Have you ever left the vet feeling like you spent all of your budget but aren’t sure if your dog really got your money’s worth out of it? Sometimes the open communication between ourselves and our veterinarian can be rushed or lacking, and we are left feeling like we’re in the dark about our dog’s wellness regimen. Its better for our wallets, peace of mind, and our dog’s health if we understand exactly what the essential vet exams are, and which treatments are unnecessary and excessive.
What Exams Are Essential?
Your dog needs routine wellness exams in the same way that we need routine physicals. If your dog doesn’t have a wellness exam between the ages of two and six, that’s like you not seeing a doctor between the ages or 24 and 40! If you can imagine how many changes and risks there are to your health in those years then you can imagine the same for your dog. A year is a long time in a dog’s life. If he lives through his early teens to be 13, yearly exams will only equate to 13 exams in his whole life which isn’t a lot when you think of it that way!
Routine Wellness Exams
Wellness visits are essential for maintaining a relationship with your veterinarian and establishing the best preventative care so you can address health concerns early on. We all know that preventing disease and catching it early is so much better than treating it once it has progressed to a severe stage. Preventative health care on a regular basis saves you and your dog from needless suffering and a greater financial strain.
Wellness exams play a crucial part in prolonging your dog’s life and keeping her healthy long term. Puppies should have wellness visits 2-3 times per year at the beginning of their lives, and adult dogs should go at least once per year and twice per year if your budget allows it. Laci goes to the vet more often than Zoey and Jem because she’s a seven month old puppy. Zoey and Jem see the vet twice per year for preventative care and wellness exams. We love to see how comfortable they are at the vet from going regularly. Jem even fell asleep on the floor of the exam room! Now that’s relaxation.
Senior dogs should begin having wellness exams twice per year minimum and sometimes three times per year. This is when things can change most rapidly with your dog’s health. You want to catch any diseases or concerns as early as you can for the best chance of curing it. These visits are important for:
- Understanding age-related changes and degenerative conditions
- Exercise and diet
- Comfort support
- Routine lab tests to detect disease early
- Share any concerns with your vet
- Have questions addressed, answered, and documented for future reference
- Diagnose any health problems in the early stages
- Update vaccines
- Test for/control intestinal parasites, fleas, ticks, and mites, heart worm
- Refill prescriptions for preventatives
- Dental health
- Care you can administer at home, observe any odors, pain, or signs of disease and establish a course of treatment
- Note how much exercise your dog is getting including how often, what kind, and any changes in your dog’s ability or enthusiasm to exercise
- Ears and Eyes
- Note any discharge, redness, irritation, itching, or smell and treat for infection
- Stomach and intestines
- Keep track and note any vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, gas, belching, or abnormal stools
- Report any coughing, shortness of breath, sneezing, or nasal discharge
- Share with your vet any changes in mood, happiness, behavior problems, or changes in temperament
- Note any abnormal accidents and an increase in the frequency of urination for signs of infection
- Feet and legs
- Report any limping, weakness, lameness, or toenail concerns
- Coat and skin
- Any hair loss, pigment changes, lumps, itchy spots, shedding, mats, or anal gland problems
- Blood tests
- Especially for geriatric dogs, dogs with medical problems, and those receiving medications
- Preventative care options
The American Heartworm Society firmly recommends your dog be tested for heartworm every year at her wellness visits, even if you are religiously following a heartworm prevention regimen. There have been numerous cases where dogs were on heartworm prevention and still contracted the disease. The AHS strongly suggests getting tested every year so if your dog contacts the disease you have a better idea of the time frame it was contracted than if you haven’t had him tested in 3 years or more. Annual testing and uninterrupted routine heartworm prevention can make the difference between life and death of your furry best friend. You’ll never wish you had used prevention more than when it becomes too late! Never take that unnecessary risk.
According to an article from PetEducation.com, experts agree that the core vaccines necessary for all dogs are:
The non-core vaccines that vets will give dogs include:
- Canine parainfluenza and Bordetella bronchisephtica (causes of kennel cough)
- Borrelia burgdorferi (causes lyme disease)
There have been controversies recently about vaccines for dogs and cats. Some researches believe that we don’t need to vaccinate every year for most of the diseases. However, they haven’t determined exactly how often we should vaccinate for each disease because they actually don’t know how long the protection from the vaccine lasts. Surprised? Me too! I always assumed it was a pretty exact science and trusted that yearly vaccinations were the necessary standard. They say that one vaccine may last 5 years, another for 3 years, and a different one for only 2 years.
Almost all researchers still believe that we need to give puppies at least three combination vaccines that must be repeated when they turn one year old. Rabies must continue to be given within the guidelines of local ordinances.
There is new research from the veterinary schools at the University of Minnesota, Colorado State University, and University of Wisconsin that suggests a new approach to vaccines where we alternate which vaccines we give our dog from year to year. Instead of vaccinating against more than one disease at once, your dog would receive the distemper vaccine one year, canine adenovirus-2 the next year, and parvovirus the third year repeated. However, other researchers still believe we don’t know enough about these vaccines yet to recommend only vaccinating every three years. It is up to each individual dog parent to discuss vaccines with your vet to determine the best course of prevention for your dog.
Controlling Intestinal Parasites
Fecal exams and deworming is as controversial as vaccines when it comes to how often your dog should be tested. Testing and deworming decisions should be based on:
- The age of your dog
- Likelihood your dog is exposed to feces from other animals
- If your dog is on a heartworm preventative that controls intestinal parasites
- If your dog has been infected before
- If there are children who play with your dog
The American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and The Companion Animal Parasite Council all suggest testing for parasites and deworming at your yearly wellness visit. If your dog follows a strict heartworm/intestinal parasite preventative regimen year-round, they still suggest having a fecal test done. If your dog is not on a heartworm/intestinal parasite prevention (have your dog tested immediately and started on a preventative), then he needs a fecal test 2-4 times per year and to be treated accordingly.
Older dogs are at risk for conditions that younger dogs are not. If your dog is reaching his senior years, you may want to have him tested for:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Kidney disease
- Hormonal diseases
Identifying these conditions before severe or irreversible damage is done is vital for treating the condition early. A normal, healthy result is extremely helpful so future test results can be compared. If your dog is on medication, blood work and screening is important to see how the medication is affecting his body.
Annual wellness exams, vaccinations, heartworm testing, and parasite control combined with recommended blood tests will play a critical role in keeping your dog healthy and help him live longer! Jem and Zoey are used to having a calm and stress-free exam at the vet, so they don’t dread the visits or get nervous and scared. They are very calm and content at their regular wellness exams.
The responsibility of keeping your dog in tip-top shape isn’t only up to your veterinarian. You should always keep a close eye on your dog’s health at home year round and report back to your vet regarding her personality, activity level, eating habits, etc. Check for lumps, bumps, flakes, scabs, irritation, redness, and itching. Pay close attention to eating and drinking habits because changes can be signs of serious problems. We all wish our dogs could just tell us what is bothering them, hurting, or when they feel sick. Unfortunately, we have to rely on our gut instincts, observations, and subtle signs our dogs show us. If you can remember to pay attention to changes in your dog from home and stick to a routine vet exam regimen, then your four legged furball will be in great shape!