By Dr. David A. Sewell, DVM, Crestview Animal Hospital
Just as with human medicine, the importance of preventative care and wellness medicine for our pets cannot be over emphasized. There is a common misconception that annual veterinary visits are primarily for vaccinations. While vaccines are a foundational and essential part of the preventative care plan, they are not necessarily the most important aspect of the health, longevity and quality of life of your pet. Over the years, there has been an active movement within the veterinary profession to change the terminology and emphasis from annual vaccine appointments to annual wellness visits.
Taking an active role in your pet’s preventative care program begins with scheduling annual to semiannual wellness visits with your veterinarian. This should be done regardless of any apparent or overt health concerns or if any vaccinations are required.
Because your pet cannot talk, we rely on you to provide us with key information to help us assess your pet’s overall health status. The veterinary team will ask you specific questions, and your answers will help guide the examination and could potentially reveal developing health issues that can easily go unnoticed otherwise. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam which gives us a comprehensive assessment of your pet’s health. During the exam, your doctor will review various aspects of your pet’s health including:
• Vaccination status
• Parasite control (Heartworms, Intestinal parasites, fleas, ticks etc.)
• Dental health
• Nurition and exercise
After the physical exam, your veterinarian will discuss with you their findings and make recommendations for keeping your family member in optimal health. This will include annual to bi-annual blood tests depending on your pet’s age, health status and pre-existing conditions. Annual bloodwork provides the doctor with invaluable information regarding your pet’s major organ function. Our hope is that many of our blood panels will return with normal results. This set of values is what is commonly referred to as a “baseline.” Then, if your pet returns and is sick for any reason, we can compare current results to your pet’s baseline results.
While a lot of our bloodwork results will be normal, many times we find underlying issues before you would notice any changes at home. Many of these issues can be easily treated, especially if diagnosed early. Some of the more common conditions we find are urinary tract infections, intestinal parasites, hyper- and hypothyroidism, kidney disease and diabetes.
In fact, for me, one of the most rewarding conditions to diagnosis this way is hypothyroidism in dogs. It is a classic example of a disease that often will go undiagnosed without wellness labwork. Just as in people, this condition causes vague symptoms including decreased activity, weight gain and a poor hair coat. Once again, because our furry family members don’t speak with us, they seldom complain about any of these symptoms. However, once diagnosed, the treatment is simple and inexpensive. The pet simply feels better, has more energy, tends to lose weight and ultimately lives a better life. Many diseases, like hypothyroidism, may be masked or overlooked for extended periods of time, and annual blood testing along with the physical exam may help uncover these issues long before you will see symptoms at home.
Our pets are part of our families, and it is your veterinarian’s responsibility to help you keep them healthy for as long as possible by practicing care designed to prevent illness. Talk to your veterinarian to learn more about the importance of wellness medicine for your pet.