The Keys to Dog Wellness in Honor of Pet Wellness Month

October is Pet Wellness Month and today we’re going to discuss dog wellness. Even as veterinarians, we know how tempting it is to avoid the costs and hassle of wellness visits. We also know, however, how much your fur babies mean to you, and regular wellness exams and healthy habits will most definitely prolong the life of your devoted doggo. We’ve rounded up some FAQs on dog wellness, the answers to those questions, and some tips to keep your hounds as healthy as possible and shared them below.

What is involved in a dog wellness exam?

A dog wellness exam is generally an exam we do every six months, during 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, check their paws, discuss any issues or concerns that you may be having, and discuss the lifestyle of the dog.

When it comes to these wellness exams, we always think about routine dental screenings, vaccinations, preventative care, blood work, heartworm testing, flea and tick control, and X-rays, depending on your dog's age. We’ll also want to discuss the importance of good nutrition and discuss your dog’s behavior.

During the examination, we take a look using various instruments. The otoscope is what we use to look in the ear. We use the ophthalmoscope to look in the eye. We enlist the stethoscope to listen to the heart and lungs. We take temperatures. And, as veterinarians, we're trained to look for things that are a bit abnormal, such as lymph node enlargement or dental disease. We’ll also do a range of motion exercises to test the musculoskeletal system and neurologic system.

How does dog wellness impact the longevity of my pet?

Longevity is an interesting word because, as veterinarians, our main goal is quality and length of life for the pet. Wellness exams are generally meant to be for healthy pets, but it's amazing how many times we find underlying issues because pets hide these problems so well. We aim to find the issues early on in order to prevent them. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and no one takes that to heart more than your veterinarian. An example is kidney disease. If we catch that early enough, something as simple as a diet switch could save the dog from being hospitalized, or put on dialysis or fluids, and save the pet owner a lot of money as well.

How often should I bring my pet in to see a veterinarian for a wellness exam?

You should bring your dog in for wellness exams every six months because, remember, pets age more quickly than people. And unlike people, dogs can't voice if they're feeling off. So, we generally recommend a six-month wellness exam.

As for puppies, you should bring them to the veterinarian as early as six to eight weeks for a puppy exam and preventative care. Then, we start to see them every six months after that. So, once they're caught up on all their vaccines, we see them when they’re a year old and every six months after that.

Will my dog need other tests when they get a wellness exam?

That depends on the results of the exam and the dog’s lifestyle and age. In general, however, there are some preventative care tests that can include blood work, X-rays, ultrasound, a urine test, a poop test for parasites, and some different kinds of skin tests. Sometimes we find underlying ear issues and the dog will need what’s called an ear psychology. It's when we test what's potentially growing in their ear, whether it’s bacteria or yeast.

Do older dogs still need annual or bi-annual well visits?

Yes—we call them senior workups, which means they include blood work to check internal organ function, urine, check for crystals, underlying urinary tract infections that sometimes dogs can hide, kidney function, and even diabetes.

We do x-rays of the chest to see heart size because sometimes pets can have an underlying heart issue. In geriatric screenings, we always listen to the heart for heart murmurs and other issues that can possibly be detected.

Other Ways to Enhance Dog Wellness

Regular exams play a pivotal role in keeping dogs healthy, but there are other things you need to consider and do as a dog parent that can lend themselves to happiness, longevity, and overall wellness.

Some other dog wellness tips are as follows:

  • Get regular dental care and cleanings - Poor dental health is one of the most common things we see as veterinarians, so it’s important for you to do regular brushing at home as well as professional cleanings. 
  • Keep nutrition at the top of mind - When you make sure you’re feeding your dog high-quality ingredients in the right quantities, you can help to avoid conditions such as joint disease, obesity, and diabetes. If you’re unsure about this, just ask your veterinarian!
  • Proper parasite prevention - Fleas, ticks, and heartworms can cause diseases and, in more serious cases, death, so you be sure to keep your pet on prevention year-round no matter where you live.
  • Get all the necessary vaccinations - Talk to your veterinarian to get your dog on a vaccination schedule to keep them from getting some life-threatening diseases.
  • Exercise is key - That layer of fat on your dog can be cute - we get it - but those extra pounds can also contribute to diabetes, arthritis, and respiratory issues.
  • Never underestimate the power of behavior training - Far too many dogs are euthanized each year for behavior issues that could have been prevented with proper training.

As Roger Caras said, “Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole.” Show your dog you love them this Pet Wellness Month by getting them the exams they need, the preventive care that will keep them healthy, and a walk…perhaps even beyond the end of the street here and there! If you’re looking to get your dog on the path to wellness but are unsure how, we can help you find a local vet!


Contributing DVM