An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. – Benjamin Franklin
Regular wellness visits, also known as check-ups, are one of the most important steps in keeping your pet happy and healthy. Ben Franklin was absolutely right when he said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”; it’s much easier to prevent disease than it is to treat it, and much less expensive, too!
The Physical Examination
Beyond just “shots”, check-ups are a chance for us to fully examine your pet from nose to tail, carefully looking for signs of illness that might not be apparent to the untrained eye. Your pet can’t tell us if his knee hurts in the morning or if her vision is getting cloudy, so we rely upon a comprehensive physical examination to better asses your pet’s overall health. Some of the many things we may note during a physical examination include:
- Ear Infection
- Dental disease, including periodontal disease and tooth fractures
- Heart murmurs
- Abnormal abdominal organs, such as an enlarged liver or small kidneys
- Bladder stones
- Back or neck pain
- Skin masses, such as cysts, lipomas, or even cancers
- Broken toe nail
As critical as a physical examination is in determining the health of your pet, some things simply cannot be evaluated with hands and eyes alone. Diagnostic testing is necessary to look beneath the surface and evaluate for diseases invisible to the naked eye. Furthermore, many pet’s may not exhibit symptoms until a disease is well under way. Most cats and dogs instinctively know better than to show any sign of weakness as, in the wild, that may make them more likely to end up as someone else’s dinner!
Intestinal Parasites. It is not uncommon for a dog to be infected with an intestinal parasite at some point in his or her life. Most often, dogs are infected by coming into contact with feces that contain parasite eggs and/or larvae. However, certain intestinal parasites, such as hookworms, are able to hatch and survive in the soil, thereby easily infecting dogs who come into contact with contaminated dirt. Many intestinal parasites, including roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and giardia, can also be transmitted to humans. It is therefore recommended that all dogs and cats should under go, at minimum, annual testing for intestinal parasites. Fecal parasite testing has come a long way in the past several years. With new technology, we are now able to detect infections up to 30 days earlier, prior to the presence of any eggs in the stool.
Heartworm. Heartworm is no longer a disease of the South. In Middlesex County, Massachusetts, 1 in every 182 dogs tested positive for heartworm disease last year. With the nationwide rescue of stray dogs from southern states, we have, as an unwanted side effect, effectively spread heartworm throughout all 50 states. Fortunately, when diagnosed in the early stages of the disease, heartworm infection can be cured with little to no lasting physiologic effects. The American Heartworm Society, therefore, recommends yearly testing for heartworm disease.
Tick-Borne Disease. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 years, it’s likely that you’re aware of the serious threat that Lyme Disease poses to both dogs and humans. What you may not have known is that Lyme Disease is not the only disease transmitted by ticks in our area. We frequently see Anaplasma and Ehrlichia infections in our patients and, due to the spread of the Lone Star Tick, are starting to see more cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. We now routinely test for these tick-borne diseases as part of our annual parasite screening.
Feline Viral Disease. Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) are contagious, untreatable viral diseases in cats. Both are transmitted through the saliva of infected cats. Outdoor cats are at an increased risk of contracting both FeLV and FIV and it is, therefore, recommended that outdoor cats be tested for these diseases on a yearly basis.
Feline Disease Screening. Cats are predisposing to developing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a form of heart disease in which the heart muscles become abnormally thickened, making it very difficult for the heart to efficiently pump blood thorought the body. While a heart murmur may be detected in some cats, many exhibit no clinical symptoms whatsoever until they suddenly experience severe heart failure. A blood test, called a cardiopet proBNP, is an excellent way to screen for this disease as it measures blood levels of a special peptide that is only released by heart muscle. The higher the value, the more stress the heart is undergoing and a more thorough cardiac work-up is indicated.
Wellness Labwork. Consisting of a complete blood count (CBC), chemistry panel, urinalysis, and in the case of cats, a total thyroid hormone level, wellness lab work allows us to get a glimpse at how well your pet’s organs are functioning. In a recent 2017 study, nearly half of veterinary patients who were perceived as “heathy”, by both their owners and at physical examination, were found to have abnormalities on wellness lab work. Our goal is to screen for early metabolic disease, prior to the onset of any signs or symptoms, and initiate treatment as soon as possible. Diagnosing disease in the early stages allows us to maintain a high quality of life for your pet and, in many cases, slow the progression of disease, allowing your pet to life a long and full life.
Blood Pressure. For those of you who are long-time pet owners, blood pressure monitoring may be fairly new. Over the past several years, technology has become available that makes measuring blood pressure in cats and dogs much simpler. Much like their human counterparts, both cats and dogs can suffer from high blood pressure and routine monitoring is recommend as part of a complete check-up
The Q & A
Your pet’s well visit is also a chance to have a good conversation with your veterinarian about any concerns you might have regarding your pet’s health. You can guarantee that we’re going to ask you all kinds of questions about what your pet does at home, but there are questions that you can (and should) ask as well!
- Is my pet’s weight appropriate?
- How do I brush my pet’s teeth?
- What flea/tick/heartworm/intesinal parasites should I be using?
- What should my pet be eating?
- What can I expect as my pet ages?
We are your partners when it comes to your pet’s health and we want to help in any way we can. An informed pet owner makes the best pet owner and we’d far rather you come to us with questions than turn to potential misinformation on the internet, unless, of course, you’re reading our blog!