Orange adult cat being examined by veterinarian.

Debarking Pet Myths: Can Pets Skip Their Annual Exams?

Welcome to “Debarking Pet Myths,” a monthly series dedicated to addressing common myths, misconceptions and old wives’ tales about dogs and cats.

Some pet owners agree with the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when it comes to preventive veterinary care and regular checkups. But for those owners who want their pets to be healthy and happy well into their golden years, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is the more appropriate adage. In fact, routine veterinary checkups are the best way to keep pets — including indoor-only cats — as healthy as possible.

Here are four reasons why your furry friends should be examined by their veterinarian at least annually — and more frequently as they age or depending on their health.

No. 1 — Pets age faster than we do.

Most, if not all, pet owners have heard this rule of thumb for calculating their dogs’ “human” age: “One human year equals seven dog years.” While the math isn’t quite that simple, the underlying premise — pets age faster than people — is true. That makes annual physical exams extremely important for our pets. Think about it this way: A dog’s yearly checkup would be the same as a person having a physical exam only once every five to seven years. Since a lot can change in 12 months, or every six months for older pets, routine exams are smart investments in our pets’ health.

No. 2 — Pets don’t talk and can’t tell us when they feel sick.

Although pets may appear healthy, they could still have a medical condition that’s underway but hasn’t triggered symptoms yet. Or there could be disease present but its signs have been attributed to aging. Many chronic health problems, such as chronic kidney disease, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease or thyroid disease, start gradually and progress slowly. A thorough checkup that includes blood work, urine testing and X-rays can uncover these conditions in their early stages when treatment may be more successful or disease progression may be slowed.

Remember, too, that pets instinctively hide pain, discomfort and other signs of illness, even from their owners. They don’t want to become another animal’s “prey” by appearing weak.

Exposure to some infectious diseases are inadvertently discovered and diagnosed through screening tests during regular checkups. Lyme disease and several other tick-transmitted infections, heartworm disease, feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus exposure are common examples of medical conditions that may be found by routine testing during an annual exam.

No. 3 — Your pet’s lifestyle and risk factors may change over time.

Routine exams give you an important opportunity to discuss your pet’s lifestyle, risk factors and overall wellness with your veterinarian. Vaccinations, food, exercise and parasite control are typically based on a pet’s lifestyle. But maybe you’ve started taking your dog camping with you, you’ve moved from one area of the country to another, or you’re now letting your previously indoor-only cat out into a fenced yard. These types of lifestyle changes often require adjustments to a pet’s healthcare to help ensure long-term health.

As pets age, incidence and severity of disease increase. That’s why many veterinarians recommend more frequent exams and laboratory tests for aging pets. The benefit of this increased healthcare is that you and your veterinarian can monitor key indicators of potential medical conditions — which brings us to the fourth reason for not skipping pet annual exams…

No. 4 — History is important for baseline comparisons and trend monitoring.

Regular, thorough checkups help establish a “normal” baseline for pets, making changes more obvious if illness develops. And over time, with multiple test results, your veterinarian may spot trends in the health and function of key organ systems. This can be very important as pets age. For example, older cats are at greater risk for chronic kidney disease and hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland). Using blood and urine tests, you and your veterinarian can track key blood and urine values that signal disease development and progression. Monitoring also lets you and your veterinarian develop a management plan so you can take the appropriate treatment steps in the early stages of the disease.

Ready? Set? Call today to schedule your pet’s appointment!

Your pet may appear healthy but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing abnormal underway. The only way to know if something’s afoot is to have the exam and lab testing done to uncover important health issues before they become serious. If your favorite furry friend hasn’t been to their “doctor” during the past year, it’s time to call your veterinary clinic for an appointment. You and your pet will be glad that you did.

False: Pets Can Skip Their Annual Exams

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The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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