A question frequently asked by animal guardians is how often/when a pet should see the veterinarian. Most puppies and kittens are usually first examined somewhere between ages 6 and 8 weeks for a wellness exam and stool check for intestinal parasites. During this wellness exam pets are closely evaluated for genetic abnormalities including cleft palates, hernias, patella (knee cap) luxations, early hip issues (especially in large breed dogs), swelling on the brain (known as hydrocephalus), as well as whether the testes have descended appropriately into the scrotum of young male dogs and cats. Veterinarians will often worm young animals at this first veterinary evaluation.
An individualized vaccination plan should be discussed at this time, taking into account the actual risk and severity of certain viral infections in pets this age. Typically, vaccinations are given every 3 weeks until 14 to 16 weeks old, after which time a rabies vaccination is usually administered, as legally required by most states. Pets are then typically seen anywhere between 6 to 12 months of age, which is the most common time that surgical neutering or spaying is performed. I usually recommend yearly wellness exams to dogs and cats through mid age, where all of the body systems are examined and evaluated for signs of early chronic disease.
Vaccination schedules will vary depending upon the lifestyle of the pet and risk of infection. Most common viral vaccinations impart immunity to pets for many years, if not the life of the pet. Rabies is typically given every 3 years to adult dogs and cats. As pets pass middle age, I usually recommend twice yearly medical evaluations and/or blood work, including heartworm testing and/or organ function blood testing. During the middle years is when dental and gum disease readily appears in many pets.
Symptoms that would warrant an immediate veterinary visit include significant increases in thirst/urination, chronic changes in appetite or weight, sudden drop in energy, severe vomiting or diarrhea, excessive coughing or difficulty breathing, as well as difficulty or bloody urination. If severe drooling, mouth odor, or difficulty eating develop, pets should be checked for dental disease. Pets should also have an immediate exam if their gums are excessively dry or pale.