The Importance of the Annual Health Exam
When an injured or an unwell pet is presented to a veterinarian, we have a mere 15-20min to make an informed diagnosis of what the problem is, what’s causing the problem, what the correct treatment is and how to prevent it happening again. Add to that the time needed to prescribe and dispense the correct treatment, bill the appropriate fees and write up the clinical notes, you can see why, when asked at the end of the visit, “By the way, is there anything else I should be doing for my pet?”, you may get short changed on that answer. There is a vast amount of advice and information that can be discussed to improve the health and wellbeing of your pet. But this needs more time to address properly than the last 30 seconds of your visit as you’re bundling your limping Kelpie into the car. This is where the importance of the Annual Health Exam comes in.
The Annual Health Exam is the visit where we can address all of your questions relating to feeding, housing, training and handling, without needing to focus on any illness or injury. This is the consultation where we encourage you to bring in your list of questions. The consultation where we can take the time to educate and discuss what things can be tweaked and improved. This is what we love doing. Helping you understand what makes your pet better and why. This is what Bentons Road Veterinary Clinic is all about. Education and understanding is what we do!
So what does an Annual Health Exam involve?
Listed here are the points that are discussed in every Annual Health Exam. Although this list is a little extensive it does give you an insight into how much is covered in this important visit.
1. Weight assessment.
Every pet has its Body Condition Score (BCS) calculated at every visit, often as the dog is still trotting into the consult room. This sparks a discussion on how much food your pet is eating and whether this should be altered to improve your pet’s weight. The BCS is a score out of 9 that gives an indication as to whether your pet is under or overweight. Healthy pets score a 4 or 5. Outside of these values and you could be overfeeding your pet (or rarely underfeeding). The higher the BCS above 5, the less healthy your pet is and the more likely they will suffer from chronic diseases and lameness. Unfortunately they also tend not live as long as a pet with a healthy BCS.
Unhealthy Body Condition Scores are often due to overfeeding. Overfeeding often leads to obesity and is incredibly common in the pet owning community. Unfortunately advice on the correct amount to feed your pet is often taken from the chart on the side of the pet food packet. This chart is usually an average and doesn’t take into account other factors including age, weight and size. The amount of food your pet needs changes over its lifetime. Puppies can need to eat nearly 8% of their bodyweight per day, healthy adults need 2-3% per day and this of course fluctuates with the type of food you are feeding. Our Vets are the perfect people to get feeding advice from. We know your pet as an individual, we know what is best for their health and wellbeing, and we know that they aren’t just the ‘average’ scrolled across the side of a food packet.
* images courtesy of rawessentials.co.nz
2. Nutrition advice.
A discussion about weight usually segways into a discussion about diet and the proportion of nutrients in your pet’s food. Unfortunately processed pet food often contains non-essential fillers to make up the bulk of product. These fillers are usually cheap and not normally found in the natural diet of your cat or dog. These processed diets, although marketed very effectively, are not always the best type of food for your pet.
A good quality, nutritionally balanced and species appropriate, fresh food diet is the best for all pets. Bentons Road Vet Clinic has always helped people to feed their pets appropriately and have lots of information to help you. Feeding a good diet to your pet will help to support their general health all over, including their immune system, cardiovascular system, bones and joints, intestinal system and emotional health. Absolutely everything can be affected or improved by diet alone. Again, the nutrients required throughout life will vary with age, exercise level and health and your pet’s diet should be tailored throughout its life to reflect this.
3. Skin health
The condition of your pet’s skin and coat is an outward sign of its inner health and often the first sign that something is not right with your pet. Dry scaley skin, itchiness, excess grease or loss of fur are all abnormal signs. Sometimes the solution might be as simple as introducing a nutritional supplement to the diet such as an omega 3 fatty acid or a change in bathing regime is needed. Sometimes further investigation into your pet’s metabolic health is required. Again, ensuring your pet has plenty of antioxidants, live enzymes, fresh food and the vitamins and minerals essential for good skin health in their diet will go a long way to keeping them healthy inside and out.
4. Dental Health.
The state of your pet’s teeth can have a dramatic impact on their overall health. Your vet will have a good look at the state of your pet’s mouth, examining all of the teeth, looking for signs dental disease including gingivitis, tartar, periodontal disease, infection and pain. They will also look for signs of uneven chewing or wear of the teeth indicating hidden pain. Too often today we see pets with horrendous dental disease, with infection and pain who are allowed to continue on in this state “because they are too old” to do anything about it. Chronic infection and pain that is allowed to continue without treatment is debilitating and will age your pet much faster. We all know how painful and frustrating human toothaches can be, imagine if we weren’t able to see a dentist for help! How enjoyable would life really be?
At Bentons Road Vet Clinic, we have performed many major dental procedures on geriatric patients, sometimes removing all of their remaining teeth due to advanced disease. During the post op check one week later, most owners admit that they can’t believe how much happier their pet is without their painful teeth! Once you remove chronic disease, the pet’s wellbeing is able to shine through again.
5. Metabolic health.
Knowing that chronic disease is so common in the modern pet, your vet will ask you many probing questions to seek out any early sign of a potential problem in your pet: “Do you have any concerns with your pet’s health?”, “Have you noticed any changes in your pet’s appetite or drinking behaviour?”, “any changes in toileting patterns?”, “What about exercise tolerance?”, “Any coughing or sneezing, vomiting or diarrhoea…” You might feel that you are answering the same questions over and over but your vet is making sure there are no subtle changes that need to be investigated. After all, we might not see you for another 12 months – a huge proportion of your pet’s life. We want to know as early as we can about the onset of disease so that we can do something about it. We will often recommend an annual health screen blood test and a urine test, particularly if your pet is getting older and definitely if we feel there may be a sign of early disease. Blood collection is usually stress free for your pet. At Bentons Road Vet Clinic we respect your pet and take a slow approach, using plenty of treats. Dogs and cats rarely get scared with this approach.
6. Orthopaedic health.
Your vet will assess your pet’s musculoskeletal health and fitness looking for any signs of muscle wastage or joint pain. Weight management plays a big part here and we will often advise on nutritional supplements to help with early onset osteoarthritis and may also suggest physiotherapy or an exercise regime to help your pet improve their fitness. Injuries are common when pets are allowed to lose physical fitness but are still expected to run and chase a ball like an agile athlete.
7. Parasite prevention.
Vets all want to make sure that your pet does not suffer from disease due to an intestinal or heartworm burden and especially want to ensure that no diseases are transmitted to other people, particularly children. Your pet’s lifestyle will be assessed and their risk for any parasitic burden evaluated. Their skin will be checked for evidence of fleas and you may be asked to submit a faecal sample to look for worm eggs. Advice will always be given as to an appropriate parasiticide to administer in accordance with your pet’s risk analysis. Not all pets need a monthly chemical treatment for everything every month. Your vet will advise you on the lowest levels of chemicals needed for your pet to remain disease free.
Your pet’s annual shots used to be the incentive to get clients in through the front door of the vet clinic. With changing vaccination protocols and better knowledge about immunology and how vaccines work, we now know that vaccinations are important for puppies and kittens but that once conferred, immunity continues for much of the pet’s life without revaccination. Your pet’s lifestyle, age and likelihood to board at a kennel will dictate the vaccination protocol that is recommended. Titer testing is now a great way to measure your pet’s immunity to disease and is a much safer option than blindly over-vaccinating them. There are still boxes that need to be ticked by vaccinating for kennel cough or cat flu prior to entering a boarding facility. Often these vaccines can be given just a month before boarding, ensuring better immunity while boarding rather than giving this every year. Every pet will be slightly different in their immunisation requirements and it is important not to assume they are all the same. Vaccines carry a small risk and we should always aim to give as little as is necessary.
Your pet’s behaviour and his or her impact on your family’s lifestyle and the human-animal bond is an essential topic to be discussed at the clinic. Often behaviour problems are assumed to be poor training issues and not discussed with the vet for fear of being judged or made to feel guilty for causing it. This should not be the case. Animal behaviour is complex and often what is seen to be poor training is evidence of an underlying anxiety disorder. Yes, true anxiety is incredibly common in pets. Whether due to our selective breeding pressure, poor socialisation as a puppy, modern pet housing methods or a lack of understanding of the innate behaviour of our social companions, anxiety is the single most important problem that veterinarians address in their clinics. Behaviour issues have the potential to lead to a pet being surrendered or even euthanased if they are severe enough and they can easily escalate to a major problem if not given due importance. Most vets today are trained in recognising and addressing behaviour problems, with medication if indicated, training or behaviour modification practices. Most vets will have a preferred behaviouralist to involve in the management of the case and success is always better with an experienced behaviouralist on board.
As you can see, this is a huge amount of information to get through during the Annual Health Exam. Your pet should be assessed on every one of these points and advice given to ensure your pet is achieving the best health they can. This full assessment should be performed at least once every 12 months for adult pets and more often for young and elderly pets. If you think your pet might be due their Annual Health Exam, or you would like some good information on preventing chronic disease, book an appointment to see one of our wonderful vets at Bentons Road Vet Clinic. Remember, bring your list of questions – we have the answers.