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COL Take pets to vet twice a year

By Dr. Marty Becker

Knight Ridder Newspapers

It used to be that we just took our pets to the veterinarian for their annual vaccinations or "shots." We got the reminder card in the mail and obediently made an appointment for Fido or Fluffy to see the vet.

We veterinarians have compelling reasons to see pets more often than once a year. In fact, pets need to be seen by veterinarians at least once a year as adults and more frequently than that as puppies, kittens and as senior pets (in general, after the age of five for large dog breeds and age seven for smaller dog breeds and cats).

Here's why one traditional vet visit per year is not enough.

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Pets age faster than people: Using the commonly accepted seven human years for every pet year, a pet's aging process is very accelerated. Then, drawing a human health parallel, can you imagine seeing your MD this year and then having them schedule your next visit for the year for 2011? "When it comes to our pet's health, so much can change within a short time frame," says Dr. Link Welborn, president of the American Animal Hospital Association. "The regular physical exam is the most important factor to ensuring the long-term health of our pets."

Pets hide illnesses: By nature, the sick and weak are preyed upon, so animals instinctively hide their illnesses. Many times caring pet owners bring their pet in because it didn't want to eat breakfast this morning only to find out that their pet is in serious condition. Sadly, they might find that the disease was treatable in the early stages but is now so advanced there may be too much damage done to save them.

Pets can't talk: Although recent surveys show that 99 percent of us talk to our pets like they're human, our pets can't verbally communicate in human language "where it hurts" or that they "just don't feel right." Only veterinarians are trained to look past obvious signs to potential problems and catch them in the period of grace before serious and/or irreversible damage has been done.

Veterinarians are "it": Whereas humans have many people on their health care team who might notice a potential medical problem developing (doctors, dentists, optometrists, chiropractors, psychologists, etc.), for the four-legged family member the veterinarian wears every health care hat. As a team of one, the veterinarian, surrounded by a talented supporting staff, must do it all.

By increasing the frequency, length and effectiveness of our two legged and four legged partners' yearly visits to the vet, everyone wins.

The pet gets a higher level of preventive health care and receives the latest high-tech health drugs and treatments; dietary changes can be implemented as needed by the veterinarian to benefit at-risk pets and ill pets (nutrition is the single biggest factor in overall health and longevity); comprehensive examinations, professional consultations and laboratory testing catch problems early on before they cause unnecessary pain, expense or worse; behavior problems can be nipped in the bud; and your veterinarian can continually update your unique pet's personalized pet health protocol that gives it the best chance of a happy, healthy, full life.

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