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The medical community recommends that people have an annual checkup to identify potential health issues before they start. And if preventative is a good idea for humans, it should apply to other family members, including our pets.

Dogs and cats also have potential health issues, some of them genetic. It would make sense, then, to know as much as you can about a pet when you purchase or rescue one and be aware of any symptoms that develop as it ages. An annual wellness exam for a dog or cat will include bloodwork, urine, and fecal tests, an assessment of coat and skin, dental and ear exams, and vaccinations. It will ensure that your pet gets the care it needs to prevent some disorders or at least provide early detection.

Like newborn babies, puppies and kittens will see the veterinarian more often during their first year. However, unlike human babies, they reach adulthood by the age of one, even if they still grow for another several months. Hypothyroidism, kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, epilepsy, obesity, and cancer can have the same impact on pets as they do on humans.

Some dog breeds, for example, may be prone to specific disorders. Herding dogs such as German Shepherds, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Great Danes, Mastiffs, and Golden Retrievers are at risk for hip dysplasia and arthritis. West Highland White Terriers often develop chronic allergic skin issues. Chihuahuas, the smallest breed, are prone to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and tracheal collapse, which makes it hard for them to breathe.

An annual wellness exam enables your veterinarian to establish a plan for your pet. That will include recommendations for a pet’s proper weight and diet. A wellness visit will ensure that your pet is current on vaccinations such as rabies, canine influenza, and distemper, and for cats, feline parvovirus, among others. Pets that go outdoors should also receive a monthly dose of medication to prevent heart-worms, ticks, and fleas, available in a chewable three-in-one tablet.

A veterinarian can also better estimate the age of a dog you may have rescued, which is important given that our pets have a relatively short lifespan. A Mastiff has an average life expectancy of only eight years, while most dog breeds, from small to large, can live from 10 to 15 years. A house cat can live for 17 years and longer, while cats that live primarily outdoors may encounter natural hazards such as predators and man-made hazards like automobiles.

An annual exam becomes even more important as a dog and cat age. On average, dogs reach their senior years around seven, and cats, perhaps a few years later. With age comes diminished hearing and sight, the onset of arthritis, and increased anxiety. They are also prone to more diseases as they age. So, although their lifespan is considerably shorter, our pets share many traits humans have in old age. Wellness exams make it possible for pets to live life to the fullest.


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