You’ve all heard it before – your veterinarian urges you to bring your pets in for a checkup once or twice a year, even if they’re in apparently perfect health. But why? It can seem puzzling to some of us to bring our pets to the vet and pay for a visit if we think our pets are looking and feeling fine. Let me explain….
A few months ago, one of my beloved patients, Meghan (a young, spirited Maltese dog), came in for her annual exam and vaccinations so that she could go to the groomer. Meghan’s mom had no concerns, and to be honest, probably would have postponed this visit if her groomer didn’t require proof of up-to-date veterinary care. I, for one, sure am glad that Meghan needed a hair cut!
During Meghan’s exam I noticed that the inside of her ears looked a little pale but her gums were pink and the rest of her exam was fine. She even met me with her customary excitement and face kisses. I next obtained her blood for her annual heartworm test and noticed that her blood seemed thinner than normal. I shared my findings with her mom and asked if I could run a full panel on the blood. We added the additional tests and found that Meghan had a very significant anemia. She had only 1/3 as many red blood cells circulating as she should have (13% instead of 45%). Meghan was very sick and had been hiding it!
Meghan was diagnosed with idiopathic immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) and received immediate intervention including bone marrow testing, a blood transfusion and strong immunosuppressive medications. Because of Meghan’s early diagnosis, her mom’s trust in her veterinarian’s observations, and her response to treatment she is doing great and has fully recovered. She is alive and thriving–all because she went to her annual veterinary well visit.
Okay, so you’re thinking that Meghan’s situation was rare and that your pet is unlikely to have such a serious condition. And you would be right, but it is actually really important to have your pet examined, blood work and all, at least once a year. Think about it: as we get older, our checkups become more and more important in order to look for conditions that develop as we age. It’s no different for your pet.
Additionally, your pet can’t tell you when they are sick or in pain, and even though your pet may appear healthy, he or she might be silently suffering. They are so good at hiding signs or symptoms of disease from us, that an annual checkup may be the only way to have a trained set of eyes spot any subtle signs of illness.
Our job as veterinarians starts with that first visit with your new puppy or kitten. We perform an initial physical exam to look for any signs of illness to make sure your new pet starts off on the right foot. Early disease detection and prevention is paramount to improve the quality and length of life for our pets.
The same goes for older pets – yearly to twice yearly, physical exams and blood tests allow us to look for any changes in your pet’s values that may reveal a developing disease early, when it is most treatable.
Ultimately, that slight limp you noticed at home or an abnormal dip in red blood cell count on wellness blood work could mean your pet is developing conditions such as arthritis or anemia–two conditions you may not be able to detect on your own and would go untreated without your yearly check up.
Jessica Stephens, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital