“So, Doctor, should I see you again with Fluffy in a year?”
Mrs. Jones has just asked a crucial question about the scheduling of Fluffy’s care. How often is it best to take one’s pet in to see the doctor?
As far as vaccinations go, most experts agree that booster vaccinations annually to protect against infectious disease, including Rabies, is entirely adequate. But, keep in mind that vaccinations aren’t the only thing your pet’s doctor does when he sees your pet dog or cat for a visit.
The single most important procedure performed is the physical examination. A thorough check of eyes, ears, nose and throat; listening to the heart and lung sounds; checking for lumps, bumps and enlarged lymph nodes, all of these are important.
They can’t talk like we can to tell someone when something isn’t right. And even though humans can tell their doctors where they hurt, they don’t always know they have a problem. Likewise, if your pet has a problem that you’re not aware of, a checkup every six months allows the problem to be found before it does so much damage.
For example, what good would it do for the veterinarian to protect your dog against Distemper virus infection if the patient has a huge tumor growing in his abdomen? A good physical examination is crucial.
In addition to vaccinations and physical exam, your pet’s doctor will test your pet for intestinal parasites. We often hear the comment, “My pet never goes outside, so he doesn’t need that test.” However, almost every dog and cat harbors such parasites in inactive forms in their bodies from birth. If factors evolve that cause those parasites to migrate to the intestine, we want to know before they cause vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and weight loss. Remember, these visits are about prevention.
Heartworm prevention is also a crucial part of regular checkups. Dogs should undergo heartworm testing at least annually to ensure that their heartworm preventive is working properly. If your dog has missed doses of his preventive, he will need more frequent testing. Cats, because their relationship with the heartworm parasite is different, usually do not require regularly scheduled testing.
Examinations for healthy pets, then should be performed at a minimum of once yearly. Twice yearly examinations, however, double our chances of catching problems early. Keep in mind that dogs and cats age more quickly than people. If you have a doctor’s exam once a year, only 1.25% of your life has passed between exams. For the pet who lives 15 years, for every year that passes 6.7% of his life has passed.
So far we’ve focused on examinations for healthy pets. For those pets who have health problems, more frequent visits may be required. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t diagnose another pet with diabetes. These patients require frequent monitoring and testing to ensure their good health.
Cancer patients also require frequent visits. I have a patient who lost a leg to bone cancer several years ago. She had chemotherapy and has done beautifully with visits every 4 months since her last clear chest X-ray.
Another comes to mind who didn’t do so well. This patient had a very manageable kind of cancer but also required the amputation of a leg. We recommended quarterly medical progress exams, but didn’t see her again for 18 months. Cancer was in her lungs and was untreatable by then.
Semiannual evaluations are good for pets of all ages. Even the young and middle-aged can benefit. Finding a lump or other health problem early may prevent pain and complications.