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JoAnna Lou
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Promoting Annual Checkups for Pets
Vet visits are down and health problems are up

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the number of canine vet visits dropped 21 percent since 2001 (and a whopping 30 percent for cats), while the number of emergency visits increased. Meanwhile, the Banfield Pet Hospital network has seen an increase in pet obesity, diabetes, arthritis, and thyroid and kidney disease. It seems that more and more people are waiting until their pets are very sick to bring them to the vet.

In response, a new campaign has been started by Partners for Healthy Pets, a collaboration between the AVMA, the American Animal Hospital Association, and more than 90 other veterinary organizations. to promote annual checkups for all pets. They want to let people know that preventative care saves lives and money by identifying problems before they require surgery or complicated treatment.

As an example, I was shocked to learn that only 55 percent of dogs are on heartworm medication, one of the easiest ways to prevent a fatal disease.

So why aren't people going to the vet? The 2008 economic downturn certainly didn't help, but the decline has been in motion for years. Some think that the research against annual vaccination or the proliferation of pet health information on the internet started the trend. Others believe that vets need to become better at marketing their skills, which is an interesting take.

Most of us at some point probably received a reminder postcard from our vet about vaccines, but an annual wellness exam nvolves much more than booster shots. Dr. Karen Felsted, a Dallas veterinary consultant, believes that vets need to describe the full value of what goes on in a check-up, such as how they observe gait and look for other behavioral clues that may indicate more serious problems. This is particularly important because animals like to hide illness as long as possible.

I always say that you are the best judge of your pet's health. After all, you're the one who sees your dog's behavior every day and knows if something isn't normal. But your pup's health should be a partnership between you and your veterinarian. If you're not bringing your pet to the veterinarian at least annually, find one that you respect and trust. Your dog will thank you for it!

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by john levenan/flickr.

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