The Edmond Sun

October 22, 2012

VET Q&A: Ounce of prevention starts with annual exams

Dr. M. Margaret King
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — We all know in our own lives and health how true is the old adage “An ounce of Prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Two important organizations in veterinary medicine — the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association — have collaborated to develop both canine and feline preventive health guidelines.

Annual testing of our canine partners for heartworm disease along with a complete physical examination are both essential. Both our canine and feline friends, of course, need the physical examination from head to toe along with an intestinal parasite check.

As our pets have moved into the home and coexist with us on a daily basis, they need to be checked regularly for a healthy status.  They also go outside to play and be themselves. So many things they get into can cause them and us problems. Many parasites they pick up are zoonotic and like us as a host as well.

The flea is the intermediate host of the tapeworm. As your pet grooms and eats even a single flea it is potentially infected with tapeworms. Because of this, parasite control for all pets should be year-round.

Heartworm disease is also now common to both canine and feline pets. In cats, one or two heartworms can be fatal. In dogs, heartworm disease takes a much longer time for progression but will end in death if not treated. If a dog is positive for heartworm disease, baby heartworms will be circulating in the dog’s blood. This serves as a reservoir for heartworms and infection of others, including dogs, cats and even humans. A mosquito bites this dog, picks up the baby heartworms, bites another dog, cat or human and spreads the heartworm disease. Although humans do not get heartworms as such, they will form cysts in the human’s lungs and the human acts as a dead-end host.

Dogs should be tested prior to starting on a heartworm preventative because if they are heartworm positive some of the preventatives can cause death. This is why they are a prescription and recommendations by your veterinarian should be closely followed. The recommendations are a once-a-month preventative given year-round and a heartworm test should be done annually.

Cats, especially those that go outside, whether only occasionally or living outside, should be tested for retroviruses such as feline leukemia and kitty AIDS. Cats that have a tendency to fight such as non-neutered tomcats can acquire kitty AIDS from a bite wound.  Again a positive cat can act as a reservoir for other cats to become infected.

Vaccinations need to be monitored closely also. For cats, panleukopenia, herpes, calicivirus and feline leukemia vaccinations should be kept current. In dogs, distemper, parvo and adenovirus should be kept current. Parvo and distemper are not just puppy diseases but can infect any dog not vaccinated that gets exposed.  Of course current rabies vaccines are required for ferrets, dogs and cats on an annual or tri-annual basis depending on the vaccine used and state or local requirements. Rabies vaccine is mandated by law and rabies certainly can be a zoonotic disease.

Many pet owners take exceptional care of their pets by visiting their veterinarian at least annually for a wellness exam, intestinal parasite and heartworm test. Some vaccines are given one year and another the next year. The essential annual check-up is met regardless. Any problems discovered are dealt with early to prevent reservoir development or progression of a disease that could be treated and prevented or stopped in its tracks such as a malignant tumor or parasite problem.

Pets are the center of our lives and are living much longer these days as a result of better veterinary medicine, vaccines and parasite preventatives. Dental disease can be controlled and prevented, weight management monitored and muscle and joint changes helped with medications, laser therapy and exercise plans customized for our pets. Life can be not only longer, but also happier by following current guidelines and having annual checkups for your four-legged family members.

DR. M. MARGARET KING, a longtime Edmond veterinarian, is a guest columnist. If you have any questions for her, email them to