Why does my pet need an annual examination?

Annual wellness examinations are important for all pets. The main reason is that early detection of disease often leads to a more favorable outcome for the pet. During an examination your veterinarian checks all major organ systems and gives advice on how to improve the health of your pet. He or she may find problems that are not easily detected at home such as heart murmurs, enlarged lymph nodes, abdominal masses or more common problems such as ear infections or dental disease. Examinations are especially important for "exotic" or unusual pets that do not normally require vaccination. These patients often suffer from maladies that are related to husbandry or are hidden. Dogs, cats, and exotic animals often do not show illnesses until the problem has progressed to the point that they cannot compensate any longer. At this time, treatment is sometimes too late.

Your veterinarian may also recommend blood tests or other diagnostics to evaluate the health of your animal. Screening tests may find common problems such as hypo/hyperthyroidism, diabetes, renal disease, cushings disease, liver disease, or cancer that may not be found on routine examination.

Another reason that annual examinations are important is that, according to law, there must be a valid client-patient-veterinarian relationship in place prior to medical treatment or prescription authorization. To maintain this relationship, it is necessary for the patient to have been examined within the last year.

Overall, it is a good idea to have examinations performed yearly for young healthy animals or twice yearly as animals age and more problems arise.

What is heartworm disease and why is the current recommendation to give monthly preventative year-round?

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis. It is transmitted between dogs, cats, ferrets, rodents, and in rare circumstances even people. Mosquitoes transmit intermediate stages of the parasite during feeding. Adult heartworms localize in the heart, lungs, and associated vasculature and lead to heart disease. Symptoms of heart disease include coughing, exercise intolerance, fluid accumulation, and death. Routine testing yearly can detect heartworm disease prior to the onset of clinical signs. Current recommendation of monthly treatment even in winter months stems from the facts that mosquitoes can live in cool moist areas in homes and can be present during warm weather spans and that the heartworm preventatives also act as dewormers for other parasites including hookworms and roundworms. This is important because some of these parasites can be transmitted to people. If you follow the recommendations of the American Heartworm Society and give monthly preventative in addition to yearly testing, most heartworm preventative manufacturers have a guarantee that will pay for the cost of treatment and follow up if your pet tests positive for heartworm disease. The financial cost of treating heartworm disease can be high.

How can laser therapy benefit my pet?

Low level laser energy is absorbed by tissues and decreases inflammation while increasing circulation to the focus area. This interaction can speed healing and minimize discomfort. Laser therapy can be useful for many common conditions including arthritis, soft tissue injuries, chronic wounds, physical rehab, and post-surgical healing. In some cases laser therapy can replace pharmaceuticals. Most often, laser therapy is used as part of a treatment plan involving other care or medications. Laser therapy is non-invasive and does not require any sedation. It is safe to use when other ailments prohibit use of more traditional therapy. For example, in dogs with renal disease, laser therapy can be used to lessen discomfort associated with arthritis rather than using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that may further damage the kidneys. Since cats are sensitive to some of the commonly used medications for pain management, laser therapy offers a safe alternative. There are very few adverse effects of laser therapy and most animals are calm during the procedure.

My dog keeps gaining weight despite being on a high quality diet. How can I be sure she is getting what she needs but also get her to lose some of the weight?

This is a problem that is encountered often. A very large percentage of our pets are overweight. Obesity can lead to common problems such as arthritis and diabetes. There are many reasons for obesity but the most common reason is over-feeding. Many of the "premium" dog foods are very calorie dense and therefore a smaller amount of food is necessary to maintain body condition. For example, some dog foods are 5-600kcal/cup whereas others are 250-300kcal/cup. On the more energy concentrated foods, pets often require less than half of the total intake that they would require on less calorie dense foods. It is important to realize that not all dog foods offer similar calorie concentrations. Also, the recommended maintenance feeding amount on the bag is usually listed for a very active, sexually intact, young dog. This means that an older, less active, neutered dog would require less food than what is listed. Your dog may not feel "full" on the amount of food needed to maintain a healthy weight. If this is the case, switching to a lower calorie dense food or offering low calorie treats may help. If not, there are prescription diets that are very low calorie diets that provide good nutrition and will aid in weight loss. There is even a weight loss drug called Slentrol that reduces appetite and encourages weight loss. Your veterinarian can rule out medical conditions such as hypothyroidism and determine calorie needs and discuss ways to manage your dog's weight during your appointment.

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