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Safeguard Your Pets’ Health with Wellness Exams

Because our pets age so much faster than we do, periodic wellness checks are one of the best ways you, as an owner, can help them have long and happy lives. Unlike vaccination or emergency appointments, annual or twice-yearly visits (depending on your pet’s age) allow veterinarians to identify problems before they become severe. Treatment is usually less expensive and veterinarians have a greater chance for saving pets’ lives.

Wellness visits or “preventative medicine,” can increase the length and quality of our pets’ lives, says Janice Trumpeter, DVM. For instance, 85 percent of cats develop kidney disease by the time they’re 15-years-old. “If we catch the problem early, we can put them on a special diet to reduce [the severity of] the disease as they get older.”

Animals in their first year of life receive thorough examinations each time they come in for boosters and vaccinations. Afterwards, annual or bi-annual wellness exams are tailored to the animal’s age and weight.

For instance, a six-year-old, 40-pound dog is considered an adult and would receive blood tests, fecal test, complete urinalysis, parasite check, and scheduled vaccinations and dental care during its annual wellness check. In addition, the pet’s owners would be asked about medical or behavioral concerns, and nutrition and exercise requirements would be discussed.

Because larger dogs age more quickly, a six-year-old dog that weighs 49 pounds is considered a senior. In addition to the blood and fecal tests, urinalysis, parasite check, appropriate vaccinations, and dental care, a veterinarian would look for early signs of arthritis, hypertension and glaucoma.

In both cases, lab work is customized to an animal’s size, weight and breed and it is used to detect early-onset blood disorders, kidney and liver disease, diabetes, infection, cancer, thyroid disease, and hormonal problems.

Wellness Visits: A True Value

You may remember a childhood pet that seemed to live a healthy life despite rare visits to the veterinarian, so are annual wellness checks really necessary?

Mesa Veterinary Hospital’s Christine Horst, DVM, believes they are valuable because many diseases that were once terminal can now be treated or cured with early detection and because annual laboratory tests can be used to create a customized medical history for your pet.

This history can be essential in identifying problems that might otherwise go undiagnosed. For example, “Blood tests can help evaluate liver function. The normal range of liver enzymes is 10-150. For a dog, the value is usually 37-55 percent,” Horst said. If blood test values for your dog have always been below 40 percent, a jump to 55 percent could signal a problem even though it still falls within the normal range, she explained.

Ultimately, wellness checks provide information our pets cannot offer themselves.

“Dogs and cats are excellent at hiding disease. It’s not uncommon for them to develop serious ailments such as hypothyroidism or kidney disease and appear to be fine,” Horst said. “If you wait until they show evidence of kidney failure, for instance, it’s difficult to turn [the problem] around. But if we can catch the disease early, when they’re asymptomatic, we can usually make a difference."

This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 1 Issue 1, published by the American Animal Hospital Association.

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