Your Pet's Yearly Veterinary Visit
By: Thomas J. Armstrong, DVM
While vaccinations are important, the traditional model of bringing pets to the veterinarian every year just to get their shots is no longer the basis of preventative health care in pets. In fact, as newer, longer lasting, and more effective vaccines continue to pass the efficacy test in dogs and cats, it will become less and less necessary to receive booster vaccinations for certain diseases. Already, canine parvovirus protection is lasting up to three years in adult dogs and canine distemper vaccination as puppies is being shown to possibly create lifelong protection. As the vaccine companies restructure their vaccines to make them less of a combination and more as individual vaccines, the vaccination protocols at animal hospitals, including ours, will continue to evolve.
That is why our approach for many years now has been to not charge for individual core vaccines that all cats and dogs need. We charge the annual wellness visit with vaccines, and that flat rate covers any core vaccines the patient needs. We set that policy in place for two reasons: First, by not charging for each individual vaccine, it saves the client money, and any core vaccines that are given are therefore decided upon based on the needs of the individual pet, rather than the price. Second, we have believed for a long time that the annual physical exam is the most important part of regular preventive health care. This view changes the focus of the office call from vaccines to a much more comprehensive and effective preventive health program based on a complete physical exam by the veterinarian as well as a discussion of health care needs and recommendations with you as the client.
In 2011, the American Veterinary Medical Association modified the oath that we all take as veterinarians to include the prevention of animal suffering rather than just treatment of it. That is a huge change, as veterinarians are now expected-and rightly so-to do everything in their professional power to perform comprehensive examinations and have more detailed discussions with pet owners pertaining to prevention of disease and the suffering that results. We take that oath seriously, which is why we have focused for so long on the importance of the annual wellness exam in our patients. There are so many disease processes that can be effectively managed if caught early on physical exam or on lab testing, thereby preventing that patient from having to endure the pain of uncontrolled disease.
So, preventive health care now means much more than just giving a pet their shots. And progressive veterinary hospitals around the country embrace and understand that. In fact, veterinarians that continue to view preventive care as simply giving vaccines with a cursory exam or no exam at all are already finding themselves in trouble with the veterinary association and sometimes with the law as they fail to live up to the new standards of preventive care.
Our purpose for existing as State Road Animal Hospital is to do everything we can to support and enhance the relationship between people and their pets. Annual wellness exams and educating pet owners on tests and protocols available to maintain their pet's health go a long way toward fulfilling that purpose and providing our patients with the best possible preventive health care program.
Check out the American Animal Hospital Association guidelines for preventive health care on our website. And when you bring your pet in to us, bring your questions about vaccinations, blood testing, and anything else you would like to discuss regarding the health needs of your pet.
AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) Canine Life Stages Guidelines
Veterinary practice guidelines, like the recent AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines, help ensure that pets get the best possible care.
AAHA Guidelines review the latest information to help staff address central issues and perform essential tasks to improve the health of the pet. In addition, guidelines define the role of each of each staff member, so everyone on the healthcare team can work together to offer the best-quality care. Many guidelines intersect with AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines, including the following:
- AAFP(American Association of Feline Practitioners)/AAHA Feline Life Stage
- AAHA/AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) Preventive Healthcare
- Canine Vaccine
- Dental Care
- Diabetes Management
- Nutritional Assesment
- Pain Management
- Senior Care
AAHA Recommendations for Veterinarians:
- Consider age, size and breed when defining a dog's life stage.
- Conduct a physical exam and obtain a complete patient history.
- Evaluate the need for parasite control and vaccination.
- Create individual recommendations based on the dog's breed and circumstances.
- Routine test are particularly important for mature, senior and geriatric patients.
- Discuss normal behavior and socialization, problem behaviors, and lifestyle.
- Perform a nutritional assessment.
- Perform a dental/oral exam.
- Test for and provide preventive care for geographically relevant zoonotic diseases.
- Discuss reproduction and breeding if the patient is not spayed or neutered.
- Conduct breed-specific disease screening and evaluations.