Spring Tune-up for Pets

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

Spring Tune-up for Pets

For many car owners a spring tune-up for their automobile is a matter of routine. After the harsh driving conditions of winter, it's time to check the engine, change the oil and rotate or change the tires. Although the diagnostic and maintenance measures will be a bit different, I believe, spring is also a time to take your pet to visit a veterinarian. Here is the five point procedure I would recommend your pet receive.

1) Get a checkup. Remember pets age more quickly than do humans. Each year in the life of a cat or dog will equal 5-7 people years. Therefore, having a regular check just once a year is longer than ideal between doctor visits, every 6 months is a better interval. Spring is a good time for one such visit. A complete general physical examination should be performed. It's the equivalent of checking the points, the plugs, checking the brakes, looking at the belts and engine fluid levels. Summer is usually a busy time, lots of action, your pet needs to be firing on all its cylinders. The body weight will be recorded. Your veterinarian will examine the pet's teeth and gums. To be a healthy pet, there must be no problem with fuel intake. A stethoscope will be used to listen to the heart and lungs. The abdomen and external lymph nodes are palpated. The eyes, ears and nose are checked. One of the most important parts of the spring checkup will involve a thorough examination of the skin and haircoat. Summer is the season of skin troubles for pets - external parasites, allergies, "hot spots" or bacterial skin infection, all happen more frequently in the warm weather months. It will be very important to be certain unshed winter hair or other winter time skin issues are not increasing the risk for problems.

2) Have some wellness testing done. An auto mechanic is not likely to rely on just a visual inspection of car parts. The car needs to be hooked up to a computer for further routine diagnostics. Well, in my opinion, a thorough examination in a pet requires some routine laboratory tests to be done. Blood and urine tests are just as important in assessing a pet's health as they are for us in our health care. They allow us to evaluate vital internal body organs like the kidneys and liver. We can check for diabetes, anemia and certain hormonal disorders. In most cases, when identified early, health problems can be much more effectively treated or controlled. Often these blood tests are easily and economically combined with a blood test to ensure a dog has not become infected with the heartworm parasite.

3) Get some diet counseling. In my experience, it is very common for pets, just as it is for people, to put on a pound or two over the winter. It may just be due to the fact that in the colder months most pet's appetites are increased. Coupled with this, the cold weather, ice and snow impacts on the amount of exercise a pet gets during winter. Well, maybe just a change in seasons will correct these factors. However, perhaps you need to reduce the octane level of the fuel you are feeding your pet. Lower calorie food may need to be considered to get back to a healthy weight. A senior pet may require some special diet considerations. Believe me, those wellness blood tests, that hopefully have been run, are very, very important to help your veterinarian make such diet recommendations.

4) Update Vaccinations. Several of the common diseases that we vaccinate against may have seasonal influences associated with them. Spring means higher risk of exposure to rabies, leptospirosis, and Lyme disease. Dogs that go to boarding kennels or dog shows should get kennel cough protection. Cats that go outside will likely have a greater chance of contact with stray cats who may harbour the feline leukemia or feline immuno-deficiency virus.

5) Begin Seasonal Preventives. A critical part of your spring visit to the veterinarian will be to stock up with the preventive medicines recommended now for all pets. In our area these medicines are given during the warm weather seasons. For both dogs and cats that will include some type of flea preventive. Gone are the days when little could be done to avoid a flea infestation, so upsetting for both pet and owner. Now once-a-month medicine, in a tablet or liquid that can be given by mouth or drops that be applied to the skin, eliminates those pesky parasites before they can cause a problem. For dogs, the first week in June is the time to start heartworm protection. Most dog owners now choose to give their pet heartworm medication that has been combined with a flea preventive. In addition to heartworm and flea prevention many of these medications control other external skin parasites and intestinal worms.

Now, with it's tune-up complete, any maintenance requirements taken care of and protective additives in place, your pet should be able to expect thousands of kilometers of  care-free summer living ahead.