Some owners question why we need to have regular health checks for our pets, when we so rarely go to the doctor for regular health checks ourselves unless we have a chronic condition. The main reason is that pets cannot tell us when something is wrong! Many diseases occur as animals age, and keeping a regular check on their health and welfare with your vet can often flag up changes which, as owners, we may not notice, as the change has been gradual and unnoticed on a day-by-day basis. The other reason is for preventative health-care; treatment for fleas and mites (ectoparasites), parasites which live inside the body (endoparasites) and vaccines are all essential for our pets’ well-beings – prevention is better than cure! Other issues such as dental health and weight are often overlooked when we live such busy lives, so a health check can help with these, too!

A health check will entail your vet taking a history; they will ask you how your pet has been, and whether you have noticed any changes in behaviour – this can be anything from sleeping, drinking and eating more, to being less playful or fighting with other pets. They will ask you some specific health questions, such as whether they have been eating normally, and whether their poo/urine has been normal, and whether they have gained or lost weight. They will then commence a “nose-to-tail” examination, where they examine eyes, ears, teeth, coat and limbs, listen to the heart and lungs, and palpate the abdomen. They may take a temperature and check your dog’s anal glands. So, what are the things your vet is particularly on the lookout for?

 

Dogs

 

  • Ears; certain breeds are at high risk of ear infections (otitis); if your dog has floppy, hairy ears, they would benefit from regular checks of what’s happening down inside their ear canals!
  • Eyes; dogs can get many changes to their vision as they age, and active, young dogs who spend a lot of time exploring in the undergrowth are prone to injuries.
  • Teeth; just like us, dogs can develop calculus and tartar build up, and inflammation of their gums (gingivitis). Keeping on top of your dog’s dental hygiene with brushing is ideal, but when calculus has set in place, this will need removed by a vet under a general anaesthetic, complete with a scale and polish!
  • Coat; fleas and immune-mediated itching (atopy) are common in dogs. Regular, preventative health-care such as flea treatments are of course vital, but signs such as head-shaking and poor coat-condition can indicate your dog is suffering from itchy skin.
  • Anal glands; everyone’s least favourite topic, but an important one nonetheless! Being over-weight or having a low fibre diet predispose our four-legged friends to developing impacted anal glands. When anal gland secretions become impacted within the anal sacs, they will need to be expressed by the vet, as they can become uncomfortable, painful and even infected.
  • Weight; has Fido enjoyed a few too many turkey trimmings this Christmas? Obesity in dogs leads to long-term health issues due to increased stress of joints and the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Regular weigh-ins and discussions about diet are very important for the long-term health of your pet.
  • Vaccination history; leptospirosis, hepatitis (adenovirus), distemper, parainfluenza and parvo disease are commonly vaccinated against in this country, and for good reason too, as they are potentially fatal. For travel abroad, you will also need veterinary verification on your pet’s passport that he has been vaccinated for rabies.

 

Cats

 

  • Teeth; cats also develop dental disease, and dental checks are especially important when your cat is fed a wet food diet. Cats can also develop inflammatory lesions of the mouth (eosinophilic granulomas).
  • Thyroid gland; as cats get older, they become at greater risk of “hyperthyroidism”. Hyperthyroidism occurs when cats produce excess thyroid hormone; this causes problems with gastrointestinal motility, weight loss, hyperactivity and anxious behaviour, and increased eating and drinking. Checking whether your cat’s thyroid gland is enlarged (goitre), their general body condition, and (if necessary) blood tests are all important to keep on top of any developing issues with the thyroid.
  • Coat; like dogs, a cat’s fur can be an indication of their general health status. Cats who go outside and hunt are at high risk of flea infestations, and fleas can also carry tapeworms; keeping on top of preventative ectoparasite control is therefore very important!
  • Kidneys; older cats are prone to developing chronic kidney disease. This means that their kidneys function less and less efficiently as they age; this can result in weight-loss, increased drinking and urination and general lethargy. Your vet will also be able to assess if blood pressure is dangerously high, by checking their eyes; this is associated with chronic kidney disease in cats. Regular vet checks are important to notice these changes, and test Felix’s bloods when there is suspicion that his kidneys aren’t working optimally.
  • Weight; cats can lose weight when they have gastrointestinal issues, kidney disease and hyperthyroidism. Obesity in cats and diabetes is an increasing issue, too.
  • Vaccination history; feline rhinotracheitis, panleukopenia and calicivirus are recommended as “core” vaccines for cats, and some cats are at added risk of feline leukaemia too.

 

Rabbits

 

  • Teeth; rabbits’ teeth are constantly getting longer. They need very high fibre diets to continually grind down their teeth, or they are at risk of pain in their mouths, mouth ulcers on the cheeks, and abscesses. Rabbits need a nearly constant supply of food going through their gastrointestinal tracts, so when they stop eating because of pain and poor dentition in their mouths, this is bad news. Preventative health care and teeth trimming when needed will keep Thumper happy and healthy into old age!
  • Weight; like cats and dogs, our rabbits are at risk of obesity. This can put huge strain on their joints, and develop into arthritis.
  • Mammary tumours; sadly, intact does (females who haven’t been spayed) are at high risk of mammary tumours, as well as uterine tumours. Keeping a regular check on your rabbit will help your vet spot if this is becoming a problem.
  • Vaccination history; regular vaccines against rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease and myxomatosis are recommended for most rabbits. These diseases cause intense suffering and there is no cure if your rabbit contracts them.

 

We wish you and your pet a happy and healthy new year, and look forward to seeing you soon!