Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Key to a Happier, Healthier Pet: Annual Vet Checkups

Want to know why veterinarians are always reminding you about annual checkups? Because they are one of the easiest things you can do to help keep your cat or dog happy and healthy for many years to come. Unfortunately, it's also something that can easily be forgotten or pushed off for another time.

In fact, according to a recent petMD poll nearly 2 in 10 pet owners hadn't visited their vet for a routine checkup in the past year. Take it from a veterinarian — that's a big deal!

Missing Just One Annual Exam Can Still Be HUGE

The reason the standard recommendation for cats and dogs to visit the veterinarian once a year for a checkup is because missing even one yearly exam for your pet is roughly equivalent to you, a human, not seeing a doctor for five years! These wellness checkups not only allow us to catch certain diseases at their onset, which can prevent them from getting worse, but they also potentially save you money in the long run. That's a definite win-win situation.

Dental disease in both cats and dogs is the perfect example of this.  During your pet’s annual exam your veterinarian will assess their degree of dental disease and recommend yearly dental cleanings. 

Sherman, a 6-year-old Yorkie-Chihuahua mix, came to me for his initial exam shortly after being adopted by his new family at 3 years old. He had moderate tartar with minimal gingivitis, but I didn't notice any obviously diseased teeth. Nevertheless, given the heavy tartar and stinky breath, I recommended a dental cleaning and oral exam to be performed under general anesthesia.

We were shocked to discover during the cleaning that Sherman had severe dental disease and needed to have 13 teeth extracted. That's the funny thing about dental disease — things may not look so bad on the surface, but once you start poking under the gumline the disease may be running rampant and unchecked.

Fortunately, Sherman felt like a new dog after having all of his painful and diseased teeth removed. He now gets annual dental cleanings to minimize bacteria buildup on his teeth and monitor for new disease under the gumline. We also started him on a dental diet to help keep tartar to a minimum to maintain his healthy new smile.

Vet Checkups are Even More Important in Your Pet's Senior Years

Veterinarians often recommend senior dogs and cats undergo yearly baseline bloodwork in order to screen for metabolic abnormalities. Elevations in your pet's liver or kidney values, for example, can indicate one of these organs is compromised and needs to be addressed. Senior cats often have issues with kidney function as they age.

Take Charlie, a 12-year-old kitty that is a patient of mine. During his annual exam Charlie's owner reported that he was doing well at home but perhaps drinking just a bit more than usual. Charlie's physical exam was unremarkable overall, but he had lost just a touch of weight compared to the year prior.

We submitted a chemistry panel, complete blood cell count, thyroid level and urinalysis. This is the standard baseline that I check on all senior cats. The urinalysis is essential to alerting us to diminished kidney function and increased thyroid levels, which are often to blame for weight loss in cats. In Charlie’s case he had dilute urine and very mild elevations in his kidney values on the chemistry panel, an indication that his kidneys were not working well and confirmation he had chronic kidney disease (CKD). 

Had Charlie not come in for an annual exam, the CKD would have gone unmanaged and further complicated his health. Fortunately for Charlie and other cats with CKD, the quality of life can be improved when steps to maintain kidney function are implemented—therapeutic kidney-friendly diet and increased water intake, to name a couple of changes. Charlie's annual exams were also bumped up to every six months so that we could
closely monitor his blood work and blood pressure for unusual changes.

Annual Exams: A Great Way to Answer Your Pet Health, Too

I could write story after story about patients of mine that greatly benefited from a yearly checkup. But these appointments are also the best time to discuss with your veterinarian any concerns you have regarding your pet’s health. It can be something as subtle as tips to help your dog lose a few pounds; which supplements are best for preventing joint disease or diet suggestion to help senior pets ward off dementia. 

By working with your veterinarian during annual wellness checkups, your pet can better stay happy and healthy…so you can love them longer!

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