It appears each year: The postcard or email from your veterinarian reminding you that it’s time for your dog’s annual checkup. But you think about your already overscheduled, hectic life and may find yourself asking, “Do I really need to take my dog to the vet every year? We went last year and everything was fine.”
It’s not simply about updating vaccinations or running unnecessary tests, I assure you. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends annual physical examinations (semi-annual if your pet is a senior). Let me explain some of the benefits:
1. The L Word (Lifestyle)
An annual physical exam not only gives a pet owner and veterinarian a chance to regularly re-evaluate the animal’s health, but also offers an opportunity to discuss new health risks and concerns that may be changing over time. A pet’s lifestyle changes through the years, including but not limited to, housing, diet, exercise levels, daily habits, roommate pets, travels, boarding, and bedding. It even includes the habits and household situation of the owners. (New child in the house? Grown child home from college? Retirement? New spouse? Recent serious illness or surgery with a family member?) These lifestyle factors affect everything from food recommendations and vaccinations to medications and behavioral training.
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Dogs and cats instinctively do not show signs of illness. In the wild, a member of the pack who lags behind will be ostracized from the group and left to fend for themselves. Not to mention the fact that predators quickly target those who show signs of weakness. Some breeds of dogs have even been selectively bred be stoic and tolerate high levels of pain for maximum performance. These characteristics can make it difficult for a pet owner to pick up on the subtle signs that something is amiss with their pet. My colleagues frequently detect evidence of disease during routine physical exams. These often surprise the owner. Signs of internal or external parasites, gastrointestinal disease, cardiac problems, or hormonal imbalances—these can all be quite subtle at first. If caught early these conditions are more easily managed.
3. How Time Flies
I am going to assume that you go to your physician more than once every seven years. Right? You’ve likely heard the adage that pets age seven years for every calendar year. This varies from breed to breed but for the most part there is considerable truth in this statement. Just as you can have significant changes in your own health over a seven-year span of time, so can your pet.
4. Watching the Trends
You see your pet every day—which may make it more difficult to notice changes that may occur over time. With regular wellness exams, your veterinarian is more able to pick up on any meaningful health trends occurring with time such as weight loss or gain, steadily increasing blood values, muscle mass changes, mobility, etc.
5. Fearful Fido
Is the main reason you are hesitant to go based on an unpleasant experience in the past or a negative reaction from your dog? Make sure you have a veterinarian that mirrors your own personal philosophies and style. It shouldn’t be scary or stressful for either of you to visit the veterinarian.