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Preventive Care: Keeping Your Pet Healthy Longer

Are you on the path to making this your pet’s healthiest year ever? Routine preventive care such as physical examinations, fecal testing, vaccinations, bloodwork, radiographs, abdominal ultrasound scans and echocardiograms are all good screening tools to pick up on disease early, making it easier (and often less expensive) to treat. Dr. Ford answers a few questions about the importance of preventive care.

Did you just say fecal testing? What in the world is that?

A routine microscopic exam of your pet’s stool checks for parasites that may be living in it’s intestines, like roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms. Some intestinal parasites like roundworms and hookworms can be transmitted to people, so the Center for Disease Control recommends that all pets have a fecal examination performed at least once a year in adult animals. In puppies and kittens, it is recommended that we make sure these youngsters have at least 2 negative stool checks during their booster vaccine series (usually done between 8 and 20 weeks of age).

My dog or cat is quite old. Why do I need to do these preventive care procedures?

Dogs and cats are generally considered “senior” pets at 7 years of age (giant breed dogs, like St. Bernards or Great Danes are senior at age 5). Luckily, many dogs and cats live excellent lives for many years after they become geriatric. However, they are more likely to start having early changes in the function of some of their vital organs after they become senior citizens. Common diseases we see in older pets involve the liver, kidneys, thyroid, and heart; diabetes and cancer are also greater risks. By checking the function and structure of the vital organs routinely we’re able to pick up changes earlier, when they are more easily treated. Also, by checking your older pet’s health routinely, we can also help prevent or treat painful conditions that could affect his or her quality of life.

My dog or cat is very young, just a kitten or a puppy. When should I start having things like an abdominal ultrasound or echocardiogram performed? Why is yearly bloodwork so important in my young pet?

Even if your veterinarian says your puppy’s or kitten’s physical exam is normal, there are things we can’t pick up from the outside. While most puppies and kittens are normal, some are born with abnormalities of their vital organs that can only be detected with bloodwork or imaging such as X rays or ultrasound. We always like to know that a puppy or kitten’s vital organs are functioning normally, especially before they are anesthetized to be spayed or neutered. If bloodwork is normal in that very young pet, we will have a valuable baseline for that patient in its younger years. By checking that bloodwork every year we can watch for changes over time that could help us treat disease earlier.

Ideally, it would also be great for every pet to have had an abdominal ultrasound and echocardiogram (heart ultrasound) by age 2 or 3 to establish a baseline for their organ structures, in the event that we notice changes over time.

Can’t I just wait until they’re sick and perform these more expensive procedures then? What is the benefit of doing something like an ultrasound when my pet is obviously healthy?

Unfortunately, by waiting until your pet shows signs of illness to perform these tests, it’s condition will often be diagnosed in a more advanced stage of the disease process. When this happens, your pet’s condition is more likely to be unstable, often requiring hospitalization and more aggressive care that may not be feasible at home. If a disease process is detected later in its progression, there may be long-term changes to your pet’s vital organs that cannot be reversed, and his or her prognosis may be poorer long-term. Also, patients that require more aggressive treatments often have longer hospital stays than those who are diagnosed earlier, which obviously translates into greater total expense to treat. Performing imaging of the vital organs when your pet shows no signs of disease allows us to detect changes in the structure and function of internal organs very early, when outpatient therapy like diet and medications can have a greater impact.

Anything else?

In addition to these diagnostic tests, it is extremely important that your pet receive a thorough physical examination at least once a year. A physical exam is your veterinarian’s initial opportunity to pick up on abnormalities or changes in your pet’s health.

Vaccinations are important for all pets even after their initial booster series as puppies and kittens. Adult dogs are still susceptible to life-threatening infections like distemper virus and leptospirosis, and we occasionally see adult dogs who contract parvovirus infections. A pet of any age can get upper respiratory infections, and older pets are more likely to develop complications like pneumonia from an upper respiratory infection. For that reason we recommend that all adult cats be vaccinated appropriately for the upper respiratory viruses and that all adult dogs receive a bordetella vaccine for kennel cough.

A cat of any age who goes outside or contacts other outdoor-roaming cats should be appropriately tested and vaccinated for feline leukemia virus. The rabies vaccine is required by law for all dogs and cats, despite whether they go outside, as bats can easily get into houses and transmit rabies to an indoor pet.

We look forward to making 2012 your pet’s healthiest year ever!

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