Preventive Healthcare and Wellness for Pets

by Bruce W. Little, DVM



“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment”! Most of you have heard that old adage many times for a broad number of different situations. It holds true in most cases to which it is applied, but for your pets it is an extremely beneficial business proposition. Simply, it costs much less to diagnose an impending disease, condition or behavioral pattern than the cost of attempting to treat a malady that could have been prevented in the first place. It just makes sense!

On the heels of a comprehensive pet owner study conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital about a decade ago, it was determined that even though the number of pets in the United States were increasing, the number of visits to animal hospitals for veterinary care were on the decrease while preventable, treatable diseases and conditions were rapidly rising. The study concluded that 24% of pet owners feel routine checkups are unnecessary and 33% say they will only take their pets to an animal hospital when it is sick or has an identifiable condition. These are misguided habits by these pet owners. Pet ownership is more than a privilege, it is a responsibility! And, people are admonished to take the initiative to develop healthy habits and routines that enhance their pets’ lives.

In 2011, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) a not-for-profit foundation that operates as an extension of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) joined forces with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and approximately 75 other pet related organizations to create an oversight group named Partners for Healthy Pets (PHP). The mission for PHP is to ensure that pets receive the preventive healthcare they deserve through regular visits to a veterinarian. Experts agree that the decrease in regular visits can lead to an increase in preventable and treatable illnesses in dogs and cats. This includes diabetes, obesity, dental disease, and dermatitis, as well as parasite infestations. Partners for Healthy Pets was created as a result of an extremely telling study done by Bayer Animal Health, the animal pharmaceutical arm of the Bayer Aspirin Company, that confirmed the findings of the Banfield Study by identifying the increasing prevalence of specific diseases and the overall declining health state of our nation’s pets.

The value in scheduling an annual health check for your dog or cat with a veterinarian is so he or she can recognize these potential health issues early on and put a plan in place to overcome, or at least mitigate, the effects of the looming problem. Veterinarians will conduct a thorough examination of all critical parts of your pet’s body using highly technical and sophisticated equipment and techniques. Following is a list of the body systems that a veterinarian will check on a routine physical examination:



+ Mouth - Signs of periodontal disease, broken teeth, abscesses and oral tumors + Eyes - Signs of disease, discharge, tearing of the cornea, conjunctivitis or abnormal movement + Ears - Signs of infection, ear mites, scratching, redness or discharge + Lymph Nodes – Palpate to note any changes in size or irregularities + Heart – Check heart rate to see if it is too fast or too slow, leaky valves, irregular beats + Abdomen – Check for masses, tumors, optimal weight for the breed, palpate abdominal organs + Lungs – Check lung sounds, wheezing or crackling sounds + Base of Tail – Anal glands, abscesses, fecal mats, parasites such as tape worms and flea dirt + Legs – Range of motion in all limbs, grinding sounds in joints, any signs of pain or discomfort + Skin, Coat and Nails – Areas of hair loss or scaling, rashes, lumps and bumps, matted or saliva-stained + Fur, fleas, ticks, callouses, overgrown or ingrown toe nails and dehydration + Temperament – Does dog exhibit anxiety or aggressiveness, do cats have a tendency to hide or cower



All of these areas can deliver important information to the veterinarian and staff with regard to impending disease or health conditions. We owe it to our four-legged family members to get an annual checkup to determine if any conditions exist that may be detrimental to our pet’s health, and take remedial actions to overcome those concerns. All dogs and cats should have a veterinary examination at least annually. It may be appropriate for your pet to see a veterinarian more frequently than once per year. The need for scheduling veterinary visits should be made based on the individual needs of that specific pet, and can be determined by a veterinarian.

The AVMA and AAHA have joined forces to produce both Canine and Feline Preventive Healthcare Guidelines. These guidelines suggest that the animal hospital staff should collect appropriate history of the individual animal including its lifestyle, behavior, medical conditions, parasite prevention and control, dental care, genetic, breed and age considerations. Assessment and evaluation of those conditions that may be present should be communicated concisely to the pet owners and a customized plan should be presented for managing the issues discovered in the examination. This plan should include, but not be limited to, heartworm testing and preventive medications prescribed on an annual basis. It has been proven that mosquitos can survive even the coldest of winters if they remain inside in an environmentally controlled climate. Internal and external parasites, such as intestinal worms of all varieties and fleas and ticks should be controlled, both on the pet and in the household and surrounding areas. Zoonotic diseases, meaning those diseases that are transmitted from animals to man, such as Lyme disease and West Nile Virus should be evaluated in both the pet and the family if you live in an area of the country where those diseases are prevalent. Every dog and cat should have or receive immunizations with core vaccines in accordance with existing guidelines for that area of the country. And there is more that you can learn from your individual veterinarian to help protect your pet and your family.

I suspect by now, you are wondering how in the world you are going to pay for this care that is needed for the family pet. Yes, veterinary services are on the rise over the past decade or so. However, the costs associated with attending veterinary college for four years after completing a 2-4 year pre-veterinary curriculum is expensive and continues to rise. Highly technical equipment and diagnostic equipment are ever increasing in price. However, you should talk with your veterinarian about the options you may have for paying for this preventive service. Many animal hospitals have payment plans for long-term clients who have exhibited compliance in previous transactions. There are other credit services like Visa and Master Charge that most animal hospitals recognize and honor. Companies such as Care Credit may offer veterinary financing with no interest if paid in full at a designated time period for those who qualify. Many animal hospitals offer Wellness Plans which are not technically pet health insurance, but resemble insurance in that a fee is paid up front on an annual or monthly basis, and the pet can visit the hospital for certain procedures that are designated in the Agreement without further charges.

Personally, I prefer utilizing one of the dozen or more pet health insurance companies that have started writing health insurance policies over the past ten years or so. Most policies will pay for preventive healthcare examinations. As an example, the annual cost for heartworm preventive testing and medications averages approximately $120 per year for a 40 pound dog. However, to treat heartworm infestations including hospitalization, medications, veterinary fees, post-treatment prevention, laboratory tests and x-rays can cost up to $2,000. Therefore, the pet insurance companies are pleased and will pay according to the policy language for their policyholders to have annual physical examinations.

No one knows your pet as well as you do, but veterinarians are trained to detect diseases before they become costly issues for both you and your pet. Make it a habit to schedule an annual checkup for your pet every year. There is no better gift you can give to your pet than a long, healthy life and annual checkups are an easy way to ensure your pet is receiving preventive care on a regular basis. It will be less expensive for you, and it will be better for your pet.



Partners for Healthy Pets http://www.partnersforhealthpets.org American Veterinary Medical Association http://www.avma.org American Animal Hospital Association http://www.aaha.org

Bruce W. Little, DVM