You might not think so, but animals are very similar to people when it comes to health and wellness. When our pets are young, they need to see their veterinarian often. When they’re older, they may also go to the vet frequently. When they’re living their best adult life, an annual visit should suffice.
It’s all about keeping on top of their vaccinations, their wellbeing, any age-related changes, and catching any issues early. That’s why preventative healthcare is just as important for animals as it is for people. Preventative health care is what we do to prevent diseases, which is why regular veterinary visits are so important. According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), 15% of adult pets, 21% of senior pets, and 42% of geriatric pets require intervention or action during their regular screenings. But how often should you be getting your pet checked? We connected with Vetster veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Lopez to understand some best practices surrounding pets’ health and wellness.
How often should I take my pet to the vet?
“This question really has many answers, because it varies by age, species, and if the pet has a chronic condition; sick or well. Puppies and kittens really visit us at the clinic very often. Owners might feel that they are there every few weeks, and they are,” said Dr. Lopez.
“It is important to get them in more frequently because they are constantly growing, more susceptible to parasites and illnesses as their immune systems are not completely developed.”
According to Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) guidelines, puppies and kittens should have at least four fecal exams each year. “Parasites are no joke!” said Dr. Lopez. And they can pop up anytime — especially in pets that go outdoors. While four times a year might seem like a lot, your vet will work with you to create a manageable schedule.
Dogs and cats between one and six years of age should be getting at least an annual checkup. Pets over seven years old should be visiting the vet every six months for an examination, bloodwork, weight check, and body condition scoring to make sure they’re keeping well and catch any health issues early.
My pet seems healthy, why should I take them to the vet?
Similar to people, pets may look healthy on the outside, but the inside might tell a different story. “There have been several published studies that have shown that people that thought their pet dogs and cats were healthy, but when these pets were examined by a veterinarian many were found to have abnormalities that needed medical intervention such as heart murmurs, kidney disease, and dental disease being the top ones,” said Dr. Lopez.
And because animals are perfect little adorable beings, they want to be their best selves and often mask their illness and pain. “It's only when the illness has gotten so severe that their clinical signs become more obvious to owners,” clarifies Dr. Lopez. “That is what we all want to practice as veterinarians: proactive medicine.”
What are you checking for when I bring my pet to the vet?
When you take your pets to the clinic, you’ll notice vets getting all friendly with the animals because “putting hands on the dog or cat is important, listening to their hearts and lung function” Dr. Lopez shared that vets are trained to look for subtle signs that owners may not notice. Though in-person visits are fundamental to preventative health care, supplemental telehealth check-ins can help with some issues and your virtual vet can walk you through a lot of the examination steps.
“Diagnostic testing such as blood, urine, and fecal testing is very key to what is going on internally that we may not be able to see during a physical examination. Just as it is recommended for healthy human adults to visit their local primary physician yearly and have bloodwork done, it is the same for adult dogs and cats,” said Dr. Lopez.
Is there a specific time of the year I should take my pet to the vet?
In terms of timing, there’s a specific schedule for certain procedures like rabies vaccines, heartworm and tick-borne tests and preventative medications, which your vet will determine with you. You can coordinate these with your fecal parasite testing, to maximize visits.
What if my pet never goes outside (indoor cat, for example), do I still need to take them for regular checkups?
“Even if your pets live indoors, that does not shield them from aging, developing potential diseases or infections that might occur. This is a common misconception especially with indoor cats,” explained Dr. Lopez. Some owners believe that indoor animals can’t contract any parasites or illnesses, but that’s the case. Viruses can make their way to your pet via shoes, clothes, and other items brought in from the outdoors. That’s why it’s just as important to vaccinate your indoor pets for rabies and get them routine blood work and fecal testing.
What if my pet doesn’t like going to the vet?
If your pet isn’t a huge fan of the vet, it’s all about making them feel comfortable. “The more safe they feel and more enjoyable the experience, the better the outcome will be for everyone involved! Preparing them beforehand such as ‘test’ car runs, or putting the carrier out weeks before the visit might acclimate them and alert them that it is never a negative situation when they get into the carrier,” recommended Dr. Lopez.
Always remember to bring your pet's favorite treats. Cats should always come in a carrier where they feel safe and unthreatened (and where they cannot escape). Dr. Lopez also recommends “putting a piece of your clothing with your smell in the carrier.” You can even use pet specific pheromones such as Feliway or DAP.
And there’s always Vetster. Virtual care is perfect for saving your pet unnecessary travel anxiety. You can see an online vet for a huge range of issues, from stomach issues to skin rashes and behavioral concerns. If your pet is showing signs of illness, a Vetster vet can also help determine if you need to take them in for an in-person appointment. They can also help set you up for better health outcomes by discussing preventative care, like nutrition advice.
And remember, preventative care can help you save in the long run. “The earlier we find illness, the more cost-effective they are to treat and manage. And the longer and healthier life they will live.”
So whether it’s in-person visits, or virtual visits on Vetster, close attention to your pet’s health is essential in having them live long, healthy, and fun lives.
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