The Importance of Pet Preventive Healthcare and Why Regular Veterinary Visits Matter
By Dr. Cecilia Boklin, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Kinabalu Animal Clinic
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Like human, regular checkups are essential in keeping pets in the pink of health. Early detection leads to early treatment of disease, and to furry family member(s), this can mean the difference between comfort and pain or even life and death.
These days, there are still too many pet owners who are not concerned with preventive health care of their pets. They only decide to bring their pets to the veterinary clinic when they are visibly very sick or critically recumbent and unable to eat. Some only bring their pets when the vaccination is way overdue.
We would like to highlight here that annual veterinary exam is necessary to detect manageable conditions such as dental disease, diabetes, joint disease and prevent problems associated with internal and external parasites. Preventive healthcare enables veterinarians to provide high-quality care with only one ultimate objective; for pet owners to have a longer and more rewarding relationship with their beloved pets.
Here, we are going to share the top 9 points you need to know about the preventive healthcare guidelines for your dogs and cats.
1. Get your pet a proper veterinary checkup by a licensed and practicing veterinarian at least once a year
- As pet lovers, our main aim is to help keep our pets live healthily longest possible. Do not assume that just because your cat stays indoor or on the third floor of an apartment all the time, you can decide to forgo its annual exam. Or, if you see them healthy you think it is ok to skip a year without veterinary checkup – animals don’t talk and most of the time they can be exceptionally good in masking their pain and illness. We should also be aware that in order to help keep pep in their step, senior dogs and cats should be checked at least once in every 6 months.
2. Have a discussion with your veterinarian
- The annual exam time is the most suitable time for you to have a proper dialogue with the vet on your furry family’s wellness and health. Discuss on their lifestyle – daily activities, whether they play a lot or sleep more, and if they are indoor or mostly free- roaming outside the house. Do they interact with neighbors’ pets, or stray animals, or other type of pets at home? Some cats hunt for small birds, insects and rodents. All these bits of seemingly small information are important to share with your vet, so he or she can tailor a suitable preventive health care plan based on your pet’s needs. As an example, there is a huge difference in caring for a small puppy versus a senior geriatric dog.
- What to ask your veterinarian: Is there anything special I should do to help my pet in his current life stage?
3. Talk about any behavior issues
- Some dogs guard, while some bites! Do not consult “Dr. Google” on this. Your veterinarian can help determine if there is an underlying medical cause that may turn a cuddly cat into the cat from hell. They can also share with you their professional solutions that you might not have considered for common issues like frequent urination, aggressiveness, boredom, stereotypic behavior and even separation anxiety. In some cases, vets may prescribe medication to help control the behavioral problem.
- What to ask your veterinarian: I’ve noticed some unusual behavior in my pet. What can I do about it?
4. Request for annual dangerous diseases tests
- Every dog of any age group must be tested for Heartworm and internal parasites (the nasty worms!) annually. Cats should be tested for parasites yearly and at least once for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). These two infections can shorten their lifespan and even more dangerous, they can be transmitted to other cats. Gastrointestinal disturbances such as vomiting, and diarrhea can occur following parasitic infestations. Sometimes, these parasites can be transmitted to humans. For older animals, organ function tests and general health profile are recommended along with blood and urine testing, blood pressure monitoring, radiographs (X-ray) and ultrasound as required.
- What to ask your veterinarian: Is there any test that can be performed to check if my pet is healthy?
5. Body weight check
- Most of the time, pet owners are unaware that their pets are reaching obesity. Most owners prefer to see them plump because most think that this is cute! This a big NO. Pet obesity is disastrous health wise. The adverse effects are the increasing risk of having diabetes, heart problems, respiratory diseases, arthritis or joint problem, and worst of all, cancer! A slight adjustment to your beloved pet’s diet and exercise regime can make a huge difference in their lifespan. So, do not hesitate to ask your veterinarian for your pet’s target weight or ideal body weight.
- What to ask your veterinarian: How is my pet’s weight? What should my pet’s ideal weight be?
6. Dental examination
- When your pet reaches 3 years old (this is equivalent to approximately 21-year-old human being), they can start showing signs of dental disease. If left undiagnosed and untreated, these dental issues can lead to pain, inflammation and infection and hinders your pet from enjoying the food that they love most. On a more serious note, severely untreated dental problem will be able to take years off your beloved pet’s precious moment of living with you on this earth. Stay positive when your veterinarian decides to check your pet’s teeth and gums. It is very, very important to keep those pearly whites and most importantly, functional!
- What to ask your veterinarian: How do my pet’s teeth and gums look?
7. Keep the ticks off!
- All pets should receive year-round parasite prevention against heartworms, intestinal worms and external parasites (fleas, ticks, mites and lice). Even if your pet spends most of its time indoors, the pests from the grassy area in your neighborhood can fly, crawl, creep, or even hitchhike on you to get inside your house and bite their host (your pet). These bugs, although very small and most of the time during early stage cannot be observed with our naked eye, can cause serious disease (even fatal, in the case of heartworms spread by infected mosquitoes, and in the case of blood parasitism caused by infected tick bites). We should, battle the bloodsuckers. It is our responsibility as pet owners to prevent these diseases by providing the animals under our care with monthly tick and fleas prevention, as well as monthly oral or yearly injectable heartworm prevention for dogs especially.
- What to ask your veterinarian: What is the best way to protect my pet from parasites year-round?
8. Discuss on suitable vaccination protocols for your pet
- Older pets with health problems may show some side effects post vaccination. Vaccine titer test is available in some fully-equipped veterinary clinics in Kota Kinabalu. In some scenarios, a titer to previous vaccines can be measured to help determine if a booster vaccination is necessary.
- What to ask your veterinarian: What vaccinations do you recommend to keep my pet healthy? Would a titer test be an appropriate way to assess my pet’s immunity to a specific disease?
9. Ask about neuter or spay
- There are several health and behavior benefit from neutering and spaying. Discuss with your veterinarian about the best time to perform this procedure. Neutering and spaying could save your pet’s life by preventing life-threatening diseases like pyometra (infection of the uterus) and mammary gland as well as testicular cancer. More importantly, we can do our part to help prevent unwanted litters of kittens and puppies from becoming strays and entering animal shelters.
- What to ask your veterinarian: Is it safe to spay/neuter my pet now?
In conclusion, preventive health care and regular veterinary visits are necessary and very important. It is undeniably true that pet owners may know their pets best, but they need the help of licensed and responsible veterinary professionals to see what is truly going on with their pets’ health. There are many health care issues your veterinarian can detect before you may even realize there is a problem. Remember, our pets age faster than we do. An animal skipping one annual veterinary visit is like a human not doing a wellness checkup for approximately 7 years.
Look at it this way: A preventive checkup is as essential as food and love.