Even if your pet appears healthy, the most important part of preventive pet health care is a yearly wellness exam for adult pets, and a health checkup every 6 months for seniors and pets with chronic medical conditions. Evolution taught cats and dogs to hide signs of pain and illness to protect themselves from predators, so by the time they show symptoms at home your pet’s health issues may be quite advanced. Our highly trained and experienced veterinarians have a keen eye for subtle physical and behavioural clues that may indicate an underlying health issue with your pet. Remember, every calendar year that passes is the equivalent of seven years for dogs and cats. This means that even an annual vet visit is the same as if you only saw your family doctor once every seven years. A lot can change in that amount of time, especially as we age!
What is the benefit of an annual veterinary exam?
Your pet’s annual wellness exam is designed to detect health problems that may begin with no symptoms at all, but progress silently and become serious or life-threatening by the time external symptoms begin to appear. A complete physical exam and consultation with the vet, combined with monitoring labwork, can identify many medical conditions early, when they are both cheaper and easier to treat. Even if your pet looks healthy and isn’t due for any vaccines this year, it’s still important that they get a full nose-to-tail examination - book your pet's annual exam by calling us at 416-538-8387.
Why do senior and chronically ill pets need an exam every 6 months?
The age at which our pets are considered ‘seniors’ varies based on their breed but is generally around 8 years old. As our pets pass this milestone, they become more susceptible to age-related illnesses like arthritis, kidney disease, thyroid disease, heart disease, liver disease, vision or hearing loss, and cognitive dysfunction. Owners may attribute the changes they see to their pet “slowing down from old age”, but aging itself isn’t a disease. Semi-annual exams allow your veterinarian to diagnose and treat the specific health conditions that are affecting your pet, so that they feel better and live longer.
Conditions like kidney and thyroid disease can develop quietly and progress rapidly, but if they are detected early through monitoring labwork – before your pet starts to show symptoms – there are treatments available that may add years to your pet’s life. Once a pet’s organ function has changed so much that symptoms appear, the treatment options for many of these illnesses are much more limited, and they progress more quickly.
Pets that have been diagnosed with a chronic illness also need frequent exams and labwork to monitor the status of their disease and the effectiveness of their current treatment. This allows their medication dose or treatment plan to be adjusted when their condition changes or progresses. Some medications are very effective at helping pets feel better but can harm organs like the liver over time, so when pets are taking chronic medication it’s essential to run monitoring labwork regularly even if their condition appears well managed, to ensure that their treatment is not causing new problems.
Whether your pet has a chronic health condition or is a senior in tip-top shape, semi-annual exams are a proactive way to keep your pet healthy and comfortable for as long as possible.
What happens during an annual or semi-annual exam?
During the first part of your visit, one of our veterinary technicians will obtain your pet’s medical history by asking you questions about your pet’s eating and drinking, energy level, bowel and bladder habits, behaviour, and if you have noticed anything new or that you are concerned about. The questions we ask are designed to probe early warning signs for common health conditions, and they can also prompt you to remember any changes or questions you had forgotten about.
The veterinarian will then perform a gentle but thorough physical examination, using Fear Free techniques and treats to reduce your pet’s stress and give them a good experience here. The veterinarian will examine your pet’s ears, eyes, nose, mouth and teeth, belly, skin and fur, limbs, and lymph nodes, and listen to their heart and lungs, looking for any subtle signs that could indicate a concern.
Does my pet get their vaccines at the same time as their annual exam?
Vaccines train your pet’s immune system to recognize dangerous diseases, so that if they are exposed to one of these diseases their body already has antibodies to fight it. However, if your pet is unwell then getting vaccines at the same time could put too much of a burden on their immune system. Additionally, if your pet’s immune system is already fighting something, it may not be strong enough to create antibodies in response to the vaccine, meaning the vaccine will not work. This is why veterinarians are only allowed to give vaccines after performing a physical exam to ensure your pet is healthy on the day of vaccination. If your pet is due for vaccines, we combine them with their annual exam whenever possible, to save you another visit and minimize your costs.
What tests should my pet have done at their annual or semi-annual exam?
If the veterinarian finds anything they are concerned about during their physical exam or discussion with you, they may recommend additional testing to investigate what is going on inside your pet’s body. For healthy pets, annual wellness monitoring labwork is the gold standard for early detection of health problems. Annual Accuplex testing for heartworm and tick-borne diseases like Lyme is important for dogs, and we recommend that combining it with wellness monitoring labwork and doing both at their annual exam, to minimize your yearly visits and take advantage of special laboratory discounts on combined testing.
If your pet is having any of these tests done, we will collect blood and/or urine samples during their visit. Yearly fecal testing for intestinal worms and other parasites is recommended for pets that go outside, hunt rodents or bugs, or are extra-interested in other animals’ poop – you can bring a fresh grape-sized sample to your appointment, or we can give you a collection container to drop off later.