tips for the road

Juan Galvis
A 6 year old chocolate Labrador retriever named Hunter was happy, active and always willing to please his human family. On a trip to Jordan Lake one Sunday afternoon Hunter cut his front left paw. Mr. Harris decided to bring Hunter to the vet the following day. Before entering the room, Dr Dishman realized Hunter had not been to the vet in 3 years and she decided that besides checking his paw, Hunter was due for a complete physical and wellness evaluation. Many of us (Included me at some point) think that veterinary care is only needed when our pet is sick or injured, but after caring for animals and working as a vet assistant I have come to realize about the importance of preventive health care for our animal companions.

Today we will talk about: What a wellness exam involves, how frequent should our pets get one and what are the benefits of practicing preventative health care.

With this purpose in mind let's define what a wellness exam is. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that a wellness exam be comprised of:

  • Checking body temperature, pulse, weight and breathing rate.

  • Examining eyes, mouth and ears.

  • Listening to the heart and lungs.

  • Evaluating skin condition.

  • Reproductive organs.

  • Head to toe checks

  • Testing fecal and blood samples as needed

  • And finally recommending vaccines as appropriate.

All of these items are great ways of acquiring tangible information about your pet health status.

Now that we know what a wellness exam is you may be wondering: how often should I bring my pet for routine checkups? Well consider this; Pets age faster than humans. On average 1 human year amounts to 5 or 7 years in the lives of our dogs and cats. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) advises that two annual wellness exams are the best way to ensure that any potentially life-threatening condition is caught early. Remember, significant health changes can occur rather quickly and even faster once your pet reaches his or her senior years.

So far we have learned what a wellness exam does and how often you should bring your pet for routine care, now let's talk about the benefits of preventive health care.

Preventive health care will benefit you and your pet in multiple ways. Routine visits will establish baseline health indicators that will be kept on file by your vet and compared at each future visit. This will allow to fine tune the monitoring of your pet's health. In the long run you will save money by detecting early stages of disease which would be easier diagnose and treat. In the words of former AVMA president Jack O Walter: "An exam every six months provides the opportunity for early detection, treatment, or prevention of potentially life-threatening conditions." Finally, a healthy pet is a happy pet, there is nothing more rewarding than to share your life with an active and healthy companion full of life and ready to share precious moments with you.

Life is full of the unexpected, but with routine health care visits you can rest assured that your pet's health is being monitored to avoid potential surprises.

Remember Hunter the chocolate lab from the beginning? After his wellness exam was finished, in a strange turn of events, he was diagnosed with kidney failure. Treatment was started, but 3 months later Mr. Harris made the heartbreaking decision to euthanize Hunter after his quality of life had deteriorated.

It was heart breaking to witness this situation. I could not contain myself after seeing Mr. Harris tears run down his face. I hope Hunter's experience will motivate you to schedule wellness exams for your pets and continue such practice through out their life. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Juan Galvis
The Pet Wagon


American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)