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Are Annual Physical Exams for Pets Really Important?

Our client care team hears one misconception more than all others: “Fluffy doesn’t need an exam, just a Rabies shot.” Keep reading to find out why that is not true!

Keep in mind that our pets rarely complain when they don’t feel well. Some changes, like weight loss or arthritis, happen so gradually they might go unnoticed at home. Veterinarians are trained to utilize information from an exam to make the best recommendations to keep pets healthy, which may or may not include vaccines. In our practice we always consider a pet’s lifestyle and health condition before giving any vaccinations.

Pet parents often underestimate the physical exam because the veterinarians make it look so easy! So what does the vet check during a typical head-to-tail examination?

GENERAL APPEARANCE: assessment of age, weight, body condition, coat condition, activity level, and mobility.

SKIN: checked for parasites (fleas, ticks, and mites), coat condition, rashes, wounds, or signs of infection. Lumps and bumps are examined to determine if there is cause for concern.

EARS AND EYES: examined with an otoscope and ophthalmoscope for evidence of infection or physical abnormalities, such as polyps or cataracts.

HEART AND LUNGS: listened to with a stethoscope to ensure the chest sounds clear and heartbeats and respirations are a normal rate and rhythm.

ABDOMEN: organs are felt for irregular shape and size.

TEETH AND GUMS: checked for dental disease, broken teeth, and gingivitis.

Findings from the physical exam can lead to a variety of recommendations such as:

Home care (ear cleaning, tooth brushing), food and nutrition, supplements (fish oil, dental treats), complementary therapies (laser therapy, acupuncture), or prescription medications. Sometimes further diagnostics, like blood tests or cytology (examining material at the cellular level by use of a microscope) are needed. So, while vaccines play an important role in preventing disease, the physical exam is the most essential diagnostic tool and absolutely necessary for overall health and well-being.

Our recommendation for all pets is to have a Preventive Care Exam at least annually. For dogs over the age of 7 and cats over the age of 9, we recommend a Senior Preventive Care Exam every 6 months in order to address issues earlier and ensure good quality of life throughout their golden years.

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