After puppyhood, when your dog has had their core vaccines and isn’t suffering from any chronic health issues, it’s tempting to skip their annual wellness visits.
In times when our own medical bills are exorbitantly expensive, and there are so many other expenses and priorities to take care of, seeing the vet when your dog is feeling well might seem wasteful.
The truth is, those annual visits can save you a lot of worry, time, and money, especially if you plan ahead to make sure you’ll cover all of your dog’s needs in that time.
Flea, Tick, and Heartworm
Your dog should be protected against heartworm disease year-round. Heartworm is passed via mosquitoes, so anytime your dog might get bitten, they run a risk of getting infected.
Heartworm preventatives work by killing off any larvae that may have entered your dog’s system in the previous 30 days. When you go too long between doses, the larvae become too large to treat with a preventative.
Your vet needs to run a blood test each year before they can renew your dog’s prescription because if your dog is heartworm positive, taking a preventative can actually kill them. If a dog already has a heavy load of adult heartworms, and those heartworms are killed off by a preventative, they can actually cause a clog – and that can lead to sudden death. Yikes.
I try to seek natural solutions when possible, but when it comes to heartworms, I haven’t found any holistic solutions that are proven to be effective. If you’re holistically minded and prefer to avoid heartworm preventative products, you’ll at least need to get your dog tested frequently by your veterinarian. A holistic vet could point you in the direction of natural preventative protocol, but either way, you can’t avoid at least an annual vet visit to keep those deadly parasites at bay.
Fleas and ticks carry disease, but you can get products for those without a prescription. Still, you might choose to get those through your vet.
Why We Get Blood, Urine, and Fecal Testing
My dogs are going to be nine years old in the spring, so they’re officially seniors. I worry about common health issues like cancer, diabetes, and arthritis, but so far, the only ongoing concern we have is Cow’s tendency to get pancreatitis flare-ups if she eats too much fat. With her low fat diet, she’s been doing great.
We get a complete blood count for each dog to check for changes in proteins, white and red blood cells, electrolytes, hormones, and enzymes, which covers markers that could indicate diabetes, liver or kidney dysfunction, immune system changes, infection, thyroid issues, dehydration, or anemia.
A urine test would show diabetes, kidney or liver issues, or urinary tract infection.
Fecal testing rules out parasites, which your dog could have even if you can’t see worms in her poop.
When you’re scheduling your dog’s wellness exam, make sure to mention that you’d like a full workup, too, and that you’ll be bringing in fecal and urine samples. One vet I’ve been to included all of these tests in a “senior health profile,” while the vet we go to now doesn’t include them, so I have to let them know that we’d like testing done, not just a physical.
What About Vaccines?
Your dog’s rabies vaccine is the only one required by law. During puppyhood, you’ll want to get the core vaccines to prevent serious illnesses like distemper and parvovirus.
Rabies is 100% deadly to both animals and humans and it can happen so easily, even if your dog doesn’t spend much time around wildlife. Bats can leave tiny, nearly invisible bites that can be hidden by your dog’s fur, and it’s common for them to enter houses and apartments.
You can choose whether you’d like your dog to have kennel cough, giardia, Lyme, and other vaccines, which can be useful if your dog goes to groomer’s, boarding, dog parks, or might drink water out of a puddle or lake – all of which can be ways they may contract a bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection.
Questions To Ask Your Vet
I truly look forward to vet visits. We don’t always see the same vet each time, but it’s always someone who is kind and just as passionate about dogs as I am. At our last vet visit, it warmed my heart to see her sit on the floor and truly take her time with my nervous pups.
Bringing up any additional concerns ensures that you really understand what’s going on, and that there are records of any ongoing issues so if you ever do have to make a “sick” visit, they’ll have that background information to work with.
- Lumps and bumps – they’re often just fatty cysts, but your vet will know if a bump should be tested for cancer, or could be infected.
- Changes in eating or drinking habits – which can point to an issue like diabetes or hypothyroidism, but also something that might not come up in tests, like anxiety
- Anxiety – it may not seem like a medical issue, but it really is. Your vet can prescribe a daily medication or an as-needed med, or give you advice if you’re exploring other solutions like training or holistic remedies
- Teeth and bad breath – Cow has had one dental cleaning under anesthesia and Matilda has had about three. Your vet can let you know if your dog is due for one and give advice if you’re struggling with dental hygiene.
- Changes in peeing and pooping – especially accidents in the house, which can actually be a medical concern, not a training issue
- Odors – body odor can indicate a skin infection, while farting can be a gastric issue
- Coughing, snoring, and snorting – could point to respiratory issues, for Matilda, our vet suggested that her occasional hack of a cough may indicate mild collapsed trachea, which is common in aging small dogs and does not require treatment for now.
- What to feed – Vets can suggest food options from veterinary brands like Hill’s, or your dog might need a prescription diet for certain health issues. Those foods are backed by medical science with years of feeding trials, that’s why vets suggest them. You can, of course, feed other foods, and work with a holistic/natural veterinary nutritionist if you’re interested in feeding fresh cooked or raw. What you feed is up to you – your dog’s needs, your budget – but asking your vet can be a good starting point.
- Weight – your vet can let you know if your dog is at an appropriate weight and how to help them lose weight if needed. Simply giving your dog less food can cause nutritional deficiencies.
- Nail clipping – I use the Dremel at home every two weeks, but if needed your vet can clip nails.
I often forget to bring up questions and concerns during the appointment. When you get home you can always call or email the office staff who can forward your question to the vet. This time I remembered to write down my questions before the visit.
Ruling out all of those health issues and hearing that my dogs were in great shape at their age – that gave me so much peace of mind. Phew! We all feel so much better when we see our vet every year.