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What should I expect during my dog's annual visit to the vet?
Remember that pets age much faster than people. Therefore, examinations are needed more frequently. Many people think of "vaccines" or "shots" when they think about the yearly trip to the vet. However, our focus is more on detecting signs of disease as early as possible.
The Physical Exam
Just as when you see your doctor for your "physical", we will check your dog's overall body condition, skin and coat, the mouth (for gingival disease, broken teeth, tumors, etc.), eyes, membranes, ears, lymph nodes, heart and lungs, palpate the abdomen for evidence of enlarged organs, and joints for mobility and pain. If the doctor fails to detect something that you have noticed, please bring it to our attention!
Laboratory Tests for Young to Middle Age Adults
Heartworm test: Once yearly heartworm tests are recommended by the American Heartworm Society www.heartwormsociety.org even if your dog is on heartworm preventives. Why? We have a large population of heartworms in our local environment for two reasons: large populations of mosquitos that carry heartworms and relatively large populations of dogs that do not receive heartworm preventives. Add those factors to these: no drug is 100% effective; maybe your dog spit out one of her monthly pills; we are starting to see some resistance in heartworms to current preventives. So, we test yearly to pick up infections as soon as possible.
Fecal analysis: We obtain feces from your dog if at all possible to screen for intestinal parasites, even if he is on a heartworm preventive that also "deworms". Again, not all drugs are 100% effective. And we seem to be seeing some parasites, especially hookworms, not respond to routine dewormers. Also, we need to screen for coccidian and Giardia, other common parasites that are not covered by routine dewormers. And, if you use the ivermectin/pyrantel heartworm preventives like Heartgard™, there is no protection against another common parasite, whipworms.
If you are interested in parasites that affect animals AND people, see CDC Zoonotic Parasites. If you are interested in learning more about pet parasites in general, see Pet Parasites by the Companion Animal Parasite Council. It has lots of really interesting information.
Additional Tests for Our Older Patients
As we all know, our bodies start to have more problems as we age. And, as we know, early detection of problems can make a big difference in the outcome if disease is found. Therefore, just as our people doctors start running more tests as we age, it is also best to run more in-depth tests in older pets.
CBC (Complete Blood Count): A complete blood count shows red blood cell parameters, white blood cell counts and types, and platelet counts. Red blood cell parameters indicate the presence or absence of anemia (low count, thin blood), polycythemia (high count, thick blood), and some nutritional, cancerous, or metabolic diseases. White blood cells are generally thought of as our infection fighting cells, but they also have other functions. Changes in WBC can indicate infection, inflammation, hormonal imbalances, cancer, or parasites. Platelets are tiny cells that help our blood to clot. Low platelet counts can occur with some infections (especially infections carried by ticks), from excessive need for platelets (a bleeding problem), or bone marrow problems. High platelets can indicate inflammation.
Blood Chemistries: These values help us to look for problems with kidneys, liver, hormones, inflammation, nutrition, cancer, etc. This is a "screening" test and, if problems are found, further testing may be needed to diagnose the actual problem.
Urinalysis: Urine tests are used in conjunction with blood chemistries. They help to determine kidney function as well as indicate UTI (urinary tract infection), protein loss through the kidneys, bladder tumors or stones, etc.