It is common practice for pet owners to bring their new puppies and kittens to see a veterinarian for an examination, vaccines, and even to have them spayed and neutered. These puppies and kittens will then go home with their new families and typically don't see a veterinarian again until it is time for their booster vaccines or they become ill. This sequence of events brings up an important question I am often asked by my clients. How frequently should my healthy dog or cat be seen by a veterinarian?
This is a great question and one that has no clear answer. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you take your baby (human) for at least nine check-ups during the first 3 years. The American Medical Association, the main governing medical body for humans, recommends routine examinations for all adult men and women. People aged 19-39 are encouraged to undergo lipid testing, pap tests, breast exams, and blood pressure measurements. For those older individuals prostate exams, mammagrams, colon exams, and routine bloodwork are all recommended on a fairly routine basis. So why don't we see our healthy dogs and cats more frequently for health check-ups and at what age do our pets become healthy adults?
Lets consider a large breed dog who weighs over 80 pounds. By the time this dog is 2 years old he probably is the health equivalent to his 30 year old owner. By the time this dog is 4 years old he is equivalent to a 45 year old human. Along this same line of thinking a medium sized dog (45 pounds) would reach 30 years of age by age 4 and be over the hill by age 6. Cats also age in a similar fashion. A 4 year old cat may be close to 30 in human years and a 12 year old cat is a senior citizen and closer to 65.
With the knowledge of how our pets age it becomes clear our healthy dogs and cats should be seen by a doctor more frequently than ourselves because they age faster, or more accurately, they don't live as long. It is very common for me to examine pets that haven't been to the vet in 10 years because they "seemed fine." This line of thinking is dangerous for two reasons. Firstly, dogs and cats are descendants of wild animals that have been conditioned not to show pain, suffering, or illness. This makes it difficult to catch and treat diseases in their early stages when treatment would be most effective. Whereas humans would complain of intestinal pain at the early onset of disease, a dog or cat will likely hide that pain for months. Secondly, the best form of medicine is preventative medicine and when you identify diseases in their earliest stages the success rate of treatment increases exponentially.
Adult dogs and cats in their early years should see a veterinarian at least once a year for routine bloodwork, vaccinations, dental check-ups, and parasite control. Older animals should be examined twice a year for heart murmurs, prostate exams, thyroid and diabetes testing, blood pressure measurements, and early kidney disease.
Dogs and cats become afflicted with many of the same diseases humans encounter as they age. The best way to ensure the health and happiness of our pets is to have routine exams, screen for debilitating diseases, and practice preventative medicine.