Why is preventative pet care important?

22 February 2021 - 5 min read
Terrier Dog Holding a Toothbrush

Just as people should see a doctor regularly, so should our pets. Treating unexpected emergencies is important — but routine health care is the first and best way to keep your pet happy, healthy and by your side for many years to come. Wellness care for pets, or preventative care, refers to anything and everything that you can do to keep your dog or cat healthy by taking action before there’s ever a problem.

Wellness care starts at home

Preventative healthcare begins at home. You need to feed your dogs and cats high-quality food from a trusted manufacturer, give them plenty of exercise, stay on top of routine dental care, and keep up with monthly parasite prevention.

Exercise is vital for many reasons, starting with the fact that it helps with obesity. Obesity puts your pet at risk for a slew of diseases, including early arthritis, diabetes, and even liver disease in cats. Exercisealso keeps your pet’s bones healthy, and even reduces the risk of anxiety, depression, and behavioural problems.

Meanwhile, there are two types of parasite prevention: internal, including heart-worms and intestinal worms, and external, including fleas and ticks. Parasite prevention treatments are usually administered at home every month*.

Finally, at-home dental care means daily tooth brushing, along with any other at-home dental products proven to protect oral health.

Keep in mind: While effective at-home health checks and health care for pets are essential, it doesn’t mean regular veterinary visits are unnecessary.

Veterinary visits

Pet wellness care at your veterinary clinic includes regular examinations, parasite testing, vaccinations, blood work, and dental care.

Pets need physical examinations at least once a year since they can’t tell us when something doesn’t feel right. Finding an issue early makes treatment and management easier, more effective, and often less expensive. 

For example, starting a weight loss plan early is far better for your dog than waiting until after they develop arthritis — but pet parents may not realise their dog is obese before a veterinary exam.

Your veterinarian will also pay special attention to your pet’s mouth, since oral health impacts overall health. Regular cleaning can prevent extractions, pain, and even life-threatening infections.

Your vet should also test your pet for parasites annually, including heartworms and intestinal worms, even when your pet is on broad-spectrum, year-round heartworm prevention . Unless you test for heartworms, you won’t know your dog is infected until they’re very sick. And while humans can’t get heartworms, intestinal worms can be passed to people, especially children, so regular testing protects your whole family.

Aside from health checks, vaccinations are at the core of dogs’ and cats’ annual visits. Vaccines prevent disease or minimise how sick pets become if they do become infected. 

After the puppy or kitten vaccines series, boosters are needed every one to three years. You’ll also need to get your dog vaccinated for rabies if you wish to travel with them outside of the UK, plus any other local requirements. 

Basic blood work should also be checked annually as part of routine pet health care. Blood work evaluates organ function and may detect changes before your pet shows symptoms of illness. Making small modifications to your pet’s at-home care in response to blood work can delay or even prevent many serious illnesses.

Preventative care for senior pets

Wellness care for senior dogs and cats should be more frequent – they may even need an examination every six months. It might seem like a lot, but remember it’s the equivalent of a human seeing their doctor every 2 or 3 years.

Although age is just a number, health problems are more common in senior animals, and it’s better to identify any issue early. In addition to the examination, blood work and urine testing should be done regularly, with the frequency determined by your pet’s age and health status.

What can I expect during a pet wellness exam?

Typically at a wellness exam, your pet will be checked in by a veterinary assistant. This includes checking weight, temperature, and heart rate. The assistant will then get some background information from you about how your pet has been, and will collect any samples such as faeces, blood, and urine for testing. Starting these tests before the veterinarian starts your pet’s examination helps reduce the time you spend in the clinic.

Next, your pet’s veterinarian will examine your furry friend from nose to toes and beyond. They’ll listen to your pet’s heart and lungs, examine their eyes, ears, and mouth, and feel each joint move. Your veterinarian will also feel for any lumps and bumps and make note of any abnormalities in the fur or skin. Your vet will also evaluate your pet’s behaviour in the exam room and may watch him walk down the hallway.

The pet wellness exam is also your opportunity to ask questions and bring up any concerns you have. That could be a small lump you noticed on your dog’s belly or questions about which food to feed your cat. 

You should discuss anything unusual you’ve noticed, from a pet who doesn’t always greet you at the door anymore, to one whose eating habits have shifted, to occasional accidents. A wellness exam is the time to update your pet’s routine to keep her healthy. It’s also an opportunity to be your pet’s advocate.

Your veterinarian may also ask you about any lifestyle changes, such as new family members, as it could mean your pet needs different vaccines or a different choice of parasite prevention. Your vet will make recommendations for the year to come, including diet, weight management, dental health, and parasite prevention.

One of the most undervalued parts of an annual veterinary visit is establishing a relationship with your pet’s veterinarian. This relationship actually goes three ways; it’s between you, your vet, and your pet. 

By establishing these relationships early in life, you’re more likely to feel comfortable seeking advice from your veterinarian if or when your pet has a health problem. And, as important as it is for you to trust your vet, it’s just as important for your pet to trust your vet through repeated happy interactions.

Does pet insurance cover wellness pet care?

Pet Insurance generally doesn’t cover preventative or wellness care costs. Instead, it’s there to cover some or all of the cost of treating unexpected illness or injury.

However, some companies do offer wellness add-ons that reimburse pet parents for the costs of preventative care. These plans often include an annual exam, parasite testing, and vaccinations, and some may cover part or all of the cost of annual dental cleaning.

Pet insurance policies and wellness plans may be purchased individually or as a package to provide full protection for your pet. With so many options, it’s important to understand what kind of plan you’re purchasing and what it includes.

Hanie Elfenbein, DVM
Emergency Clinician

Dr. Elfenbein received her DVM from the University of California, Davis where she also earned a PhD in Animal Behavior as part of the Veterinary Scientist Training Program.