October is Pet Wellness Month, a celebration of people and their pets.
And for me, wellness is the cornerstone of everything I do when it comes to caring for your pet.
My job is to care “in sickness and in health.” I can do a much better job when your pet is “in sickness” if I know what they look like when they are “in health.” This vow to do the best for your pet, “in sickness and in health,” is a veterinarian’s reason for being.
Breaking Down a Wellness Exam
Wellness visits are usually happy times when you bring your pet to the vet not for a problem but for a check on general well-being.
Similar to your annual physical with your doctor, wellness visits are a way of recording a baseline for your pet, underlining what is normal for that particular individual. A wellness exam means your pet will receive a complete physical, the pet’s medical record will be kept updated with all pertinent information, new problems can be uncovered before they become serious and old problems can be revisited.
Your vet looks at a lot during a wellness exam:
- Body condition score
- Medications: past, present and new
- Nutritional needs
- EENT (eyes, ears, nose, throat)
- Dental status
- Behavioral issues
- All-systems check: circulatory, cardiac, respiratory, gastrointestinal, skin, musculoskeletal, neurologic, reproductive, urogenital
- Lifestyle, exercise and stage of life
The wellness exam is also a great time to have a one-on-one conversation with your vet. With pets and pet products always in the news, ask about that new flea and tick product you heard about. What about the new joint supplement a friend told you about? What time is right for spay or neuter?
During your pet’s wellness visit, you are an audience of 1 with your vet. Take advantage of it.
Wellness Translates Into Longevity
Statistics don’t lie. Our pets are living longer, healthier, happier lives because of more thorough wellness programs.
With every generation comes more emphasis on proactive health choices and preventative medicine. This accent on the positive has happily trickled down to how we view our pets’ health. Millennials as a group, for example, have a better understanding of preventative care — and hence the importance of the wellness visit — than some of my older clients.
Gone are the days, for the most part, when people ask to come in “just for vaccines.” While vaccines are an important part of prevention, people now appreciate that spending time with their vet in wellness visits will keep Fifi the Younger and Fido the Elder healthier and give them an advantage when they become ill.
Baseline Health Status
You know your pet better than anyone and can tell a lot by the look in their eyes, the way they walk, etc. But subtle changes in a pet’s health status can go unnoticed. Bringing your pet to the vet when they are feeling “good” or “normal” establishes a baseline for your pet.
What goes into this baseline? Everything. From weight to body condition score to the grade of a heart murmur to the condition of your pet’s coat to the amount of tartar on the teeth, I write down everything important and I also document changes from the previous year.
When you bring your pet in for a sick visit, the first thing I do is look at the medical record. I go back to the baseline to see what things looked like when they were feeling good or “normal.” It helps me determine how much things have changed and in what period of time.
Miranda’s Baseline: A Key to Diagnosis
Take my patient Miranda, who had been vomiting for a week. Aside from the vomiting, Miranda’s mom thought everything has been going fine. Miranda was doing pretty well for a 14-year-old cat.
Before looking at Miranda, I went back to her chart. Blessed to be her vet for all 14 years of Miranda’s precious life, I saw that her weight has been very stable. Throughout her adult life, and even into her early geriatric years, Miranda had weighed between 9 and 9.5 pounds.
But Miranda weighed 7.9 pounds today and her wellness exam was only 3 months ago, when she weighed 9.3. This is significant weight loss — her person was not aware of it, and it suggests the vomiting is now a symptom of something more sinister than simple indigestion.
I paged through some other entries in Miranda’s chart. In 2015, Miranda’s human told me she thought the kitty was sleeping more. We ran some blood work at that time, and it was normal. I asked if Miranda seemed to be sleeping even more now and if she were lethargic.
“Oh, no,” said the client. “When did I say she was sleeping more? If anything, she’s acting kind of kittenish. But throwing up.”
“Is the vomiting taking away her appetite?” I asked.
“No, she’s eating like a little piglet,” she said.
Again, I leafed through the chart and saw that our little Miranda had actually been described as “finicky” at times, something that Miranda’s human had forgotten. The changes in the kitty’s baseline behavior, eating habits and weight loss led me to a not-so-difficult preliminary diagnosis of hyperthyroidism.
Cutting to the chase and running the correct blood work and thyroid levels got Miranda a diagnosis in record time. At first, the client thought Miranda’s vomiting was mild and she was not too keen on paying for the blood work, but the changes in the cat’s baseline prompted me to urge the client to do the workup. She was happy she did because Miranda is on thyroid medication, eating normally, not vomiting anymore and weighing in at a lovely, healthy 9 pounds.
October Equals Optimism
Fall is such a gorgeous time of year, particularly where I am in New England. But fairy-tale foliage and frost out on the pumpkin means one thing for us Northerners: Winter is coming.
There’s no time like the present to get your pet that wellness check, particularly if you’ve let it slide. Young pets need regular checkups, and the geriatric pet should often be seen twice a year.
Happy change of seasons to you all, and happy checkups for all the seasons of your pets’ lives.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Oct. 11, 2017.