Just like humans, dogs require regular check-ups by their doctor. It is the unfortunate truth that some dog owners skip taking their dog to the veterinarian, so that the dog only sees the veterinarian when the owner realizes that there is a problem. Knowledgeable and responsible dog owners know that their dog deserves to be seen at regular intervals by a veterinarian. Novice dog owners may not be aware of this, and may not fully understand why the dog needs to be seen, especially if the dog seems to be in good health. This article will help explain why regular veterinary exams are important.
When you first obtained your dog – regardless of whether you adopted the dog, bought the dog, or were given the dog – your dog should have been seen by a veterinarian. Your veterinarian examines your dog, ensures that the dog actually is in good health, and obtains your dog’s baseline information to be retained in his records.
During subsequent exams, your veterinarian will repeat some basic tests and be able to compare the results to the prior exam results to ensure that your dog remains in good health. Significant changes may between prior exam results and the most recent exams may lead your veterinarian to uncover hidden or underlying health conditions, often before the condition progresses too far for treatment.
In general, the cost of preventing disease is often far less than the cost of treating a disease, and the cost of treating a disease in the early stages is often far less expensive (and far more successful) than attempting to treat a disease in the later stages. Keep in mind, that when a human just does not “feel quite right”, we can alert others and describe what we are feeling. On the other hand, dogs can not talk about the “odd feeling” they are experiencing. Veterinarians are trained to notice small details about their patients and to be able to determine whether a change is medically relevant or not. For instance, what appears to be weight gain concentrating on the underside of your dog could in fact be any number of other conditions, ranging from mammary tumors to pregnancy to the beginnings of obesity.
Your veterinarian can test your dog’s blood to ensure that all his blood counts and hormones fall within the normally acceptable ranges. Likewise, the dog can be tested for conditions that may be prevalent in your area, such as heartworm, before the heartworm severely weakens your dog.
Your veterinarian will also know what vaccinations are required for your dog as well as when the shots need to be given. If you have a good relationship with your veterinarian, you can (politely) ask if there are low-cost alternative sources of vaccinating your dog in the veterinary office. Most veterinarians, if informed that a pet parent is having financial difficulty – would rather have the pet parent bring the dog in for an exam and seek low-cost vaccinations elsewhere, rather than not bring the dog in at all. Many shelters offer low-cost vaccination programs, and in some areas, fire companies offer rabies shots as well. Just be sure to obtain documentation, and provide a copy of it to your veterinarian so that your dog’s records reflect his vaccinations as well.
Obviously, if your dog appears to be sick, injured, or just “off”, make an appointment with your veterinarian so that your dog obtains the appropriate treatment within the right timeframe. Be certain to explain the nature of the illness or injury when calling for an appointment; a good description will help the veterinary staff to determine if the dog may need to be seen immediately or within the next day or two.
Puppies, as well as newly-acquired dogs with unknown veterinary histories, may need to be seen more frequently during the first year to ensure that they are fully vaccinated. Rabies vaccination is required by most, if not all, states in the United States. Many veterinarians now use a three-year rabies vaccination, although some still use the one-year vaccination. Even if your veterinarian uses a three-year rabies vaccination, it is generally an excellent idea to have your dog examined annually by your vet. However, discuss with your veterinarian the frequency of exams and vaccinations for your dog, and follow their advice.
About the author: Sharon McCuddy is the author of the “Lucky Dog” article series, which includes the above article. In part, the author draws on her experiences as a dog owner, rescuer and dog foster home to provide educational articles in the Lucky Dog series. Readers are strongly encouraged to consult with their veterinarian for any medical related issues, and to use the information provided in the articles as a basis for self-education as a responsible dog owner.