“Let’s Get Physical!”
At My Vet, our doctors and staff know the care and keeping of our animal companions can be overwhelming. It’s easy to lose sight of the basics in pet care. Rather than diving deeper into the minutia of veterinary medicine this post will review the most fundamental part of your pet’s healthcare needs: the healthy annual exam. An ‘annual exam’ is vet speak for your dog or cat’s yearly physical exam, vaccinations and laboratory testing. I’m going to break down each component of your pet’s annual exam so that the next time you visit My Vet you will know what to expect!
In keeping with a Fear-Free philosophy it’s important to remember that our pet’s vet visit begins prior to arriving at the clinic. When you call or email to schedule an annual exam our client-care coordinators will assess your pet’s medical history and discuss pre-visit preparation. This includes withholding food for a few hours prior to the visit so that your cat or dog will respond positively to the treats we have on site for them or suggesting appointment slots that are not during peak hours of business. Make sure you have any pertinent information about your pet’s recent medical history available the day of your appointment. The technicians will ask you about any current medications, the type of food you are feeding at home as well as other relevant health inquiries. To ensure we have all the right information prepare a comprehensive list a day or two before your appointment!
The Physical Exam
The key component of your pet’s annual exam is a healthy physical exam. The physical exam is always performed by a veterinarian. During the exam, the vet may ask you questions about your pet’s recent medical history or answer any questions that you may have prepared. The exam is a thorough physical. It is meant to evaluate your dog or cat’s neurologic, cardiovascular, orthopedic, respiratory and sensory health. Our medical director, Dr. Jennifer LaVigne, says she utilizes a method of exam that she refers to as “head-to-toe” approach.
The vet begins by assessing your pet’s eyes, ears and mouth. We are looking for any signs of ocular deterioration, bacteria/yeast overgrowth in the ear cavity or dental disease. Moving forward, the vet will examine your pet’s skin. They will look for any irregular inflammation or irritation. Then, the vet will do a thorough palpitation of your pet’s abdomen. Palpating the abdomen allows us to identify any pain, abnormalities or irregularities. The veterinarian will also assess your pet’s limbs and joints for any signs of stiffness or soreness. The patient’s vitals are recorded including their temperature, heart rate and lung sounds. The physical exam allows the vet to make any notations of your pet’s overall body score and keep track of issues as they arise in real time. Feel free to engage with the vet and ask any questions you may have during this time! Once the physical exam is complete this is typically when the veterinarian will make any recommendations for the rest of your pet’s visit. This may include updating vaccinations or laboratory testing.
As mentioned, the annual exam is typically a time when your pet may be due for vaccinations. It is important to remember that each pet varies in their due dates for vaccinations. The most common inoculation administered during an annual exam is the Rabies vaccine. This vaccine is unique in that it is required under Illinois law to be administered by a veterinarian. Other annual vaccines include canine Distemper-Parvo, feline Distemper, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Canine Influenza or Lyme. When My Vet notifies you for your furry friend’s impending office annual it will include any vaccinations that are coming due as well.
Laboratory testing is a generic term that refers to recommended bloodwork or fecal testing for your cat or dog. The fecal exam is typically done in conjunction with a canine heartworm panel. The fecal exam will test for any intestinal parasite or worm whereas the heartworm panel detects heartworm disease as well as four other tick-related diseases including Lyme. At the time of your pet’s annual exam the doctor may recommend additional lab testing. Your pet’s medical history is taken into consideration. For example, our senior patients have a comprehensive blood panel performed annually or bi-annually. Our younger patient’s benefit from further diagnostics to create a baseline reference or detect any early problems. There is no hard and fast guideline for laboratory testing. That is why the annual exam is a perfect time to talk with the veterinarian about individual concerns and needs for your pet.
Preventatives refers to your pet’s monthly heartworm and flea/tick medications. The veterinarian or technician will talk with you about your pet’s preventative schedule. They may also provide some resources about why preventatives are integral to a cat and dog’s healthy lifestyle. An annual appointment is also when a doctor may provide further medicinal recommendations for your pet. The doctor may have recommendations based on your pet’s physical exam. This is a great time to discuss any concerns that you may have about your pet’s health. Speak up! Annuals are not only designated to healthy exams and vaccinations. If you’ve noticed mobility changes in your senior pet this is the perfect time to discuss options with the doctor. Or, if your cat has suddenly developed strange litterbox habits the veterinarian can spend some time with you talking about possible reasons for inappropriate elimination. An annual exam should be specific to you and your pet’s needs. There is no one way to provide healthcare to our patients.
There they are. The basic tenants of your pet’s next annual exam. Being prepared for a trip to the vet is the first step in insuring your cat or dog receives the attention they need. With this foundational understanding you can feel confident next time you come to My Vet for their office annual!