7 Questions Vets Wish You’d Ask Them About Your Pet

Make the most of your next visit to the veterinarian.

When you bring your dog or cat to the vet, chances are both you and your pet, who is likely shaking like a leaf, want to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. But in the rush, you may be missing an opportunity to ask important questions that can help improve your furry friend’s health and lifespan.

Not sure where to begin? Here are seven questions that veterinarians would like you to ask the next time you bring in Fido or Fluffy.

1. “How often should I bring in my pet for wellness visits?”

As much as we’d like to not think about it, dogs age faster than people. That means they need checkups more often, notes Joseph Kinnarney, veterinarian and president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Wellness visits — which include a physical exam, such as listening to your pet’s heart and examining its teeth, and administration of any booster shots needed — should happen twice a year. That may sound like a lot, but look at it this way: A trip to the vet every six months is “like going to your physician every three to four years,” Kinnarney says. “They change that fast.”

2. “Why is it important to give once-a-month parasite protection medication?”

Medications that protect your pet from parasites are a year-round essential no matter where you live, points out Kinnarney. Parasites such as heartworm can infect both dogs and cats, and cause health issues, including lung disease, heart failure,  damage to other organs, and even death according to the American Heartworm Society.

Intestinal parasites commonly infect dogs and cats, but can also infect people. Children are more vulnerable since they can come into contact with soil in playgrounds or sandboxes that are contaminated with infected dog or cat feces. If the contaminated soil is ingested, which can easily happen when your kid plays in a sandbox and then puts their hands in their mouth before washing them, the paraites can cause serious problems, including blindness. So by making sure your pet is on parasite medication, you’re not just protecting your dog or cat from disease, but your family and others as well.

3. “Is my pet at a healthy weight? If not, what should I be doing?”

Although it’s tempting to treat Fido to your table scraps each night, those extra bites can really add up. Sometimes it’s not so obvious that your pet is overweight. How can you tell? In dogs you should be able to feel their backbone and ribs, according to the ASPCA. If you can’t feel their ribs without pressing into the skin, your pet is carrying around excess fat. That extra weight puts pressure on joints and increases the risk of joint problems, diabetes and puts an added strain on the organs.

Ask your vet for healthy eating recommendations, including serving smaller portion sizes, introducing a “diet” prescription food,  nixing the table scraps, and upping the amount of exercise your pet gets to help your furry friend trim down.

4. “How important are dental cleanings?”

Just as in humans, regular professional dental cleanings are important to maintain your pet’s health. These cleanings, done under anesthesia, remove plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth to prevent periodontal disease, and assess the teeth below the gumline with oral x rays. “Addressing dental issues is huge,” says Kinnarney. Although people often joke about dog breath, it’s a sign that your pet’s teeth need attention: “If you have a pet that you don’t want near you because their breath smells, there is infection going on there that needs to be addressed,” he says. These infections can spread to other organs, such as the kidneys and heart and cause bigger problems.

Routine dental exams and cleanings can be quite expensive because of the anesthesia and time involved, but as Kinnarney points out, regular cleanings help your pet stay one step ahead of health problems and save you from even more costly issues down the road.

6. “Should I be vaccinating my pet?”

Some pet owners question whether their furry friends need to receive vaccines. But just like in humans, vaccines prevent several diseases. “Not vaccinating risks leading to a preventable health problem,” says Kinnarney.

In some cases, skipping an important vaccine  such as rabies could lead to losing your beloved pet. “If you don’t follow your state’s rabies vaccination protocol,” notes Kinnarney, “dogs or cats may have to be quarantined or euthanized because they [were exposed to rabies and] weren’t vaccinated.”Parvo virus infections are especially devastating to puppies, and are completely preventable with appropriate immunizations.

Ask your veterinarian to share with you the recommended vaccination schedule for your pet based on their lifestyle.

6. “What are the best foods to feed my pet?”

“Quality in, quality out,” says Kinnarney. Feeding your animal quality food means a healthy and energized pet, but don’t purchase brand-name food just because it’s familiar. “Look at the ingredients,” suggests Kinnarney, “and look at what your dog’s reaction is.” You want real ingredients — chicken, beef, fish — that you can easily identify, and avoid any animal byproducts, preservatives, and additives.  Always get your nutrition advice from your veterinarian, not the pet store employees who don’t have the nutrition expertise your veterinarian does. 

7. “Do I need pet insurance?”

As anyone with a pet knows, taking care of your animal can be a costly endeavor. Although it can feel like a waste of money, pet insurance can come in handy if your cat or dog ever needs major surgery or hospitalization, according to Kinnarney. “If you were put in [a] predicament where you could not come up with $3,000 or $4,000 for emergency services, then insurance would be a good idea,” he advises.  There are many companies now offering pet insurance, and some time exploring your options is recommended.

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Screening tests for pets uncover hidden conditions early

Feb 24, 2015 by Dr. Rebecca Ruch-Gallie
Some dogs bury bones, while some cats squirrel away socks. But that’s not all our pets can hide; they often hide illness quite well.

From an evolutionary perspective, showing illness or weakness can be detrimental, so over time animals instinctively have hidden illness. Veterinarians are trained to pick up subtle cues that something is not right with your , but cannot learn everything through senses alone.

A should be performed by a veterinarian at least yearly. For older animals, twice a year is better. During the exam, you might hear terms such as “FeLV/FIV,” “fecal,” “chem panel,” “CBC” or “UA.”

What do these abbreviations and acronyms mean? Veterinary medicine uses abbreviations and slang for many recommended tests. You may wonder what these tests are, and why your veterinarian considers them important – especially if your pet seems perfectly fine.

Screening tests provide additional information and can detect potential problems earlier than can be picked up by physical exam alone. Because of their role in providing important – and even potentially life-saving health information – veterinarians at Colorado State University consider a cornerstone of preventive veterinary care.

Here are some common tests your might recommend to protect your pet’s health or to find a problem early:

  • Heartworm test: Heartworms are small parasites that your dog or cat can get from mosquito bites. The larvae, or immature worms, work their way to the large blood vessels of the lung and into the heart, causing damage and interrupting normal blood flow. The American Heartworm Society recommends annual testing and monthly preventive medicine to keep your pets safe.
  • Complete blood count (CBC): Using a small amount of blood, a CBC tells us about the body’s ability to fight infection, produce red blood cells and platelets for blood clotting, and if an infection is present. Deviations from normal values may also indicate or the length of time a disease has been going on. Because some animals normally fall above or below normal ranges without disease, it is important to have a baseline test run when your pet is young and healthy.
  • Biochemical profile (aka “chem,” “chemistry” or “chem panel”): Another type of blood test, biochemical profiles can give us hints about kidney and liver health and give us clues about metabolic diseases like diabetes. Because some animals normally fall above or below normal ranges without disease, it is another important baseline test to run when your pet is young and healthy.
  • Urinalysis (UA): As you might guess, this tests looks at your pet’s urine. Blood cells and bacteria do not belong in urine. So if these are found, we know there is a problem in the bladder or kidney. A urinalysis can also show us how well the kidney is working or whether your pet has diabetes.
  • Feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus test (FeLV/FIV test): Feline leukemia and immunodeficiency are two different viruses that infect cats. Cat-to-cat contact is the most common way your cat may become infected, including mom-to-kitten transmission. Because these viruses interfere with the immune system’s ability to fight infection and can be fatal, all cats should be screened for these two viruses. Since these viruses are good at hiding in the body, all sick cats should be tested as well.
  • Fecal flotation (aka “fecal” or “parasite screen”): The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends annual screening for gut worms. If your dog or cat has parasites, the eggs will be shed in feces and can be found by fecal flotation. The protozoan parasite Giardia can also be found if present. Some worms can be transmitted to people, so it is especially important to keep your pets on regular parasite control and to screen twice annually.

Along with a physical exam, these tests allow veterinarians to detect disease earlier and to provide treatments that can keep your pet happy and feeling good longer. For more information, visit these websites:

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Vaccination (FAQ)

Q:   What are vaccines?

A: Vaccines are health products that trigger protective immune responses in pets and prepare them to fight future infections from disease-causing agents. Vaccines can lessen the severity of future diseases and certain vaccines can prevent infection altogether. Today, a variety of vaccines are available for use by veterinarians.

Q: Is it important to vaccinate?

A: Yes! Pets should be vaccinated to protect them from many highly contagious and deadly diseases. Experts agree that widespread use of vaccines within the last century has prevented death and disease in millions of animals. Even though some formerly common diseases have now become uncommon, vaccination is still highly recommended because these serious disease agents continue to be present in the environment.

Q: Is serologic testing useful to evaluate immunity to some diseases?

A: Theoretically, tests that measure antibody response (i.e., serologic titers) may help veterinarians determine the need for revaccination in some cases. Unfortunately, veterinarians cannot be certain that a specific concentration of antibody is always protective or that a lower concentration leaves an animal unprotected.

Q: Which vaccines should pets receive?

A: When designing a vaccination program, veterinarians consider the pet’s lifestyle, related disease risks, and the characteristics of available vaccines. “Core vaccines” (e.g., rabies, feline panleukopenia, feline viral rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus infection, canine distemper, canine parvovirus infection, and canine hepatitis) are recommended for most pets. Additional “non-core vaccines” (e.g., feline leukemia, canine kennel cough and other vaccines) may be appropriate based on the pet’s particular needs.

Q: How often should pets be revaccinated?

A: Veterinarians have traditionally vaccinated annually; however, they are now learning that some vaccines induce immunity that lasts less than one year, whereas others may induce immunity that lasts well beyond one year. The AVMA recommends that veterinarians customize vaccination programs to the needs of their patients. More than one vaccination program may be effective.

Q: How does my pet’s lifestyle affect its vaccination program?

A: Some pets are homebodies and have modest opportunity for exposure to infectious disease, whereas others have a great deal of exposure to other pets and/or wildlife and infectious disease by virtue of their activities. Still other pets live in geographic areas that place them at greater risk for contracting some infectious diseases. Differences in lifestyle illustrate the importance of customizing a vaccination program to individual patients.

Q: Are there risks associated with vaccination?

A: Vaccines have protected millions of animals from illness and death caused by infectious diseases. All medical procedures, however, carry with them some risk. Fortunately, in the case of vaccination, serious adverse responses are very infrequent. Veterinarians minimize risk by carefully selecting vaccines on the basis of a pet’s individual needs and by choosing appropriate injection sites. In an effort to find ways to prevent even these limited numbers of adverse responses from occurring, the AVMA is working with government and industry to redefine how information regarding adverse responses is gathered, analyzed, and disseminated.


This information has been prepared as a service by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Redistribution is acceptable, but the document’s original content and format must be maintained, and its source must be prominently identified.

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Is Ebola a Risk for My Pets?

Ebola handoutAJFV2

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Protect Your Pet From Hearworm Disease, The American Heartworm Society

protect your pet

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Heartworm Disease is on the Rise

In spite of effective heartworm preventatives available, heartworm disease has been increasing in incidence, and spreading to new areas of the United States

Every three years, the American Heartworm Society (AHS) gathers data on heartworm testing to understand the impact heartworm is having nationwide, as well as in specific regions. Testing data from thousands of veterinary practices and shelters is used to create a detailed map showing the average number of heartworm-positive cases per clinic.  Click on each map for more details.  Please keep your pets on year round heartworm prevention to avoid infection!!


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Boarding your dog

Though it’s never easy to leave your dog behind, sometimes it’s the best decision for them. If you take the time to do a little research, you can find a high quality boarding facility that you can feel confident about.

Start by asking your AAHA-accredited veterinarian if they have a boarding facility they recommend, or if they have a boarding facility at the hospital itself. Ask your family, friends, and neighbors where they’ve boarded their pets and whether they were satisfied. You can get specific information, such as whether their pets ever came back ill after boarding and whether the kennel staff was available for questions.

Once you have chosen a few kennels you would like to try, go on a tour . If they don’t allow you to see their facilities, be wary: you may not want to leave your pet in a situation you can’t see for yourself. When you take the tour, take note of the employees. Are there enough of them to care for the animals? Do they seem nice? You can also check whether floors, walls, and cages are clean, there seems to be good air circulation, the temperature seems comfortable, and animals have reasonable access to food and water.

One thing you don’t have to worry too much about is the noise level. The dogs may seem loud when you tour, but they tend to get excited and make a lot of noise when people walk through. They usually stay quiet the other 80 percent of the time.

Remember that the most important thing for your pet will be the attention he receives. You can ask a few important questions before you finish your tour: how much time do the animals spend confined every day, how often are they walked or played with, how often are they fed, and are they walked or played with individually or in a group? You can also ask whether the kennel offers any additional perks. Some boarders offer live web cams that you can watch via your phone or computer.

Other kennels offer additional walks, playtime, and extra attention to pets for an additional charge. No matter which boarding facility you choose, if it’s a place where you feel comfortable and confident leaving your furriest family member, your pet will most likely do fine.

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How to Choose a Dog Trainer

It is advised that dog owners call, interview, and ideally observe a trainer prior to hiring
them.  If the trainer you are considering using falls into any of these categories,
you should pick another trainer.
1.The equipment recommended for basic obedience includes or is focused on choke collars,
prong collars, or shock collars.
2. Trainers who ban head collars of any kind may rely unduly on force.
3. The trainer instructs you to manage your dog’s behaviors by pinching toes, kneeing the
dog in the chest or abdomen, hitting the dog, forcibly holding the dog down or mouth closed,
yelling at the dog, frequently yanking the collar, using a prong, choke, pinch or
shock collar or electronic stimulation.
4. The trainer believes most or all training is about encouraging the person to be “alpha”
and teaching the dog to “submit”.
5. The trainer explains that most dog behavior(for example, jumping on people) occurs
because the dog is trying to be “dominant”.
6. A trainer recommends “alpha rolls”, “scruffing”, “helicoptering”, “choking” or any
other painful or physical methods as a means of “training” or modifying behavior.
* Please note that having initials after one’s name is not a guarantee
of a trainer who will not engage in these practices. To maximize the chances
of recommending or using a qualified trainer, the dog owner will need to ask the trainer
some basic information, and see for themselves how the trainer treats the dogs in the
classes/consultations. Should your dog ever start to show signs of aggression,
fear, anxiety, distress, or any other condition that you find worrisome during
training let your veterinarian know. If you ever feel uncomfortable with something
the trainer asks you to do to your dog, stop working with that trainer and alert your
veterinarian so they can give you guidance.
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Keep Pets Safe in the Heat

The Humane Society of the United States

The summer months can be uncomfortable—even dangerous—for pets and people. It’s difficult enough simply to cope with rising temperatures, let alone thick humidity, but things really get tough in areas that are hit with the double blow of intense heat and storm-caused power outages, sometimes with tragic results.

We can help you keep your pets safe and cool this summer. Follow our tips for helping everyone in your family stay healthy and comfortable when the heat is on (and even if the power isn’t).

Practice basic summer safety

Never leave your pets in a parked car

Not even for a minute. Not even with the car running and air conditioner on. On a warm day, temperatures inside a vehicle can rise rapidly to dangerous levels. On an 85-degree day, for example, the temperature inside a car with the windows opened slightly can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, the temperature will reach 120 degrees. Your pet may suffer irreversible organ damage or die. Learn how to help a pet left inside a hot car »

Print our hot car flyer [PDF] and spread the life-saving word »

Watch the humidity

“It’s important to remember that it’s not just the ambient temperature but also the humidity that can affect your pet,” says Dr. Barry Kellogg, VMD, of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. “Animals pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs, which takes heat away from their body. If the humidity is too high, they are unable to cool themselves, and their temperature will skyrocket to dangerous levels—very quickly.”

Taking a dog’s temperature will quickly tell you if there is a serious problem. Dogs’ temperatures should not be allowed to get over 104 degrees. If your dog’s temperature does, follow the instructions for treating heat stroke.

Limit exercise on hot days

Take care when exercising your pet. Adjust intensity and duration of exercise in accordance with the temperature. On very hot days, limit exercise to early morning or evening hours, and be especially careful with pets with white-colored ears, who are more susceptible to skin cancer, and short-nosed pets, who typically have difficulty breathing. Asphalt gets very hot and can burn your pet’s paws, so walk your dog on the grass if possible. Always carry water with you to keep your dog from dehydrating.

Don’t rely on a fan

Pets respond differently to heat than humans do. (Dogs, for instance, can only sweat through their feet, and pant to cool themselves.) And fans don’t cool off pets as effectively as they do people.

Provide ample shade and water

Any time your pet is outside, make sure he or she has protection from heat and sun and plenty of fresh, cool water. In heat waves, add ice to water when possible. Tree shade and tarps are ideal because they don’t obstruct air flow. A doghouse does not provide relief from heat—in fact, it makes it worse.

Cool your pet inside and out

Whip up a batch of quick and easy DIY peanut butter popsicles for dogs. (You can use peanut butter or another favorite food.) And always provide water, whether your pets are inside or out with you.

Keep your pet from overheating indoors or out with a cooling body wrap, vest, or mat (such as the Keep Cool Mat). Soak these products in cool water, and they’ll stay cool (but usually dry) for up to three days. If your dog doesn’t find baths stressful, see if she enjoys a cooling soak.

Watch for signs of heatstroke

Extreme temperatures can cause heatstroke. Some signs of heatstroke are heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizure, and unconsciousness.

Animals are at particular risk for heat stroke if they are very old, very young, overweight, not conditioned to prolonged exercise, or have heart or respiratory disease. Some breeds of dogs—like the boxer, pug, shih tzu, and other dogs and cats with short muzzles—will have a much harder time breathing in extreme heat.

How to treat a pet suffering from heatstroke

Move your pet into the shade or an air-conditioned area. Apply ice packs or cold towels to her head, neck, and chest or run cool (not cold) water over her. Let her drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes. Take her directly to a veterinarian.

Prepare for power outages

Before a summer storm takes out the power in your home, create a disaster plan to keep your pets safe from heat stroke and other temperature-related trouble.

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National Dog Bite Prevention Week

dog bite week

Dog Bite Facts:

  • Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs.
  • Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
  • Every year, more than 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites; at least half of them are children.
  • Children are, by far, the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
  • Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
  • Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.

There are many things you can do to avoid dog bites, ranging from properly training and socializing your pet to educating your children on how – or if – they should approach a dog. Information and education are the best solutions for this public health crisis.

May 18-24, 2014, Is National Dog Bite Prevention Week!

Visit the National Dog Bite Prevention Week page for more information and resources to educate people about dog bite prevention.

Useful Links

The following AVMA resources can help you learn more about dog bite prevention:

For parents and pet owners:

What you should know about dog bite prevention (brochure)
This informative brochure offers tips on how to avoid being bitten, as well as what to do if you are bitten by a dog. It also addresses what you need to do if your dog bites someone.

The Blue Dog Parent Guide and CD
This innovative dog bite prevention program is designed to help parents and children safely interact with dogs both inside and outside their home. The program is geared toward children from 3 to 6 years old. It’s the only dog bite educational tool scientifically proven to help young children learn behaviors that can keep them safe.

What you should know about rabies (brochure)
Rabies is a deadly disease that is transmitted to people through a bite. It is transmitted through the rabid animal’s saliva. Rabies vaccinations for dogs are an excellent defense against this disease, as many times families are exposed to rabies after an unvaccinated pet dog is bitten by a rabid wild animal. This brochure educates on how to prevent rabies.

For children:

Bilingual Dog Bite Prevention activity/coloring book

Bilingual Dog Bite Prevention activity/coloring book
Teach children about different ways to avoid dog bites, by educating them on how, or if, they should approach a dog. A creative tool for use all year, including during Dog Bite Prevention week in May.

For veterinarians, legislators and animal control officers:

Literature Review: The role of breed in dog bite risk and prevention This backgrounder reviews and provides scientific context on dog breeds and their purported tendencies to bite.

A community approach to dog bite prevention (PDF)
The American Veterinary Medical Association Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions has produced this report intended to help state and local leaders develop effective dog bite prevention programs in their communities.

Article: Why breed-specific legislation is not the answer
This article and our other resources about breed-specific legislation desribe why stereotype-based laws are not the answer to dog bite problems.

Articles about Preventing Dog Bites

Read, learn, and feel free to share these articles to educate people about dog bite prevention.

AVMA Podcasts Audio icon

Victoria Stilwell Shares Tips to Stop Dogs From Biting

Preventing Dog Bites: an Interview with Dr. Gregory Hammer

Dog Bite Prevention: Sensible Advice

Handling an Injured Pet

Other Dog Bite and Dog Bite Prevention Resources:

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) Statistical Brief #101: Emergency Department Visits and Inpatient Stays Involving Dog Bites, 2008. (PDF)

American Academy of Pediatrics – A Lesson in Dog Safety Can Help Prevent Bites

United States Postal Service – Dog Bite Awareness

American Society of Plastic Surgeons – Dog Bite Information

American Society of Maxillofacial Surgeons

American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery

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