Why does a healthy pet need an annual wellness exam?
This is a great question, but don’t worry, I have a great answer for you.
Having your pet checked over at least once a year will improve their health, wellbeing, and life expectancy, and it will almost certainly save you money over their entire life span.
Let me explain. Your pets have different needs at different life stages, so for a vet to be able to assess each of the life stages provides critical information throughout their life. It’s like writing the textbook of your pet year by year. A healthy animal can provide fantastic baseline knowledge for your vet so they can spot things easily should they change. At our practice we always work on the view that prevention is better than cure, and so by seeing the animal at least annually we can prevent problems before they begin.
The annual wellness exam is a fact-finding mission, and if done right, will build the bonds of trust between your pet, the vet and you as an owner. These three need to be working together to achieve the best harmony within the household.
The wellness exam starts from the very moment we arrive on the property. Vets are constantly gathering information, reading behaviour, and taking in the environment. We have already gained a huge amount of information in the time it takes to say hello and walk into the room.
We then speak with you, the owner, to see if you are experiencing any issues or problems and catch up on any lifestyle changes. Finally, we ask the animal directly by performing a thorough physical exam. At the end of all this data collection, we have a comprehensive view of your pet’s life and health and can make recommendations for improvements as needed. These may include weight loss or gain, dietary changes, dental cleaning, flea control and a whole range of other things that will keep your pet living their best life. With cats, simple changes such as adding a second litter tray or moving the lookout perch closer to the window will make all the difference to their quality of life.
We also notice more subtle changes, such as mild pain as your pet ages, and can intervene with medicine or exercise adaptations. We sometimes find things that are hidden such as heart murmurs or abnormal lung sounds and, as with most illness, early diagnosis is key.
When I think back to pets I have known as puppies and kittens, watching them grow into adults and then geriatric patients, the wealth of knowledge obtained at the annual wellness check has allowed me to really know them and their lifestyle, so I can provide a much more targeted and effective medicine if they do happen to become ill.
The hardest appointments are the ones in which you have a seriously ill animal with no prior knowledge of their health or lifestyle and you really have to start from scratch to understand what is happening. You are also trying to read their language while they are feeling poorly, or in pain, making the messages much harder to comprehend.
I really like to know my patients; in the same way I like my doctor to know me. When you’re with your pet every day, it’s sometimes hard to notice the subtle changes that are affecting their lives. The annual wellness exam is an opportunity to gain some valuable information about your pet, both for you as an owner, and for me as a vet, so we can work together to keep them happy and healthy.
• Lucy Richardson graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005. She started CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband, Mark. They live at the practice with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. Dr Lucy is also the FEI national head veterinarian for Bermuda