Your pet's routine wellness exam (checkup), is your vet's opportunity to check your furry companion for early signs of internal damage, illnesses, or other severe conditions that need to be treated. In this blog, our Bedford vets share the reasons why routine checkups are an important part of your cat or dog's health, how to prepare for your pet's exam, and how frequently your pet should have them.
The Importance of Routine Checkups for Your Cat or Dog
You should schedule your pet's routine physical exam with your veterinarian one to two times a year, even when they seem to be in perfect health. These wellness checkups are your cat or dog's best chance to achieve and maintain their optimal health.
By bringing your healthy pet to see their vet regularly, you are providing your veterinarian with the opportunity to evaluate your pet's overall health, and test for diseases, illnesses, and conditions that could be hard to identify in their early stages (such as parasites and cancers).
These illnesses and conditions benefit from being treated early. During your cat or dog's checkup, your vet has two goals: to prevent the development of health conditions when possible and to find any symptoms of diseases early so they can be treated before they turn into more serious problems.
How Often You Should Take Your Pet to the Vet for a Checkup
Your pet's medical history and age will determine how often your pet should visit the veterinarian for a wellness exam.
If your cat or dog has a history of illness but is healthy at the moment, we suggest scheduling an appointment with your vet twice a year or more regularly to make sure your pet stays as healthy as possible. Your vet can assess your furry friend and tell you how often they should have a physical exam.
Because your puppy or kitten's immune system is still developing, young pets can be more susceptible to a range of illnesses that adult pets should be able to overcome more easily. This is why your vet might suggest booking a checkup monthly during their first few months.
Generally, an adult cat or dog with no history of illness should be able to visit their vet for a checkup once a year. However, some pets such as senior cats and dogs, as well as giant breed dogs, are at a higher risk for many conditions and should see a veterinarian more frequently to monitor for early signs of illness. In situations like these, we recommend bringing your pet to see a vet twice a year for a checkup.
How to Get Ready For Your Pet's Exam
Your veterinarian will require the following basic medical information about your canine or feline friend, especially if this is their first visit. Take notes on your animal's:
- Toilet habits
- Eating and drinking habits
- Food (what kind do they eat)
- Past medical records, including vaccine history
- Current medications (names and doses)
- Tick bites
- Recent travel history
You might also want to bring a favorite blanket or toy for their comfort. While dogs should be on a leash, cats should be in a carrier.
What to Expect at Your Pet's Checkup
When you bring your cat or dog to the veterinarian, your vet will review your pet's medical history and ask if you have any concerns. They will also ask about your pet’s diet, exercise routine, thirst level, bowel movements, urination, and other aspects of their lifestyle and general behavior.
Sometimes, you’ll be asked to collect and bring a fresh sample of your pet’s stool (bowel movement) so they can complete a fecal exam. These exams help detect a range of problematic intestinal parasites. These parasites will be difficult to detect otherwise.
Then, your vet will physically examine your cat or dog. While this will usually cover the following points, your vet might take the time to do more based on the needs of your pet:
- Measuring your pet’s gait, stance, and weight
- Using a stethoscope to listen to your pet’s lungs and heart
- Examining your furry friend's coat to evaluate its overall condition, as well as look for signs of abnormal hair loss or dandruff
- Look into your pet's eyes to check for signs of cloudiness, discharge, excessive tearing, cloudiness, or redness, and eyelid issues
- Examining your cat or dog's ears for signs of polyps, wax buildup, bacterial infection, or ear mites
- Feeling the abdomen to check whether the internal organs appear normal, and to check for signs of pain or discomfort
- Checking your pet’s nails and feet for signs of significant damage or health concerns
- Inspecting the condition of the teeth for any indications of decay, damage, or periodontal disease
- Inspecting your cat’s or dog’s skin for numerous issues — from bumps or lumps (especially in folds of skin) to dryness and parasites
- Checking for any signs of illness by feeling along your pet’s body (palpating). These symptoms include lameness or limited range of motion, or signs of swelling or pain
If no problems are found along the way, your vet will probably go through this list quickly and seamlessly — they might even chat with you as they do this. If they do find an issue, your vet will explain what they have noticed and recommend the next steps you should take or discuss potential treatment options.
At the checkup, your vet will also administer your cat or dog's annual vaccinations depending on your pet’s appropriate schedule.
Additional Wellness Testing Recommended for Pets
In addition to the basic checkup exam points listed above, your vet might also suggest additional wellness testing. Remember that in many situations, early detection and treatment of diseases is much less expensive than treating the condition once it has advanced.
Tests for blood count, thyroid hormone testing, and a urinalysis might also be completed, in addition to diagnostic testing such as X-rays and imaging.
At the End of Your Pet's Routine Exam
After your pet has been assessed, tested, and given its vaccines, your vet will designate time to discuss their findings with you.
If the veterinarian has found any signs of injury or illness, they will recommend more detailed diagnostics or potential treatment options to help.
If your pet is healthy overall, this discussion may focus on improvements to exercise and diet routines, caring for your pet’s oral health, and checking that essentials such as appropriate parasite prevention are monitored.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding people or pets. Always follow your doctor's advice regarding asthma or other allergy symptoms.