Q & A with Dr. Long
by Lee Chambers
Dr. Dena Long recently joined Dakin Humane Society as our medical director. Previously, she was with Underhill Animal Hospital in Orlando, Florida practicing integrative medicine and providing in-home hospice and euthanasia service in Florida. We sat down with Dr. Long to ask some questions about the importance of pet wellness visits. Here are her responses.
Q: What is a wellness exam, and why is it important for pets to have one?
A: You can think of a pet wellness exam just like a " yearly physical" that children and adults go to their primary care doctor for each year. It is not a sick visit. Veterinarians want to see your pet when all the body systems are in good working order, looking at eyes, ears, teeth, listening to the heart and lungs, checking the skin for problems and feeling for any pain or other signs of trouble that could be easily missed by owners at home. This becomes each pet's baseline physical health by which sickness is measured. During a wellness exam, the veterinarian and pet guardian have a discussion about how each pet is doing at home and can make recommendations for nutrition, vaccines, exercise, medication and other care based on exam findings, owner information and pet lifestyle.
Q: How often should a pet have a wellness exam?
A: That is a great question! Every pet should have a wellness exam at least once a year. The reason for this is that pets age more quickly than people. For every calendar year that goes by, a pet ages an average of 7 years. Of course, there are some differences for very large and very small breeds. But, it is important to know that skipping a yearly exam for your pet is like going 14 years without a doctor visit yourself. A lot can happen and change in that amount of time, especially in older pets. And, although it is recommended to have a wellness visit at least once a year, as pets become seniors, they should have wellness exams more often. Here is a life stage chart that explains age categories at different ages:
Q: My pet gets very scared going to the vet and is afraid of the vet. What suggestions do you have?
A: Unfortunately, there are a lot of pets that are nervous about going to the vet. Veterinarians are aware of the struggle pet guardians face and want to make each pet's visit as gentle as possible. There is a "Fear-Free" movement by veterinarians and staff that addresses this very issue; it’s a concept in veterinary medicine that recognizes and reduces fear, anxiety and stress linked to vet visits. A call to your veterinarian for a discussion can be very helpful. Their office can make recommendations that ease the stress, such as an appointment time when the clinic is quiet or slow. Another very helpful tip is to take your pet to the vet for a reward; so no appointment and nothing medical happens but your pet gets a treat for just walking in the door. This can build confidence in your pet, making a real visit is much less scary for them. In some instances, your veterinarian might be able to give you a prescription for medication to give your pet that eases your pet's anxiety for a visit. As a last resort, there are veterinarians that make house calls, which eliminates the issue of travel, veterinary office smells and stress.
Q: Why are dental exams so important?
A: During a pet wellness exam, the veterinarian looks inside your pet's mouth. We are checking several things by doing so: we look at the gums for normal color and presence of any growths or gingivitis; we look at the tongue and under it along with other soft tissues for any abnormalities; we also look at the teeth for damage, tartar and infection. If there is a problem noticed, often a sedated exam or dental cleaning is recommended. Dental tartar and dental disease can lead to other problems if left untreated. The heart, lungs, liver and kidneys can be damaged by the presence of dental disease, which is why veterinarians recommend having your pet's teeth cleaned. You can improve your pet's dental health, and overall health, by doing the best job you can at brushing your pet's teeth, if you give treats, make sure they are "dental treats", and have your pet's teeth examined regularly and cleaned if your veterinarian recommends doing so.
Q: What can I do to improve my pet's overall health?
A: The best advice for improving your pet's overall health is to develop a relationship with your pet's veterinarian, take your pet in regularly for wellness exams, ask lots of questions, and make a holistic plan together that you can follow for ongoing wellness which includes vaccines, parasite protection, nutrition, exercise and disease management.