The Value of the Annual Exam

If asked if you would like to make an appointment to see the vet for what you’re calling about, or, if you’re in the middle of the exam and the vet asks if you’d like to do labwork today because it hasn’t been done in a couple years, many times, we’ll hear the resounding phrase “My pet seems fine at home.” Okay, that’s fair. You know your furry friend better than anyone, there’s no denying that. But what about the things you can’t see? Things like an underlying illness that’s slowly brewing, or an irregular heart rate, or something that your cat is hiding (felines are experts at hiding sickness by the way), or something else that may be much more than an “age-related” condition. This is where your vet comes in, to help catch these quietly brewing maladies before it becomes too late, or before you get to a point where it’s more expensive to treat because you waited. We’ve all been there. I myself have waited to bring a fur baby in, not realizing her retinas detached, and it was too late to do anything about re-attaching them. On the opposite spectrum, there is the “mommy feeling” or the “mommy senses going off”. This is sort of like Spider-Man’s “spidey senses”! It’s just an unshakable sense that something is wrong even though you can’t pin point what it is. It’s worth your peace of mind and your pet’s well-being to get your pet checked out. Don’t ignore the mommy feeling. And don’t underestimate the value of bringing your furry friend in at least once a year to be professionally evaluated by your local veterinarian.

So why is an annual exam important? Your vet is trained to recognize the subtle signs of a health problem. They have years of combined schooling and experience. A typical physical well exam will evaluate your pet’s body condition, muscle condition, heart rate, respiration/lung fields, ears, eyes, dental cavity, joints, abdomen, internal organs that can be palpated from the abdomen, skin, etc, as well as any concerns you are having at home and from there they can make a recommendation. I don’t have the knowledge or know-how that my vets do, and I certainly could not tell you about the aforementioned physical traits. And checking these physical traits annually helps create a baseline for overall health condition. As each year passes, your vet collects a pattern of your pet’s physical state. They may be able to see which joints are painful when you notice your dog’s mobility is declining, or when they yelp when you pick them up. If your dog is itchy, maybe it’s not just allergies, maybe it’s a skin infection. And there are so many different types of skin conditions that appear similar. I’m not trained to discern the differences. If your cat is hiding and everything else is normal, their kidneys may be starting to decline, and you won’t see obvious signs until your kitty’s creatinine level is too high beyond the help of fluids and medication. And bloodwork is a diagnostic that helps the vet see increases in values like creatinine.

It’s always good to create a baseline. If your pet is young, it may be okay to update bloodwork every other year. But it’s important to get that baseline. With a healthy young pet, you get all sorts of information about values in their blood while those values are still relatively normal. And as you pet ages, updating bloodwork every year or every 6 months is highly recommended. Let’s say you have a cat who is predisposed to Chronic Kidney Disease (a very common condition for cats). That cat’s kidney values can drastically change within a span of 6 months. So if you defer bloodwork, or even an annual physical exam, because your cat “is perfectly normal at home”, you could be missing these subtle changes. And this is just one example.

Your pet’s health changes once they reach a certain age, changes to important body functions that we can mistake as a normal “age-related” condition, overlooking the subtle signs of something more sinister, and thus missing a chance to further your pet’s well-being. Senior pets hold a special place in our hearts, they’ve earned it. They’ve been with us a long time, or they are a senior cat or dog that we recently adopted but have been through so much and need tender loving care.

Another key point about the physical exam is the fact that it’s physical. You cannot obtain the information afforded from sight, sound, and touch via a phone call. Many of us defer a doctor exam due to the cost. But it’s not about the money. Veterinarians do what they do because they care about your furry friend as much as you do! They love animals and it’s their calling to help them. But they need to see them on a regular annual basis.

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