The annual veterinary exam – what it should include


Your dog should see the veterinarian at least once a year for a check-up. Let’s take a look at what an annual veterinary exam entails.

Regular check-ups are as important to our dogs as they are to us. An annual veterinary exam establishes baseline testing when the animal is healthy, and allows for the early diagnosis of hidden diseases. Tests may vary depending on the veterinarian, but these are some that can be considered.


Doctors glean so much information about your dog from simply talking with you and observing the animal. The physical examination involves checking not only the visible parts of your dog, but also the internal parts by listening to the heart and lungs and feeling his abdomen and lymph nodes. Both the discussion and physical exam are important, so bring any and all questions to your vet during your dog’s annual visit. Also, take note of any comments from the vet, since even “minor” issues discovered during the exam can develop into “major” problems if not addressed as soon as discovered.


While a physical examination and history are important, running various lab tests is essential to giving us a look inside your dog’s body, diagnosing disease (despite the appearance of “health”), and establishing a baseline that is helpful for comparison whenever true illness occurs. Doing regular lab tests helps uncover issues that evade a physical examination.

In general, I do a full blood profile (including thyroid testing when appropriate to age, breed, and condition), a full urinalysis, and a blood profile checking for inflammatory markers (TK, CRP) and vitamin D. In most of my “healthy” patients, one or more of these tests reveal abnormalities. Usually, these can be quickly addressed, and health restored to the dog, so we can avoid further progression to serious and even life-threatening diseases. While blood testing does add to the expense of the visit, it is a critical part of your dog’s annual check-up. Insurance may cover this testing but even if it doesn’t, it’s still less expensive to do this testing during the annual exam instead of waiting for severe illness to occur, at which time costs climb a lot!


Some veterinarians typically prescribe heartworm preventive medication and chemicals for flea/tick control. Oral heartworm preventives stay in the animal’s body for 48 to 72 hours, so there is no risk of accumulating toxins that could cause problems for him, and many dogs require them only seasonally. However, having every dog routinely taking flea and tick chemicals should be considered carefully. In my practice, they’re not needed for most of my patients, who stay free of these pests thanks to diet and lifestyle choices. Prescribing flea and tick preventive chemicals for every patient makes no sense, wastes precious financial resources on unnecessary medications, and exposes dogs to needless chemicals that might act inappropriately and cause harm. Natural (or chemical when necessary) flea and tick control products can be used safely on an as-needed basis.

Unlike heartworms, intestinal worms rarely cause ongoing issues in adult dogs, although they are very common in puppies. Maximizing health through proper diet and supplements, as well as avoiding unnecessary vaccinations, goes a long way to preventing these worms. Regular de-worming for puppies, using safe medications, kills GI parasites that can harm your young dog and infect human household members.


Titer testing replaces annual vaccines for most infectious diseases in dogs. We know that vaccines, given early in life, can induce immunity for many years. We don’t know the status of each individual’s immune system after vaccination, so titer testing is done to give us an accurate picture of his immunity to common diseases. Vaccines are given only if titer testing indicates a need, and if the dog is healthy enough to receive a booster immunization.

Titer testing personalizes vaccine recommendations for your dog and reduces unnecessary vaccination.

Try to find a doctor who regularly does titer testing, to allow for an accurate interpretation of your dog’s immunization needs, and lower costs.

It’s important that your dog gets checked over by your veterinarian at least once a year when he’s young. After five years of age, twice-yearly visits are recommended, since dogs age more quickly than we do. A veterinary exam should be an integral part of his health care regimen, and will help keep him with you for many years to come.