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My dog looks perfectly healthy, why should I take her to the vet? Because illness isn't always visible, doc says

Jenny Lamothe visits veterinarian Dr. Courtney Andrews to learn why it’s so important for our furry friends to see the doctor
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Meet Kate. Kate looks pretty healthy, right? She still needs to visit the doctor for a checkup though. (Photo: Jenny Lamothe)

Their tail is wagging, eyes bright, and they bounce around your house with an energy you wish you could bottle. They beg for a walk, beg for their dinner, and happily, beg for cuddles, too. 

Then, you get a reminder that it’s time for an annual checkup. But why on earth should you take your dog to the veterinarian if nothing seems to be wrong?

First reason has to do with that old adage about dogs aging faster than humans, said Dr. Courtney Andrews of Lockerby Animal Hospital

“Everyone has heard that pets age seven years in one human year of life, and while this is a generalization, they do grow and age faster than humans,” she said. 

Because of this, illnesses and diseases can also progress more quickly. 

Second? They can’t tell us what’s wrong. And not just that, unlike men and children, dogs are very good at hiding their symptoms. 

“Dogs and cats are masters of hiding illness,” Andrews said. “And by having regular examinations your veterinarian can identify risk factors or early symptoms of disease.”

So what does this annual exam en-tail? Other than terrible puns, and a chance to discuss any questions or concerns you have, your pup will receive a “Nose to Tail” examination. 

“Starting at the head, we’re looking for any discharge, asymmetry or changes in the colour of the eyes and nose,” Andrews said. “We’ll lift the lip to check on the dentition (arrangement and condition of teeth), evaluate for broken teeth, tartar, and gingivitis or oral masses. We look at the ears for discharge, abnormal smell or redness, and the jaw and neck are palpated for abnormalities, including evaluation of the lymph nodes.

“Moving on to the chest, auscultation (listening with a stethoscope) is performed of the heart, listening for rate, rhythm and murmurs. Lung sounds are also identified. The abdomen is palpated for pain response, as well as any fluid present, and masses. Then the skin and hair coat quality is checked, looking for flakes, dander or lesions. Limbs are palpated for swelling, checking range of motion of the joints and positioning.”

All of this information gives a baseline to compare against. If there are changes in your dog’s behaviour, conditioning, or even if there is an emergency, this information is invaluable to your veterinarian’s success in treating your pet.

But it’s not just about treatment, it’s about pre-treatment. Being proactive in your dog’s health care is not only easier on your dog, but easier on your wallet. 

After your exam, your veterinarian will give you the chance to review any concerns you have, as well as discussing their findings and any preventative treatments.  Chances are, those discussion will centre around three things: weight, parasite prevention, and dental health. 

As it is with humans, too much weight can be detrimental to your dog’s health.

“Obesity in pets puts them at risk for many endocrine and joint diseases, like diabetes mellitus and cruciate ligament ruptures,” she said. 

As well, ticks and infectious diseases are an increasing risk in the North, and because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to prevention, reviewing proactive treatment options with your veterinarian is important.

And for most patients, there will be a dental discussion. 

“It is estimated that at the age of three, 60 per cent of dogs and cats will have some form of dental disease present,” Andrews said. “It’s a combination of genetics and environment that leads to the varying degrees of dental disease in our pets.” 

Small breed dogs are especially prone, and any steps towards better dental condition can help prevent periodontal disease, which is painful and can lead to multiple tooth extractions.

So while an annual physical exam for your dog can seem unnecessary, especially when they have been chasing their tail for an hour or barking at nothing for two more, it can go a long way to keeping your pet healthy, and by your side, as long as possible. 

If it helps, tell them Dr. Courtney is very generous with the heart-healthy, puppy-bribing treats.  

Jenny Lamothe is a freelance writer, proof-reader and editor in Greater Sudbury. Contact her through her website, JennytheWriter.wordpress.com.




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