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The Importance of Preventive Care Exams

Thorough preventive care veterinary exams and consultations are the cornerstones to helping your pet live a longer, happier, healthier life.

How?

We have the tools and knowledge to identify health issues before your pet has symptoms of disease. For example, if we hear a heart murmur, we can address it before your pet suffers from congestive heart failure. We can detect early signs of arthritis before your pet starts limping. We can advise you on a proper diet to help your pet lose or maintain a healthy weight. We can alert you of specific dietary concerns, such as how feeding exclusively grain-free foods may cause severe heart disease or even death in your dog.

Without the opportunity to talk about these things, your pet could suffer needlessly. Not to mention the costs of treating severe disease are much more than the costs of preventing them or treating mild illness. Nobody wants their pet to be sick for any amount of time.

Preventing disease through appropriate vaccination and parasite control is also a very important part of the exam. We can’t asses which vaccines your pet needs if we can’t talk to you about your pet’s risk factors, which can change over time.


Systems evaluated on our exams:

Eyes- looking for signs of redness, discharge, cataracts, changes in the back of the eye (the fundus) which could indicate high blood pressure or other problems.


Ears- looking for redness, swelling, identifying bad odors which may indicate infection, making sure no masses are in the ear canals.



Nose and muzzle- making sure there is no discharge and that the muzzle is symmetrical (non-symmetry can indicate serious problems such as infection or cancer.

Lymph nodes- enlarged lymph nodes can indicate infection or cancer.

Mouth- dental exam, while we don’t care too much about tartar, we care a lot about painful gingivitis, gum recession, and of course tumors.


Skin- making sure the pet’s skin has no pustules, redness, evidence of external parasites, color changes.

Hair coat- changes in the hair coat can indicate parasites or endocrine diseases.

Feeling for masses under the skin that could be cancer, or just fat.

Listening to heart- making sure rate and rhythm are normal, no murmurs.

Listening to lungs- checking for wheezing, crackles, or “dead spots” that could indicate serious problems.

Abdominal palpation- most of the time I can feel the small and large intestines, kidneys, and spleen to make sure they are all the right size, shape, and consistency. Feeling for masses, areas of discomfort or pain, which can indicate serious problems. If I can feel the liver, in most pets, that’s a problem too.

Manipulating neck and back- especially in older dogs, finding out your pet has disk disease sooner means we have a chance to slow the progress of disease before they become painful or worse paralyzed.

Limbs- we palpate and manipulate all of the joints to check for crepitus (crunching, indicating inflammation), swelling, pain, proper range of motion. A lot of times I can detect subtle signs of arthritis before your pet starts limping or slowing down due to pain. That means we can give medications to keep your pet comfortable for longer, and even regain some strength and motion.

Muscle Condition- loss of muscle mass in a specific area can mean neurologic or arthritic changes.


Behavior- changes in behavior, no matter how subtle, are actually the most important assessment we do. It’s also the most important part of the consultation with you, because you know your pet better than anyone. If there are any changes, you know about them first, so we rely on you to help us with this. Behavior changes almost always indicate a physical problem, whether it’s arthritis, cognitive dysfunction, or other issues, all of which can be addressed.

Nutrition- while assessing your pets body condition score (BCS) is an important part of our exam, we need to know what your pet eats on a regular basis so we can address any nutritional problems. For example, grain free dog food has been recently associated with severe to fatal heart disease. We obviously don’t want your dog to suffer like that, so we’ll discuss nutrition with every visit. We can help with pets who are picky and don’t want to eat commercial pet foods, or who have sudden changes in appetite. It’s all important!


Environmental health- the home visit is a great way to assess this. For example, for pets with asthma, a quick inspection of the home can reveal potential problems, such as smoking indoors, scented candles, essential oil fragrances, etc. If you don’t know what potential toxins are in your environment that can severely affect your pet, how can you eliminate them?


Our consultations are quite thorough. You’re the person who knows the most about your pet, we only see them 1-2 times per year, hopefully, if they’re healthy. So we need you to help us! That’s why we ask so many questions about your pet’s health, if there any changes in appetite, activity level, if they are “slowing down” or have personality changes. We can help figure out why these things are happening and address the problem, but only if you tell us about them. If we only see your pet when it is sick, we often don’t know about the other chronic issues that may be creeping up. Plus in many cases we could have prevented the illness in the first place.


You know that dogs and cats age a lot more quickly than people. Here are some charts that tell you a human equivalent age for dogs and cats. Notice that by the time your dog is 2 years old, it has already aged to 20+ human years! Cats age a little slower and are only 13 human years at age 2. Imagine if you never saw a doctor between the time you were 7 to until you were 13 or 20- yikes!




A word about aging changes in pets. It is NOT NORMAL for a pet to be “slowing down.” It is almost always a medical condition such as arthritis which causes movement to be painful, or possibly heart disease, or other TREATABLE problems. Pets may start to collect a lot more problems as they get older but age itself is not a disease and is NOT the reason your pet is not acting like she used to. Losing weight is also not a sign of aging, it is a sign of disease, unless you are purposely trying to get your pet to lose weight. But if your pet is losing weight and you’re still feeding the same, something is seriously wrong.


Every exam and consultation has an assessment and recommendations in the following areas: physical health, behavior, nutrition, and environment. You get a copy of the record for each visit.


On a legal basis, we have to maintain a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) in order to prescribe any medications, even heart worm and intestinal parasite control, as well as some of the flea/tick preventatives. While NC does not specify a time period for which a VCPR automatically expires, we have decided in our practice that we need to see patients at least once yearly. We have to deny refills on prescriptions for pets we have not examined recently because the prescription may no longer be appropriate. Some prescriptions and problems require us to see patients more frequently.

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