What’s the Deal with Preventive Care?

By Margot K. Vahrenwald, DVM, AVJ

One of the areas where pet owners and veterinarians sometimes struggle is preventive care – and, with that, frequency of examinations.  To an owner, an exam is an exam is an exam. To a veterinarian, there is a very marked difference in a preventive care exam versus seeing a patient for a minor or major illness. And, we also legally have to follow our licensure for the definition of a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship – per Colorado regulations, “the veterinarian should have sufficient knowledge of the animal to understand its current health and render at least a preliminary diagnosis. This would require that the veterinarian is personally acquainted with the animal through office visits.”

As veterinarians, we have a very limited window of time in the exam room to extract information about our non-speaking patient from an often slightly stressed owner, process that information along with the results of our hands-on exam while formulating a diagnostic plan and getting those diagnostics done and evaluated and then coming up with and fulfilling a treatment plan – usually about 15 to, if really lucky, 25 minutes. And, still trying to get you out the door to deal with the rest of your undoubtedly busy life demands in a reasonable amount of time.

When focusing on a specific problem, major or minor, we don’t have time to cover a long list of preventive care needs – we’re looking at how to best address the problem or problems being presented that appointment. We’re consulting on the ill pet in front of us – and while we tend to be wholistic in our view of examining the patient from nose to tail, our focus is on the specific issue/s of that day.

A preventive care examination is meant to concentrate on a pet’s age, life stage, health risks due to age/breed/lifestyle, seasonal risks, nutrition, parasite risks/prevention, oral health and behavior – and whatever else the owner brings up as valuable questions or concerns. From that preventive care evaluation, we tailor vaccinations, diagnostic screenings, treatment, weight loss plans and more to your individual pet – also in that same 15 to 25 minute time span of the doctor time of your scheduled appointment. Whew – tired yet?

Remember, your cat or dog is aging physiologically the equivalent of one year of human time every three – yes, three – months. And, preventive care means that we can talk about the changes of needs of your pet at various points of age – going from a teenager to a young adult, going from the equivalent of a 45 year old human to a 55 year old (things change in middle age!).

The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” really is part of the preventive care paradigm.  If we can prevent a problem from arising or identify and manage a chronic health issue early, we are not only able to save the pet owner financially, but we also can support our veterinary goal of increasing the quality and quantity of your pet’s life.

The recommended guidelines for preventive care based on age/life stage are:

  • Puppies and Kittens – need to be evaluated by their veterinarian at least twice during their initial vaccinations and care.
  • Adult dogs under age seven and cats under age eight – need to have a preventive care exam at least annually.
  • Senior dogs age seven and older and senior cats age eight and older – should be seen by their veterinarian for preventive care at least twice yearly.

I can see you thinking, particularly for a senior pet, this could get pricey. Pets do come with a healthcare price tag, but regular preventive care exams actually could save you financially by preventing bigger, more expensive problems.  Your veterinarian can help you plan out preventive care to provide a win-win for you and your pet health-wise and financially.

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