Fact Sheet: What happens during an exam? (PDF)
Parasite control: Heartworm, fleas, ticks and other parasites
While the incidence of heartworm in Ontario is relatively low, there are hot spots in the province that have an increased risk. Travelling with your pet, particularly to regions of the US, can also increase the risk of heartworm infestation.
It’s important to talk to your veterinarian about the risk level in your area and options for heartworm prevention. Anti-parasitic medications are available to help protect your pets from heartworm, and many brands of this medication have the added benefit of combating other common parasites.
Fleas, ticks and many parasites are easily prevented with monthly parasite prevention applications. Talk to your veterinarian about the best products and/or options for protecting your pet, and your family, from unwanted parasites.
Learn more about vaccines or dealing with fleas.
Importance of annual exams
Routine physical exams performed by a qualified veterinarian are crucial to maintaining your pet's good health. Learn more about the annual costs of pet ownership, including preventive care.
Early disease detection
Check-ups are important because they provide an opportunity to prevent diseases, detect disease early or avoid disease altogether. Unfortunately, many pet owners tend to underestimate the value of check-ups because their pets seem to be healthy. But often diseases and ailments, like high blood pressure or a heart murmur, aren't apparent in the early stages.
A study by the Outcomes Research Team at Zoetis revealed that one out of every four outwardly healthy cats had abnormal lab results. The surveyed cat owners admitted there were warning signs in nearly 70% of the 1,197 cats checked. This shows that when cat owners are given questions relating to subtle signs in their cat, it can lead to prevention or early diagnosis and a better chance for management or recovery.
Providing a proper diet is one of the most important things you can do for your pet. It keeps them in optimum health and it helps prevent and manage many diseases.
Many pet owners use their annual veterinary check-up as an chance to get advice on what to feed their pets. Your veterinarian also uses the annual exam to determine whether or not your pet is overweight or obese. Obesity affects almost one out of every three pets, making it the most common nutritional disease in dogs and cats.
You can also ask questions about training and hygiene at your check-up. Obedience training is important for your pet's health, because behavioural problems account for more deaths in dogs than any known disease. Dogs that aren't properly trained are more likely to be hit by cars or involved in fights with other dogs, while a well-trained and obedient dog is more likely to live to a long and happy life. Properly trained cats are less likely to have litter box and behaviour issues, which are leading causes of owners surrendering cats.
What happens during an examination?
Your veterinarian will ask you questions about your pet's health. This helps your vet determine whether there are specific problems that need to be addressed. For example, a history of poor weight gain or weight loss can indicate a parasite problem. Intestinal parasites (worms and protozoans) are a common and potentially lethal problem in pets. This is especially true in young puppies and kittens. Your veterinarian can detect the presence of these parasites with a simple stool test.
After getting a history, your veterinarian will do a physical exam. Starting at the head, your veterinarian will look at your pet's eyes, ears, face and mouth. Examining the teeth is especially important, since up to 85% of dogs and cats over four years old have gum disease.
The veterinarian will examine your pet's coat for signs of parasites, such as fleas, and make sure the coat isn't too dry or oily, which might indicate a nutritional imbalance. Your pet will be weighed and a change in diet might be needed to avoid health problems related to obesity. If your pet's losing weight over time, that could be a sign of a medical problem that needs further examination.
Your veterinarian will also listen to the chest with a stethoscope to make sure there are no issues with the heart or lungs. More than 12% of dogs experience a heart problem in their lifetime.
How often should my pet be examined?
Unfortunately, since your pet can't talk, you don't always know when it's not feeling well. Because predators in the wild tend to prey on the sick or the infirm, an animal's natural instinct is to try to hide health problems.
You should take your pet to the veterinarian at least once a year for a complete physical examination. Since the life span of a typical pet is short (12.5 years for dogs, 15 years for cats), and your pet's health can change a great deal over the course of a few months, many pet owners choose to have a physical exam done every six months.
To learn more about the benefits of the physical examination, talk to your veterinarian.
Dental disease in pets often goes unnoticed, but it actually affects more than 85% of cats and dogs over the age of three. It’s the most common disease in pets and can lead to a variety of health complications, according to Dr. Lee Jane Huffman, a veterinary dentist at the Mississauga Oakville Veterinary Emergency Hospital.
Dental health is important
Left untreated, dental disease can cause a host of different problems in your pet. A pet dealing with a painful tooth may act differently or have difficulty chewing. In the past, owners have reported major changes in their pet’s personality and energy level after having a problem tooth removed, according to Dr. Huffman.
Bacteria from the mouth can also enter the bloodstream and cause problems in major organs, like the heart, liver and kidneys, and abscesses can even weaken bones, leading to fractures and breaks.
The worst case Dr. Huffman has ever seen was in a small dog that fractured both sides of his jaw while eating breakfast. “If the dog had been recommended a dental cleaning years before, or even a week before that happened, they never would have suffered that,” she said.
How often your pet should get a dental checkup
Small dogs are more susceptible to dental disease than large dogs, and are likely to require more frequent visits to the veterinary dentist.
“When we bred dogs to be these smaller, pushed-in nose breeds, or just smaller in general, we didn’t shrink the size of their teeth. So they tend to have a lot more crowding. It kind of [prevents] the self-cleaning mechanisms that would be there in the bigger dogs,” Dr. Huffman said.
In general, she recommends a dental checkup every 12 months for large dogs and six months for small dogs.
“At nine months, I think pets should be going to their vet for a checkup to see if they need a cleaning. I did a seven-month-old cat the other day and I had to scale that cat’s teeth,” she said.
If your pet hasn’t received regular dental care, there are some warning signs that indicate a cleaning is needed. According to Dr. Huffman, if your pet has visible tartar on their teeth or bad breath, it’s past time for a checkup.
“I mean, if you or I had that in our mouths, we would go screaming to the dentist or people would shun us, but there’s something in us that allows that to go on in pets,” she said.
If you notice your pet has red gums, is no longer interested in chewing or is only using one side of their mouth to eat or chew, dental disease may already be progressing.
Dr. Huffman also recommends that pets undergo an anesthetized cleaning, as she says cleanings while the pet is awake can lead to a false sense of security. “You see, the teeth look clean above the gum line, but it’s really at or below the gum line where the disease process is going on,” she said.
This also gives the veterinarian a chance to examine the animal’s mouth and tonsils, which can sometimes lead to the early discovery of a tumour.
Dental disease warning signs:
- Visible plaque buildup on teeth
- Bad breath
- Red or bleeding gums
- A loss of interest in chewing
- Avoiding eating or chewing using a specific side of the mouth
How to prevent pet dental disease
Aside from regular dental checkups, the most important thing pet owners can do to help prevent dental disease is regularly brushing your pet’s teeth.
While pets don’t require brushing twice a day like people, every other day is the minimum to reap the benefits. “There have been studies that have proven brushing teeth less than every other day doesn’t make a difference, really,” said Dr. Huffman.
In addition to regular brushing, Dr. Huffman says pet owners can investigate other methods to prevent dental disease, like water additives, oral gels and dental diets.
How to brush your pet's teeth
Pets need to be slowly introduced to the process of brushing their teeth, “just like you’d introduce hygiene to your child, which can be challenging as well,” said Dr. Huffman.
She recommends getting your pet to lick toothpaste off your finger. As they become comfortable with that, rub the paste on their gums.
Again, when the animal accepts this, start introducing a toothbrush.
“I don’t particularly like the toothbrushes that go on your finger. I find that they’re not as effective and it’s putting your finger in their mouths, which is a danger,” Dr. Huffman said. Instead, she recommends specialty dog and cat toothbrushes, or a human brush with soft bristles.
As with any training process, it’s important to reward your pet for good behaviour.
“Some pets enjoy affection or rewards and praise, and other pets want the food reward,” she said. “There are ways to make them get used to it, and I think people, if they try, they can actually find their pet starts to like it.”
Dr. Huffman advocates for prevention, which includes regular dental checkups. Being proactive about dental health can help save your pet from unnecessary pain and more serious complications.
“It’s a preventable disease, so I think we have to be more proactive in managing it,” she said. “I think there’s this acceptance of horrendous breath and horrendous teeth, like stalactites growing on their teeth ... as vets and pet owners, there’s an acceptance of that, and we shouldn’t accept that. It’s not fair to the animals, and it’s not fair to us to have to be bowled over by that breath.”