Annual Examinations – Not “Just Shots”
I’ve seen two animals in the past week that unfortunately were euthanized. But they didn’t have to be. The first was a diabetic cat who presented to me in a dehydrated, lethargic state. He also was showing signs of diabetic neuropathy and had lost half of his weight. His family mentioned that he was peeing buckets and the litterbox was flooding. He had been sick for some time. The second was a cat who came in paralyzed in the back legs. She had not been seen by a vet for at least 3-4 years and was now in immense pain and unable to move. She had a heart murmur and I suspect her heart disease had been chronic. Her back legs were cold and now at 10 years of age, she was going to leave this world at an age when most cats are considered middle aged. Two distraught families…two lives cut short when their health issues could have been prevented or managed.
Yep, we veterinarians can sometimes make miracles happen and prevent death. We can help your pets live happy and healthy lives. The secret to making this happen is the annual exam. There are almost 160 million owned cats & dogs in the USA (1). Approximately, 37% of homes in Canada have cat & dogs totalling around some 15 million pets. The problem lies in that many of these pets don’t get seen by their veterinarian except once a year (sometimes) or when they are sick. Cats are half as likely to be examined than the family dog.
For many of these pets, they are often only brought in for vaccines every few years. One of the most common things I can hear from clients when they come in is that “he just needs his shots.” Well, I have to break the news to these people that it’s “not just shots.” The annual physical exam is just as important, if not more so, than the vaccines. We need to run our hands over the dog and feel for lumps that could be tumors. We need to listen to that Fluffy’s heart for any signs of a murmur. And how about those teeth in Rover’s mouth? Dental disease, or rather the smell of bad breath, is one of the main complaints about animal health along with pet obesity and skin issues. As pets become older, an annual exam or even twice yearly exam is even more important.
In many areas, before medications can be dispensed, a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) must be established. The definition of this means that we as the veterinarian have examined your pet and had a discussion regarding our exam findings. So for pets who are on long term medications, even if they are not due for vaccines, they need to be examined annually for this relationship to persist. We would be in violation of our licensing body if we did not uphold this portion of the laws. It’s not just good sense to have your pet examined annually, but from our standpoint, we have a legal obligation.
Back to our patients from before… The diabetic cat could have been diagnosed earlier and perhaps his family may have been better able to treat him even though treating a diabetic is not as difficult as one might think. The second cat had a fairly significant heart murmur that had likely led to thickening of the heart walls and also changes in blood pressure. She had thrown a clot to her back legs, commonly known as a saddle thrombus. Had she been seen earlier and her heart disease treated, the current problem could have been avoided and her quality of life could have been better over the past while. Remember, our job is to advocate for your pet’s health. When we encourage and remind you to bring them in for an annual check up, it is only for their benefit. And yes, everything might be normal and healthy, but for every completely healthy animal, I see at least 10 more that have at least one addressable health problem.