Happiness Is a Healthy Pet: Here’s How to Achieve It

Read on for the best advice for keeping that special family member in tiptop shape this year and always

Your dog, cat, guinea pig, hamster or turtle is an important part of the family — beloved by the kids, and an absolute natural at bringing the entire household hours of entertainment, fun antics, and that certain brand of unconditional love that domesticated animals bring to our lives.

Pets need regular medical care to stay healthy, of course. But just how often should they take a trip to see your local veterinarian?

Turns out it depends on your pet’s stage of life, Susan Barrett, DVM, head of community practice at Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbus, Ohio, told WebMD.

Here are some helpful guidelines.

Kitten or puppy: birth to 1 year. These little furballs will need to go for vaccines every three to four weeks — until 16 weeks of age.

Puppies will get their rabies and distemper-parvo shots, and perhaps shots for other diseases, too; the vet will discuss the options with you. These pets may also need shots to protect against common health problems such as kennel cough, influenza, and Lyme disease.

Cats will be tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus, and like puppies, may also get vaccinations that cover several other diseases.

Your puppy or kitten will also start heartworm and flea- and tick-prevention treatments if those are recommended where you live, notes WebMD.

The vet will examine your pup or kitten to make sure he or she is growing well and shows no signs of an illness. The vet will want to check the pet again at around six months, when it’s time for their spay or neuter.

“We’ll also check to see how housebreaking, training, and socialization are going,” Barrett told WebMD.

Adult: 1 to 7-10 years (depending on breed and type of animal). During this stage, vets recommend yearly checkups, notes WebMD.

The animal will get a complete physical, and have blood taken to check for heartworm. (Cats normally don’t get tested because the results are hard to interpret.) The vet may recommend other tests based on any problems your pet has, or anything unusual he or she sees during the exam.

Distemper-parvo and rabies booster shots happen during the first yearly checkup, then usually every three years after that — it is wise to check your state state law for exact regulations.

Outdoor cats should get feline leukemia vaccines, and the vet will advise what other vaccines may be in order. Note: If possible, bring in a stool sample from your pet, which your vet will check for intestinal parasites.

Senior: 7 to 10 years and older. Vets suggest twice-yearly checkups for older pets. “Your cat or dog will get vaccinations when needed and will get a thorough physical exam, along with tests to follow up on any problems,” explains WebMD. Blood and urine tests will reveal your pet’s kidney and liver health, thyroid hormone levels, and more.

Mention any changes, no matter how small, that you’ve seen in your pet at this visit — if, for example, your cat is drinking more water or your dog is no longer excited by his daily walks. These can be signs of a new problem such as kidney disease or arthritis.

And what about teeth cleaning? A dental cleaning is worth discussing with your veterinarian. Just remember, your dog or cat will have to go under general anesthesia for the procedure, so you will want to discuss any concerns — especially with older pets — thoroughly, before signing off on a cleaning.

Some 80 percent of dogs have some degree of periodontal disease by the age of two, says Modern Dog; this is defined as “inflammation affecting any of the structures supporting the teeth — the gums, the roots, the bone around the roots or the periodontal ligaments that anchor the roots to the jawbones.”

Also worth remembering is that dogs are often very stoic and will not show their owners that their teeth are causing them pain, notes Modern Dog. They may give clues that all is not well, however, by not tugging as vigorously on their toys; showing a waning interest in their food; showing a preference for soft foods, or even rubbing their faces to try to calm the discomfort.

If your dog has bad breath and brown teeth, it’s best to get to your veterinarian for an oral health exam.

Guinea pigs and other small pets. Guinea pigs require yearly check-ups and regular nail trims, too — the nails on their front paws often curl, and need to be kept short to avoid becoming ingrown, says Family Pet Veterinary Practice in Silver Spring, Maryland. The same goes for their teeth; some guinea pigs don’t chew enough hard foods or other items — or may have crooked teeth — and need to have their teeth trimmed or filed down.

Rabbits and bunnies need to be checked as well. One New York woman takes her floppy-eared critter to the vet twice a year for nail trims, ear checks and an overall veterinary exam. Vets will often ask about diet with animals like these; and owners will want to make sure their small, furry friend has enough room in a cage or pen for regular exercise.

A pet that receives regular veterinary care is a happy pet, one that will bring years of joy to the entire family.

Even a tiny creature like a hamster should have a yearly check-up, and a trip to the vet is in order if any of the following are noticed, according to diarrhea, loss of weight, abnormally long teeth; runny nose; tangled coat, shivering; glazed eyes; wheezing; foot sores; bloody urine; fur loss, or appetite loss.

And what about reptiles? Many reptile owners are surprised to learn that their scaly or shelled friend needs at least an annual check-up. A number of reptile veterinarians actually recommend check-ups at least twice a year, according to Veterinary Centers of America (VCA), headquartered in Los Angeles, California.

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Reptiles do not live as long as people, the organization notes, “so getting a check-up only once a year is like a human going to your doctor every 5-10 years.”

Reptiles with a shell also have medical needs; they can fall victim to viruses and respiratory infections, says This is when a turtle or tortoise needs a veterinarian; not all vets treat turtles, so it’s best to find one before you need one, and take your turtle in for a check-up — but there may indeed be times when your turtle needs antibiotics.

Importantly, no matter what type of pet you have, always remember: Just like humans, early detection and treatment of disease is important in giving your pet the best prognosis for recovery from a disease — and is less expensive than treating a serious problem.

A pet that receives regular veterinary care is a happy pet, one that will bring years of joy to the entire family.