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5 simple health checks your pet should really have

Your pet may seem in the peak of health but do you really know what’s going on inside its body? Ask your vet about these simple health checks to keep your pet healthy and happy throughout life.

1.    Body condition score – rather than be a slave to the scales, you could learn how to body condition score your pet. It doesn’t take any special equipment and can be done in minutes. Simply knowing how to visually assess your pet’s body shape and how to use your hands to feel for fat deposits over areas like the ribs and tail, can tell you much more than a breed standard weight. Make it your regular routine and adjust feeding amounts accordingly. Pets that are kept at ideal weight can live for two years longer than overweight pets! Ask your vet to show you how to body condition score.

2.    Urine test – just a simple urine test can tell your vet if your pet has results suggestive of diabetes, kidney disease, liver problems, urine infections and more. In ancient Rome they tasted urine to see if there was sugar present but thankfully your vet will use a simple dipstick test. Only a small amount of urine is needed. Just take your dog out for a walk on a lead and use a tin foil pie dish to collect the urine. For cats put aquarium gravel in the tray and collect the urine (which isn’t soaked up by the gravel) or use a Katkor kit. This is a great test for early identification of problems and a must-do if your pet is drinking more fluid than usual or passing urine frequently.

3.    Schirmer tear test - this is one just for the dogs. As many as one in ten dogs could suffer from a condition called dry eye. Although there may be no obvious signs of the disease, undetected it can result in progressive loss of vision and eventually blindness. Some dogs are initially diagnosed as having conjunctivitis, or simply an eye infection, that clears up only to come back again.  Dry eye is caused when the immune system becomes confused and attacks the tear glands that produce tears. As the glands are destroyed, tear production slows then stop completely and the condition is irreversible, so catching it early is really important. Any dog having a routine eye check should really have a tear test which involves the vet putting a small strip of paper onto the eye surface and measuring how far along the strip moisture travels. It’s a non-painful test and takes minutes but it could save your pet’s sight. Some breeds are more likely to get dry eye and should be tested yearly and dogs with Cushings, thyroid trouble or diabetes should also be tested regularly. If your dog always has a dry nose, ask for a tear test (as tears drain out through the nose and this can be a sign of dry eye).

4.    Dental check up - the most common conditions treated by vets are dental problems. Although caries (holes in the teeth) are less common than in humans, gum disease is very common. Infections in the gum have been known to seed into the bloodstream and eventually settle in the kidneys or heart, so the results of severe dental disease can be quite catastrophic. Sometimes dental problems are obvious – the pet paws at the mouth, drops food or stops eating, or salivates a lot. A smelly breath isn’t really that normal for pets and is a sure sign that something is wrong. Many times dental problems are picked up during routine health checks. It’s not unusual for pet owners not to have spotted dental disease that is so severe that it has loosened the teeth so that they have to be removed and the gums have become very infected. The good news is that although dentistry requires a general anaesthetic, it can make a dramatic difference to the health of the pet. Often a pet that is just assumed to be ‘old’ or ‘tired’ suddenly regains its youthful energy after its mouth problems have been sorted out. So make a dental check a pet priority – at least once a year.

5.    Parasite risk assessment – it sounds complicated but could make a profound difference to your pet’s health and your pocket! Some parasites are fairly widespread, like fleas. You can be pretty sure that with very few exceptions, your pet needs to be treated regularly for fleas. But in some parts of the world ticks present an even greater danger, transmitting life threatening diseases to your pet. If that’s the case then a combined tick and flea product should be used regularly. Then there’s other parasites like harvest mite, lungworm and mange mites – some are rarely seen in some areas but occur all the time at certain times of the year in others. Internally your pet could be playing host to roundworm, tapeworm or heartworm, all depending on location, habits and previous treatments. And do you know how easy it can be for your pet to become re-infected unless you treat frequently enough? Your vet can perform a risk assessment, based on knowledge about the parasites in your area, your pet’s habits (eating raw meat for example) and even information about your family, If you have children that play with your pet did you know that you should be worming regularly against roundworm – arguably that might be as frequent as once a month. Have an open conversation with your vet about the level of risk to your pet and how you can protect your family. Taking time for a thorough one-off risk assessment could save you money by ensuring you only buy the products you need and it also buys you peace of mind, which you can’t put a price on.