"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". We've all heard it. But is preventative pet care really worth it? With some vaccination protocols moving from yearly boosters to every three years, do you really need to bring Fluffy or Fido to the veterinarian every year?
Vaccinations Use to Drive Preventative Pet Care Visits to the Veterinarian
Once your dog or cat has completed the distemper combination series or upper respiratory vaccine series as a puppy or kitten, respectively, those vaccines need to be boostered one year later to continue to be effective. After that one year booster, in most cases, these vaccines can protect out to three years. Other vaccinations, such as for kennel cough, Lyme disease, and feline leukemia, need to have at least yearly boosters to remain protective. So the first answer to the question about yearly visits can be found in your pet's lifestyle. Do they go to kennels or daycare? Are they ever exposed to ticks? Is your cat going outside? A "yes" would mean yearly vaccinations might be very important to keep your pet safe. Even if you do not vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease, yearly testing for exposure to this and other potentially deadly tick borne illnesses might be important.
Parasites, the Creepy Crawly Critters, and Worms of All Sorts
Unfortunately, many parasites do not respect the divide between indoors and outdoors! Mosquitoes carry Heartworm disease, which can infect dogs (and to a lesser degree cats). Mosquitoes can readily enter your home. Some of the dogs we have treated for heartworm disease over the years were "leash walked on the sidewalk only" or "were supposed to be given the monthly heartworm preventative by the teenage son". For real! Yearly or at least every other year testing of dogs for this disease can save lives. Heartworm disease is fairly common in our area and best treated in the very early stages.
Intestinal parasites (a.k.a. "worms") can be picked up by eating a flea when grooming, walking on soil or eating grass previously contaminated by the feces of another animal, or ingesting that mouse that sneaked into the house over the winter. Fleas really could care less about your screen door. Some of the worst flea infestations we have seen are in "indoor only" cats!
Like ticks, fleas also carry a variety of other diseases. Some of these can be severely debilitating and even fatal. At the very least, their bites can be very irritating and cause skin problems and allergic reaction in some pets.
Your veterinarian is your best source of information about parasite prevention and control. We can dispense appropriate and effective treatments.
How Good of a Diagnostician Are You, Anyway?
Okay, I will admit it. I thought with my veterinary medical training I would recognize most signs of illness in my daughter when she was growing up. But I made mistakes on more than one occasion. I guess she is lucky she survived my diagnostic failures in human medicine. One incident was reading her temperature at 101 and thinking she was normal (that is normal for a dog or cat) for a full day, until I remembered humans were supposed to be 98.6. Another, more serious incident, was delaying taking her to the doctor for 2 days when I did not recognize her atypical signs of Scarlet fever, a potentially serious Strep infection. YIKES!
Dogs and cats are not small humans. While they do share some diseases with us, many illnesses are very unique to them. Our pets show the signs of illness differently than us. They cannot talk. Our pets are also genetically programmed to hide their illnesses to avoid being "prey". Certainly, we want you to recognize when you have an emergency with your pet. On our website, we have provided pet care pages with a list of common dog and cat emergencies to help you out.
But pets are often terrific at hiding very significant illnesses. A cat may be very active, eating well, but perhaps lost 1/2 lb of weight. That could be hyperthyroidism, a condition that can cause heart damage and serious metabolic derangements. You may think your dog is drinking more because it is summer. But it might have Cushing's syndrome or Diabetes. A cough might not be kennel cough, even though you just returned from your vacation to Disney World while Fido spent the time at the kennel. It might be heart disease, lungworm, pneumonia, or even the "C" word, cancer.
Benefits of Preventative Pet Care in a Nutshell
Our pets' life spans are condensed compared to ours. Because of this, mistakes in healthcare decisions may be less forgiving. A wait and see policy may result in more serious trouble more quickly. Yearly or even twice yearly check ups and screening diagnostics can very often find treatable and manageable problems before they spiral out of control. We love our pets and want to keep them with us, happy and healthy for as long as we can. As pet owners, we make the decisions for our pets' healthcare. Hopefully we are making the correct ones.
Oh, and both I and my daughter see our personal health care providers at least yearly!