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All diligent dog owners take their precious pets to the veterinarian when they are sick, but far too many pet parents don't realize the role of wellness visits in a dog's overall health care. Getting your dog on a good path in this regard affects their health and longevity. Thankfully, you've turned to the internet for answers on being proactive about your dog's wellness, and we're glad that you found us! At Aspen Veterinary Clinic, we work hard to get you the information you need to keep your pet as healthy as possible. Unfortunately, there are well-intentioned bloggers and others who share material that isn't factually accurate. That's why we've answered the most frequently asked questions about dog wellness thoroughly and accurately so that you can get your dog on the path to optimal wellness.

If you're looking for a highly trained and compassionate veterinarian in Flagstaff, Arizona, we'd love to help you care for your dog and any other pets that you have. If your dog hasn't had a wellness exam in a while (or ever!), that's the first order of business, so please call us right away at 928-526-2423.

What is involved in a dog wellness exam?

A dog wellness exam is generally an exam we do every six months to a year, in which we do a thorough musculoskeletal exam, eye exam, ear exam, look at their mouth, check their lymph nodes, check their skin, look under the tail, and check their paws. We'll also discuss any issues or concerns you may have and review the dog's lifestyle.

The progression of a dog wellness exam often goes like this:

  • Record the dog's current weight.
  • Take the dog's temperature—the body temperature in a dog should be between 99 and 101-and-a-half. They shouldn't be 98.6 like ours.
  • Conduct an eye or ophthalmic examination to make sure eyes are bright and shiny.
  • Look in the dog's ears, often with an otoscope, to ensure there is no discharge, growth, redness, infection, or any other sign of concern.
  • Look in their mouth to ensure that their gums are nice and pink, and check their dental condition—is there a lot of tartar? Is there gingivitis? Is there bad breath? And we score them so that everyone is on the same wavelength of what tartar might be there and what disease we have.
  • Look down their throat, ensuring everything's normal in there.
  • Look over and feel the skin and hair coat to ensure there are no lumps or bumps, scabs, wounds, hair loss, matted fur, or itchy red or inflamed skin.
  • Feel their glands or lymph nodes.
  • Palpate their abdomen, trying to feel for their liver, kidneys, spleen, intestines, and bladder to make sure everything there is normal.
  • Use a stethoscope to listen to their heart rate, heart rhythm, and lungs (counting the beats on both the left-hand side and the right-hand side of our patients).
  • A check for intact males and females.
  • Rectal exams as the dog gets older.

What do I need to bring to a wellness exam?

What you need to bring to a wellness exam is a good history that indicates how your dog's been doing at home, what the behaviors are that you consider normal, and any behaviors that you consider to be abnormal. If your dog is older and on prescription medications, bring the list of prescriptions they're on, plus any supplements you are giving. Also, remember the name and type of dog food you've been serving your dog.

How does dog wellness impact the longevity of my pet, and why is early detection so important?

It's the same as in people—prevention is far better than chasing down things after finding issues later. Many diseases can occur, and the prognosis is nearly always better when you catch these conditions early. For instance, it's far better to prevent heartworm disease than to discover your dog has it and then try to treat that potentially painful and life-changing condition. And when it comes to things like finding a heart murmur in a puppy, we can monitor that for changes and even recommend surgeries to correct the issue. Some treatments can be done earlier to prevent a dog from going into full-fledged heart failure. Catching cancer early is far better than diagnosing it in its end stages. We may be able to do treatments or supplements to delay the progression or remove a lump before it becomes large and invasive.

Essentially, wellness exams are meant to be on healthy pets, but it's incredible how often we find underlying issues because dogs tend to be very stoic and can hide these issues so well. And while longevity is the goal for our dogs, we also want to ensure a good quality of life.

How soon should a person bring their dog in for a wellness exam?

As soon as possible. In some cases, that may be the same day or even within a few hours of getting the pet, as you may need to have some things checked before they go around your other pets. Usually, it's okay to bring them in within the first few days of getting the pet. We like to see puppies as early as six to eight weeks for a puppy exam and to get them started on vaccines and preventative care. Beyond that, depending on the dog's condition, you'll want to bring them in every 6 months to a year. There should be an annual wellness exam and then what we call a semi-annual exam based on the pet's age and condition. If you're overdue for your dog's annual or semi-annual exam, please get in touch with us at 928-526-2423 to schedule an appointment.

Will additional testing be needed beyond a wellness exam, and what are those tests?

With basic wellness exams, we will recommend things like heartworm testing and fecal checks. In older dogs, we go beyond that and include things like a wellness blood panel and urinalysis. Establishing baseline blood work is essential for wellness, and it's never too early to establish a baseline for your dog. Additional tests may be recommended based on what we find—such as X-rays if an abnormality is found in the abdomen or a suspicious lump is noted.

Some testing that will go beyond the wellness exam for your dog might include:

  • Blood work
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound
  • Urine test
  • Fecal test for parasites
  • Skin tests
  • Ear cytology if we found some underlying ear issues

How do you assess a dog's wellness?

We're looking for the dog's baseline, which is normal and expected for their age and breed. We know certain things should be happening, so we're looking for growth in a puppy and looking for things that we can use to compare later. For example, if we take blood work and it seems a bit abnormal, we can look at past blood work and determine that this may be a normal range for this particular dog. In other words, it may be something we don't need to worry about.

We look at the eyes and ears during the examinations and listen to the heart and lungs. We take temperatures. And as veterinarians, we're trained to look for other things like lymph node enlargement and dental disease. We'll also conduct a range of motion exercises to test the musculoskeletal and neurologic systems.

What are some wellness recommendations that you might make to a pet parent?

There are some widely recognized and universal recommendations that nearly all veterinarians will make during your well visits, from prevention and dental care to nutrition and weight discussions.

Some wellness recommendations that your veterinarian is likely to make during your dog's wellness visit:

  • Core vaccines
  • Non-core vaccines based on lifestyle
  • Heartworm prevention
  • Parasite prevention
  • Weight discussions and possible weight loss tips
  • Home dental care recommendations and possible recommendations for an in-office dental cleaning
  • Advice on how to monitor changes in your dog's behavior at home
  • Nutrition recommendations

Many of these recommendations will be tied to your dog's age and lifestyle.

What are some possible environmental factors that can affect how healthy my dog is?

Many things in the environment can affect your dog. First and foremost, do you keep them mainly indoors or outdoors? Are these environments safe for your dog, including keeping toxins and other foreign bodies out of their reach?

Your dog might also suffer from environmental allergies (grass, mold, pollen, etc.) and other things related to your weather—for example, exposure to mosquitos, fleas, ticks, heartworms, and other diseases which are prevalent in our wildlife populations. Or you might have to pay particular attention to prevent heatstroke during the summer or when hiking at our elevation.

Many dog owners forget that the way you feed your dog is considered an environmental factor, as you can literally "kill your dog with kindness" by overfeeding them and allowing too many treats or poor-quality food.

What is geriatric dog screening?

Geriatric dog screenings, often called senior workups, include blood panels, urine testing for crystals or infection, tear testing, checks for high blood pressure or hypertension, x-rays if we detect heart or lung issues, and internal organ checks. There are many diseases that senior dogs are susceptible to that would be rare in a younger dog. So, a thorough senior workup includes a regular, routine exam and possible diagnostics to ensure that there's no underlying health issues.

How do dog wellness exams influence subsequent treatments?

When you have a dog that's healthy, we determine a baseline of how they're doing, how much they weigh, what their teeth look like, if their heart sounds normal, and record answers to the many questions we ask owners. As time goes on and things change—perhaps their behavior, weight, development of a heart murmur, enlarged lymph nodes, etc.—we will know when a new problem arises and can develop an effective treatment plan.

What are baseline diagnostic tests, and how do they help my dog?

We like to have a baseline weight, a baseline physical exam, and baseline blood work. These baselines can tell us about your dog's white cell count, red cell count, platelet count, liver values, kidney values, blood glucose, and much more. We know what a normal range is, which means we will know when something is not normal.

If you still have questions about dog health or you'd like to schedule your next dog wellness exam, please don't hesitate to call us directly at (928) 526-2423, or you can email us at [email protected]. The AVMA also reminds pet owners of the critical nature of regular dog wellness exams. We want to ensure you and your dog have a long, happy, healthy life together.

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