Think your pet only needs to go to the veterinarian when something is wrong? Then you’re missing out on one of the most integral parts of maintaining your pet’s health – the annual wellness exam.

These exams are usually recommended once a year, although might be needed more frequently based on your pet’s age and health status. And since your veterinarian doesn’t see your pet every day, like you do, he or she is more likely to notice issues that have been slowly developing that you might not have noticed – like weight gain or loss, or other subtle changes.

During a wellness examination, the veterinarian will ask you questions about your pet’s health. Has your pet been coughing, sneezing, vomiting, having diarrhea? Have you noticed any new lumps or bumps. Be sure to tell the veterinarian if there are any new medications or supplements that you have been giving your pet, or if you have changed the food he or she is eating.

The veterinarian will examine your pet’s eyes, ears, nose, teeth, heart, lungs, and palpate your pet’s abdomen to feel the shape and size of your pet’s internal organs. The vet will also feel for any lumps, and watch the way your pet moves to look for any evidence of lameness or pain. By examining your pet annually, illnesses and issues can be addressed early, and the prognosis for successful treatment is usually improved.

The wellness examination may also include blood work and a urinalysis to evaluate how well your pet’s organs are functioning, and to give a picture of his or her overall health. This is a good idea to do for any animal over the age of 8, regardless of health. A baseline of normal values can be very helpful to evaluate trends and changes in values in the future.

Fecal examinations may also be recommended to look for internal parasites.

For dogs, heartworm testing is performed annually. This testing also detects several tick-borne diseases, which are a big problem in our area. (We do have heartworms in this area as well.) Tick-borne diseases are usually treated with antibiotics. They can cause arthritis and kidney disease if left untreated.

Tick borne disease can cause several illnesses including arthritis and kidney disease.

Vaccines

Vaccines are divided into “core” and “non-core” designations. The core vaccines are the ones every pet should receive. They protect against serious, highly contagious diseases with high mortality rates. Non-core vaccines are given based on a particular pet’s risk of exposure to that illness.

We can also do vaccine titers for pets as they age, to determine whether or not they have sufficient immunity to a particular disease or if they need to be revaccinated.

Core vaccines for dogs:

Distemper (DHLPP or DHPP)
This is a combination vaccine that protects against several different illnesses. The abbreviation DHLPP or DHPP indicates exactly which illnesses the vaccine protects against:

D = Canine distemper virus. A very serious virus with a death rate close to 50% in untreated dogs. It attacks the respiratory, digestive, and nervous system.

H = Hepatitis. A serious disease that affects the liver. (This vaccine is sometimes indicated by A2 in the abbreviation, since it protects against canine adenovirus-2 and adenovirus-1.)

L = Leptospirosis. This potentially serious bacterial disease attacks the kidneys and liver of infected dogs and can be transmitted to humans. Vaccination against this disease is generally considered noncore but may be recommended in areas where leptospirosis is common.

P = Parvovirus. This highly contagious, serious virus has a death rate of close to 90% in untreated dogs. The virus causes severe diarrhea and vomiting, and affects the digestive and immune systems.

P = Parainfluenza. This is a mild respiratory viral disease in dogs.

Rabies

Rabies is a disease of mammals and is 100% fatal, with no effective treatment. Because this disease can also affect humans, rabies vaccination is required by law in most states.

Non-core vaccines for dogs:

Lyme

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness that is common in our area. Several vaccines are available to protect against infection. The initial vaccine requires a booster 2-4 weeks later, and then is given annually. We will help you determine if your dog should receive the vaccine, depending on his or her risk of exposure. We may also recommend testing your dog for Lyme before administering the vaccine.

Bordetella

The bordetella vaccine protects against a bacterial respiratory disease commonly referred to as kennel cough. This vaccine is recommended for dogs that are frequently around groups of dogs – at dog parks, boarding kennels, the groomer, etc. The disease is highly contagious and easily transmitted through the air or the environment.

Core vaccines for cats:

Feline distemper (FVRCP)

This combination vaccine protects against three deadly airborne viruses: rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia.

Rhinotracheitis is caused by the common feline herpes virus. Symptoms include crusty eyes, sneezing, runny nose, and drooling. It can be fatal if left untreated.

Calicivirus has similar symptoms, and can also cause mouth ulcers. It is more common in kittens or senior cats.

Panleukopenia, commonly known as feline distemper, is very serious and is easily transmitted from cat to cat. It progresses rapidly and can be fatal. Symptoms include fever, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. It’s more commonly seen in kittens.

Rabies

Rabies is a disease of mammals and is 100% fatal, with no effective treatment. Because this disease can also affect humans, rabies vaccination is required by law in most states.

Non-core vaccines for cats

Feline leukemia (FeLV)

This virus affects the cat’s immune system, and usually causes anemia or lymphoma. Affected cats don’t usually show any symptoms, but can pass the virus along to other cats. There is no treatment for this fatal disease, although cats can live with it for years. This vaccine might be recommended if your cat goes outside and could come into contact with other cats that could be carriers of the virus.