Preventative Care in Dogs

By: Joanna Hughes, DVM

TVMA Member
San Antonio, TX

Published December 2014

Photo by Brian O'Neill

Preventative Care in Dogs: Just the Shots, Ma’am?

Preventative care visits to the veterinarian are vital to your dog’s good health. But why? Isn’t a yearly veterinary visit “just for shots”? Although immunizations are important, preventative care involves more than that. It is your veterinarian’s goal to help your pet lead the longest, healthiest life possible by preventing diseases and health problems before they begin. With preventative care visits, your veterinarian can also detect certain medical conditions as early as possible and develop a treatment plan. Let’s follow your beloved little Yorkie, Max, on a visit to his veterinarian to find out more about preventative care.

A Historic Event

Max’s visit usually starts with taking his medical history. This involves answering questions about Max’s overall well-being, such as what kind of medications and supplements he takes, what kind of food he eats, his exercise habits and whether or not you have noticed any physical or behavioral issues at home. Other questions may include whether you live in the city or country, whether your dog is kept indoors or outdoors, if Max is around children and whether or not Max goes to the groomer or boards at a kennel. The answers to these questions give Max’s veterinarian an abundance of information about his health before he is even examined.

No Studying Required for this Exam

Max is examined thoroughly by his veterinarian, who checks his entire body, including eyes, ears, teeth, heart and lungs, digestive system, skin, lymph nodes, muscles and bones. Dogs can be stoic and not show signs of illness, but Max’s veterinarian can spot potentially debilitating medical problems such as periodontal disease and even subtle pain with a physical exam. Also, some conditions can involve multiple body systems, such as heart and lung disease or kidney and dental disease. Often, the only early sign may be a slight cough or a quiet heart murmur, but through a thorough physical exam, Max’s veterinarian may be able to detect these concerns before they become more serious.

Plan of Attack

Max’s veterinarian develops his preventative care plan based on his exam and medical history. You can think of his plan as having three parts: prevention of diseases, testing or screening for disease and treatment recommendations.

An Ounce of Prevention

Max will receive vaccines based on his individual needs. Essential immunizations include rabies, distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus, which may be given at different intervals depending on a variety of factors. Max’s veterinarian will determine his need for other immunizations based on his history, lifestyle and geographic location. Your pet’s reproductive health will be assessed, and recommendations on spaying or neutering will be discussed. Spaying and neutering not only prevents unwanted puppies but also lowers a dog’s risks for many life-threatening diseases, including reproductive cancers.

Testing, Testing…1, 2, 3

Diagnostic and screening tests are performed as part of Max’s preventative healthcare plan for a variety of reasons. In Texas, heartworm disease is especially common yet preventable, and his veterinarian will perform a simple yearly blood test to check that Max doesn’t have an active infection with this serious parasite as well as to ensure he can safely continue taking heartworm prevention. Max should also be screened for intestinal worms on a regular basis, because these worms pose a danger to humans as well as other pets. Other tests can detect a variety of diseases that may not show observable outward signs in their early stages, such as diabetes.

Preventative Therapy…Worth a Pound of Cure

Max’s veterinarian will customize his preventative health plan based on test results and his examination. This will include year-round heartworm, intestinal parasite and flea prevention as recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association. Max’s veterinarian will also discuss his or her recommendations for other important preventative care therapies, including tick prevention, dietary needs, dental care and more. Finally, you can take an active role in Max’s preventative care with such activities as brushing his teeth, exercising with him and keeping up with future recommended preventative care visits.

Well, you did it! You’ve navigated Max’s successful preventative care visit with his veterinarian. You learned that preventative healthcare is made up of many different components, and all of them are important. Above all, you are empowered with the information to continue Max’s preventative healthcare regimen in order to help him live a long and healthy life.

Joanna Hughes, DVM, lives in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Hughes works for the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Veterinary Service at the LTC Daniel E Holland Memorial Military Working Dog Hospital.