Dog Wellness Exams How To: What’s the Difference between Annual Exams and Wellness Exams?

Annual versus wellness exams–is there a difference?

Veterinary wellness exams should be about much more than vaccination boosters. Even though vaccination reminders are often a tool veterinarians use to get you in the clinic, there are better reasons both parties should understand.

Dog Wellness Exams How To: What's the Difference between Annual Exams and Wellness Exams?

When Keep the Tail Wagging raised this question, I was surprised. There is a difference? I always thought it was a different way of referring to the same thing. However, the article even includes Dr. Karen Becker’s video explaining the difference between the two.

My dog health advocacy consists of two stages.

Stage one, at the dawn of my dog health care advocacy, was a time when I thought that bringing my dog to a vet was all I ever had to do. I confess I don’t even remember what was or wasn’t done during the annual visits at that time.

Then Jasmine’s health problems started piling up. We switched vets a few times until we found Jasmine’s vet. It was when I started taking matters into my own hands; the beginning of stage two.

Today, when I take my dog to a vet, I know exactly what I expect to happen.

If hubby was taking Jasmine, I always made a list. Jasmine’s vet got so used to it that when hubby showed up, he’d ask, “So what are we doing today?” And hubby would pull out the list.

I even make a list when I’m going to be present myself, whether we’re going in with a specific health concern or a wellness exam.

I realized that even since we started working with Jasmine’s vet, we never took our dogs for an annual exam.

We call it an annual or semiannual exam, but as it turns out, we were going for wellness exams. That’s because the scope of what we did was way beyond the definition of what constitutes an annual exam.

Tomato, tomahto, what difference does it make?

It doesn’t. Well, it doesn’t matter what you call things. For example, when I call to make an appointment, I usually ask for an annual exam or even a yearly check-up. At the same time, though, I explain what exactly I expect to happen.

Some things are automatic, such as a weigh-in, physical examination. Though it seems that the annual exam only includes the examination of eyes, ears, and teeth … huh? What about the rest of the body? I don’t know about you, but my dog comes with more parts than that.

Yet, apparently, according to their definitions, only the wellness exam includes examining the rest of the body. Looking at what the annual exam covers, is it completely inadequate.

Regardless of what my vet or I might call it, this is what I expect from such visit:

  • weigh in
  • fecal
  • urinalysis
  • discussion of any health concerns and review of medical history
  • discussion of preventive medicine
  • review of diet and supplements
  • physical examination of all body parts
  • blood work

Because we now work with an integrative vet, I also always ask for both conventional and TCVM exams.

Things that our annual/semiannual visit may or may not include:

  • deworming (I don’t believe in treating problems that don’t exist; I only deworm if my dog actually has worms, which only happened twice throughout all those years)
  • vaccinations

We vaccinate very conservatively.

I do believe in vaccinating, but I believe in vaccinating conservatively. This means that everything else is open to the discussion other than the legislated rabies vaccine.

After their initial distemper, adenovirus, and parvovirus (DAP) shots, we choose to titer rather than to blindly booster. And even if we did booster, it wouldn’t happen more often than every three years.

Some vaccines do need to be boostered annually, such as lepto. We are still on the fence about that one though we might decide to do it this spring.

I provide detailed instructions on what I want to happen with the drawn blood.

We did a “pre-op” panel only a couple of times, which includes only a few basic values. We were looking for specific things, and there was no need to go for the whole shebang.

Typically, every time we draw blood, we have a full comprehensive blood panel (blood count and chemistry), and then we check for other things depending on the situation or the time of year.

Besides a full comprehensive blood panel we might include specialized tests:

  • heartworm test
  • tick-borne disease test
  • thyroid test
  • other specialized tests as needed

I let the vet’s office know what I want to have done beforehand to figure out how much blood they need to take and what they might need to have prepared for some of the specialized tests.

If you know what you want and let your veterinarian know what you want, it doesn’t matter what you call it.

How to make the most out of your dog wellness exam

Getting the most out of your veterinary visits boils down to three things:

  • being prepared to provide needed information
  • knowing what questions to ask your veterinarian
  • learning how to work with your veterinarian

First, do you want to be the champion for your dog’s health and a rock star of veterinary visits? Grab our FREE Veterinary Visit Checklists. Never get stumped at the exam room and never walk out without getting the answers you need.

Maximize your veterinary visits.

Related articles:
The Secret Benefit of Wellness Exams
Become a Rock Star of Veterinary Visits

Categories: Dog careDog health advocacyWellness examsWorking with Veterinarians

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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