YOUNGSTOWN -- You have a pet. You want it to stay healthy. You know that it is good to visit your doctor yearly, and so should your pet. The first step is to find a licensed veterinarian.
Look in the Yellow Pages of the phone book for a veterinarian in your area or ask friends and family for recommendations.
What to expect: What should you expect when you take your pet to a vet? Most visits include a physical checkup, testing and vaccinations. Typically, a vet will ask you to bring in a fecal sample so it can be checked for worms. Cats and dogs can get a variety of worms including round, hook, whip or tape worms. A wormer will be given when needed, usually to young puppies and kittens.
Next the vet will draw blood from your animal. This is done in dogs to check for heartworm and in cats for feline AIDS and leukemia. Then the vet will do a general physical exam, which includes checking your pet's eyes, ears, teeth and gums, skin and coat condition and heart and lungs.
It is important to ask questions just as you would with your own doctor. During your visit you can have your pet's nails trimmed (this should be done more than once a year), have your dog's anal glands checked, discuss flea control and the type of heartworm preventative you should use for your dog. It is very important to schedule a spay or neuter for your pet too.
Vaccinations: In addition to the general check-up, your dog will receive yearly vaccinations. Vaccines are used to prevent disease, not to cure or treat problems. Most vaccines are given by injection. The one for Bordetella brochiseptica (kennel cough) can be administered through the nostrils of dogs.
Young puppies and kittens are given multi-component vaccines that begin at 6 and 8 weeks. They then receive boosters on a schedule to build immunity to diseases. Animals can be given a rabies vaccination at 3 months of age. State law determines the frequency of administration of the rabies vaccine, which generally ranges from one to three years.
Adult dogs should receive "core" vaccines such as rabies, parvovirus, and canine distemper (multi-component vaccine). Other "noncore" vaccines such as Lyme disease, kennel cough or coronavirus should only be given if the dog is considered high risk for contracting the disease. Your vet will take into consideration your dog's age, general health, geographic location and lifestyle. Cat vaccines usually include feline leukemia, rabies and a four-way distemper, which includes immunization for several other feline diseases.
Lately, there has been a debate about vaccine safety and the necessity for annual vaccinations. A few animals experience general to more severe reactions to vaccines. Studies are under way on the duration of vaccination immunity. Also, there has been research on sarcomas in cats, which occur at the site of the vaccination.
It is premature to know what the recommended vaccine schedule change is going to be, if any. You should always avoid unnecessary vaccinations. Although vaccinations are not risk-free, they remain the most low-cost, highly effective and reliable way of protecting pets from communicable diseases. We should never abandon vaccines as an effective means of disease prevention and control. Take your pet yearly to the vet to keep it healthy.
XMary Jo Nagy is a volunteer with Angels for Animals.