January 05, 2022 Wellness

The Best New Year’s Resolution for Your Pet: An Annual Wellness Exam

A dog on a scale

The Best New Year’s Resolution for Your Pet: An Annual Wellness Exam

Many of us look at the new year as an opportunity to improve our health. Pet owners should consider the same for their pets. To help you get 2022 off on the right paw, I will devote January’s blog posts to healthy living suggestions for pets. This first blog post will focus on your pet’s annual examination by their primary care veterinarian, as recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). (The Animal Medical Center hospital is proud to be an AAHA-accredited hospital.)

An Annual Exam is About More Than Vaccines

An annual examination helps you and your veterinarian create a comprehensive healthcare plan for your pet. At least once a year, your pet should undergo a complete physical examination to plan for preventive care, like heartworm testing and prophylaxis, and to identify any early signs of illness. The annual examination also maintains your veterinarian-client-patient relationship, which is a legal requirement for veterinarians providing care and medications to your pet. Of course, vaccinations are an important part of the preventive care plan, but there is so much more.

Assessing Your Pet’s Medical History

An annual wellness exam typically starts with your pet’s medical history. This is your opportunity to explain any concerns about your pet’s health to your pet’s veterinarian. We want to know about your pet’s lifestyle, behavior and diet to identify risks to their health and wellbeing. For example, if your dog goes to a boarding kennel, vaccination against kennel cough and influenza may be necessary. If your cat goes outdoors, we need to discuss feline leukemia virus testing and vaccination. Recently, the issue of grain free diets and heart disease has made getting a diet history more important.

Your Pet’s Physical Examination

A complete physical examination should evaluate your pet from nose to toes. In addition to examining the outside of your pet’s body, I use my hands on your pet’s abdomen to feel for abnormalities of the internal organs. I also look at the retina using a special lens and penlight, perform a rectal examination to identify abnormalities of the anal sacs and colon and listen to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope.

Creating a Care Plan for Your Pet

Based on your pet’s medical history and physical examination, your veterinarian will formulate a customized care plan for your pet. These plans can be diagnostic, preventive, therapeutic and a plan for follow up visits.

Diagnostic Plans For Your Pet

The diagnostic plan might be as simple as a heartworm test and a fecal analysis for your dog. Or, if your cat has lost weight and is drinking excessive amounts of water, testing might include blood tests for diabetes and kidney disease, evaluation of a urine sample and maybe an abdominal ultrasound.

Preventive Plans For Your Pet

Preventive plans typically target infectious disease using vaccines. There are “core vaccines” recommended for all dogs or cats and “non-core vaccines” given to pets where disease risk is unusually high. For example, a dog that enjoys frequent hikes in the woods where ticks are prevalent is a good candidate for a Lyme disease vaccine. Other preventive plans include microchipping and spaying or neutering if you are not planning on having a litter of puppies or kittens.

Therapeutic Plans For Your Pet

In some ways, the therapeutic plan is an extension of the preventive plan since medications designed to prevent fleas, tick, heartworms and intestinal parasites are listed in the AAHA Preventive Healthcare Guidelines as therapeutic. Additionally, prescription diets can be part of the therapeutic regimen, for example in patients with chronic kidney disease or inflammatory bowel disease. Another aspect of the therapeutic plan is dental health. Scheduling a complete dental examination, x-rays and cleaning under general anesthesia may be just one of the follow-up recommendations arising out of the annual examination.

Follow-up Plans For Your Pet

Once the diagnostic, preventive, and therapeutic plans are set, all that is left to schedule is the follow-up visit. If your pet is healthy, that might not be until next year. However, if your pet needs tests to monitor their response to a new treatment, it might be next month. Whatever the timing, remember that follow up is critical to keep your favorite fur person healthy in 2022 and beyond.

Tags: annual check-ups, Annual exam, Annual wellness exam, Medical History, Physical examination, vaccines, wellness exam,

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