We already know that our furry kids need to have regular check-ups. But an annual exam with your veterinarian is not just about vaccinations – it’s also a great opportunity for both you and your vet to work together to create a customized health and wellness plan exclusively for your pet!
To accomplish this requires communication and a willingness to ask lots of questions. Below are a few questions you can ask the vet at your pet’s next check-up to help make sure that you’re making the most of your time together.
1. Can you explain everything you will be doing and checking for today?
It’s important you understand everything your veterinarian is looking for during the annual exam. A good vet will gladly explain why she’s feeling your pet’s abdomen or looking into his ears and mouth.
Maybe you’re hesitant to ask for more information because you know how busy the veterinarian is and don’t want to take up too much time. Or maybe you feel like it’s something you should already know, and don’t want to appear uninformed. But good veterinarians value their clients who ask questions, because they know that an educated pet guardian makes for a much healthier pet.
So don’t be afraid to ask the vet… about anything!
2. Is my pet at a healthy weight?
Many pet guardians don’t ask this question because, if they are being honest, they might not want to know the answer. Unfortunately, recent statistics show that 53% of dogs and 58% of cats in the U.S. are overweight. Just like in people, obesity in pets is linked to a decreased life expectancy and an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer.
Sadly, many vets are in a tough situation when it comes to discussing a patient’s obesity. Vets don’t want to risk offending guardians by telling them their pets are obese, since some pet parents may become defensive and not return for next year’s check-up. However, a good veterinarian will tell you if your fur kid needs to drop a few pounds… and will also tell you the safest and healthiest ways to help make that happen.
3. What should I be feeding my pet?
There are a LOT of food choices out there, and sometimes trying to make sure you’re providing the healthiest food available can be completely overwhelming. Which is best? Raw? Grain-free? Gluten-free? Dry? Canned? Commercial? Homemade?
Here is where your veterinarian (and veterinary technicians) excel. They can discuss with you the best diet options available for your pet, as well as provide feedback from other pet owners on different types and brands of food. Since every pet’s digestive system is unique, it may take a few tries to find a food that your pet both enjoys and thrives on, but your veterinary team can help whittle down those choices to foods that are safe and nutritionally balanced.
This goes for treats, too!
4. What is the safest/best exercise for my pet?
We all know that exercise is essential for keeping our pets healthy. However, just like for people, exercise recommendations will be different for each pet. Your veterinarian will be able to offer individualized recommendations based on your pet’s species, age, breed, and physical condition.
For example, dogs with arthritis or hip issues may not be able to run on hard surfaces or for long periods of time, while brachycephalic breeds such as Pugs and Bulldogs shouldn’t run at all because of breathing difficulties and the risk of overheating. If your pet is overweight, his exercise regimen will need to be less strenuous at first. Your vet will be able to advise you on the best plan of action to make sure that your pet stays fit and happy.
5. Is “this” normal?
Has your pet had any physical or behavioral changes within the last year that you’ve been wondering about? Your pet’s annual exam is a great time to discuss anything out of the ordinary that you might have noticed. If it’s something worrisome, your vet will be sure to check it out…and if it turns out to be nothing concerning, they can help calm your fears.
Remember, no one knows your pet like you do, so if it’s worrying you, don’t hesitate to bring it up!
6. How are my pet’s teeth?
Dental disease is the most common clinical condition occurring in adult dogs and cats. It can cause a variety of problems, including infected or abscessed teeth (which may result in tooth loss), decreased appetite due to mouth pain, even secondary infections that can travel to the heart and kidneys.
If your pet has tartar or dental disease, your vet may recommend that your pet’s teeth be professionally cleaned. Keep in mind that not all pets necessarily need to have their teeth cleaned every year. Whether your vet recommends it will depend on the age of your pet (young animals may not need it, and older animals may be at increased risk from the anesthesia), whether tartar is present, the breed of your pet (some dogs develop tartar more quickly than others), or whether there is a visible problem, such as a cracked or broken tooth.
Dental disease is preventable in most cases, so if you’re not currently brushing your dog’s teeth regularly with a pet-safe toothpaste, ask your vet to show you how so you can do it yourself at home.
7. Which vaccinations do you recommend, and what specifically are they for?
Vaccination protocols vary based on state regulations, whether your pet goes outside or will be boarded, even what part of the country you live in. For example, parvovirus is more prevalent in warm weather states, so if you live in a warmer climate, your vet may recommend that your dog receive a parvovirus vaccine yearly instead of every 2 or 3 years.
Vaccination protocols should be determined by you and your vet based on the individual needs of your pet. There is no one size fits all when it comes to vaccines. Cats who are strictly indoors and not exposed to other cats may not need a vaccine against Feline Leukemia or FIV, and dogs who are not boarded or groomed may not need a vaccination against kennel cough.
When it comes to vaccines, more is not necessarily better. Be sure to discuss what is best for your pet with your veterinarian.
8. What parasite control do you recommend?
Common pet parasites include heartworms, fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms. Some of these can be transmitted to humans, and many cause other secondary illnesses in pets as well. Heartworms are particularly dangerous and life-threatening.
Keeping parasites away from your pet requires year-round vigilance, even if you live in a cold-weather climate. Ask your veterinarian about the safest heartworm and flea prevention for your pet, and whether he or she recommends testing your pet’s stool for intestinal worms.
9. Should my pet have blood work done?
Your veterinarian will let you know if your pet is due for any annual blood testing (such as your dog’s heartworm test), but you can also request additional blood work if your pet is getting older or hasn’t been feeling well. A blood test called a chemistry panel can check many different values in your pet’s body, including his liver and kidney enzymes, electrolytes, blood sugar, and blood protein levels.
Not all pets need to have annual blood work done, but your vet may recommend it if your pet is older (in order to make sure there are no age-related issues developing), or if he or she suspects anything out of the ordinary. Having periodic blood work provides a good baseline for measuring your pet’s health.
One Size Does Not Fit All
As you can see, your pet’s annual exam is the perfect opportunity for you and your veterinarian to develop a customized health and wellness plan that is tailor-made just for your pet! Taking care of your pet’s health is a team effort, and the more questions you ask the vet, the better informed you will be – and the better chance that your pet will live a long, healthy, and happy life.
Wishing the very best of health to you and all your furry companions!
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What other questions have you asked your veterinarian during your pet’s annual check-up? Tell us about it in the comments below!