COL Regular health exams can protect your pets

By Dr. Greg McGrath

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Routine health maintenance examinations are a very important part of preserving our pets' health.

Dogs and cats live only one-fourth to one-sixth as long as humans, so changes in their health occur at a faster pace. Catching a problem while it's small is much better than waiting until it becomes severe.

Puppies and kittens reach a stage of maturity by six months of age that it takes a human about 12 years to achieve. Routine examinations during rapid growth look mainly for developmental problems. Childhood immunizations are spread out over several years in humans, but the puppy and kitten series of vaccinations are completed by four months of age. At each visit, the veterinarian will perform a physical examination to be sure the youngster is maturing properly.


Deciduous teeth (baby teeth) will fall out and permanent teeth come in between four and six months of age in our pets, whereas the process takes years in humans. It's fairly common for small-breed puppies to retain some of their deciduous teeth after they should have fallen out, which can cause permanent problems with the adult teeth. An examination at five to six months to check dental development is usually recommended for breeds that are suspect for this problem.

The annual examination for young adults can catch problems before they become severe, such as a buildup of plaque and tartar on teeth that can lead to periodontal disease if the teeth aren't cleaned soon enough. Excess body weight is another problem that is better dealt with sooner than later, during the young adult stage of life.

Once a dog or cat reaches middle age and beyond, wear and tear start to show up.

Heart conditions such as murmurs, eye diseases such as cataracts and tumors may be detected during a doctor's examination even before the owner recognizes a problem.

Weight management and dental care continue to be areas that are evaluated at every visit.

Some owners accept a slowdown in their aging pet's activity as "just growing older," but diseases such as osteoarthritis or hypothyroidism may be the cause.

The doctor can diagnose some aging diseases during the physical or may run laboratory tests to diagnose other conditions when suspicion is raised during consultations with the owner.

The ultimate goal of routinely scheduled health maintenance examinations is to keep pets healthy by giving vaccinations to prevent infectious diseases or catching problems early.

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