Naturally, it is important to take your pet to the vet when there is a problem, but many people forget the importance of taking their pets to the doctor when they are healthy!
It is important for pet owners to remember that a dog's life span is shorter than a human's. Going to the doctor every year for a dog is just like humans going to the doctor every 4-5 years. A lot can change for your pet in one year, and it is up to the veterinarian to monitor these changes and to watch for problems. The yearly check up is a good time for the owner to report any problems or changes noticed in the pet since the last check up.
Many of the initial changes that indicate disease are often very subtle and can be missed by the owner (i.e. the early signs of liver, kidney or heart disease). In the wild, showing signs of illness is a liability, so animals often instinctively hide signs of disease, which can make these subtle changes even more difficult to detect. Bringing your pet in for a yearly check up helps to ensure that diseases can be caught early on.
A cat or dog is considered to be middle age at around 3 years and geriatric at around 6 to 7 years of age. The ultimate goal of preventative medicine is to discover disease early and treat it before it becomes serious. This not only saves money in the long run, but it also helps to make sure that a disease can be treated before it causes irreparable damage to the animal.
"Normal" can vary widely from animal to animal which is another reason that the yearly check up is so important. It establishes a relationship between the veterinarian and the pet so the doctor knows what the pet is like when it is "normal." If a pet comes in with a problem, and it has never been seen before, it can be difficult to determine what findings are relevant to the animal's problem and what findings are incidental and part of that animal's "normal" state. For example, a dog may normally have a rather low number of red blood cells compared to most dogs, but if no blood work has ever been done on that animal, it could be interpreted as a sign of disease. Having a baseline for what is "normal" for each animal makes the diagnostic process more efficient, saving both time and money.
In addition to watching for disease, yearly checkups give the veterinarian a chance to give recommendations about what diet is most appropriate for that animal. As a pet ages, its nutritional needs can change dramatically. Because pet nutrition has become so advanced, there is a diet available for almost every condition and stage of life.
A yearly exam is also a time when vaccines that prevent disease can be given, a fecal exam can be run to check for intestinal parasites and a heartworm exam can be done to make sure that there is no heartworm infection.
Having a yearly exam for your pet is an excellent way to avoid problems in the future. Ultimately it will save you time and money and possibly, the life of a beloved family member.
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