A new year starts tomorrow, a time for many to pledge their commitment to being healthier and happier. So, what about your pets? According to Dr. Evelyn Vega, veterinarian and owner of Happy Pets Veterinary Center in Valencia, the occasion is a great time to start your dog or cat on a healthier path, as well. It all starts with a routine examination at the veterinarian. “Every year I schedule my yearly physical exam with my doctor, my optometrist and my dentist. Luckily you don’t have to worry about scheduling multiple doctor appointments for your pets. Usually one visit covers all of the above,” Vega said. She described the veterinary exam as “nose to tail,” looking into oral health, checking for parasites and lumps, and performing bloodwork. “Annual blood work allows us to take a quick glimpse inside your pet and make sure they are healthy inside and out,” Vega said. “Remember one human year is equal to 7 pet years, so a lot can change from year to year.” Vaccines will also be reviewed, with some requiring an annual booster, while others are good for up to three years. Preventative care can help diagnose common pet diseases such as periodontal or kidney disease and diabetes in the early stages, as Vega illustrated. “For kidney disease, we can start pets on renal supplements, a low protein diet and increase water intake. This can help the kidneys and thus slow down disease progression,” Vega said. “In the case of periodontal disease, grades 1 and 2 are easily reversed with a deep dental cleaning. However, once we get to grades 3 and 4, where there is bone loss, the damage is irreversible and tooth loss is common.” During the annual exam, Vega likes to update her clients about the latest research findings. For example, heartworm, once thought of as almost exclusive to the southern and eastern regions of the United States, is making an unexpected comeback in California. “We are now seeing more pets from those areas, with events such as Katrina, where abandoned dogs were adopted out and brought here,” Vega said. For pets with weight issues or medical needs, a dietary review may also be in order. “We always ask owners what food they feed their pet. About half of them know the name or at least the color of the bag. Very few owners know exact amounts fed. It usually is a ‘scoop’ but they don’t know what the scoop measurement is,” Vega said. “If the pet is over or under weight, then we try to go more in depth into diet and what kinds of treats are or should be given.” As long as pets are eating a good quality food, there should be no need to supplement, Vega said. If the pet is fed a homemade diet, owners should definitely consider supplementing the food with needed vitamins and minerals, which are often carried at veterinarian offices. Ultimately, being proactive with annual exams not only keeps pets healthy longer, it’s financially preferable to waiting until a disease or condition requires extensive testing to determine the cause of illness. Costs of those tests, ranging from X-rays, ultrasounds, and blood work, as well as treating the symptoms, can quickly escalate. “In the long run, it is easier to pay $200 to 300 a year versus $1,000 or more at one time and not know what the outcome may be,” Vega said.