We are changing our terminology when it comes to evaluating our dogs and cats. We used to tell people to come in yearly so pets can “get their shots.” Over the last two decades, there has been a push away from seeing your veterinarian as a provider of vaccinations, and more of a general health practitioner. Similarly we are trying to get people to see the value in preventative medicine. This means we prefer to evaluate your pet while he/she is still healthy so that we can do things that will prevent your pet from getting sick, instead of seeing your pet after he/she is already sick. There is a concept in medicine that is very true: it is better to prevent disease than to treat disease.
We recommend to see your pet yearly, if not semiannually, to be sure they are healthy, and to review the measures to take to be sure your pet will stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. As a result we call these visits “wellness exams.” Why yearly, or even semiannual, wellness exams? Our pets have a much shorter life span than we do. That means they age more quickly than we do. A year of their life is equal to 5-7 years of our lives. Can you imagine not going to your doctor for 7 years? Well, we don’t like to think of our pets going as long without being evaluated as well. The more often we see your pet, the more likely we can identify subtle changes as he/ she ages that will tell us things may not be completely normal under the surface. The earlier we catch these changes the more likely we’ll be able to reverse them or dramatically slow their progress. So what do we do during these yearly wellness exams?
The first thing we do is take a thorough history. This means we ask you many questions regarding your pet’s health, paying special attention to any signs or symptoms you may notice that might clue us in to something starting to go wrong. Believe it or not, 90% of the information we use to make a diagnosis is contained in the history. There is one important concept that you, as an owner, must understand at this point: old age is not a disease. This means that we should avoid blaming minor or subtle symptoms simply on your pet getting older; there is no such thing as old age causing a certain symptom. This might seem strange or new to you, but think about it. Which makes more sense? Your pet is slowing down because he/she is getting older, or is it the arthritis pain that is making it more uncomfortable for him/her to move? If we blame something on old age, we may be overlooking an important symptom that could indicate a problem we should know about, thus preventing us from intervening medically. Even if something seems unimportant to you, mention it to your veterinarian. Let us determine if it is important or not.
The next thing we do is a thorough physical exam. We will be touching, feeling, observing, listening, poking and prodding your pet from nose to tail. With the physical exam, we are evaluating every body system in your pet. Once we have all the information from the history and physical exam, we can determine if your pet is quite healthy, or if testing needs to be done. Even if everything is ok, we may recommend doing a wellness metabolic panel for our older pets. A wellness metabolic panel means that we’ll do blood and urine tests to screen for metabolic diseases. This includes a kidney panel, liver panel, blood sugar (which tests for diabetes), a test for anemia, inflammation or clotting disorders. The urine analysis adds to the information we get from the blood work to give us a fairly complete picture of the major metabolic functions of the body. Why do we do this even if we find nothing wrong? The reason is that many of the metabolic diseases will start without showing any outward signs. This testing can help us detect the problem early, when we have the best chance to make a difference.
If your pet is healthy, we want to take measures to prevent infectious and parasitic diseases. To prevent infectious diseases, we use vaccinations. It is important to realize that, today, vaccinations are individualized for each pet’s needs and lifestyle. Gone are the days when vaccination protocols are the same for everyone. The parasitic diseases we are trying to prevent include intestinal parasites, heartworm disease, fleas, ticks and tick-borne diseases. We will discuss the different types of vaccines and parasite preventatives with you to ensure your pet’s individual needs are met.
So you see, by having us see your pet annually, or better yet semiannually, for his/her wellness exams, no matter how healthy your pet seems to you, you are helping us practice the best medicine possible—preventative medicine.
Dr Pensenstadler practices at Pleasant Valley Veterinary Clinic, located at 211 East McMurray Rd. PVVC has been providing full service veterinary care to the Peters Township area since 1973. To make an appointment, call 724-941-5484.