When you think of a traditional wellness (or LifeTime Wellness) plan, images of prepaid plans with certain procedures that must be performed come to mind as well as an insurance element in that you are betting with your money that you will need all of the services you are paying for in advance. It sounds a lot like someone will come out ahead financially to the detriment of the other party involved.
What is a LifeTime Wellness™ Preventive Care Program?
The fact is that in order for us to have well-trained doctors and staff, current diagnostic equipment and to be able to provide you with high quality products and services, we must charge a price that makes sense. So instead of playing marketing games with prepaid plans where you might get your money’s worth or you might not, we will only charge you for services we feel are in the best interest of keeping your pet healthy.
With all of that being said, our LifeTime Wellness™ Preventive Care Program is all about giving you the information you need to make educated decisions about your pet’s healthcare. Each pet has different needs in order to stay healthy based on his species, age, sex and breed. Just like a person who ages from a baby to young adult to adult to senior to geriatric, your pet will have different needs throughout his lifetime.
Through our LifeTime Wellness™ Preventive Care Program, there are two main ways we can improve the quality of your pet’s life. First, the exciting news is that we can detect many problems with our Comprehensive Physical Wellness Exam. You will find detailed information in the “What will happen during my pet’s Comprehensive Physical Wellness Examination?” section of this article. In addition, with specialized diagnostic tests, we can also detect early problems with your pet’s kidneys, liver and heart!
Why does my pet need a Comprehensive Physical Wellness Examination?
A comprehensive physical wellness exam gives your veterinarian the chance to evaluate your pet’s overall health and to detect problems before they turn into serious illnesses. Because your pet can’t tell you in words how he is feeling, your doctor must rely on a thorough physical wellness examination and your observations of your pet in order to determine if your pet is truly healthy. Based on the results of the examination, your veterinarian may recommend further diagnostic tests, such as radiographs (x-rays) and specialized diagnostic tests (blood work).
As part of the comprehensive physical wellness examinations, routine blood testing, urinalysis, and other tests are generally recommended for all pets that are considered to be in their “senior years.” We also will recommend annual diagnostic blood work and urinalysis before that time (from age one on up) in order to obtain baseline values, which can be used for comparison each year of your pet’s life.
For our dog patients, the process couldn’t be easier. We simply draw additional blood from the same location where we draw blood for his annual heartworm test. (Note: for our cat patients, only one needle stick is needed as well.) Drawing blood in this manner, for the heartworm test and other recommended blood work at the same time and in only one needle stick, minimizes your pet’s discomfort and maximizes your ability to discover (and our ability to effectively treat) most health issues before they can become serious health problems.
How often should my pet receive a Comprehensive Physical Wellness Examination?
Because your pet ages more quickly than you do, it is essential for his well-being that you take your pet to the veterinarian at least once every six months and possibly even more frequently as your pet gets older.
Taking your pet to the veterinarian twice a year is the same as if you were to see your physician for a physical exam only once every three to four years. Because so much can change with regard to your pet’s physical health in such a short amount of time, you can’t afford to have your pet miss even one exam.
Just like people, pets need more frequent attention as they get older to prevent and treat illnesses associated with old age.
What will happen during my pet’s Comprehensive Physical Wellness Examination?
Your veterinarian will ask several questions about your pet’s health history. Be sure to mention any unusual behavior.
Some examples are:
- Excessive urination
- Excessive drinking of water
- Excessive panting
- Eating much more than usual
- Lethargy (not playing much)
- Excessive scratching
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
Notes will be made on your pet’s diet, on how much water your pet consumes, and on a variety of daily behavioral patterns. Other questions you can expect about your pet’s health are:
- Does your pet have trouble getting up in the morning?
- Does your pet show any signs of weakness?
- Does your pet have exercise intolerance?
We will also discuss your pet’s exposure to fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal parasites at some point during the exam. The protocol we will recommend depends on your pet’s lifestyle, age and many other factors.
VITAL SIGNS AND NUTRITION
Your veterinarian, a technician, or an assistant will note your pet’s temperature, pulse (heart rate), respiration rate, and body weight. Weight loss since your pet’s last exam could indicate the early stages of a metabolic/endocrine disease such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism or kidney disease. Weight is an important consideration in the health of a pet, because an extra two or three pounds can mean the difference between your pet being fit and trim or obese. We recommend either the Purina or Hills Science Diet line of pet foods and other premium diets such as Eukanuba or IAMS. Ask us about appropriate diet and exercise for your pet.
You’ll probably be asked if your dog or cat has been shaking his head or scratching at his ears and if you have noticed any odor coming from the ears. Your pet’s deep, curved ear canals provide protection for the inner ear, but these canals also are a snug home for parasites, microbes (bacteria/yeast) and foreign objects. The veterinarian will perform a thorough examination of the inner ear canal to make sure nothing appears out of the ordinary.
Many conditions, such as anemia, infections, glaucoma, cataracts, high blood pressure, jaundice, immune disease, fungal disease, kidney problems, and allergies, are often discovered through eye examinations. A cat’s past and present nutritional status can be assessed by examining the eyes. Injuries and ulcers of the eye also can be detected during examination. Your veterinarian will examine the inner structures of the eyes as well as their outward appearance.
Your veterinarian will check your pet’s gums, teeth, tongue, and palate for tartar buildup, dental abnormalities, fractures, loose teeth, tumors, infections, and other problems. For example, a lack of red or pink color in the lining of the lips and gums could indicate anemia. You will learn how to care for your pet’s teeth to prevent periodontal disease, which can cause bad breath and tooth loss.
CARDIOVACULAR & RESPIRATORY SYSTEMS
Your veterinarian will use a stethoscope to listen to your pet’s heart and lungs. The early signs of heart disease such as irregular heart rate and pulse quality, heart murmurs and moist lung sounds are often recognized during our comprehensive physical wellness exam. If heart disease is determined or suspected, other diagnostics such as x-rays and blood work are recommended to confirm and evaluate the extent of the disease so that appropriate treatment can be started.
URINARY AND REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEMS
Your pet’s reproductive system may be examined for prostatic masses or inflammation/sensitivity of the prostate, swellings, abnormal coloration and discharges, and breast tumors. If your pet has not been spayed or neutered, your veterinarian will explain that spaying or neutering provides many health benefits beyond birth control and may even extend your pet’s life.
SKIN AND HAIR COAT EXAM
The skin is the body’s largest organ and a good indicator of your pet’s health. Your veterinarian will examine the condition of the skin and hair as a means of detecting allergies, infections, signs of autoimmune disease, lymph nodes and tumors. Your veterinarian will also check for fleas, ticks and other external parasites as well as any wounds while examining the skin.
Your veterinarian will feel the abdomen to detect irregularities such as enlarged organs, masses, or areas that are painful. Problems with the stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver, and other organs may be detected at this stage.
Your pet’s behavior, stance, ambulation and alertness/attitude are evaluated along with cranial nerves, neuro-reflexes, coordination and balance to assess the central nervous and musculoskeletal systems. The legs and feet of your pet will also be checked and the condition of joints and muscles will be noted.
If any abnormalities are found during your pet’s examination, your veterinarian may recommend additional tests to diagnose or confirm a health problem.
Do not underestimate the importance of your pet’s semi-annual wellness examination. Taking your pet to the veterinarian twice a year means you are helping your pet live a longer and healthier life. Do your part to take care of your friend and companion!
How often should my pet be vaccinated?
Immunizing your pet against disease is one of the best tools of preventive medicine. Please refer to our comprehensive handout on vaccines. Together, you and your veterinarian will determine which vaccines are appropriate based on where you live and on your pet’s age and lifestyle.
How often you should have your pet vaccinated against certain diseases depends on many factors. Discuss these with your veterinarian to understand what is recommended for your pet’s unique situation.
Excerpted in part from AAHA’s Pet Care Library