Dr. Race Foster has been a practicing veterinarian twenty-seven years and served for four years on the Board of Directors of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Michigan State University. An active veterinary practitioner who does surgeries still today, we sat down with him to gain some insights about one of the basics in pet healthcare: pet wellness exams and the need for them. Here is the interview.
Question: Dr. Foster, you've always been a real advocate of the veterinary profession and of course are active in it yourself. Before we talk about pet wellness exams, tell us about the veterinary profession itself and how it has developed.
Dr. Race Foster: Veterinarians in the U.S. have a high degree of specialization that didn't exist in the same way in the past. There are now specialty disciplines in private practice such as cardiologists for heart disease, neurologists, dermatologists, surgeons, oncologists, ophthalmologists and so on. Advancements in these specialties are a very positive development. But in addition to specialty care there have been changes in basic care as well.
Question: What kind of change in basic care has there been?
Dr. Race Foster: For example today in pet wellness exams it is common to do lab tests such as blood panels and urinalysis. We could always do these in the past but they were less commonly performed. Today for routine pet wellness exams we often times recommend a full battery of basic tests. Just as in human healthcare, early detection of a condition is key to treating it successfully and maintaining the quality of a pet's life. These tests help us in early detection of conditions like kidney and liver disease, diabetes and heartworm infections. Early detection allows us to diagnose and begin treatment at the beginning stages of a disease. We recommend that pet owners see their veterinarian at least once yearly for a pet wellness exam and diagnostic tests.
Question: Why do you say "at least once" yearly for an annual pet wellness exam?
Dr. Race Foster: You have to remember that dogs and cats age faster than humans. Their diseases can progress fairly rapidly by comparison. Therefore, you may have a shorter window of opportunity for disease detection and treatment. There are times, then, when pet wellness exams should be given more than annually. As an example, many pet owners whose pets are geriatric patients or that have certain medical conditions take their pets to their veterinarian several times a year for wellness exams.
Question: So if I'm a pet owner and my pet seems to be doing fine, you are saying I still need to take him in for a pet wellness exam.
Dr. Race Foster: Yes, that's exactly right. Having a pet wellness exam will help ensure that your pet continues to do fine. In the past, our profession might have leaned toward a philosophy of "come in for your annual vaccinations and we'll give your pet an exam while you are here." Pet owners can be of the mindset that if their pet is up to date with their vaccinations, they didn't need to see their veterinarian. That is no truer in pet health than it is in human health. Now that philosophy is rightly being reversed to become, "come in for your pet wellness exam and if needed we'll give the shots that are required." This is a much better model for the health of pets. Our profession is changing its recommendations to reflect that. That's why Dr. Smith and I recommend that pet owners see their veterinarian regularly for pet wellness exams. A lot of healthcare products are available on the internet and in pet stores, but no product is a substitute for a good relationship with one's veterinarian and regular pet wellness exams.
Question: Are pet wellness exams costly?
Dr. Race Foster: No, not at all when one considers the savings gained by early disease diagnosis and treatment. More importantly, early disease detection and treatment is proven to extend the lives of dogs, cats and humans!
One more thing should be considered, study after study has shown that veterinarians are among the most trusted professionals in the United States. Most veterinarians practice veterinary medicine because they love animals and the animal health profession. Their motivation, and mine, for recommending annual pet wellness exams, is to see pets live long and healthy lives.