For years bringing your pet to see their veterinarian for an annual exam has always been synonymous with bringing them to get their vaccines. Although this will likely continue to be the case with our feline patients since their Rabies vaccines need to be administered every year, this will likely no longer be the case with some of our canine friends. New vaccination guidelines advise that the canine distemper vaccine should only be administered every three years to dogs with a documented vaccine history. The initial canine rabies vaccine is valid for one year, but subsequent vaccines are valid for three. This means that some of our patients will be due for their annual examination without any vaccines.
It is important to realize that just because your dog is not due for any vaccinations it is critical that he/she be seen by a veterinarian at least once a year. Dogs have a much shorter lifespan than we do and as a result age much faster. It is true that each year that passes is similar to seven years for your canine companion. Annual examinations are recommended on young dogs (under the age of six). As your pet ages it is recommended that geriatric animals come into the clinic every 6 months for a check-up.
During these examinations the veterinarian is able to develop a baseline for your pet which includes their normal body temperature, weight, coat quality, and disposition. Changes in any of these factors as they age can be indicative of the early stages of disease processes. Additionally, annual examinations allow the veterinarian to assess your pet’s teeth and determine if they are in need of a dental cleaning. During the visit the doctor will also listen to your pet’s heart and lungs to check for any potential problems such as heart murmurs or respiratory infections/asthma. Thorough abdominal palpation can allow the doctor to feel internal masses, and a complete check of your pet’s body can alert us to new masses in the skin. Examination of the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears is also important to alert us to ear infections, respiratory illness and cataracts.
Annual testing such as a heartworm/tick panel is also important to determine whether your dog has been exposed to Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses. Other annual testing such as baseline blood work, eye pressures, and blood pressure can alert us to early stages of disease. Many animals (especially cats) are able to hide illness from their owners until the later stages of disease. The early diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma, heart disease, cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, or thyroid disease (to name a few) gives your pet the best prognosis for continuing to live a happy, healthy life.