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. 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.
Preventative Care 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 helps with obesity. Obesity puts your pet at risk for a slew of diseases, including early arthritis, diabetes, and even liver disease in cats. Exercise also keeps your pet’s bones healthy, and even reduces the risk of anxiety, depression, and behavioral 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 just refers to daily tooth brushing, along with any other at-home dental products proven to protect oral health.
Keep in mind: While effective at-home care is essential to your pet’s health, it doesn’t make regular veterinary visits unnecessary.
Preventative Care at the Vet
Preventative pet 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 realize 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.
Vaccinations are at the core of healthy annual visits. Vaccines prevent disease or minimize how sick pets become if they do become infected. After the puppy or kitten booster series, vaccines are given every 1 or 3 years depending on the type, your pet’s lifestyle, and local regulations. Rabies is legally required for all dogs and cats in the US except Hawaii (though you should really still vaccinate your pet for rabies even if you live in Hawaii).
Basic blood work should 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 blood work can delay or even prevent many serious illnesses.
Preventative Medicine for Senior Pets
Preventative care for senior pets is more frequent, with examination recommended every 6 months. If this seems like a lot, consider that it’ is equivalent to a person seeing their doctor every 2 or 3 years.
Although age is just a number, health problems are more common in senior and geriatric 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, just like a nurse would see you first at your doctor’s office. 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 feces, 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 doctor will examine your furry friend from nose to toes and beyond. Your veterinarian will 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 behavior in the exam room and may watch him walk down the hallway.
Often, all of this happens while you are talking about how your pet has been since the last veterinary visit. This conversation during the pet wellness exam is 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 will also ask you about any lifestyle changes, such as new family members, because that might mean your pet needs different vaccines or a different choice of parasite prevention. Your vet will make recommendations for the next year, including diet, weight management, dental health, and parasite control.
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/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 Preventative Pet Care?
Pet Insurance generally doesn’t cover preventative care costs. It more typically covers some or all of the cost of treating unexpected illness or injury. Since they’re unexpected, they’re difficult to budget for.
But 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 wellness plans may even include monthly parasite prevention.
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 critical to understand what kind of plan you’re purchasing and what it includes.
So do your research.
*Actual dosing of heartworm, intestinal parasite, flea, and tick prevention may vary based on medication of choice and geographic location.