Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS
As a pet parent, you want your furry friend to stay as happy and healthy as possible. Most pet owners are aware of the annual vaccinations that are recommended by your veterinarian, and most keep their pet’s cover up to date. However, your vaccination appointment is not only for providing vaccinations, it’s also an important opportunity to give your pet a full check over with a wellness exam.
What is a wellness exam?
Wellness exams will involve one of our team checking your pet thoroughly from head to tail, and everything in between. A wellness exam will normally also include a weight check.
Some of the checks we perform include checking the back of the eye using a special instrument. This allows us to check for cataracts, and that the retina itself is healthy, which can be a positive indication that blood pressure is not too high. We will also check your pet’s ears for any signs of infection, as well as inspecting their mouth for any loose, damaged, or diseased teeth. Your veterinarian will feel all four limbs and manipulate each joint, to check for any signs of arthritis, stiffness, or soreness, and they will feel for any enlarged lymph glands around the body.
Another important part of the wellness exam involves a stethoscope. Your veterinarian will need to listen to your pet’s heart to make sure there are no murmurs, and that the rate and rhythm are normal. They will also listen to your pet’s lungs and breathing and check their gums are pink. These tests allow a good assessment of your pet’s circulatory system.
You may wonder, when your veterinarian gives your pet’s belly a good squeeze, how much they can actually feel. In many pets, especially those who are lean or a healthy weight, it is possible to feel their kidneys and bladder as well as some of their stomach, liver, and intestines. Finally, the veterinarian will check around your dog’s bottom and genitals and may check their temperature and their anal glands if needed.
What are the benefits of a wellness examination?
Wellness examinations allow your veterinarian to pick up on any potential health issues as early as possible. Many diseases are more treatable if they are discovered early, and weight checks could flag a bit of unhealthy weight gain or weight loss before it’s obvious visually.
The wellness examination appointment is also an opportunity for you to discuss any concerns that you have with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will ask a few questions about your pet’s general health, appetite, drinking habits, and toileting, and you will be able to add any information that might have been playing on your mind about your pet’s health and behavior.
The other benefit of a wellness examination is that it means one of our veterinarians can discuss with you the various options for preventative healthcare, like parasite control. If you bring a poo sample with you to your appointment, the team will be able to test it to see what intestinal parasites your pet might have. They can then recommend a treatment program.
What might a wellness exam show?
If your dog has a heart murmur, your vet will check where on the chest it sounds the loudest. This will give an idea of which part of the heart is involved. In Mitral Valve Disease, common in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Dachshunds, Miniature Poodles, and other small breed dogs, the murmur is loudest on the left side of the chest. Alternatively, if your dog has Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia, which is quite uncommon, the murmur is loudest on the right side.
If your veterinarian picks up a murmur in your dog they will grade the volume of the murmur from 1 to 6 and may recommend a blood test, x-ray, or heart scan to give them more information. If your puppy has a heart murmur, this can be normal, and something which goes away as they grow, but be aware that some puppy murmurs are an indication that the heart hasn’t developed properly, and more tests may be needed.
If your cat has a heart murmur, your veterinarian will be looking out for other signs that could suggest the cause of the heart disease. For instance, they will watch the breathing rate to see if it is quicker than normal and see if there is more effort to the breathing than normal. Both of these signs can indicate fluid around the lungs, which could be related to the heart. They will also feel around your cat’s neck to see if their thyroid gland is enlarged since, in hyperthyroidism, high levels of thyroid hormone lead to heart problems. After hearing a murmur, the veterinarian will likely recommend a blood test, and perhaps x-rays of the chest.
If your pet is predisposed to heart conditions they should be checked regularly and may benefit from screening ultrasound scans and blood tests, even if they don’t have a murmur. Examples of breeds who are prone to heart conditions are Dobermans, who are predisposed to Dilated Cardiomyopathy, and British Shorthair cats, who are predisposed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Certain medications for Mitral Valve Disease are now proven to be useful even before symptoms develop, which means that if you own one of the predisposed breeds and they have a heart murmur, you may want to get their heart scanned to see if they would benefit from early treatment.
Your veterinarian will be able to check your pet’s weight at each check-up and spot any significant changes early. This will allow you to discuss your pet’s diet and exercise routine, and get some tips to help your pet lose or gain weight as required. Remember that obesity can cause many other illnesses including diabetes and arthritis, so it is definitely worth keeping a record of your pet’s weight.
Your vet may notice that your dog or cat has a lot of tartar on their teeth, or even that the teeth are infected or wobbly. Remember that dogs and cats can suffer from toothache as well, but they don’t always show the signs of pain we would expect. If your veterinarian suspects dental disease, they may advise an examination of the mouth under anesthetic, as well as x-rays, scaling and polishing, and extractions if needed.
During the wellness examination, your veterinarian may be able to feel some lumps and bumps. These may be warts or skin tags, and nothing to worry about, but if your veterinarian notices more significant lumps it can be beneficial to take a biopsy sample to find out if surgery to remove the lump is needed.
During the examination, your veterinarian may find that one or more of your pet’s joints is creaky, stiff, or sore. If this is the case, they may advise x-rays to check for arthritis, or a trial with anti-inflammatories to see if their mobility improves.
What can I do to ensure my pet’s health?
The most important thing you can do to ensure your pet maintains good health is to keep up to date with annual vaccinations and make sure you use regular parasite medications. If you provide your veterinarian with a fecal sample from your pet regularly, they will be able to check that the parasite treatment you are using is the right one and whether it is working well.
How often should my pet have a wellness exam?
As a minimum, your pet should have a wellness exam at least once a year, at their annual vaccination appointment. However, if you own a pet whose breed is predisposed to a particular condition, or if your pet is already suffering from a long-term condition, it would be recommended that they have a wellness examination more frequently.
Senior pet wellness exams
If your dog or cat is over seven or eight years old, they are classed as senior. A senior dog or cat wellness exam should be performed more regularly than when they were younger. When your pet is older, their health can change more suddenly, so a wellness examination every three to six months would be beneficial. A senior wellness exam may also include a screening blood test, to check the health of your pet’s liver, kidneys, and other internal organs.
Frequently asked questions…
What does a dog wellness exam consist of?
A dog wellness examination will include a weight check, a full physical examination from head to tail, and a full history taken from the owner about the pet’s diet, exercise routine, toileting, and any concerns they have. Your veterinarian will combine this information to be able to advise you on any recommended supplements, preventative treatments, parasite treatments, and any screening tests or further investigation that might be needed.
How often should a dog have a wellness exam?
The recommended frequency of a wellness exam depends on multiple factors. If your dog is young, fit, and healthy, and you have no questions or concerns, an annual wellness examination should suffice. However, if your dog is senior, or is a breed that is prone to particular health conditions (for example, Dobermans and Cocker Spaniels are prone to Dilated Cardiomyopathy) then wellness exams should be performed more frequently, every three to six months.
What does a pet wellness exam cost?
The cost of a pet wellness exam will vary slightly from practice to practice. Remember that a full wellness exam is included in the price of your pet’s annual booster vaccination so that your pet will have a full MOT at least once a year.
Why is a wellness exam important?
A pet wellness exam allows veterinarians to spot signs of illness early and instigate treatment or advice on prevention as needed. It also gives you up-to-date information on your pet’s health and any steps you should take to ensure they maintain good health. If your pet hasn’t been checked over for a while, give our reception team a ring to book a wellness exam.