I know we have presented this article many times over the years, but we must stress the extreme importance of getting one’s pet in for a physical exam at the very least once a year. Pets age so much faster than we do that by the time one sees symptoms, the problem could have far-reaching effects. One should call the veterinarian whenever something is unusual in a pet’s behavior or physical appearance. The most dangerous sentence is: “Maybe it will go away.” We have seen countless cases this year of pet owners who have thought “maybe it will go away,” then when they realize they can no longer wait, it is often too late and the damage has been done. One should go with one’s gut instinct: if one thinks something is wrong, it probably is.
Why does my pet need a physical exam every year?
Detecting disease early is key to helping our pets live longer, healthier, and more comfortable lives. The health of a pet can change rapidly as it ages, and changes often go unnoticed. A pet that visits the veterinarian once a year is comparable to a person who sees the doctor once every seven years. That is why the American Veterinary Medical Association promotes twice-a-year physical exams for dogs and cats.
What happens during a physical exam?
Pets under the age of 6 years should have a physical exam at least once a year to detect any changes that may indicate disease. During a pet’s physical exam, the doctor will ask questions about the pet’s physical and mental behavior. A physical exam consists of an examination of the pet’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth and teeth, and skin and rectal area. The veterinarian will listen to the pet’s heart and lungs and feel the abdomen for tumors or organ enlargement, as well look for as lumps and bumps on the body. The pet is weighed and its temperature is taken. A stool sample test is also part of the yearly checkup, so be sure to bring a sample at the time of the visit.
The information gained from the physical exam and answers to the veterinarian’s questions can determine whether a pet has early signs of a disease or another problem. Lab tests may be recommended at this time to further evaluate the health of the pet. When problems are detected early, lifestyle adjustments can often be made to slow the process of and/or prevent disease.
For pets that are considered “senior,” twice-a-year physical exams are recommended since pets age much faster than people do. Most dogs and cats reach their senior years at around 8 years of age. When seemingly healthy older pets are brought in for routine checkups, 20 percent of blood tests reveal medical conditions that otherwise would have gone undetected. Many symptoms that pet owners think are normal signs of aging, such as stiffness from arthritis, can be treated to keep the pet comfortable.
A word about cats
By population, cats outnumber dogs in U.S. households, yet dogs get more veterinary care. Common myths about cats may be partly to blame, such as: cats are naturally healthier and more problem free than dogs, feline health problems come from the outside and do not affect indoor cats, and cats display visible signs of illness the same way dogs do.
Cats need regular care, including exams and vaccinations, just like dogs do. And because cats are naturally adept at hiding signs of illness, yearly exams are especially important for early diagnosis of health problems.
Any pet should be checked by a veterinarian if one notices any change in weight, water consumption, appetite, activity level, breathing, hair coat, elimination habits, or general behavior. Observant owners are the veterinarian’s first and often best information to for detecting early disease in pets. You know your pets’ behavior. Don’t hesitate to call the veterinarian; it could save a pet’s life.