Dog Wellness Exams - How Dog Wellness Exams Contribute to Good Health

What is involved in a dog wellness exam?

A wellness exam is a complete physical exam, so we're looking at everything. We're looking at the eyes, the ears, the teeth. We're looking at the body condition and weight, feeling the belly and checking the joints. So it's looking at everything to get a good general idea of the dog's wellness.

Dr. Kristin Christy
Animal Hospital of Statesville

How does dog wellness impact the longevity of my pet, and why is early detection so important?

It's the same as in people, as we're always saying hindsight is 20/20. Prevention is better than chasing down things after you find issues later. And that's the same in animals. Many diseases can occur, and many things can go wrong, and it nearly always turns out better when these problems are caught early.

For instance, it's far better to prevent heartworm disease than to discover your dog has it when they're dying from it. And when it comes to things like finding a heart murmur on a puppy, there might be surgeries that you can do. Some treatments could happen earlier rather than having a dog going into full-fledged heart failure. Catching cancer early is far better than catching it in its end stages. You might be able to do some treatments on that and remove a lump when it's small versus when it's giant. And then you can't do anything about it. There are many reasons why wellness is better.

How early or how soon should a person bring their pet in for a wellness exam?

As soon as possible. In some cases, that may be the same day or even within a few hours of getting the pet, as you may need to have some things checked before they go around your other pets. It's probably okay to do it within the first few days of getting the pet in most cases. And then, after that, you'll want to bring them in yearly, or every six months, or depending on the dog's condition. There's an annual exam, and then what we call a semi exam in the middle of the year—so there should be two complete physicals every year for wellness.

Will additional testing be needed beyond a wellness exam, and what are those tests?

With basic wellness tests, we're going to recommend things like heartworm testing and fecal checks. In older dogs, we're going to recommend more extensive stuff, including a urinalysis. There's going to be some baseline blood work we're going to want to know for wellness. Additional tests will depend on what we find—such as if we felt a lump we need to check, or something abnormal felt in the belly, and we need to do x-rays, or we heard a heart murmur.

How do you assess a dog's wellness?

I'm looking for normal things, and what may be normal for you or me may be different for somebody else. So partly what we're looking for is what's their baseline, what's normal for them, what's expected for them. We know certain things should be happening, so we're looking for growth on a puppy, and then we're looking for things that we can compare to later. Because there's a lot of situations where we get some blood work, it's a bit abnormal. We don't know if we should be worried about it, but if we had blood work since they were young, we could say, "Well, that's this dog's normal." In other words, it's something we don't need to worry about and not spend a lot of time on.

What are some wellness recommendations that you might make to a pet parent?

There are certain vaccines that we consider core for wellness. There are also some non-core vaccines that we may recommend, depending on lifestyle. We're going to recommend heartworm prevention and other parasite control. There are many diseases you can get from fleas, ticks, and heartworms. Weight recommendations will be significant, as making sure that your animal's at a proper weight and good body score is essential.

Dental health is also essential, especially for our pets, as they're not brushing their teeth twice a day, and they're not flossing. Hopefully, we can do some home dental care, but there is much more that we have to consider for them.

And then, of course, we will discuss things like how to monitor for changes or problems in your dog. How do you know when something's going wrong?

What are some possible environmental factors that can affect how healthy my dog is?

Many things in the environment can affect your dog. One of these environmental factors is overcrowding, depending on how many pets you have, how they're housed, where the pets are, cleanliness, and more. Are they soiling themselves? Whether your dog is kept indoors or outdoors is a significant factor too. We'll also want to discuss the safety of things in the house, outside of the house, and whether they can get into toxins, foreign bodies, etc.

We can also kill our dogs with kindness, so our food and weight control are topics we need to cover.

What is geriatric dog screening?

There are many diseases that geriatric dogs can get that would be different from younger dogs or more common in older dogs than younger dogs. We do more considerable amounts of blood panels. We do urine testing that catches some things. We might check blood pressure. Various diseases can cause hypertension. We also check tear testing on them. Many small breed dogs especially can start to get dry eyes. So those things are all considered wellness because they're prevalent in older dogs.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Dog Wellness Exams - FAQs

Dr. Kristin Christy
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What does a pet parent need to bring to their pet's wellness exam? What do you need to know?

Of course, in COVID times, not everyone can come, so you want to send the most knowledgeable person about the pet's health and wellness. That person should have questions and know what they want to talk about. Of course, bring your pet. There are times we do consultations without a pet, but that's not usually as useful for a wellness visit. Bring a list of exact medications and dosages, so we're not trying to remember what med did this or that. What kind of food do you feed your dog? You can take pictures on your phone if you need to show us the bag.

Are wellness exams for dogs optional?

The correct answer is yes; of course, they are. Everything's optional to some degree, but if you watched our last set and more of the questions coming up, my question to you would be, why would you want to skip them? There are so many things we can learn from wellness exams and preventative medicine. Wellness exams can be optional, but that's not our recommendation.

How long do dog wellness examinations usually take?

We schedule routine wellness exams for 30 minutes, and that's pretty typical. It certainly depends on your pet's situation—how in-depth you want to get with things, how many questions you have, what things you want to talk about, or how basic you want to be with things. Some other things may factor in, such as emergencies or other appointments running into yours, but typically 30 minutes is a pretty estimate for a young dog wellness exam. We schedule seniors for an hour. There's more testing to be done and many more things to talk about. That's usually the general rule of thumb for the timeframe for senior dogs.

Some wellness exams have to be done with the dog sedated. There are some scenarios where they may be admitted and stay with us for a little while to get a good quality exam on them, depending on the situation.

How do dog wellness exams influence subsequent treatments?

It's instrumental in having a baseline because everybody's different. Everybody falls in different places on the curve. Some people aren't as average as others, and it's the same with pets. When we have a baseline, we know what we can compare to during future visits if they're sick or well. We can make adjustments along the way, especially on things like weight checks. We know what's a good weight and where we stand, and what we're aiming for during follow-up visits. We can get an idea, for example, of how big a lump was so we know what we need to check next.

What can we do to provide our dogs with the best nutrition possible?

That's kind of a loaded question. There are many opinions about that, that's for sure. A general blanket statement would be not to be afraid of those trusted, reliable brands and companies, the ones that are out there making food. That's their living, and they do the research, so they know what they're doing. There are very good balanced diets at this point, but you do want a balanced diet. You want to be careful with table foods. There are certain situations where you can make home-cooked foods, and they can be balanced and appropriate, and there may even be certain supplements we add to it. However, you don't want to give unhealthy foods or dangerous foods to them. Measuring the food and monitoring the body condition are also both essential.

How do I know if my puppy or my dog isn't feeling well or painful?

That can sometimes be difficult depending on the dog and how they show pain or show changes. Some of them are really good at masking pain. Some dogs are stoic, and then some are reactive to stuff. The biggest take-home would be to know what's different in your dog. You know your dog. You know what's normal. If something changes and it just doesn't feel right, it doesn't seem right; you need to check it out.

If they're limping, they're probably in pain. If they can't get comfortable, can't rest, they may have some discomfort or other issues. And changes in breathing and panting can indicate pain.

And then I guess some more subtle things. Some things you may not think about, weight loss or weight gain, could indicate a problem. Drinking, more peeing, more having accidents. Some people think that there might be a behavioral reason why they're having accidents in the house, but there could be a very medical reason or a problem going on too.

How can I keep my dog from being overweight?

That's tough, especially with those big eyes looking up at you, but you need to measure food. Measuring food, controlling portions, and feeding appropriate foods are critical actions. Everybody gives little snacks or what have you, but you want to know that you're controlling what they're getting for the most part, unless they're stealing stuff (counter surfers). Every dog's metabolism is different, so everyone needs to be on board regarding how many treats to give the dog, etc.

How important is regular exercise in the whole scheme of wellness?

Just the same in people, exercise is critical. However, many people think that exercise is the key to weight control and it really isn't. The portion control when feeding is more valuable for controlling weight, but exercise is essential for heart health, brain health, stimulation, maintaining good muscle mass, and using those joints later down the road. Exercise is important, but not always the answer for weight issues.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.