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Your pet's annual vet check-up will include a total physical exam, with a thorough investigation of your pet's head, body and tail, and all his assorted cavities. Because even the most cooperative pet may not readily go-along with a tooth and gum brushing, an annual cleaning by your veterinarian maybe in order. Like you, your pet can lose his teeth due to decay and neglect. It's a good idea to keep an accurate medical diary not only of the procedures and vaccinations your pet receives at the vet, but also of notes on things like your pet's elimination habits and any physical changes or unusual occurrences. Keep track of small shifts in your pet's behavior, including urinary marking habits and mood swings, along with diet and routine modifications. Take this notebook when you visit the vet. These seemingly unrelated occurrences may help explain results of your pet's medical tests. Also, if you need to change vets, it's good to have this journal to provide a complete medical history.
Choose a veterinarian who is calm, compassionate and willing to explain all the procedures your pet undergoes. Try to find a vet with whom both you and your pet feel comfortable. Try to have it convenient, choose a clinic with qualified staff and facilities to undertake surgery and perform procedures requiring anesthesia, such as teeth cleaning. Because of the general risks inherent to anesthesia, especially for very old, very young or very ill pets, your veterinarian will likely suggest a few exams, including a chest X-ray and lab work of blood and urine, before your pet is anesthetized. During the procedure he might need an IV drip; antibiotics may be necessary before and after.
Dr. Hawkins may refer you to a specialist, veterinarians who have completed advanced studies in specialties such as internal medicine, surgery, and emergency care, if your pet must undergo a procedure that requires more precise knowledge and experience.
No one loves your pet as much as you do. Part of that love is making sure he or she gets the best veterinary care possible.
You can help your vet deliver it when you prepare for routine checkups, know when there’s an emergency, and follow up after your pet gets care.
Before an Appointment
Your vet will need some basic info on your animal pal, especially if you’re bringing him in for the first time. Take notes with you on:
- The names and doses of all of your pet’s medications
- The kind of food he eats
- His eating and drinking habits
- His toilet habits
- Any recent travel or tick bites
- Past medical records, including vaccine history
Your vet may also want a stool sample. Call ahead and ask. If you have a bird or small animal like a hamster, you might not need to collect one: Chances are your pet will provide one on the way to the appointment or while you’re in the office
Visits to the vet can be stressful for your pet. Bring along some of his favorite toys and a blanket. Ask if it’s OK for him to eat before the visit — some health tests require animals to fast beforehand. (Water is OK — you don’t want him to be dehydrated.) If food is OK, you could bring his favorite treats.
Cats, small critters like ferrets and hamsters, and birds should be in carriers when you bring them in. Dogs should at least be on a leash, although small ones may do better in a carrier.
If your pet doesn’t get along well with other animals, let the office staff know. It might be easier for him to wait in your car or to be placed with you until the vet is ready for the appointment.
Know what your budget is, too. This will help the vet know how extensive a checkup should be. Some people prefer for their pet to get routine bloodwork. Others are fine with the basics, like listening to the animal’s heart and checking his eyes, nose, ears, teeth, and poop. Figure out how much you’re prepared to spend if a test shows that your pet needs treatment.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or take notes. That’s what the vet is there for.
Is It an Emergency?
Some situations call for a trip to the emergency vet clinic or animal hospital, such as:
- Trouble breathing
- Sudden paralysis — your pet can’t move all or part of her body
- Seizures or unconsciousness
- Nonstop vomiting for a whole day or more
- Trauma, like being hit by a car or another heavy object
- Bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose, or mouth
- Blood in her poop
- A possible broken bone
- Your pet has gotten into chemicals like household cleaners, antifreeze, paint, makeup, etc.
Learn about the special traits and habits of your type of pet. For example, some reptiles can go a month without eating, and dogs and cats may skip a meal sometimes without a problem — but it can mean big trouble if a small pet like a rabbit, ferret, guinea pig, or chinchilla doesn’t want to eat. The occasional diarrhea may not be a big deal for a dog or cat, and many reptiles can go as long as a month without pooping, but any change in a bird’s droppings should prompt a call to the vet right away.
After Your Pet Gets Care
What to do after your pet’s appointment depends on her health. After a routine exam, you might only need to schedule the next checkup. If she has a health condition or has had an emergency, your vet can tell you what signs to watch for and when to call with any changes or symptoms. Your vet will also show you how to give any medications your pal needs. Make sure you return for any recommended follow-up appointments.
If you’re worried about something, don’t be afraid to call and ask. The office staff can either tell you to come back in or give you some peace of mind.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on May 12, 2018
10 Things Veterinary Professionals Want You to Know About Pet Care
- Regular Exams are Vital Just like you, your pet can get heart problems, develop arthritis, or have a toothache. The best way to prevent such problems or catch them early is to see your veterinarian every year. Regular exams are “the single most important way to keep pets healthy,” says Kara M. Burns, MS, Med, LVT, president of the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians. Annual vet visits should touch on nutrition and weight control, says Oregon veterinarian Marla J. McGeorge, DVM, as well as cover recommended vaccinations, parasite control, dental exam, and health screenings.
- Spay and Neuter Your Pets Eight million to 10 million pets end up in U.S. shelters every year. Some are lost, some have been abandoned, and some are homeless. Here’s an easy way to avoid adding to that number — spay and neuter your cats and dogs. Spaying and neutering doesn’t just cut down on the number of unwanted pets; it has other substantial benefits for your pet. Studies show it also lowers the risk of certain cancers, Burns tells WebMD, and reduces a pet’s risk of getting lost by decreasing the tendency to roam.
- Prevent Parasites Fleas are the most common external parasite that can plague pets, and they can lead to irritated skin, hair loss, hot spots, and infection. Fleas can also introduce other parasites into your cat or dog. All it takes is for your pet to swallow one flea, and it can to end up with tapeworms, the most common internal parasite affecting dogs and cats. Year-round prevention is key, says McGeorge, who suggests regular flea and intestinal parasite control, as well as heartworm prevention in endemic areas. Because some parasite medications made for dogs can be fatal to cats, talk to your vet about keeping your precious pets worm-free, flea-free — and safe.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight Many dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese. And just like people, obesity in pets comes with health risks that include diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. Overfeeding is the leading cause of obesity, says Douglas, who adds that keeping our pets trim can add years to their lives. Because pets need far fewer calories than most of us think as little as 185-370 a day for a small, inactive dog, just 240-350 calories daily for a 10-pound cat. Talk to your vet, who can make feeding suggestions based on your pet’s age, weight, and lifestyle.
- Get Regular Vaccinations For optimal health, pets need regular vaccinations against common ills, such as rabies, distemper, feline leukemia, and canine hepatitis. How often your dog or cat needs to be immunized depends on their age, lifestyle, health, and risks, says McGeorge, so talk to your vet about the vaccinations that make sense for your pet.
- Provide an Enriched Environment An enriched environment is another key to the long-term health and welfare of your canine and feline friends, says C.A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, a veterinary nutritionist and professor at Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center in Columbus. Pets need mental stimulation, say the pros, which may mean daily walks for your pooch, and scratching posts, window perches, and toys for your cat. It means play time with you, which not only keeps your pet’s muscles toned and boredom at bay, it also strengthens your bond with your four-footed companions.
- Microchip Your Pet Lack of identification means as few as 14% of pets ever find their way home after getting lost. Fortunately, “microchipping allows for the pet to be reunited with its family,” no matter how far away it is when found, Burns says. About the size of a rice grain, a microchip is inserted under the skin in less than a second. It needs no battery and can be scanned by a vet or an animal control officer in seconds. Be sure to register the chip ID with the chip’s maker. A current registration is the vital last step in making certain your pet can always find his way home.
- Pets Need Dental Care, Too Just like you, your pet can suffer from gum disease, tooth loss, and tooth pain. And just like you, regular brushing and oral cleanings help keep your pet’s teeth strong and healthy. “Dental disease is one of the most common preventable illnesses in pets,” Ohio veterinarian Vanessa Douglas tells WebMD, “yet many people never even look in their pet’s mouths.” It’s estimated 80% of dogs and 70% cats show signs of dental disease by age three, leading to abscesses, loose teeth, and chronic pain. In addition to regular dental cleanings by your vet, “periodontal disease can be avoided by proper dental care by owners,” Douglas says. Owner care includes brushing, oral rinses, and dental treats. Your vet is a good source of information about brushing techniques, oral rinses, and dental treats.
- Never Give Pets People Medication Medicines made for humans can kill your pet, says Georgia veterinarian Jean Sonnenfield, DVM. As a matter of fact, in 2010 the ASPCA listed human drugs in the top 10 pet toxins. NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen are the most common pet poisoning culprits, but antidepressants, decongestants, muscle relaxants, and acetaminophen are just a few of the human drugs that pose health risks to pets. Human drugs can cause kidney damage, seizures, and cardiac arrest in a dog or cat. If you suspect your pet has consumed your medication — or anything toxic — call the 24-hour ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Also be sure to immediately check with your vet, and if it is during evening or weekend hours when your regular veterinary clinic may be closed, check for a local 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic and take your pet there for an examination. Many metropolitan areas have these clinics.
- Proper Restraint in a Vehicle You buckle up for safety when you’re in the car, shouldn’t your pet? Unrestrained pets in a car are a distraction to the driver, and can put driver and pet at risk for serious injury, “or worse,” says veterinarian Douglas. To keep pets safe in transit:
- Never allow pets to travel in the front seat, where they’re at risk of severe injury or death if the airbag deploys.
- Don’t let dogs ride with their head out the window or untethered in the back of a truck bed. Both practices put them at risk of being thrown from the vehicle in the event of an accident.
- To keep pets safe, confine cats to carriers, suggests Douglas, then secure the carrier with a seatbelt. For dogs, there’s the option of a special harness attached to a seat belt, or a well-secured kennel
WebMD Pet Health Feature
By Wendy C. Fries
How Often Should Your Pet See Their Veterinarian?
Like humans, cats and dogs need regular checkups to stay healthy, but how often should they see the veterinarian? It depends on your pet’s age and overall wellness.
Kitten or Puppy: Birth to 1 Year
You’ll need to bring your puppy or kitten in for vaccines every 3 to 4 weeks until they are 16 weeks old.
Dogs will get shots for rabies, distemper-parvo, and other diseases. They may also need shots to protect against other diseases or illnesses such as kennel cough, influenza, and Lyme disease.
Cats will get tests for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. They also get vaccinations that cover several diseases.
At this stage, your pet will also start heartworm and flea- and tick-prevention medications.
The veterinarian will examine your pup or kitten to make sure they are growing well and showing no signs of an illness. He’ll check again at around 6 months, when you bring your pet in to be spayed or neutered. We’ll also at this time check on your pet’s progress with housebreaking or litter box training as well as socialization.
Adult: 1 to 7-10 Years (Depending on Type of Pet and Breed)
During this stage, veterinarians recommend yearly checkups. The vet will give your pet a head-to-tail physical. He’ll also take a blood sample from your dog to check for heartworms. (Cats normally don’t get tested because the results are hard to interpret.) The vet may recommend other tests based on any problems your pet has or anything unusual he sees during the exam.
Distemper-parvo and rabies booster shots happen during the first yearly checkup, then usually every 3 years after that. How often animals get rabies boosters depends on state law.
Your dog may get other vaccines to prevent illnesses like kennel cough, and outdoor cats should get feline leukemia vaccines.
It’s helpful to bring in a stool sample from your pet, which your vet will check for intestinal parasites.
Senior: 7 to 10 Years and Older
Veterinarians suggest twice-yearly checkups for older pets. Your cat or dog will get vaccinations when needed and will get a thorough physical exam, along with tests to follow up on any problems. Blood and urine tests can give your vet the scoop on your pet’s kidney and liver health, thyroid hormone levels, and more.
Mention any changes you’ve seen in your pet — if, for example, your cat is drinking more water or your dog is no longer excited by his daily walks. These can be signs of a new problem such as kidney disease or arthritis.