With the current controversy surrounding annual vaccinations, many people are electing to have their pets get fewer vaccines. This has led to a tendency to not bring them in for an annual examination. This is a serious issue, especially for cats, many of whom rarely if ever see a veterinarian at all. While I jokingly told my clients to stay away from conventional vets in order to avoid unnecessary vaccinations, the truth is that I far more often found serious health problems in pets whose annual exams had been neglected. Even if your pet is not getting any vaccines, it is still essential that your veterinarian have the opportunity to give your animal companion a thorough wellness examination at least every year (and make that every 6 months for chronically ill or elderly animals). Why?
By checking your pet regularly, your veterinarian can catch potential problems early. For instance, it is estimated that 85% of dogs and cats who go to the vet for any reason have significant dental disease; and virtually all pets over the age of 3 have dental disease of some kind. Left untreated, dental disease can lead to painful tooth decay as well as systemic illness due to chronic infection. Every veterinarian can tell a dozen stories of serious problems such as cancer and heart disease that were discovered at an annual exam, even though the animal seemed normal at home. Because many animals tend to be very stoic, they often do not show symptoms until disease is very advanced. Early diagnosis increases the chances of successful intervention and treatment.
A rough estimate of cat/dog years to human years is about 5:1, after the first two years (which equal about 10 years each). If your pet does not visit the veterinarian annually, this is the same as you not having a check-up for ten years or more. And while you would know if you were experiencing pain or not feeling good, your pet cannot tell you if there's a problem. By thoroughly examining your animal and asking you about appetite and behavior, your veterinarian can assess her health more fully and make appropriate recommendations to keep her as healthy as possible.
Veterinary medicine is in a constant state of change and advancement, now more than ever. New information is becoming available at an increasingly rapid pace. The annual visit is a good time for your vet to communicate to you any recent developments that could affect your pet's health. For example, pet vaccination recommendations have changed radically in the past four or five years, and continue to change today. Additionally, there is new information coming out all the time on links between diet and disease that may affect what you feed your pet.
The annual veterinary exam is a small investment of time, effort and money that will more than pay for itself in better health and longer life for your animal companion.