The Importance of Routine Exams
Ideally, your pet should be seen for a routine physical exam by your veterinarian once or twice a year, even if the animal seems perfectly healthy. Regular wellness checkups help you and your vet team support your pet's good health and happiness.
By attending wellness exams regularly, even when your pet seems healthy, allows your veterinarian the opportunity to assess your pet's general health and test for diseases, illnesses, and conditions that can be hard to spot early on (including cancers and parasites).
Potentially serious medical conditions benefit from early treatment. During the checkup, your vet has two goals: to prevent health conditions from developing where possible and to spot early signs of disease so that they can be treated before they develop into more severe issues.
How Often Your Pet Should Be Examined
There are a few factors that will affect the frequency with which you take your pet to a wellness checkup, including their age and medical history.
If your pet has a history of illness but is currently healthy, we recommend scheduling a twice-yearly wellness check with your vet to ensure your pet stays as healthy as possible. Your vet can examine your pet and tell you how often they should come in for a physical exam.
Since your puppy or kitten's immune system is still developing, young pets can be more susceptible to some illnesses that adult pets are easily able to overcome. To provide your young pet with the care they need during their formative months, your vet might recommend booking a monthly checkup for the first few months.
In most circumstances, an adult dog or cat with no history of illness should see a veterinarian for a checkup every year. Senior dogs, cats, and giant breed dogs can face an increased risk of additional conditions. They should see a veterinarian more often to monitor for early signs of illness. Normally, it's a good idea to bring these pets in for a twice-yearly checkup.
Preparing for Your Pet's Routine Exam
Your veterinarian needs some basic medical information about your dog or cat. This is especially true if this is your pet's first wellness check. If possible, bring notes about your pet that include their:
- Recent travel history
- Past medical records
- Eating and drinking habits
- Current medications (names & doses)
- Vaccine history
- Tick bite history
- Food (type & amount)
- Waste elimination habits
You may also want to bring a favorite blanket or toys for comfort. While dogs should be on a leash, cats should be in a carrier.
Elements of Your Pet's Exam
When you take your pet to the veterinarian, the vet will review your pet’s medical history, and your vet will ask about any concerns that you have. The veterinarian will follow up with questions about your pet’s diet, exercise routine, thirst level, bowel movements, urination, and other aspects of their lifestyle and general behavior.
In some cases, you’ll be asked to collect and bring along a fresh sample of your pet’s feces (bowel movement) so a fecal exam can be completed. These diagnostic tests can help to identify whether problematic intestinal parasites are present which may be otherwise difficult to detect.
Next, the vet will perform a physical examination of your pet. While this is not an exhaustive list, these are some of the steps in a routine veterinary exam of your pet:
- Measuring their gait, stance, and weight
- Listening to your pet’s lungs and heart with a stethoscope
- Checking the eyelids for any issues, in addition to examining their eyes for signs of cloudiness, discharge, excessive tearing, cloudiness, or redness
- Assessing your pet for any signs of illness such as limited motion or signs of swelling or pain by palpating (feeling along) their body.
- Feeling the abdomen to check internal organ function and to check for signs of pain or discomfort
- Examining your pet's nails and feet for signs of health issues or conditions
- Checking inside your pet’s ears for signs of wax buildup, polyps, ear mites, or bacterial infection
- Inspecting their teeth for signs of decay, damage, or periodontal disease
- Examining your pet's fur, skin, and/or coat to assess overall condition, as well as look for signs of abnormal hair loss, dandruff, unusual lumps, or bumps
If your vet finds no cause for concern, the wellness check is usually completed fairly quickly and with few issues. They may even chat with you as they do so. If an issue is identified, your vet will explain what they have noticed and recommend the next steps or potential treatments for your pet.
Annual vaccinations are also administered during a cat or dog checkup, based on your animal’s appropriate schedule.
Additional Exam Tests
Along with the basic checkup focuses we spoke about above, your veterinarian may also recommend additional wellness testing. Remember that, in the majority of cases, early detection and treatment of serious diseases is less expensive, less invasive, and less taxing on your dog or cat than having the condition treated once it has become more advanced.
Tests for blood count, thyroid hormone testing, and a urinalysis may be done in addition to diagnostic testing like X-rays and imaging.
Following Your Pet's Exam
Once your pet has been physically examined, had any diagnostic tests run on them, and given their annual vaccines, your vet will dedicate time to explaining their findings to you.
If your vet has found signs of injury, illness, or current or potential conditions, they will recommend more detailed diagnostics or potential treatment options to help.
If your pet is healthy, this discussion may focus on improvements to or maintenance of their current exercise and diet routines, caring for your pet’s oral health, and checking that essentials such as appropriate parasite prevention are monitored.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding people or pets. Always follow your doctor's advice regarding asthma or other allergy symptoms.