By Terry Spencer, DVM
When I am shopping and a clerk asks whether I need any help, I almost always reply, “No, thank you. I’m just looking…” My response implies that “looking” is not going to lead to anything important, such as a purchase that day, so don’t waste your time helping me. However, that isn’t necessarily true. “Just looking” is an important part of the process of shopping. If I didn’t begin shopping by” just looking,” then I would never find what I need.
“Just looking” is also an important part of the process of completing a physical examination of an animal. Determining whether a pet is healthy or ill all begins with looking. As a veterinarian, I look with my senses, and also with tools of my trade to extend my senses. I watch the animal walk. I listen to the sounds of its heart and lungs using my stethoscope. I smell the odor given off by its breath or its skin. I feel for lumps in its belly. I collect body fluids to analyze in the lab, which helps me “look” inside the animal. I take X-rays or perform an ultrasound exam to “look” at body parts under the skin. Frankly, I’m “just looking” all day when I do my job. And in this context, I expect looking to pay off for the pet. I expect to find what is working correctly and to detect any problems early when I can still help the pet owner keep the animal healthy. Prevention of disease and early detection of disease are vital to helping pets (and people) live long, healthy lives.
When I can’t look, I can’t help. It is important for pet owners to appreciate that.
It is increasingly common these days for pet owners to take their pets to “low-cost” vaccine clinics. These clinics are everywhere, every weekend. You can find them in the parking lots of the local grocery store, drug store, pet store, groomer, and sometimes even at auto parts stores. Vaccine clinics for pets can serve an important role for pets that otherwise would never get any vaccinations. However, the “looking” part of the veterinary visit is lacking at these clinics. The reason the vaccines are “low-cost” is because you get what you pay for—vaccines without a complete physical exam. You can save a few dollars by not paying a veterinarian to “look” at your pet. Is that really the best value for your dollar?
Vaccines against infectious diseases are very important for puppies and kittens. But, vaccines aren’t necessary every year for every adult animal. In fact, most vaccines if boosted properly in the early years give protection for at least three years, and some give protection for the life of the pet. There is no standard vaccine package that is appropriate for every pet. And over-vaccination of your pet can be just as harmful for pets as is under-vaccination. That is why most veterinary practices don’t offer “low-cost vaccine clinics” in their parking lots on the weekends. It isn’t annual vaccines that keep your pet healthy. It is the veterinarian who completely examines your pet from head-to-toe, monitors its weight and temperature, and helps the pet owner set a customized vaccine protocol based on the pet’s risks of disease exposure determined after taking a history from the pet owner.
At some annual visits, I don’t recommend vaccines at all. I know, that sounds like heresy. Instead, I might recommend treating an ear infection, cleaning off dental tarter, removing a lump, or giving medication for back pain you might not have known was there. Remember, your veterinarian is your other family doctor. But you need to let me just look….
Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey