets are ill. That is great, we love to help those pets feel better, but an even BETTER feeling is keeping those pets from getting sick in the first place! Often pets, especially for cats and exotics, hide their illness from their owners until they are very ill. That is why wellness exams are recommended.
During a well exam, your veterinarian has a whole list of things he/she will go through. First, we want to hear from you how your pet is doing. Do you notice any abnormal behaviors? Do you have any concerns? We also want to hear about your pet’s daily life, including how much exercise they get, what kind of food they eat, and any other maintenance items you do for you dog (brushing their teeth, grooming appointments).
Most importantly is the wellness physical exam. During an exam, our goal is to catch any issues often before you even notice they are there! Dental disease is one of the most common findings (in cats, dogs, and small mammals) as most owners do not put their fingers in their pet’s mouths to check this. If we can catch dental disease early, start some preventative measures (like brushing), and potentially perform a dental cleaning, often we can not only protect the health of your pet’s teeth but their overall health as well! During our exam we look at the rest of the pet’s mouth (checking for masses or ulcerations), we look at their eyes (examining their cornea, lens, and retina for any abnormalities), and feel all of their lymph nodes. We look in their ears and check their skin. We also listen to their heart and lungs, often catching heart disease very early. We palpate their abdomen for masses, swelling, or pain. We also check for evidence of orthopedic injuries and arthritis.
We then check their records to see what sort of vaccines and bloodwork your pet has had. This varies very much from species to species (for example, generally I do not recommend any vaccines for my exotic critters) but also varies from year to year. A few years ago, I considered leptospirosis a rare disease, more commonly seen in very active outdoor and swimming dogs. However, as we see more and more of it in dogs that never leave the yard, I now recommend the leptospirosis vaccine for all dogs. If you just brought your dog in when they were ill or when you got a rabies vaccine reminder, you may not have known about this! Also, we like to be sure all dogs are getting heartworm prevention and often flea/tick prevention.
As pets age, we often recommend labwork. Again, this helps us to screen for disease before an animal actually feels the effects of it or shows any signs. Usually this consists of a blood sample, but often a urine sample is requested as well. In a blood sample, we check many different values including a red blood cell count, a white blood cell count, organ values (liver and kidneys), electrolytes, proteins, and a thyroid value. A urine sample is helpful to check for kidney function, as well as evidence of inflammation, infection, and protein loss. A yearly fecal exam is recommended to make sure your pet has not picked up any internal parasites. Other diagnostics may be recommended based on our exam, including special blood panels or imaging (x-rays or ultrasound). These can be discussed at length if we think they are indicated.
As a pet heads to his senior years, we recommend exams every 6 months. This is because for a pet, a single year is equivalent to 5-7 human years! For senior pets, we do not want to wait quite that long before repeating an exam in case anything more serious develops. Generally, we recommend a blood and urine panel yearly for senior pets.
Please contact us to set up your pet’s wellness exam. Let’s work together to keep your pets healthy!
Julia Katzenbach, DVM