Senior dog and vet

Q. Now that my dog is older, my veterinarian wants him in for "wellness checks" twice a year and wants me to OK blood tests and X-rays. Legit or not?

A. Absolutely legitimate. We all know that preventive care in human medicine saves lives and money. It’s the same in veterinary medicine. By catching diseases early — or, better yet, preventing them altogether — your veterinarian can reduce the risk that your pet will suffer and can potentially prolong the life of your pet.

Why Does Wellness Care Matter?

I’ve been a veterinarian for more than three decades now, long enough to see this coming and to be delighted by the shift in emphasis toward wellness care. I can’t tell you — because, sadly, I don’t know — how many times I’ve had to give someone the worst news possible about a pet, knowing that if I’d had a chance to catch and treat a medical issue earlier, I could have saved that dog or cat.

If I can keep your pet's care on the right track — such as by fine-tuning his diet and exercise plans and preventing dental disease — I can help you give your pet additional years of good health. Even better, if I can catch something early on a diagnostic test, such as an enlarged heart on a chest radiograph, I can often treat that problem before it kills your pet.

How Often Should You See The Vet?

While your veterinarian will tailor her suggestions to your individual pet, I believe that the minimum for wellness checks should be an annual veterinary visit for young pets and a twice-yearly visit for seniors. Because pets age at different rates (big dogs age the fastest; cats and small dogs the slowest), exactly when those twice-yearlies begin will depend on the animal. But, again, your veterinarian will advise you on the best course of wellness care for your dog.

If you think about it, twice-yearly exams make sense because the lifespan of a pet is sadly much shorter than ours, so more frequent wellness checks will catch changes more quickly, giving your veterinarian time to treat problems promptly.

What Will The Vet Look For at These Visits?

These wellness visits should include a thorough nose-to-toes physical examination, including a dental check. I also believe in the value of diagnostics. Simple blood, urine and fecal tests are usually enough for younger animals, but older pets may also need radiographs of the chest and possibly an ultrasound and a blood pressure test. With all this information in hand, your veterinarian will be able to suggest changes and treatments that will address any health problems now; more important, these tests also provide a baseline to which future diagnostics are compared.

I always tell people that the best money spent at the doctor’s office is on preventive care. That’s true for me and true for you — and it’s true for our pets, too.