Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Yearly Physicals Good for Pets

Pet Column for the week of April 3, 2000

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Sarah Probst
Information Specialist

It's true. Dogs age at approximately seven times the rate humans do. So it's not surprising that Fido should have a physical examination at least every seven "dog years"--that's every year in human terms. And as your pet gets middle-aged--that's over six in people years or over 40 in dog years--physicals are recommended twice a year.

"Not only do dogs get older faster than people do, but their diseases progress more quickly, too," says Dr. Kent Davis, community practice veterinarian formerly at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital in Urbana.

A once-a-year physical gives your veterinarian a chance to sit down and chat with your pet about what's changing in his life. More importantly, yearly physicals let your pet's doctor establish what is normal in Sparky, so he or she will know when something is abnormal.

A yearly physical is good preventive medicine. "Finding and treating diseases in the early stages gives your pet a much better prognosis than discovering a disease already in full swing," says Dr. Davis. Your veterinarian may notice changes in your pet that you haven't noticed.

During the physical examination, your veterinarian will look for systemic abnormalities. "When I give a physical exam," says Dr. Davis, "I move from the front to the back, starting with the eyes, ears, nose, and throat and moving to the lungs, heart, and gastrointestinal tract. I always check for new lumps or bumps as I move along."

Heartworm tests should also be done at the time of the annual physical. Heartworm is a serious disease, common everywhere mosquitoes live. The physical exam is a good time to keep up to date on vaccines. Dr. Davis also suggests checking whether your pet has worms or other parasites once a year. A simple fecal test can determine whether your de-worming protocol is working.

Between annual examinations, be on the lookout for signs that Sparky is having trouble: not eating, changes in weight, vomiting, coughing, sneezing, elimination problems, or other changes in behavior. Any of these may indicate the need for an extra visit to your veterinarian.