Dog and cat sitting side-by-side

Getting the Most from Your Pet’s Regular Check-Ups

When was the last time your pet had a wellness exam? 

Ideally, if yours is a relatively healthy adult cat or dog, you’ve been in for a wellness check-up at least within the past year, and that appointment was only the latest in a series of regularly-scheduled exams throughout your pet’s lifetime.

If you’re already following a regular schedule of wellness check-ups, keep it up! 

If you’ve fallen months or even years behind schedule—or even if you’ve never been on a regular schedule of check-ups to begin with—we’re happy to help you catch up with age-appropriate testing and evaluations, followed by personalized plans for regularly scheduled future visits. 

How Often is Often Enough?

Assuming your pet is essentially healthy, how often we recommend you visit us for wellness exams depends primarily on the age of your pet.

Puppies and kittens typically visit us every 3 to 4 weeks, starting when they’re 6 to 8 weeks old and ending when they’re 16 to 20 weeks old. We usually schedule their next wellness exam a year from their final puppy or kitten visit.

For most generally healthy adult pets, we recommend scheduling wellness check-ups once a year. 

 Most senior pets benefit from twice-yearly check-ups as the risk of health problems increases with age. We consider medium-sized dogs to be “seniors” when they’re about 7 years old, with large and giant breed dogs achieving senior status a year or two earlier and small dogs and cats considered seniors somewhat later. Your veterinarian can determine the life stage appropriate to assign your pet. 

What to Expect at a Wellness Check-Up

A wellness check-up covers multiple aspects of your pet’s health and includes your input about your pet’s apparent health and wellbeing and your veterinarian’s observations, hands-on physical examination and testing. Here are the services you can expect:

  • We’ll record your pet’s weight, temperature, pulse rate and respiration rate.
  • We’ll talk to you about what you feed your pet.
  • We’ll ask about your pet’s behavior, lifestyle and medical history.
  • We’ll perform a complete physical examination, checking from nose to tail for any signs of health problems. We’ll do an oral exam, listen to your pet’s heart and lungs, examine your pet’s eyes, look into your pet’s ears, score your pet’s body condition to determine if his or her weight is within a healthy range, feel lymph nodes and organs within the abdomen, check reflexes, watch your pet move, and assess any indications of pain.
  • We’ll order diagnostic tests appropriate for your pet’s age, lifestyle and general health. 

Typical Tests

Most adult dogs and cats should have a fecal exam at least annually to check for intestinal parasites. Puppies and kittens are especially vulnerable to worms and should have fecal tests more often.

All dogs and cats older than 7 months should have their blood tested for heartworms before starting a preventive. Once we’ve ruled out an active heartworm infestation, we recommend year-round preventive protection for the life of the pet. We repeat the heartworm test annually to be sure it’s still safe to prescribe the preventive for another year. 

For cats, we recommend including testing for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). 

Depending on your pet’s age and general health, we may recommend a range of blood tests that generally become more extensive as your pet ages. These tests can indicate potentially serious systemic health problems long before your pet shows any visible symptoms.

Vaccines and Parasite Preventives

We will recommend core vaccines, along with additional vaccines that may be appropriate for your pet based on his or her risk of exposure to disease. Once we’ve begun administering vaccines, you’ll find your pet’s upcoming vaccine and booster schedule printed on our invoices. 

See our post “Essential Vaccines to Protect Your Pet” for much more information about vaccines.

All cats and dogs—including those who spend all their time indoors—are at some degree of risk for heartworms, fleas, ticks, intestinal worms and other parasites. Based on your pet’s age, home environment and activities, your veterinarian will recommend a personalized plan to prevent parasite infestations. 

See our posts “Protecting Your Pet From Heartworms” and “Your Pet Can Make You Sick” to find out more about how common parasites can endanger your pet and your human family. 

More Wellness Exam Topics for Discussion

If you haven’t yet neutered or spayed your pet and you don’t intend to breed him or her, your veterinarian may discuss spaying or neutering at your pet’s wellness check-up. See our post “When to Spay or Neuter? It’s Complicated” for information about the best timing for this generally recommended procedure.

If, during the oral exam, the veterinarian detects problems with your pet’s teeth and/or gums, we may recommend scheduling a dental cleaning under anesthesia followed by regular at-home care to maintaining your pet’s oral health. See our post “Time to Focus on Your Pet’s Dental Health” for an overview of your pet’s dental health concerns.

Based on the veterinarian’s physical examination and assessment of your pet’s body condition, the wellness check-up may include advice on helping your pet achieve a healthier weight. See our post “Overweight, Obesity and Your Pet’s Health” on the benefits of maintaining your pet’s healthy weight. The post includes links to videos and reference charts showing you how to evaluate your pet’s body weight for yourself. 

If the veterinarian observes potentially problematic behavior by your pet, or if you ask about behavior problems your pet is exhibiting at home, we will offer advice on how to address the issues. Read articles in our blog’s “Behavior and Training” category to learn more about common behavior problems and how to handle them. Keep in mind, some changes in behavior can be caused by medical problems, so further examination and testing may be needed to rule out health-related behavior issues.

If your pet has a microchip, the wellness exam offers a good opportunity to scan the chip to confirm it’s still in place and readable. If your pet doesn’t yet have a microchip, your veterinarian will recommend one. See our post “Microchips Help Lost Pets Get Back Home” to find out more about microchips and why your pet should have one. 

Preparing for Your Pet’s Next Wellness Check-Up

Once you’ve scheduled an appointment for your pet’s wellness exam, take these steps to prepare:

  • If your pet has been treated at other veterinary clinics and you haven’t yet transferred his or her medical records to our clinic, contact the previous providers and have them forward your pet’s records to us. Having the records available helps us learn about your pet’s medical history and avoid duplicating recent tests and vaccines.
  • Make a list or take photographs of all the drugs, supplements, foods and treats you give your pet.
  • Write down your questions about caring for your pet and ask them during the appointment. 
  • If you can collect a fresh stool sample the day of the exam, bring it along.

A Special Note for Our Cat-Owning Clients

While about 80% of pet dogs’ owners report making at least one veterinary trip per year for preventive care, only 47% of cat owners say they seek preventive care for their cat at least annually. 

We know our feline patients are every bit as lovable and worthy of good health care as the canines, so we have to wonder why so many of them are not receiving the wellness care they need. Here are some possible reasons for the disparities:

  • Many people consider cats “low maintenance” pets that don’t require health care at all unless they’re noticeably ill or obviously experiencing a medical emergency. They honestly believe their cats are “just fine” and simply don’t need routine preventive care.
  • Owners who keep their cats indoors sometimes mistakenly assume they’re at minimal risk for health problems. While they are somewhat safer than outdoor cats, even indoor-only cats can experience obesity, urinary tract problems, parasites, dental disease and other serious health concerns. 
  • Cats are more likely to hide their pain or distress than dogs, making health problems harder for their owners to detect. Most cats don’t show obvious signs of pain or such illnesses as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, osteoarthritis and cancer until the problem is advanced.
  • Some cats find being contained in a carrier and transported to and from our clinic to be extremely stressful, causing their owners to conclude their cat “hates the vet.” Understandably, they postpone the trying ordeal of transporting the cat to an appointment. See our post “How to Carrier-Train Your Cat” for advice on helping your cat overcome his or her fears and resistance to being contained and transported in a carrier.

We know our cat-owning clients love their pets and want nothing but the best for their happy, healthy lives. If it’s been more than a year since we examined your cat, we strongly recommend your committing to regularly-scheduled wellness check-ups from now on as the very best way to demonstrate that love and care for your cat.

Your Best Investment in Your Pet’s Health

As you can see, wellness check-ups and the associated services and products needed to evaluate your pet’s health are typically quite extensive. We know the combined costs of a complete physical exam, blood panels, fecal tests, vaccines lasting for one to three years and preventives to protect your pet throughout the entire year ahead can add up to hundreds of dollars—especially for an older pet with comprehensive blood work ordered and multiple vaccines due. 

Fortunately, you can budget for these planned appointments and set aside funds in advance to cover wellness check-ups. If you’d like to know how much to set aside, we are happy to provide an estimate of what your pet’s next wellness check-up will most likely cost.

Still, we understand why you might feel reluctant to spend money on a pet that seems perfectly well and why you might be tempted to postpone the next exam. Here are reasons why the money you invest in regular wellness check-ups for your apparently healthy pet is money well spent:

  • Keeping up with vaccines and heartworm and flea and tick preventives help protect your pet and your family from common, serious and expensive-to-treat diseases.
  • Pets—especially cats—are good at hiding illness. Regular check-ups can detect hidden health problems and give us a chance to treat them before they become more severe, more painful and harder to manage. 
  • We can provide better, more personalized care if we’ve set baselines for test results and examined your pet when he or she is healthy. Based on our familiarity of what good health looks like for your pet, we’re better able to notice subtle signs of illness during the next routine exam or diagnose and treat your pet in an emergency. 
  • If our exam indicates your pet is essentially healthy, you enjoy the peace of mind that comes with confirming your pet’s good health. Our “not finding anything” during a wellness exam is good news!

Building Personal Relationships One Exam at a Time

We see you as your pet’s healthcare advocate and our partner in caring for our patient. Like you, we want the best for your pet in terms of healthy longevity, comfort and quality of life. 

Strong, trusting veterinarian-client-patient relationships are foundational to the best health outcomes for your pet. These relationships are most reliably built on regularly scheduled check-ups over the lifetime of your pet. 

In addition to the medical knowledge we gain from routine testing, observation and hands-on examinations of your pet, regular preventive care visits give all of us opportunities to get to know and trust each other. We use the information we gather as we build our relationships during your regular visits to help guide our conversations and inform our recommendations.

Our growing familiarity with you and your pet combined with our breadth and depth of experience caring for all our other patients and clients allow us to make personalized recommendations about a range of pet care topics, custom-tailored for you and your pet. 

Our shared goal and most likely outcome is a happier, healthier, longer life for your pet.

Starting Here, Starting Now

No matter how long it’s been since your pet’s last check-up, we can start from where we are now and move forward toward your pet’s best possible quality and length of life, using the next wellness exam to catch up on your pet’s physical condition, blood tests, vaccines and preventives. 

No matter how long you’ve postponed a wellness check-up, your pet’s next check-up is our opportunity to make a fresh start on a personalized plan to support your pet’s long-term health and wellbeing.

We look forward to seeing you and your pet soon!