Importance of Wellness Exams

By Dr. Susan Nelson

Disponible en Español

Wellness exams are a vital component of what is known as “preventive medicine”. The goal of preventive medicine is to find and treat diseases BEFORE they become serious. This is typically much easier on the pet, the owner and the pocket book! That old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true for our pets as well. There have been so many advances in veterinary medicine that many diseases which may have greatly shortened your pet’s lifespan in the past can now be managed (if detected early) so that your pet can live a longer, happier life.


What to Expect at Your Pet’s Wellness Appointment:

Wellness exams entail a thorough evaluation of all body systems during your pet’s visit to your veterinarian. Examples of the more common findings are dental disease, weight issues, ear/skin infections, dry eyes, heart murmurs, skin tumors, cataracts, painful joints, and flea/tick/intestinal parasite infestations. Many of these have the potential to cause severe discomfort and sometimes fatal disease in your pet. Some diseases are also potentially zoonotic (can be transmitted to people).

After the physical exam has been completed, your veterinarian will discuss any screening lab work that may be indicated for your pet. The tests that are recommended will be determined by your pet’s age, breed, lifestyle and physical exam findings.

After evaluating all physical and laboratory findings, your veterinarian will discuss any changes needed in your pet’s diet, lifestyle, medications or vaccinations. Additional tests may be needed if abnormalities are found on initial tests.

Your pet’s wellness exam is also a good time to discuss any behavioral issues you may have noticed as many of these can be due to undetected illness. Many older pets can also develop dementia similar to that of humans. If no medical reason is found for the symptom, you and your veterinarian can then discuss behavioral modification and/or drug therapy for your pet’s behavioral problem.


How Often Should My Pet Receive a Wellness Exam?

How often wellness exams need to be performed varies depending on your pet’s age, breed, lifestyle and illness history. Generally, younger animals (less than seven years of age) need annual wellness exams. Older pets (over seven years of age) should have a semiannual wellness exam. Pets with potentially serious diseases may need more frequent exams and laboratory testing. It is important to remember that pets age at a more rapid rate than their human caretakers. It is amazing how much your pet’s health can change over a short period of time!

What Can I Do to Prepare for My Pet’s Wellness Appointment?

When you call to make your pet’s wellness appointment, you will likely be advised to withhold food for 10-12 hours. Water should be available up to the time of your pet’s appointment. Please let the animal health care team know if your pet has a condition that would make withholding food detrimental (i.e. diabetes mellitus, insulinoma, history of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), animals less than 16 weeks of age or anything else you feel is a concern) so they can speak to your veterinarian about any special instructions for your pet. Fasting is important so your pet will be properly prepared in case blood work, x-rays or sedation are necessary; you never know what might be found on an exam. If your pet is properly prepared it may save you both an additional visit. It is also very helpful for your veterinarian to have copies of previous medical records or treatments.

Semiannual fecal exams are recommended for all pets. It is helpful if you can bring a fresh stool sample to your pet’s wellness exam. A stool sample should be less than 24 hours old and kept refrigerated until you bring it. It is ok if grass, leaves, cat litter, etc. are in the sample. If you use clumping litter for your cat, please try to make sure the sample contains feces and is not just a clump of urine.

So what are you waiting for? Call your veterinarian and make a wellness appointment for your precious four-legged family member today!