Common client questions: How often should my pet visit the vet?
A typical series of the questions I commonly get is, “Doc, how often does my pet need to go for a checkup?” This question is often then followed up by a pet owner stating their pet is mostly indoors or around the house and is not exposed to many other pets or diseases, and eats and acts totally normal.
The answer to such questions will vary depending upon the individual pet, in terms of his or her age, lifestyle, and risk of exposure to other animals and/or infectious diseases. Animal guardians often don’t realize many people can act as what are called “fomites,” which means we can carry infectious diseases into our pets — even those strictly inside or that stay in the yard. The best example of this is canine parvovirus, which can live in the soil for years and can survive in oral or fecal secretions that we may carry in on our shoes or clothing, especially if we handle other pets or go where pets are typically walked or may roam.
Proper but not over-vaccination can help prevent such infectious diseases. The frequency and type of vaccinations your pet will need will again be determined by your pet’s age, lifestyle, and general state of health. We’re starting to learn that immunity to many core viruses in dogs and cats lasts for several years, making annual vaccination for many diseases unnecessary and overkill. However, it’s important for us as veterinarians to re-educate clients away from the need to only see the veterinarian just for shots when that time comes, and to stress the importance of an annual or semiannual physical exam in older pets. These exams may include a complete oral and physical exam, as well as blood work, urine testing and/or x-rays to detect early diseases seen as pets age.
Conditions like periodontal disease are seen in the majority of pets past middle age, and early heart, kidney or liver problems can be detected by a thorough exam and bloodwork, urine analysis, x-rays and EKGs if needed. As with people, middle aged and older pets can suffer from hormonal conditions of the thyroid gland as well as diabetes, which when detected early on, can be more easily managed. Annual microscopic stool exams can detect microscopic parasitic eggs that sometimes pose risks to humans, as well as annual blood testing for the mosquito-transmitted heartworm disease. Both tests should be completed to insure both your dog and cat aren’t harboring potentially dangerous worms.
Various flea and tick preventative products can help you and your veterinarian come up with the right product or group of products to help protect your pet against fleas, ticks and other external parasites. The selection of the appropriate heartworm and intestinal worm preventative is also important to stay current on so your pet remains protected against both heartworms and intestinal parasites.
Over time, more vets are stressing earlier preventative dental programs using great dental products like C.E.T. Enzymatic Toothpaste or C.E.T. Rinse to help prevent tartar buildup, premature tooth loss, gum inflammation, and oral pain, as well as secondary infections elsewhere in the body that begin in the mouth. Even with regular dental preventative care, many pets will still need their teeth cleaned periodically with ultrasonic scaling, which is another reason to see your vet once to twice yearly. And as a perfect example of early detection, if an older pet is diagnosed with clinical symptoms related to early heart disease, newer and revolutionary prescription drugs like Vetmedin, have been shown to actually enhance survivability of dogs when used early on in the course of this disease.
All of these reasons are why your pets should have at least one annual exam, and semiannual exams for older pets. Most veterinarians are aware of the current economic stresses of modern times and will work with pet owners on which tests and products are necessary for their individual pets, based on their lifestyle and physical exam findings.