Are Annual Exams Really Necessary?

Pets Age Quickly

I have seen a variety of tables and calculators that convert the age of pets to a comparable age in human years. They all say essentially the same thing: Time passes more quickly for pets than it does for us. While small dogs generally have longer life spans than large dogs, I have found the old adage about one year for people being seven years for dogs and cats to be a fairly useful, if imprecise, estimate.

Even if we decide that annual physical examinations for people do not justify their costs, having a physical examination every three and a half or seven years hardly seems like wasted time. When we examine pets every six or 12 months, this is essentially what we are doing. We like to pretend that our pets will live forever (because this is a wonderful idea), but the truth is that their lives pass quickly. As a result, what seem like “frequent” visits to the veterinarian to us are not for them.

Pets Can’t Talk

While it’s rare for a doctor treating people to find a surprise illness, it’s not for me. I often hear phrases like “An ear infection? I guess she has been shaking her head recently” and “He has lost two pounds? That’s a quarter of his weight!” These are not admissions of “bad” pet owners. They are statements from normal, busy, distracted people who have stoic, secretive or (in the case of weight loss) very hairy pets.

Pets don’t tell us when they feel sick. Their instincts are often to hide pain and discomfort so as not to appear weak to others. During physical examinations, I have found skin, thyroid, oral, gastrointestinal and prostate cancer, just to name a few. In just the last month, I have seen owners of young, “healthy” pets surprised by internal parasites, periodontal disease, fleas, yeast infections, weight loss, weight gain and ingrown toenails.

Without physical examinations, countless cases of dental disease, skin infections, allergies and arthritis would go undiagnosed and untreated. Serious medical issues like thyroid disease, renal failure and diabetes would be detected much later in the disease process, leading to lower odds of survival.

Until our pets learn to speak up, getting them examined by a veterinarian regularly makes way too much sense to stop.

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