Why Are Regular Veterinary Visits So Important?!

Content Courtesy of AVMA; AVMA.org

Routine veterinary visits help your pet live a long, healthy, and happy life. Annual or biannual exams nip emerging health problems in the bud and are key to extending your pet’s time by your side. Early detection and intervention allows your veterinary team to treat a disease in the beginning stages, and then manage the condition with medication or simple lifestyle changes. Your veterinarian also can give you pointers that will help your pet live her healthiest life and stave off potential medical conditions.

What is your veterinarian looking for during an exam?

The physical exam your veterinarian performs may seem like nothing more than a thorough petting, but it reveals a wealth of information. Here’s what your veterinarian is checking when she examines your furry friend:

  • Ears — Ear infections are common in both cats and dogs. Cats often present with ear mites, while dogs routinely display yeast or bacterial infections, but all can cause infection in either species. Left untreated, ear infections can progress to painful, inflamed, thickened ears, making future cleaning and treatment difficult. Your veterinarian also will look for any masses or polyps that need to be removed.
  • Eyes — Eye issues abound in flat-faced breeds, such as bulldogs, pugs, and Persians, and several other breeds. Flat-faced pets easily can develop corneal ulcers if their protruding eyes are scratched, schnauzers frequently form cataracts, and cocker spaniels routinely suffer from dry eyes. If your pet develops glaucoma that is left unchecked, she will suffer with severe eye pain from the increased pressure as well as potential vision loss, and surgical removal will be necessary.
  • Mouth — Dental health affects your pet’s entire body, and the veterinarian will look for signs of gingivitis, loose teeth, tartar accumulation, and oral masses. A dirty mouth can harm her heart, kidneys, and other organs because of traveling oral bacteria.
  • Skin — Dry, itchy skin and hair loss can indicate a variety of health issues, including mange, allergies, skin infections, endocrine imbalances, fleas, and poor nutrition. Your pet’s overall health can be gauged from the quality of her skin and hair coat.
  • Heart and lungs — Older pets are prone to heart disease, but younger cats and dogs also can show problems with heart rhythm and function. Cardiac disease is best managed when signs first appear, and these signs are often only picked up by auscultation with a stethoscope, leading to further diagnostic testing. Many pets hide heart disease, only displaying coughing and exercise intolerance when the disease is advanced. A diseased heart also can affect the lungs, creating chest wheezes and crackles if fluid backs up.
  • Abdomen — While an abdominal palpation may seem to be a belly massage for your pet, your veterinarian is checking for abnormal masses and organ size. Enlarged kidneys can indicate renal failure, a thickened bladder may be hiding a chronic urinary tract infection, or an enlarged spleen may be feeding a tumor.
  • Muscles, joints, and bones — Gait changes, limping, or muscle loss can often be remedied. Almost all older pets suffer from osteoarthritis, causing stiffness and muscle loss from inactivity due to pain. Another common musculoskeletal issue in dogs involves their cranial cruciate ligament, which is prone to rupture in overweight or active pets. Similar to an ACL tear in human athletes, this injury can cause serious joint-health problems for your pet if not correctly managed.

Your veterinarian will examine your pet from nose to tail, and based on her findings, may recommend additional diagnostic testing.

Why are routine tests important for your pet’s health?

Routine testing of younger pets provides a baseline of their normal values and may identify hidden illnesses. Older pets benefit from routine screening for common species- or breed-specific diseases, the same way people undergo normal screening tests based on hereditary diseases. Your veterinarian may recommend these additional tests geared toward your pet:

  • Blood work — Many veterinarians recommend wellness panels for geriatric pets, but often begin with baseline blood work when the pets are younger. Blood work can reveal many precursors to illness, including anemia, infection, bone marrow issues, diabetes, and organ dysfunction.
  • Heartworm test — The American Heartworm Society recommends annual heartworm testing to ensure your pet remains negative and free from these deadly parasites. Heartworm testing also may test for Lyme disease and other common tick-borne diseases, all of which can progress to dangerous conditions if left untreated.
  • Urinalysis — Inspecting your pet’s urine sample can provide a wealth of information about the urinary tract. A small amount of “liquid gold” can help your veterinary team see signs of inflammation, infection, kidney dysfunction, crystal formation, and diabetes.
  • Fecal examination — Intestinal parasites can hide out in your pet’s gastrointestinal tract, leaching away nutrition. A routine fecal check can identify common intestinal worms. Prompt deworming treatment can prevent the parasite population from increasing, causing diarrhea and other serious health issues.

Since pets—especially cats—are excellent at hiding signs of illness, a thorough physical exam with routine screening tests is crucial to detect early stage illnesses. Early detection and treatment can extend your pet’s life, giving you many more years of quality time together, so schedule a wellness visit to ensure your furry friend is in top physical condition. Check out our AAHA-accredited hospital locator to find a hospital that will give your beloved companion the gold standard of veterinary care. 

How Can My Pet Have A Stress-Free Veterinary Visit?

Content courtesy of AVMA; www.AVMA.org

Many of our beloved pets don’t go to the veterinarian for their recommended annual visit, forgoing the benefits of preventive medicine. The reason? Stress—from wrangling your cat into a carrier, from trying to keep your dog from vomiting in your new car, from sitting next to barking dogs and yowling cats in a packed waiting room, and from watching your precious pup quake or feline friend lash out in fear. It’s no wonder so many pets skip their veterinary visits.

Fortunately for our pet’s physical and mental health—and ours—there is a shift toward low-stress veterinary care. Not only does stress negatively affect pets and create psychological trauma, it also can be so severe that test results are skewed and the immune system is weakened. If your pet has experienced a lifetime of anxiety, reversing her chain of reactions during her trip to the vet can be challenging. Follow our seven steps to calm fears and turn your furry friend into a pet who loves the vet.

Practice handling your pet

Two of the biggest challenges veterinary professionals face are a pet’s feet and ears. Many pets do not approve of these body parts being manipulated, and often they strongly object to being handled by a stranger. However, even a pet adopted later in life can be conditioned to accept handling, grooming, and restraint. Begin by pairing potentially unpleasant handling with delicious, high-value treats. Train your dog to give you her paw for nail trims, or have your cat or dog focus on a whipped-cream cone while you clean her ears. Creating a positive association with the handling of these two tricky areas vastly will increase your pet’s quality of life by reducing the struggle and fear commonly associated with nail trims and ear cleanings. Checking these areas is a critical component of preventive care because routine cleanings allow a peek inside your pet’s ears to catch an infection before it becomes painfully severe, while frequent nail trims keep the blood vessel inside each nail trimmed back, avoiding painful cutting. Distraction with high-value treats or toys, praise, and petting all work well at keeping your pet occupied during potentially unpleasant tasks, but conditioning her to realize good things come from handling goes a long way to reducing fear and anxiety.

Schedule appointments according to your pet’s fears

When scheduling your anxious pet’s appointment, ask for the earliest time slot. Routine appointments can run long, emergencies are squeezed in, and sometimes you and your stressed pet end up waiting in a packed waiting room before being shown to a quiet exam room. The earliest time slot allows you to avoid the chaos of a jam-packed waiting room on a Friday evening. If this is not feasible, call the hospital when you arrive and ask the client care representative if you can wait with your pet in the car until an exam room is open. 

The carrier is a cat’s friend, not foe

Most cats only see the carrier come out when it’s time to visit the vet. This negative association ensures the carrier is seen as a harbinger of doom, leading to a major struggle to get your cat inside scratch-free. To avoid this association, leave the carrier out at all times, treating it as the deliverer of delicious snacks instead. Routinely throw a few high-value kitty treats into the carrier, leaving the door propped open. Your cat will sniff out the goodies and learn to associate good things with the box of doom. Line the carrier with a cozy blanket spritzed with Feliway spray and add a soft toy or two to make your cat feel comfortable and secure while traveling.

Drop by with your pet for “happy visits”

Does your pet only visit the vet for vaccinations or when she’s sick? If so, it’s no wonder she associates a trip to the clinic with being poked and prodded by strangers. Stop by for a few happy, treat-filled visits with no needles. Load up on your pet’s favorite snacks and let the veterinary team offer them to your pet. Stop by for massages, belly rubs, and special treats. Soon your furry friend will be excited to visit the veterinarian.

Calm your fear first, then your pet’s

Our pets are remarkably in-tune with our feelings and emotions. If you are nervous about a veterinary visit, your pet will pick up on that and also become anxious. Project a calm demeanor, speak in a soft, soothing voice—no high-pitched, squeaky baby talk—and try to avoid excessive petting. Your pet will pick up on your calming cues and relax if you do.

Come as a hungry pet, leave happy

A hungry pet will be more treat-motivated, allowing your veterinary team to provide your pet’s favorite treat as a tasty distraction. Skip breakfast the morning of your appointment and bring treats you know your pet loves to reward her for good behavior.

Ask the veterinarian for help

Some pets become so fearful when visiting the veterinarian that they need anti-anxiety medication. Many pets benefit from a mild sedative, especially for such scary situations as nail trims and ear cleanings, but others may need additional medication. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations other than medication that will reduce your pet’s anxiety, such as compression wraps, pheromone sprays, essential oils, or calming supplements.

As well as searching for Fear Free veterinary professionals, choose your pet’s veterinary team based on the highest standards of care. Use our AAHA-accredited hospital locator to find the perfect team for your beloved companion. Your pet will change from fearful to fear-free and learn to love her veterinary team.