By Linda Formichelli
You know your cat or dog needs regular checkups to stay healthy. But how often should he get them?
The answer depends on your pet's life stage, says Susan Barrett, DVM, head of community practice at Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Kitten or Puppy: Birth to 1 Year
You'll need to bring your little one in for vaccines every 3 to 4 weeks until he's 16 weeks old.
Dogs will get shots for rabies, distemper-parvo, and other diseases. They may also need shots to protect against health woes such as kennel cough, influenza, and Lyme disease.
Cats will get tests for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. They also get vaccinations that cover several diseases.
At this stage, your pet will also start heartworm and flea- and tick-prevention medications, if they're recommended for your area.
The vet will examine your pup or kitten to make sure he's growing well and shows no signs of an illness. She'll check again at around 6 months, when you bring your pet in to be spayed or neutered.
"We'll also check to see how housebreaking, training, and socialization are going," Barrett says.
Adult: 1 to 7-10 Years (Depending on Type of Pet and Breed)
During this stage, vets recommend yearly checkups. The doc will give your pet a head-to-tail physical. She'll also take a blood sample from your dog to check for heartworms. (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 she sees during the exam.
Distemper-parvo and rabies booster shots happen during the first yearly checkup, then usually every 3 years after that. How often animals get rabies boosters depends on state law.
Your dog may get other vaccines to prevent illnesses like kennel cough, and outdoor cats should get feline leukemia vaccines.
It's helpful to 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. Blood and urine tests can give your vet the scoop on your pet's kidney and liver health, thyroid hormone levels, and more.
Mention any changes you've seen in your pet -- 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.
"To get your pet used to going in a carrier to travel to the vet, keep the carrier out and put your cat's or dog's food and toys in it," Barrett says.