Preventive Healthcare Guidelines for Dogs

Care & Wellness, Dogs

The American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association have paired up to
develop preventive canine healthcare guidelines to help veterinarians and dog owners keep dogs healthy and happy. These are scientifically grounded clinical guidelines to help veterinarians elevate the standard of care to improve patient health, quality of care, and quality of life for their canine patients.

What benefits will my dog and I gain from these guidelines?

Preventive care and early intervention in diseases provide well-established and well-accepted benefits in human medicine and human dentistry. Now that dogs are living longer, they are developing some of the same age-related illnesses and issues that humans develop, such as osteoarthritis and cancer. Your veterinarian plays an essential role in maintaining your dog’s health and wellness. Part of his or her goal is to help dog owners understand the importance of preventing diseases or at least catching them early, when they are more manageable. The guidelines provide a coherent and straightforward plan that promotes prevention and early intervention and can ultimately help dogs live longer and healthier lives.

What are the details of the preventive healthcare guidelines that apply to my dog?

The guidelines recommend that all dogs receive a complete veterinary examination at least once a year, although many dogs should be seen more frequently, depending on their individual needs and health concerns. The visit should include a review of the dog’s recent history, lifestyle, life stage, activities of daily living, general behavior, and diet. The physical examination itself should include a dental assessment, pain assessment, and body condition scoring.

The information gathered will provide a complete picture of your dog’s health status. Your veterinarian can then use it to assess the following:

  • Ongoing or newly diagnosed medical conditions
  • Parasite prevention/control
  • Dental health
  • Nutritional considerations
  • Any behavior concerns

The next step will be for your veterinarian to make a specific and detailed preventive healthcare plan for your dog.
Such a plan will set expectations for necessary follow-up, including the timing of upcoming appointments and the expected focus of those visits. Your veterinarian can provide you with a written summary of the plan for your dog’s record at home.

The plan should provide recommendations for:

  • Appropriate diagnostic tests, including an annual heartworm blood test and testing for intestinal parasites
  • Year-round broad-spectrum parasite prevention/control, including protection against heartworms, intestinal parasites, fleas, and possibly ticks (depending on your dog’s risk of exposure)
  • Dental care (both home care and any professional dental therapy or intervention)
  • Therapeutic management of medical conditions
  • Nutrition
  • Behavior
  • Vaccinations

Appropriate vaccination to prevent infectious disease is a key component of preventive healthcare for dogs. Your veterinarian will determine both the core and non-core vaccines that are most appropriate for your particular geographic area based on the most up-to-date vaccination guidelines.

Other preventive health strategies your veterinarian may suggest include:

  • Permanent identification via microchip
  • Spaying or neutering  for dogs not specifically entering a purebred breeding program
  • Early disease screening tests (blood and urine)
  • Genetic screening tests (when appropriate and available)

Can I expect that every visit my dog has with my veterinarian will be the same?

Medical knowledge and understanding of disease prevalence and processes are constantly expanding. The Canine Preventive Healthcare Guidelines are designed to be modified and updated as newer information about keeping dogs healthy becomes available. In addition, veterinarians already understand that as dogs age, their needs change and their risk for various diseases increases. Puppies have different preventive healthcare needs than young adults, and senior dogs have their own unique needs.

Year to year, the details of a dog’s veterinary visits will change, but the underlying emphasis will remain the same—a focus on maximizing our canine companions’ health, wellness, and quality of life!

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