Just like humans, pets need regular check ups to make sure that everything is working smoothly. The consensus out there among veterinarians is to bring your dog or cat in for a wellness visit at least once per year (your vet may suggest biannual visits for older pets). But there are a lot of misconceptions about about what yearly wellness visits entail. Many pet parents think, "Well, if my pet isn’t sick, why do they need to see the vet?" Continue reading to find the answer to this question and more.
Why do I need a yearly vet visit?
First things first: yearly wellness checks are crucial for discovering disease before it becomes untreatable. Just as important, yearly wellness visits help keep your pet's health, diet, and fitness on track. Your vet will help you generate a unique plan for your pet that keeps them healthy, fit, and disease-free.
Yearly vet visits are also important to help pet parents and pets build a relationship with their veterinarians. "Some daycares and other businesses are trying to outsource veterinary care," says Dr. Stephanie Liff, veterinarian and co-owner of Brooklyn Cares Veterinary Clinic. "You bring your dog to daycare, the vet comes during the day and does all the tests, and you never see them." If pet parents want to know the details of their pet’s health or talk to a veterinarian about behavior they noticed, they couldn’t do that with this system.
Overall, yearly vet visits are an important part of a "proactive and preventative" medical plan, says Liff. "We want to do our best for each individual pet."
Want more advice from Dr. Stephanie Liff? Read her tips for urban dog parents.
What’s going to happen?
Dr. Liff and Enzo
The first time you visit a vet, you can expect a busy visit. Liff says that pet parents should be ready with their pet’s prior medical history (if available), a stool sample for a fecal test, and be prepared with information about how their pet is eating, sleeping, and urinating. She suggests that clients write things down beforehand to make it easier to remember all of the information vets will ask for.
Your pet’s yearly wellness check is very different than yours for one major reason: specialization. Unlike human medicine, which is very specialized, one vet will take care of all of an animal’s medical issues. This is one reason why coming in every year and maintaining your relationship with your vet is so important.
Liff compared a visit to the vet like a visit to a pediatrician. Similar to how pediatricians are looking at all aspects of your child’s health and behavior, so does a vet for your animal. "Bring every problem. Anything that happens to your pet is fair game. My dog isn’t playing at the dog park. My cat gets nervous during thunder storms. This is all stuff that I hear."
What about cats?
Cats can be difficult to take to the vet’s office. "Cats are usually nervous," says Liff. "They also don’t indicate disease," making it difficult for pet parents to know when their cat is sick.
"An examination of a cat is geared towards subtle changes. Maybe nothing changed in your cat’s life lost year, but it lost a pound." That weight loss could be an indication of disease, even though it doesn’t seem like a big deal. Same for other small differences. "Maybe your cat used to sleep in the bed but now they sleep in the bathroom. That could be a big deal."
Need to get your cat to the vet, but can’t convince it to leave the house? Read more tips here.
What about tests and vaccinations?
Every year, you can expect your vet to perform a few tests on your pet. One is the fecal test, to check for intestinal parasites. "Some people think that because their dog doesn’t go to daycare, they’re safe [from parasites]," says Liff. But she estimates that about 1 in 4 pets she sees has had intestinal parasites at one point in their life. In the city, where dogs are exposed to dozens if not hundreds of other dogs and their feces during their lifetimes, a fecal test is crucial to keeping animals healthy.
Your vet may also order blood tests to be done if your animal is a new patient or is an older patient. Blood tests can help catch a variety of diseases, and are crucial for proactive medical care of older animals.
Some veterinarians perform yearly vaccinations. Liff says that because her practice takes a holistic approach, they have cut back vaccinations to about every three years. She also works with each client individually to figure out what vaccinations their pet really needs and to help them understand the purpose of vaccinations.
If you have questions about the vaccinations your vet is recommending, don’t be afraid to ask. Vets won’t recommend vaccinations they don’t think your pet needs, but you should also be aware of the reasoning behind them.
How much will it cost?
It’s impossible to tell you exactly how much you’ll pay for a yearly check up since every vet charges a different amount for their services, but Liff estimates that you can expect to pay about $300 to $500 for each visit.
Pet insurance doesn’t cover annual wellness visits, but we find that annual visits are much easier to budget for than emergency room visits. If you know you’re going to spend approximately $500 per year on a wellness visit, you can put that money aside over time. Wellness visits may also catch diseases that will end up being treated with procedures that are covered by pet insurance, helping you save both money and your pet’s life.
Photo credit: Army Medicine