WHY DOES MY PET NEED A PHYSICAL EXAMINATION PRIOR TO VACCINATIONS?

We often think of bringing our pets to the veterinarian for their vaccines, or even “just their rabies vaccine”. Rabies vaccination is of utmost importance for pet and human health as well as legal compliance, of course there are other vaccines which are strongly recommended for dogs and cats to prevent serious illnesses.

Thankfully, the number of rabies cases in Ontario is low.  This is partly due to the wonderful job that veterinarians and pet owners have done, vaccinating their pets, and also due to previous wildlife vaccinations through baiting in forested areas.  Unfortunately, the number of other life threatening diseases are not as low in prevalence. Parvovirus, a disease of young and improperly vaccinated dogs, is highly contagious and seen throughout Windsor every year.  Parvovirus can cause a syndrome of vomiting and diarrhea which can lead to death if not properly treated. Another serious disease we see is Leptospirosis.  This is a bacteria found in standing water (like puddles) that is contaminated by wildlife urine (from such animals as squirrels, racoons, skunks, and rodents such as rats and mice).  This bacteria causes liver and kidney failure and is actually transmissible from dogs to people.

Before we vaccinate your pet, we perform a full physical examination of all of the body systems from the tip of the nose to the tail.  The initial part of the visit includes a thorough history and discussion with one of our Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVTs).  One of the most important parts of your pet’s visit is the physical examination which allows us to prevent certain issues before they become major problems.   Cats and dogs often do not show any signs of illness, pain or distress (dental pain, arthritis, bowel issues etc.,) and appear normal at home. For pet owners, it is difficult to recognize early warning changes when we see them every day.  We may not notice if our pets have gained or lost weight, or other subtle changes, like eating or walking slower, that can be an indication of a health concern. The physical exam, coupled with the detailed history are extremely important to the veterinarian in recognizing and diagnosing health issues early.  Our main focus is your pets health and quality of life!

There is a wide variety of information we collect and evaluate when assessing your pet’s health.  Here is a list of some of the components of your pets physical examination:

DENTAL HEALTH: Assessing their current dental condition during their appointment, discussing any changes at home including odour, how to recognize and identify signs of pain, changes in eating habits.
NUTRITION: What type of food, quality, how much, how often, whether supplements are given, do they get treats and table scraps, water consumption.
WEIGHT: Assessing their body condition and body fat percentage and discussing potential health complications (More than 70% of patients are overweight to some degree!)
EXERCISE: How much does your cat or dog receive, changes in their exercise habits and optimal types of exercise for your pet
EARS & EYES: Any changes noted at home (for example, bumping into items) and examining for any signs of infection, sores, ulcers.
ABDOMEN: Stomach and intestines- listening and feeling for changes to bowel movement, gas, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea
PAWS & LEGS: Limping, weakness, knees, broken nails, arthritic or allergy symptoms
COAT & SKIN: Any hair loss, lumps, itchiness, redness, mats, shedding, anal gland issues, odour, fleas, parasites
URINARY & GENITAL: Type of discharges, reproductive cycles, changes to mammary glands, urination habits such as frequency, difficulty, leaking or changes, spayed or neutered, testicle shape & form
BEHAVIOUR: Changes in their behaviour at home, peeing or pooping inappropriately, aggression, fear, anxiety, changes in temperament or behaviour towards family or strangers
BLOODWORK: Especially for geriatric patients, those with medical conditions or those receiving medication

During the physical exam, the veterinarian will discuss any concerns or findings and what they may mean for your pet. The veterinarian or RVT will discuss points such as diet, dental health, training tips and how to have the best relationship and ownership experience with your pet.  So while vaccinations are very important, an annual ongoing relationship between your pet and the veterinarian is very important for your pet’s health and future happiness.

MY CAT IS STRICTLY AN INDOOR CAT, DO I STILL NEED TO HAVE THEM VACCINATED?
The short answer is Yes.
As listed above, while vaccinations are extremely important to prevent illness, the physical examination is our main focus. For example, cats often will not show they are in distress and continue living their life as normal as possible.  An annual physical examination is important to help identify concerns or potential health complications before they become severe.  We vaccinate our cats for Rabies each year as required by law.  We vaccinate cats for FVRCP (upper respiratory viruses) for a variety of reasons; although your cat is indoors we frequently hear of patients going on unauthorized, unsupervised outdoor excursions and therefore want to keep them protected. We also have a wide variety of healthy and ill patients at our hospital on a regular basis and it is very important that your cat be protected if they need to come in for a procedure, grooming, boarding or are ill themselves.  Leukemia is a vaccine that we use for our ‘at risk’ patients.  Since feline leukemia is spread by sharing water sources outside, any of our patients who roam outdoors, even infrequently, or have ‘sibling’ cats that roam outdoors, should receive it to protect them in their travels.  Most of our kitten patients will have at least two sets of the leukemia vaccine to keep them protected if they do decide to make their way outdoors.

As you can see, a yearly physical examination is a very important factor in your pet’s health care.  Please contact the clinic for more information or to schedule an appointment.   519-969-7390

Leave a Reply