It’s that time of year again. You’ve received your reminder card/email/phone call and you are booking in for your pet’s annual examination. Have you ever wondered what this particular office call is meant to accomplish? Why it is that you come in every year to touch base with the hospital team? What exactly we are meant to cover during your thirty-minute timeslot? Well, I’m here to let you in on the ins and outs of the yearly check-up.
1- Detailed History: This is the time where we can check in with owners and see how everything has gone over the last year. Have we added new pets to the home? Have we done some research and opted for a new diet? Have we started to become more active? Started Camping? Started travelling? All of this information helps to come up with a plan to care for your particular pet. Sometimes this can involve a change in vaccination protocol, parasite control or even add in training classes.
2- Nose to tail examination: This starts when you walk into the clinic and we ask your pet to step on the scale. We are looking to see if there are drastic changes in weight – both gains and losses- as this can be an indicator of underlying health. We then do a full and thorough examination of your pet. We look at their eyes and ears, look at their teeth thoroughly (check their breath!), take a feel of their lymph nodes and belly. We have a good listen to the chest to assess heart and lung health. We put our stethoscopes over the belly to listen to how the intestines sound in order to see if there might be a motility problem. We assess the musculoskeletal system by feeling the spine and muscles along the body, we feel the long bones and put the joints through different tests in order to assess the range of motion. You may notice that we flip over paws, shine the light in the eyes, and tap in certain areas of the body—we are looking at your pet’s nervous system. Finally, we look over the largest organ of the body, the skin. We are looking at coat quality, the underlying skin health and checking for external parasites.
3- Wellness testing: Once we have finished our external examination of the body we will discuss what tests need to be run in order to see how the internal body is functioning. We draw blood to look at how the red and white blood cells are looking (this can show infections and anemia etc…), we do a biochemistry panel of body enzymes to check how the organs are working, we also run electrolytes to make sure they are well balanced. As our patients age, we also like to see how the thyroid gland is functioning. Often times in cats it can begin to be overactive- leading to kidney and heart disease, while in dogs it is under active- leading to obesity and secondary skin disease. We will have you bring in a urine sample so that we can fully assess how the kidneys are working. Finally, we will ask that you bring in a sample of your pet’s poop so we can send away to look for any gastrointestinal parasites.
4- Vaccination assessment: Depending on the lifestyle we often will recommend different vaccines. For instance, a dog that is out hiking and camping regularly will need a difference series then a pampered pooch that spends his days indoors and out for leash walks around the town. This is true for cats as well.
5- Parasite prevention: Bugs are a part of life. They themselves can cause issues to your pet (imagine how itchy fleas bites can be!) or be a carrier of other diseases (i.e. Lyme disease from a tick). We will see which medications are best suited for your pet, again based on lifestyle and risk assessment.
6- Nutritional assessment: Obesity is the number one underdiagnosed disease in veterinary medicine (dental disease being #2). We will look at your pet’s exam, wellness tests, dental health and together we will decide which diet is better suited for your pet’s needs. We have great diets that help battle plaque and tartar, diets designed to help with weight loss as well as diets that help with urinary crystals and stones. It is important to match the right food to the right pet in order to meet their nutritional needs
7- Behaviour assessment: Through the history, physical exam and wellness testing we can rule in or out causes of behaviour issues. Your veterinarian and technician are well versed in behaviour training and positive reinforcement for behaviour modification. We have access to tools to help mitigate certain issues from pheromone mimics, medications, literature and resources for who to call for training issues.
While we are here for you year-round to help work through any illnesses or other concerns you may have for your pet, your annual visit is truly your most important point of contact with your veterinary team. This is the time where your veterinarian team can touch base with you, the owner, for any questions or concerns you may have had through the year. It is also the time where we can notate any changes observed in the exam or blood work since your previous exam. It allows us to monitor trends and hopefully diagnose diseases at earlier stages and thus help mitigate any issues early on and delay any illnesses.
Written by Jennifer Hurford, DVM