A Penny Now or a Pound Later? All of the veterinarians interviewed for this article emphasized that annual preventive healthcare exams and regular preventive care – such as vaccinations, heartworm testing, fecal parasite exams, dental evaluation and more – save pets’ lives by ensuring they’re healthy. They can also save pet owners money by reducing or eliminating the risk of health problems that can be more expensive to treat. The cost of preventive care usually pales in comparison to the cost of treating the disease or problem that would have been prevented. Regular exams can also detect problems early, before they become more serious…and probably more expensive to treat. In a nutshell, spending the money upfront on preventive care can save you a lot more in the long run. “Routine monitoring for tick-borne diseases and parasites (including heartworm), as well as keeping your pets up-to-date on medications, can save their lives,” says Dr. Meghan McGrath of Radnor Veterinary Hospital in Wayne, Pa.Pets should have annual wellness exams, and some pets may need more frequent exams, said Dr. Michael Cavanaugh, DABVP, American Animal Hospital Association executive director.“Many people ask me, ‘How often should my pet see their veterinarian?’ My typical answer is at least annually, and it depends. Depending on the pet’s lifestage, lifestyle, and overall health status, they may need to be seen more frequently. The individual pet’s veterinarian is best positioned to determine how many visits per year are in order,” Dr. Cavanaugh said.
Annual preventive healthcare exams can often reveal problems that, if left undiagnosed and untreated, could have bigger consequences later on. Dr. Nan Boss, who owns the Best Friends Veterinary Center in Grafton, Wis., shares a story about a cat named Gabby that hadn’t been to the veterinarian in years and came into her clinic with neurological problems. Gabby was so weak she couldn’t even walk.“She’d had a stroke because of high blood pressure caused by hyperthyroidism, which can lead to a number of other health problems including weight loss, and heart and kidney disease. If we had been checking her thyroid level regularly, we would have caught the disease earlier and had her on medication, plus we would have been monitoring her blood pressure. She would never have had the stroke,” Dr. Boss says. Gabby lived about four to five more years on thyroid medication, but Dr. Boss said that she was never the same cat and suffered from hind leg weakness until her death. That wasn’t the only story Dr. Boss had about a patient whose quality of life would have been better with preventive care. She also shared a story about a dog that came in for a routine dental exam and was diagnosed with atrial tachycardia, a potentially life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm. Dr. Boss’ clinic offers ECG screens before administering anesthesia to pets, because, she says, “Most unexpected deaths under anesthesia are due to an undiagnosed heart problem.” The dog was rushed to an emergency clinic, where he had an echocardiogram and received medication. A routine dental exam ended up saving his life.