Does My Dog Really Need a Yearly Vet Visit?

Dog getting vet checkup

Q. My vet won’t refill my dog’s heartworm medication if I don’t bring my dog in at least once a year. He says it’s for the good of my dog. I say it’s for the good of his bank account. Who’s right?

A. I have to side with your veterinarian on this one. Your vet would be doing your dog a disservice if he prescribed a medication to a pet he never saw. Your veterinarian also needs to follow both the law and the guidelines of ethical practice, both of which demand that prescriptions be written only for animals actively under his care — which they cannot be if they're never in his exam room.

Prevention Is the Key to Good Health

Annual examinations (or at least twice-yearly for some pets) are the cornerstone of a good preventive care regimen, and preventive care is critical for your pet’s health. You may even save money when you can work with your veterinarian to tweak your pet’s care in order to prevent health problems from occurring (changing his diet, for example, to help prevent or reverse obesity), or to catch and treat illness earlier – hopefully before it can adversely impact your pet’s quality of life. The approval of another year’s worth of heartworm medication, as well as a review of all other medications, is part of that process.

I know many people accept the need for that first heartworm test, but balk at subsequent ones. They argue that they've given the medications as prescribed and their pets should be heartworm-free. Problem is, we're only human. Studies show that not all pets get all their heartworm preventive doses, leaving room for infection. Your veterinarian needs to make sure your pet isn't carrying these parasites despite your best intentions. That means you'll need to take him in for a heartworm test at regular intervals.

Finally, there's the question of where you buy your medications. These days it’s relatively easy to buy prescription medications from questionable Internet suppliers. The temptation to do so can be very strong, especially when money is tight. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns against such purchases, noting that these operations may be selling expired, counterfeit or contaminated drugs. Not good! Work with your veterinarian to make sure your pet is taking the right medications and that you're getting them from a reliable supplier.

In the interests of your pet’s health and your bank account, may I suggest a compromise? Schedule that all-important wellness check, and then ask your veterinarian about cost-saving options, such as price matching (some vets do), or writing a prescription for a reputable local or online pharmacy. Even better, your veterinarian may offer competitive prices through an Internet shopping portal.

The bottom line is this: Don't skip that yearly visit. You'll be doing your dog — and your wallet — a favor.