Routine wellness checkups, appropriate vaccinations, and consistent parasite prevention are simple and cost-effective ways to help keep your pet healthy. We all know that we should see the doctor on a regular basis even if we are feeling well, but our pets should too! Regular checkups every 6-12 months (depending on your pet’s age and medical condition) are a must for all adult dogs and cats. Puppies and kittens should be seen every 3 or so weeks while they are growing rapidly and completing their introductory vaccines.
Why do we want to see your pet so often? It’s not just for the purrs and face licks, we promise! Regular checkups help us help you to keep your pet happy and healthy. We are looking for early, subtle indicators of disease or discomfort that may go unnoticed at home, because the sooner we can intervene, the better chance we have of treating the condition. We also want to make sure that your pet is up-to-date on all needed vaccines, as well as preventatives for heartworms, GI parasites, fleas and ticks, so that they are as protected as possible from potentially harmful infections and infestations.
To learn more, select a topic below:
Prior to the exam, your veterinary technician and veterinarian will speak with you to obtain a medical history of your pet. This includes information about their diet and exercise, any changes in energy level or behavior, changes in appetite or thirst, or changes in urinary and defecation patterns. We will also inquire about any unusual symptoms your pet may be showing at home such as coughing, scratching, or limping. This information helps us put together a more thorough picture of your pet’s health, and will help us to tailor medical recommendations.
Your veterinarian will listen to your pet’s heart and feel their pulses to check the rate and rhythm. We will also listen for any unusual sounds such as a heart murmur, which could be an indication of cardiac disease. We will listen to the lungs and trachea for signs of allergy, infection, fluid buildup, or other abnormality.
Inside the mouth, we will assess the health of teeth and gums. The gums should be moist and pink (unless your pet has pigmented gums). We are looking for gingivitis, abscessed teeth, fractured or badly worn teeth, or unusual growths on the gums or tongue. The majority of pets have significant periodontal disease by the age of three, which often requires some degree of intervention.
Vaccinations keep your pet healthy by providing significant protection against a number of contagious infectious diseases. Vaccinations work by presenting the immune system with antigens, tiny pieces of a bacterium or virus (pathogen). While the antigens cannot cause actual infection, they stimulate the immune system. This primes the immune system to remember the antigen(s) for later use if needed. If the immune system is later exposed to the actual virus or bacterium, it recognizes it and mounts a full response to the entire pathogen. The goal of vaccination is to prevent illness altogether, or at least to reduce the duration and severity of symptoms should the animal be exposed.
Vaccinations are generally divided into two categories: core and non-core. Core vaccinations are generally recommended for all animals of a given species to protect them against diseases considered to be especially serious or potentially fatal. These diseases are known to be present throughout North America and present significant concerns for transmission. Non-core vaccines are reserved for cats and dogs that are specifically at higher risk for certain infectious diseases based on age, location and lifestyle.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has published guidelines for which canine vaccines are considered core versus non-core, while the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has published similar guidelines for cats. These categories break down as follows:
- Canine Core: Rabies (required by law); Distemper; Hepatitis; Parvovirus
- Canine Non-Core: Leptospirosis; Lyme; Bordetella (commonly referred to as “Kennel Cough”; Canine Influenza Virus (CIV)
- Feline Core: Rabies (required by law in most states); Panleukopenia; Herpesvirus; Calicivirus
- Feline Non-Core/Core: Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
Traditionally considered non-core but recommendations are gradually changing, particularly for kittens
Recommendations are made in large part based on an animal’s lifestyle. Age, breed, and medical history are also taken into account. A dog who attends training classes with other dogs regularly, boards while its owners are away, goes to the groomer, or is otherwise regularly exposed to other dogs is considered at higher risk for Bordetella and CIV; vaccinating against these diseases is generally recommended for those dogs. At Deepwood, we consider Leptospirosis to be a core vaccine, because it is a contagious disease that can not only cause severe (potentially fatal) liver and kidney disease, but can be transmitted from an infected dog to their owner(s). In the Mid-Atlantic, Lyme Disease is widespread, and for many dogs vaccinating against Lyme is recommended.
It has long been recommended that outdoor or indoor-outdoor cats receive yearly FeLV vaccinations, but newer guidelines suggest that owners may wish to consider vaccinating indoor cats as well, at least as kittens, so that if they find themselves outdoors they will have a higher level of protection.
Vaccinating your pet is a medical procedure, and as such, does carry some inherent risk. Every pet is different, and not all pets should have the same vaccine protocols. Vaccine reactions and side effects are uncommon, but they do occur, and you should always monitor your pet after vaccinations for any signs of trouble. The vast majority of vaccine reactions are mild and self-limiting, such as: mild discomfort and/or swelling at the injection site, low-grade fever, and/or slight reduction in appetite. Such reactions, if they do occur, typically last no more than a few hours, but if they are prolonged, a recheck with your vet may be warranted. More serious reactions are considered allergic or hypersensitivity reactions, such as vomiting, diarrhea, swelling of the face or feet, or difficulty breathing (the last of these is extremely rare). Allergic reactions should be addressed by a veterinary professional as soon as possible. They generally respond well to outpatient supportive care, although in rare instances more aggressive treatment is needed. If your dog or cat displays any unusual symptoms after receiving vaccinations, please call us right away!
Research indicates that the more vaccines a pet receives at a single visit, the higher their chance of a vaccine reaction. This pertains primarily to small and medium-sized dogs. While a 60-lb Labrador can generally handle four vaccinations at once, the same can often not be said of a 5-lb Yorkie. Vaccination protocols for smaller dogs generally involve spreading the vaccine visits out with no more than 2-3 vaccines at once, to minimize the chance of reactions. If your pet has previously experienced a vaccine reaction, please be sure to let your veterinary team know! You can take the following steps at future visits to decrease the chance of it happening again:
- Spread out vaccines. If your pet had a reaction after receiving more than one vaccine at once, next time consider having your vet give vaccines individually. This decreases the stimulus for the immune system.
- Pre-medicate with diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Talk to your veterinarian or vet tech about whether your pet should receive an antihistamine dose at home prior to their appointment, or whether an injection should be given at the visit (before vaccinations). Do not give any medication without first speaking to a veterinary professional.
- Skip it. Some pets have immune systems that react badly to specific vaccines. The decision to eliminate any vaccine from your pet’s protocol should be made only after a thorough discussion with your veterinarian of your pet’s particular lifestyle, as well as of the pros and cons of the situation.
In extremely rare instances, vaccinations can trigger immune-mediated diseases, leading to severe and potentially fatal illness. The risk of these conditions occurring after vaccination is extremely low, and does not outweigh the benefit of protection provided. However, if your pet already has a documented immune-mediated condition, a modified vaccination protocol will be recommended. This also applies to animals receiving chemotherapy affecting their immune system, as well as animals with other conditions that may alter their body’s ability to process vaccinations.
Vaccine-Associated Sarcomas/Fibrosarcomas are a rare tumor of connective tissue that have been documented to occur at vaccination sites in some cats. While this response to vaccination is exceedingly uncommon, it generally necessitates a prompt, aggressive surgical response, and the tumor may recur if not completely removed. As the risk is extremely, low, it is considered to be outweighed by the tremendous benefits of protection against infectious diseases. However, if you are a cat owner and have questions or concerns about Vaccine-Associated Sarcomas, please do not hesitate to discuss the issue with your veterinarian.
Fleas, Ticks, & Internal Parasites
Fleas and ticks are uncomfortable for your pet, and can cause itching and swelling when they bite. Licking, chewing and scratching can lead to serious and painful skin infections. Fleas also carry diseases such as Bartonella, and parasites such as tapeworms. Cats and dogs with flea allergy dermatitis can have severe, itchy allergic skin reactions from just one flea bite! Ticks can transmit many kinds of bacteria, including those that cause Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. These nasty bugs can also be a hazard to you and your family. We will check your pet thoroughly for fleas and ticks during their wellness exam, but the best treatment for fleas and ticks is quality prevention. You can protect your pet by using regular oral or topical flea and tick preventatives, or a long-acting prescription flea and tick collar. We would be happy to work with you to select the preventative that best suits your pet, or you can place an order through our pharmacy.
Unfortunately, pet parasites are not just limited to those we can see; they can hide inside your pet as well. Gastrointestinal parasites such as roundworms and hookworms can cause diarrhea and weight loss, and in severe cases, extreme illness. They can also be transmitted to humans, especially children. Heartworm disease is a particularly nasty mosquito-borne disease that affects both dogs and cases. Affected animals can develop severe respiratory and cardiac compromise, and if left untreated, this condition can be fatal. While dogs can be treated, their prognosis depends upon how far advanced the disease is, and cats cannot be successfully treated at all. Therefore, it is extremely important that all dogs and cats, regardless of lifestyle, be on regular, consistent heartworm preventative year-round. We offer oral, topical and injectable preventative options for dogs, and topical options for cats, and would be happy to help you select a preventative option.