For pet parents, “wellness” may seem like a pretty broad term. Isn’t everything that keeps your pet happy, healthy, and frisky a matter of wellness?
Actually, in the world of pet health care, the term “wellness” has a very specific meaning. More specifically, it’s another word for “routine” or “preventative.”In other words, anything that’s not an unexpected accident or illness.
So, kennel cough or a sprained paw? That’s not wellness. But preventing kennel cough with the Bordetella vaccine or examining your pup to make sure they’re in one piece?
Bingo. And when it comes to wellness, the most important thing you can possibly do for your pup or kitty is take them to routine exams.
What is a wellness exam for dogs and cats? (and what does it consist of?)
Well, aside from the part where you answer questions and fork over any potty samples, there’s also the actual exam.
Here are some of the things your vet will likely check:
Weight and muscle condition
How your pet stands, walks and balances
Coat and skin condition
Your pet’s, eyes, ears nose and face
Your pet’s mouth and teeth
Heartbeat and breathing
Your pet’s lymph nodes
Your pet’s abdomen (specifically, the areas that include major organs)
Depending on your pet’s age or medical history, your pet might also recommend taking a blood panel or administering an allergy test. Ultimately, your vet will examine anything and everything that might demonstrate apparent signs of ill health, malnutrition, or injury.
Hopefully, nothing will go wrong. But any number of issues can surface during a wellness exam, from enlarged organs to a dry and oily coat to lesions or tumors. If anything seems amiss, your vet will almost certainly recommend further testing—and possibly treatment.
How should you prepare for a pet wellness exam?
When you take your four-legged friend to the vet for a wellness exam, your presence is just as important as your pet's. As you’ve probably noticed, your pet can’t speak. (No, woof and meow don’t really count.) That means you’ll have to be the one to tell the veterinarian what your furry friend’s health has been like.
So be attentive! In the days and weeks leading up to the exam (well, all the time, really), you should observe your furry friend’s lifestyle habits and take note of any abnormal behaviors.
Be ready to answer important questions
Here are some questions you should be prepared to answer at your dog or cat's wellness exam:
What have you been feeding your pet?
Have they been eating and drinking the right amount?
Has their breathing been smooth and unlabored?
How much exercise have you been giving them?
Have they been unusually aggressive, anxious, or sluggish? ‘
Has anything changed when it comes to their urination and bowel movements?
FYI, some vets use the phrase “elimination patterns” to refer to that last one, but it's totally fine if you just say peeing and pooping.
Call your vet to see if you need to bring samples
Oh, and when you book your appointment, be sure to ask your vet whether they want you to bring in urine or fecal samples or whether you should have your pet fast before the visit.
If this is your furry friend’s first exam in a while, there’s a good chance your vet will ask for all of the above so they can test for parasites or other abnormalities.
Vets usually prefer to perform this type of testing at least once a year with adult dogs and cats. And for puppies and kittens, fecal testing can be recommended as often as once a month, since they’re much more likely to have parasites than older dogs. (Yugh.)
Here’s the bottom line: Even if there’s something wrong, your furry family member may not exhibit the problem during those precious few minutes when your vet is examining them. So it’s a huge help if you can let your veterinarian know that you’ve seen something troubling or abnormal. In fact, it may help guide your vet toward specific tests or treatments.
Do vets administer vaccinations during a routine wellness exam?
Just as people need to get vaccinated against common human illnesses, our pets need to be protected against conditions that affect dogs and cats, such as rabies and Bordetella. There are also a number of species-specific vaccines, like the ones for canine influenza or feline leukemia.
How important are dog or cat vaccinations?
Whether you have a dog or a cat, vaccinations can help prevent a slew of different illnesses. And that’s not just important for your furry friend’s physical health; it’s also important for your financial health.
The cost of treating illnesses can be high
Think of it this way: A year’s worth of vaccinations can range between $100 and $300 in cost. Or, to break it down further, the average cost of a vaccine is around $15–$30 per shot.
But the cost of actually treating any of the illnesses that these vaccines are designed to prevent? That’s a lot more expensive.
The average cost of, say, a Bordetella vaccination is around $20. But treating a Bordetella infection itself can cost $500 or more.
A vaccination for feline leukemia may cost you around $30. Treating feline leukemia—a disease with no known cure—can cost close to $1,000.
An ounce of prevention...
Here’s the bottom line: Wellness exams and regularly scheduled vaccinations are the best (and least expensive!) way to keep your four-legged friend safe and protected.
It’s far better to keep your pet from getting sick than to initiate emergency treatment once they’re sick already. Your savings account will be more protected, and more importantly, your furry pal will live a healthier and longer life.
How often do dogs and cats need wellness exams?
It varies, but it mostly depends on your pet’s age. Puppies and kittens need the most attention (and the most testing, especially since they’re so prone to intestinal parasites). They also need their first full regimen of vaccinations. A vet may recommend that you bring in a small puppy or kitten as often as once a month.
It tapers off after that. You should always bring your pet to the vet if you’re seeing any clear symptoms of illness or injury, of course, but a healthy young adult dog or cat usually doesn’t need more than one wellness exam a year.
One day, though, your pet will reach middle age, then become a senior, and then hit geriatric territory. (Alas, it happens to the best of us.) At that point, the wellness exams will become more frequent. As early as six years old, your vet will likely advise you to start bringing your pet in semi-annually. Some other factors, like a history of illness, may also prompt your vet to recommend more frequent visits.
So just remember to stay communicative with your vet; they’ll tell you when you need to start bringing your pet in more often.
Okay, so why are wellness exams important?
Because keeping your pet healthy is vastly superior to getting your pet healthy.
We’ve already explored the importance of vaccinations. But the exams themselves are just as important. The earlier your veterinarian catches a problem, the better.
An underweight dog can bulk up in no time if your vet makes diet recommendations or prescribes special food.
It's a great way to catch health conditions early on
A cat with a dry or oily coat might be suffering from any number of health conditions, including diabetes or hyperthyroidism, which are far more treatable when they’re addressed early. And a pet with one small tumor on their skin will be far easier to cure than a pet with widespread cancer.
It may save you money in the long run
And just like with vaccines and the illnesses they help prevent, there are huge implications when it comes to cost.
A heartworm test can cost $40–$50, but treating heartworm can cost as much as $1,000. And that’s just one example. Any given exam, depending on how many tests and vaccines your vet administers, can cost anywhere from about $80 to $300. But any given emergency treatment—even for just one solitary condition—can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
When your pup or kitty is in perfect health, nothing beats wellness exams and vaccinations for basic peace of mind. They’ll not only help protect your finances; they’re the first line of defense when it comes to keeping health conditions from becoming more serious.
Is there any way to lower the cost of wellness exams and vaccinations?
Yes! You just need to purchase a Wellness Plan.
You can get reimbursed up to $150 per year for any vet-administered exams, vaccines, or routine tests. And if you’re actually taking your pet in for check-ups as often as your vet advises you to, it really does pay for itself. In fact, a Wellness Plan may be the one thing that actually enables you to take your furry friend in for check-ups as frequently as you’re supposed to.
What else can a Wellness Plan help pay for?
Yeah, we mostly just talked about exams, didn’t we? Well, parasite prevention, dental cleanings, and holistic care are all super important too, and they play a big role in your pet’s overall health. We’ll get to those in subsequent articles.
But there’s a reason that wellness exams and vaccines are at the top of the list. Nothing is more important when it comes to keeping your pet safe and healthy. You should never skimp on check-ups and immunizations.
And with a Wellness Plan helping you cut down on costs, you’ll never have to.