Many people avoid going to the doctor, except when they are sick. But even if you won’t take yourself in for a physical, you should take your pet in for a veterinary exam at least once a year. Unlike a human, a dog or cat can’t tell you when he’s not feeling well. Dogs and cats are often incredibly stoic about pain, so you may not realize there is a problem until it is quite advanced. As with people, early detection is key to treating many illnesses. Plus, dogs and cats have a much shorter lifespan than humans and a lot can change in just one year.
The bottom line is that making that effort to get your pet in for his annual physical and vaccination is the single most important thing you can do to maintain his health, so don’t put it off. Many veterinarians also give vaccinations during the annual exam. But other than shots, what exactly is the vet doing when he peers and pokes around Fluffy or Rover?
Vets have special training to detect subtle changes that may indicate illness. Generally, during the exam, the veterinarian will listen to the pet’s heart and lungs, look in the mouth, eyes and ears, and palpitate the body to look for any unusual lumps or bumps.
At the same time, the veterinarian will ask you about any changes you’ve observed in your pet’s behavior. Don’t be afraid to bring up even small things. You see your pet every day, and it’s easy to overlook small differences over time unless you pay attention. If there have been any changes in eating habits, weight gain or loss, vomiting, coughing, sneezing, or behavioral changes, be sure to report them to your veterinarian. Even if something seems a little "odd," or your pet is acting "funny" in any way, tell your vet.
Depending on your pet’s health history, the veterinarian may also suggest "blood work" to screen for certain diseases and organ functions. Yearly blood screens can help your vet spot various problems before they become serious. The vet may also recommend heartworm tests and a fecal exam to check for worms or other parasites.
As your pet ages, your vet may suggest more frequent exams. Since every year of a dog or cat’s life is equivalent to between 5 and 10 human years, pets over the age of 6 or so may develop age-related problems that can progress quickly. Just as a 40-year old human shouldn’t wait 10 years to have a physical, 6-year old Rover may need to go to the vet’s office more than once a year.
You and your vet are on the same team: you both want to see your pet live the longest, healthiest life possible. Getting your pet in for his physical exam is the best way to prevent or treat potentially devastating diseases. The best medicine is always preventative medicine. At the exam, the vet can diagnose and treat problems early, so you can enjoy life with your furry friend as long as possible.