By Gary A. Borgman, DVM
In recent articles in the Osceola Woman I have written about choosing a pet, puppy and kitten nutrition, and disease prevention for puppies and kittens. Now, I will shift the discussion to the Annual Physical Examination visit. This is when we get to see how they “turn out” at 12-16 months of age. At this time, we get to perform a thorough physical examination, check for internal and external parasites, review diet and behavior issues, and update vaccinations as needed, for continued protection against contagious diseases.
Maintaining ongoing immunity to diseases is very important, but I consider the pet owners observations and concerns a vital part of the annual visit. I encourage owners to write things down, keep a written record of pet issues or maybe just write it on a calendar or smart phone. I love pictures of behaviors, skin issues, and maybe a picture of the current food container.
After listening to and reviewing owner input I like to go to the actual physical examination process. This will take several minutes and I like to comment upon my findings as they occur. We utilize a 24 point “check list” for annual examinations. Some very important observations of the head include the nose, eyes, ears, and of course the teeth, gums, and the color of mucous membranes. We will assign a dental health score of 0 to 4, and we will assign a body condition score of 1-9, where 5 is ideal and 6 is the beginning of concern to adjust the caloric intake. Next comes out the stethoscope to assess the heart and lungs. Palpation of the abdomen is important and checking lymph nodes is part of the process. I will not elaborate on anal sacs or lameness evaluations, but these are part of the process. I will elaborate however a bit about the skin. Itching, dandruff, hair loss, and skin infections are very common and will be evaluated at the annual physical examination. Common conditions we encounter include flea allergy dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, and secondary bacterial and yeast infections. Mange is usually a disease of young dogs but can occur at any age, so we always keep that in mind.
There are several “core vaccines” for dogs and cats which all pets should receive, and there are additional vaccines which are administered after a review of risk factors for individual animals. Rabies vaccine, usually first given at 4 months of age, must be boosted in one year at 16 months of age and is then good for three years for dogs and one year for cats. Our vaccine protocol for dogs is to boost Distemper-Adeno-Parvo every three years, Lepto every year, and Bordetella every year, on a need basis. This means that an indoor dog who never goes to the groomer, dog parks, or a kennel is at low risk for kennel cough and the Bordatella vaccine is optional. We vaccinate some dogs traveling out of the state for Lyme disease, and of course encourage effective tick infestation prevention products. Cats will be boosted for Panluekopenia and upper respiratory viruses at the first annual visit and we will discuss the advisability of continuing with Feline Leukemia Virus vaccine, depending upon individual risk factors.
This visit is also the time to review external and internal parasite control products. There are many effective products available to prevent heartworms, intestinal parasites, and fleas and ticks. Unfortunately there are some over the counter products which are not very effective. More about these issues in a future article.
The blood test for canine heartworm disease will include an age appropriate mini health profile to evaluate blood glucose and liver and kidney health. As animals age, we will be doing more tests for total health evaluation.
The veterinarians and staff of Kissimmee Animal Hospital (Tel 407-846-3912) and Poinciana Pet Clinic (Tel 407-518-0880) are available to answer your questions about annual physical examinations or any other pet health concerns. We are here to help and to serve.