As part of our comprehensive wellness examination, we veterinarians spend a great deal of time asking and answering questions to best understand as much as we can about your dog. We ask questions about all aspects of how the animal is cared for, as well as questions relating to behavior, the relationship in the family, etc. We also routinely answer a myriad of questions from the pet owners, and I do believe that there is no such thing as a bad question — just those that go unasked.
The next time you take your dog to the vet, come prepared with these six questions. Usually one question leads to another, so we encourage our clients to come with questions in order to make the most of their time with us.
1. “How often should I bring in my pet for wellness visits?”
Dogs do age faster than people. Therefore, to properly evaluate them as they mature, we recommend wellness exams twice per year. During a wellness visit, your dog will be examined physically, which includes listening to his heart and lungs, physically evaluating him via palpation, and examining his eyes, ears and teeth. This may also include the administration of any vaccinations that may be needed.
Two times per year may sound like more than you are used to, but considering that dogs age faster, it is like you going to your physician every three to four years. Significant changes can occur during over that period of time, and that is why we recommend twice-a-year wellness exams.
2. “Should I give my pet once-a-month parasite protection medication, and why?”
We have found that no matter where you live, preventative medications that protect your pet from parasites are essential. Parasites, such as heartworm, can infect both dogs and cats (though primarily dogs), and cause health issues, including lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs. Other parasites, such as nematode worms, commonly infect dogs, but can also infect people. Children are more vulnerable since they can come into contact with soil in playgrounds or sandboxes that are contaminated with infected dog or cat feces. If the contaminated soil is ingested, which can easily happen when your kids play in a sandbox and then puts their hands in their mouth before washing them, the nematode larvae can cause serious problems, including blindness.
By making sure your pet is on parasite medication, you are helping to reduce the presence of parasites in the environment — which ultimately will not only protect your dog or cat from disease, but also other dogs and cats, as well as your family and friends.
3. “Do you think the weight of my pet is OK and healthy? If not, why and what should I do?”
It is very important to monitor your pet’s weight, and we weigh every pet when they come into our clinic. We also spend time discussing the pet’s weight as it is related to his body condition score (BCS). The BCS is an evaluation of the pet’s weight in relationship to his body type. We score it from 1 to 9 with 5 being ideal and anything above being heavy and anything below being light.
Though we all love to show affection to our pets by giving them treats, those extra calories can really add up, especially if the pet is not getting appropriate exercise. There are times when it may not be obvious to you that your pet is overweight — and that is one reason why we always measure the weight and discuss BCS.
If you do not have a scale at home, you can palpate your dog to monitor his BCS. Ideally, you should be able to feel his backbone and ribs. If you cannot feel his ribs without pressing deeply into the skin, your dog is carrying around excess fat. That extra weight will put additional pressure on joints and may increase the risk of liver problems and possibly diabetes.
If your dog is overweight and already has arthritis, the most effective way to control that is through weight loss. We also have various nutritional supplements that will help with the inflammation due to the arthritis and make any suggested exercise easier. We also make healthy eating recommendations, including serving smaller portion sizes, stopping all people food, and increasing the amount of exercise your pet gets to help your pooch trim down.
4. “Is it important to care for my pet’s teeth? If so, why? And how do I do it?”
Proper dental care is important because it will hopefully help your pet stay one step ahead of dental problems and save you and them from even more significant health issues in the future.
People often joke about “dog breath,” and though a dog’s breath is normally not the best, significant halitosis is a sign that your pet’s gums and teeth need attention. Your vet should be able to discuss and demonstrate routine dental care that you can do at home using brushing and rinses. However, in our busy lives, it may be difficult to remember to regularly take care of your dog’s teeth, so a proper dental cleaning at the clinic may be required.
As in people, regular professional dental cleanings are important to maintain your pet’s health. These cleanings remove plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth to prevent periodontal disease.
5. “What is the importance of vaccinating my pet, and is it required?”
I am aware of the controversy concerning whether or not children should get vaccines. Because of this, some pet owners also question whether their dogs need to receive vaccines. But just like in humans, we are fortunate to have vaccines, as they provide immunization against many diseases. The immune systems of dogs and cats responds differently than ours, and not vaccinating dogs has and will lead to significant canine health problems.
In many cities, rabies vaccination is required by law. We also recommend several other vaccines on a routine basis. By vaccinating and thus protecting dogs from disease, you help control the spread of the disease to other dogs. So what is good for the individual pup is also benefiting the overall dog population.
6. “Is there one best food to feed my dog? If not, what should I look for when selecting a particular brand?”
I have a strong interest in nutrition and here, too, we spend a great deal of time discussing nutrition and what is best for the individual patient.
Providing your dog a quality diet will promote a healthy life. Your veterinarian may make specific food recommendations, but it’s not always easy to match dogs with specific diets due to availability.
When shopping for pet food, we do not recommend purchasing food just because of its packaging. It is very important, as with our own food, to look at the ingredients. Ideally, we like there to be real ingredients — chicken, beef, fish — that you can easily identify, and avoid any animal by-products, preservatives and additives. (Click here for more advice on what to feed your dog).
Once a dog is on a particular food, we recommend owners pay close attention to how their pet reacts after eating the food, such as whether or not there is diarrhea or itchy skin, which can be a sign of a food allergy.
Proper nutrition is one key to maintaining ideal health in our patients, and we feel it is very important to make sure that our clients have a good understanding of what is involved.