Every dog owner has the best of intentions when it comes to their dog’s health. It goes without saying that they want their dogs to be happy and healthy, enjoying their years to the fullest. The thing is, dog wellness is multifaceted, covering exams, vaccinations, nutrition, exercise, and mental stimulation. Because it can feel overwhelming to busy owners, critical elements of their dog’s well-being can be overlooked.
As veterinarians, it’s our job to ensure pet owners are well-versed in the various factors that contribute to a dog’s longevity – and at the very top of the priority list are regular wellness exams. That’s right. Just like you and your children, an annual checkup is vitally important to your dog’s health.
Why are dog wellness exams important?
Many dog owners assume that if their dog is current on vaccinations, eating well, active, and happy, they don’t need to see their veterinarian unless an issue arises. Despite knowing your dog better than anyone else, what you can’t possibly know is what’s happening on the inside and how you should be adjusting to these developments as they age.
Regular wellness exams can help pet owners understand changes that naturally come with the aging process, understanding that pets age faster than humans. This information is imperative, as it allows pet owners to make necessary adjustments through the years, such as recommended dietary changes, increased physical activity, enhanced mental stimulation, and more.
How often your dog needs a wellness exam depends on their age and any health issues. During the early puppyhood stage, wellness exams are recommended monthly when they have a rigorous vaccination schedule and are adjusting to new homes. At the same time, the average adult dog only needs to be examined annually. As your dog advances to their middle, senior, and geriatric years, we recommend twice-annual wellness exams when ailments such as arthritis and dental issues are more likely to be a factor.
Wellness exams are also important because specific dog breeds are predisposed to certain genetic conditions and age at different rates. For example, a Chihuahua is considered a senior at 8-9 years old, whereas a Great Dane is a senior at 4-5 years old. Breeds including Bulldogs, Mastiffs, Dobermans, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Cocker Spaniels should have EKGs and chest X-Rays as they age due to cardiac conditions being more common for them. During your dog’s regular wellness exams, your veterinarian will take both their breed and age into consideration, creating a tailored healthcare plan to ensure they live a long, healthy life.
Wellness exams are critical to your dog’s longevity, as regular evaluations will identify any medical issues early and ensure the appropriate course of action is taken to keep them healthy members of your family.
What happens during a wellness exam?
Wellness exams will be tailored to your dog's age, breed, and other things your veterinarian finds out about your dog by talking to you. However, some general things will get done in nearly every wellness exam for dogs.
During a routine wellness exam, your veterinarian will:
- Listen to your dog’s heart and lungs
- Feel the abdominal organs and lymph nodes
- Check the joints and spine
- Examine their mouth and teeth
- See how your dog walks and stands
- Check body weight and temperature
- Examine muscle condition
- Check the haircoat, skin, and nails
- Evaluate the eyes and vision
- Examine the ears for any discharge or thickening
- Evaluate the urogenital tract
- Check for any masses on or under the skin
- Discuss diet, behavior concerns, and preventive care
In addition, blood work will help evaluate organ function and detect any issues such as infection, anemia, diabetes, kidney insufficiency, thyroid disease, or other metabolic conditions. Fecal examinations can detect internal parasites and are recommended annually for all pets.
During the wellness exam, your veterinarian will inquire about the dog’s diet, amount of exercise, thirst, breathing, behavior, habits, bowel movements, urination, and general lifestyle. Based on results from the examination, owner feedback, age, and overall health, your veterinarian may prescribe preventative medicines for joint health, weight management, dental care, and more.
Supporting Your Dog’s Wellness at Home
The following tips will ensure your beloved dog stays healthy between wellness exams:
Good Nutrition – Ensure you’re feeding your dog the right amount of high-quality food on a consistent schedule and have fresh water available to them at all times. A balanced, controlled diet will help to avoid any obesity-related illnesses.
Plenty of Exercise – Take your dog on regular walks, hiking, or swimming. Play fetch daily, practice new tricks, or take them along on your own exercise outing. Any movement throughout the day is great for your dog and will keep their muscles, heart, lungs, and mind healthy!
Mental Stimulation – Whether they’re chewing on toys, figuring out a new toy, or socializing at a dog park, your dog needs mental stimulation to keep their brain active and alert. These means of mental stimulation also prevent boredom, which can lead to destructive behaviors.
Preventative Medications – Ensuring your dog is getting their preventative medications regularly is vital to their longevity. These keep your dog free of any easily avoided health issues such as heartworm, flea-related diseases, and tick-borne illnesses. Regular teeth-brushing will also help them avoid periodontal disease and tooth loss. Preventive care is always the way to go when caring for your dog, as catching a disease before it progresses almost always carries a better prognosis than if the illness has progressed.
Proper Grooming – Regular grooming is an effective way to monitor any changes to your dog’s fur or skin that could indicate disease. New lumps or sores are easily identified during the grooming process, even if that boils down to simply brushing for your dog regularly. Keeping their nails short prevents breakage and ingrown nails. Regular ear cleaning will also detect a problem sooner rather than later.