It’s that time of year again. The time when I wrangle my pack into the car for a trip to the clinic for their annual examination and vaccinations. For one of them, it’s a hard day. She gets so excited for a car ride, but then is a bundle of nerves as soon as we walk through the door, despite bringing her favorite toys and offering treats. For another one, the car ride is great! The clinic is great! New people are great! Shots are…ok…but, wait! It’s another car ride! Best. Day. Ever! Obviously, one dog has a much better day than the other. In general, my pets are pretty healthy with no major issues yet. So, why bother? Why cause stress for one pet and some moderate aggravation to myself for the sake of an annual examination in a seemingly healthy dog? The answer is that for most pets, including my own, an annual examination by a veterinarian is major part of preventative care and keeping a healthy pet healthy.
It’s easy to think of an annual appointment as just “shots,” but an annual veterinary appointment is much more than this. Although the specifics vary between clinics, most annual appointments involve an examination, a fecal analysis to check for internal parasites, a heartworm test, and yes, vaccinations. Heartworm preventatives require an annual blood test for heartworm infection and prescription by a veterinarian. Here, where heartworms are so common, it is imperative to have this testing to keep your pet on heartworm prevention all year long. Intestinal parasites can be severely detrimental to your pet’s health, and some of these parasites can be transmitted to people. Detecting and treating these infections is important not only for your pets, but for you and your family as well.
Vaccinations are probably the most memorable component of an annual appointment. Most parishes require dogs and cats to have vaccinations against rabies, but the frequency of rabies vaccination administration depends on local laws. For parishes like Orleans and Jefferson, rabies vaccinations can be given every three years, after an initial vaccine and booster one year later. For others, vaccinations against rabies must be given every year in order to comply with the law. However, most parishes, including Orleans and Jefferson, still require that a cat or a dog have a rabies license or tag which is renewed annually in order to demonstrate that the animal is up to date on vaccination. Your veterinarian will also likely administer what are called core vaccinations: vaccines against very contagious or serious illnesses. For dogs, vaccinations against distemper, parvovirus, parainfluenza and adenovirus, as well as the bacteria Bordetella are considered core vaccinations. For cats, vaccination against Felines herpes virus, calicivirus, and panleukopenia are considered core. Depending on location and lifestyle, other vaccinations may be strongly recommended including vaccinations against leptospirosis, canine influenza, Feline Leukemia virus, and others. An annual appointment allows your veterinarian to discuss your pet’s lifestyle and habits to develop the best vaccine protocol to protect them from these illnesses.
The most important part of the appointment is the examination. Your vet will likely ask you questions about how your pet has been doing, if there are changes in its behavior, eating, or bathroom habits, or if you have noticed any physical changes to your pet. During the exam, your veterinarian will check for signs of disease that may not be readily apparent to you. They can address issues such as weight gain or loss, dental disease, skin health and discuss how to prevent certain problems such as periodontal disease or obesity from occurring in your pet. Early in the course of disease, even animals with serious illnesses can appear healthy. Through palpation, your veterinarian may feel a mass in your pet’s abdomen. By listening to its chest, they may discover cardiac or lung disease. Diagnosing illnesses early may have a significant effect on treatment and outcome for your pet. By having annual examinations when your pet is healthy and establishing what is normal for them, it’s easier for you and your veterinarian to know when something is wrong and to act quickly to correct the problem.
Annual examinations are critical in preventing disease in your pet. Keep your pet healthy this year and contact your veterinarian to schedule its annual examination. It may be your pet’s least favorite day of the year, but it’s undoubtedly the most important one.