Vail Pet Talk column: Don’t skip annual exams | VailDaily.com

Vail Pet Talk column: Don’t skip annual exams

As a veterinarian for more than 25 years, I have seen many pets come to my hospital on emergency for medical conditions that could have been prevented or even cured, had the pet been taken to a hospital sooner.

As I made my weekly calls to clients this past week who were due to bring their pets in for their annual exams, I was very surprised at the number of people who would say "I just don't want to give my pet shots, doc, so I'm not coming in for a while." This brought me to realize how much emphasis is being placed on "shots" and not truly the most important part of a pet's annual visit, that is, the exam.

Remember, because your pet ages an average of six or seven dog years per human year, this would equilibrate to an exam every six to seven years for the average person.

Currently, we recommend you have your pet examined at least once per year, and with senior pets (older than 8 in average breeds) an exam every six months is recommended.

Remember, pets, especially cats, are very good at masking disease, and many times it becomes too difficult or too expensive to treat the problem when the symptoms have been going on for a while, so this exam will give you that valuable insight into the health of your pet before it could be too late.

Annual checkup

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During the annual examination by the veterinarian, many systems are checked.

The eyes are examined for evidence of inherited defects in young dogs, or as a pet ages, signs of cataracts or even glaucoma.

The ears are examined for signs of infection, chronic allergies, either inahalent or food allergies and possible foreign bodies such as grass awns, which could be dangerous to the internal structures of the ear.

The teeth are examined for evidence of dental disease. Dental disease can include fractured teeth as well as oral cancers. If dental disease is caught early, then your veterinarian can prevent dangerous systemic infections from developing as a result of the infections, which can develop in the mouth, especially in cats. In the case of oral cancers, early detection is best for treatment options.

The lymph nodes of your pet are all palpated and checked for enlargement. Often times, simply one lymph node enlarged can signify early presentation for bigger problems such as lymphoma or moderate systemic infection. Again, early detection is key for treatment options.

The heart and lungs of your pet are examined for signs of irregular heartbeats, heart murmurs, increased lung sounds as well as lung infections. Heart disease can be a "silent killer" in pets if gone undetected.

The abdomen of your pet is then examined to check for enlarged organs, tumors and size of kidneys, for example, in cats. In a few minutes, your veterinarian can give you a lot of information on what he or she can feel in your pet.

The joints of your pet will all be examined in the annual exam as well.

Finally, the skin of your pet is examined. Young pets can be prone to mite infections which if not treated can lead to moderate hair loss. As a pet ages, thinning hair coat, excessive scaling and excessive shedding can indicate metabolic diseases.

So, the next time your veterinarian calls to remind you of your pet's annual check up, don't put it off. There is a lot of useful information that can be gained, and you can be assured you are doing your best to give your pet the longest, happiest life possible.

Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, owner of Mountain Mobile Vet and The Animal Hospital Center, submitted this column. You can reach her at 970-328-7085.