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Disease sucks! No one wants to be sick, and we think that's true for our pets as well. Wouldn't it be great if we knew in advance when a disease is about to occur so we can take steps to slow down its progression or maybe even stop it entirely? Preventative medicine isn't perfect, but it's aimed at doing this very thing.
At a bare minimum (and to legally maintain a client-patient relationship), we need to see your pet at least ONCE every 12 months. We encourage a checkup every 6 months, and strongly recommend this for any animal over SEVEN years of age. Our pets age much faster than we do! When you're with your pet every day it's sometimes hard to catch the subtle changes until they become significant ones, so it helps to have an expert set of eyes and hands on them to ensure all is well.
A wellness exam starts with a thorough history, including confirming any foods or medications your pet is currently taking. Don't be annoyed if the technician asks questions that "should be in the file." More often than not something's changed since the last time we saw your pet and we want to ensure our records accurately reflect your pet's current situation. This is also the time to voice any questions or concerns you have. (Note that a Wellness Exam is different from a Sick Exam where your pet is being seen for a specific condition or concern.) Once the history is complete, the technician may or may not check vital signs depending on how comfortable your pet is. Remember, we try to minimize Fear, Anxiety, and Stress (FAS) in our patients as much as possible. The technician will then relay the information to the doctor and the doctor will be in to perform a complete physical examination to check all body systems, address any concerns, and work with you to come up with an ideal plan for your individual pet's lifestyle, age, and risks.
In some cases, vaccines completely PREVENT certain diseases when given appropriately. In other cases, they help to minimize the risk and/or severity of your pet catching a specific disease. Although risks for vaccine reactions exist, these are minor in the vast majority of cases (lethargy, soreness) and the benefit of the vaccine's protection outweighs the risks. Modern vaccines have most of the "junk" removed that used to cause more serious reactions, but if you have concerns the doctor is always happy to discuss the "risk vs benefit" for specific shots in more detail.
Some vaccines provide lengthy protection (up to 3 years) and others need to be repeated every year. For most vaccines, any animal that is AT LEAST 12 weeks of age will need **TWO** booster shots 3-4 weeks apart for full protection. If the booster period is missed (i.e. more than 4-5 weeks since the initial series), or if the annual vaccine is not boostered in time (usually within 15 months), the entire series will need to be restarted regardless of the animal's age to ensure full protection. Vaccine titers ARE available for some vaccines - a blood test that shows whether an individual has adequate protection should he or she be exposed to the disease.
Always bring a fecal (poop) sample to your pet's wellness exam. Intestinal parasites are in the environment and some individuals are more susceptible than others. Sometimes pets will literally poop or vomit up worms, but most of the time these little parasites live on the inside stealing nutrition. The only way you'd even know they were there is by having a pet's poop checked. No one wants monsters living inside them, and a heavy parasite burden can become detrimental to a pet's health over time. Some parasites are even zoonotic - that means people can get them, too!
While we're on the topic of nasty bugs, let's talk about heartworm and tick-borne diseases. We STRONGLY recommend a heartworm/tick test (also called a 4DX) for your dog once a year even if he never misses a dose of his monthly medication(s). No preventative is 100%, but the manufacturers stand by their products (provided you didn't unknowingly purchase some counterfeit knock-off brand through a questionable online pharmacy) and will usually provide some compensation towards treatment if their product fails to protect a pet when given appropriately.
Cats CAN get heartworm disease (but they're a lot safer from the ticks). Just 1 or 2 worms are enough to kill a cat. Our 3DX test checks for heartworm, Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). Cats are at risk for these viruses if: they are indoor/outdoor, exposed to other cats in a foster situation, or if you acquire a new feline friend and DON'T know their FeLV/FIV status in advance. Similar to human HIV, once infected these viruses stay forever in a cat's system and make them severely immunocompromised to the point where a regular "cold" can be deadly. We recommend testing yearly regardless for the heartworm aspect.
Seven (7) is more or less considered a "senior" in pet years. There are so many diseases we can catch on bloodwork before a pet ever becomes symptomatic. In many cases, if we catch it "early enough" there are things that can be done to slow down progression or "cure" the problem before it gets worse. Even if you think your pet is perfectly healthy, we encourage baseline bloodwork once a year to monitor trends. For older pets or those with chronic conditions, we may recommend bloodwork more frequently. We have puppy/kitten, adult, and senior bloodwork panels offered at a discounted rate.
Just like the name suggests, monthly preventatives are given on a monthly basis to protect pets from things like heartworm disease, Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, intestinal parasites like roundworms, ectoparasites like fleas and mites, and a few others. Not all preventatives are created equal. Some offer more protection than others, some can be given less frequently, and some carry an increased risk for certain individuals. It is important to know that in this area there is KNOWN RESISTANCE of fleas and ticks to MOST over-the-counter and topical preventatives. At this point we are recommending chewable preventatives over the others as we have not seen any resistance yet.
Although pets get heartworm from infected mosquitoes, we have not had consistent winters to guarantee they are only at risk in the "warm" months, and many people travel with their pets. It takes 6 months for a pet bit by an infected mosquito to test positive, and it is much safer (and cheaper) to just protect them year round. Remember, most heartworm preventatives also deworm your pet from common intestinal parasites which ARE a risk all year round. Along that same line, the ticks in this area have essentially mutated. They are out below freezing. They can be tinier than ---> . <--- and good luck finding them on any animal with fur. Fleas live on strays and other wildlife and can thrive in households. Bottom line: Protect your pets ALL YEAR ROUND!
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