Life Science

How often should I take my pet to the vet?

The answer is at the heart of a multi-million dollar advertising campaign by the veterinary industry

September 18, 2014
Your vet would like to see your cat at least once a year. [Image credit: Washington State University]

You should take your pet to the vet at least once a year — that’s the message that the veterinary industry has poured $5.5 million into spreading over the past year in a nationwide campaign. They’re trying to reverse a trend that has worried vets across the country for a decade — Americans just aren’t taking their pets to the vet as often as they did back in the ‘90s.

The campaign, launched a year ago by an industry-wide coalition called Partners for Healthy Pets, reminds Americans that an annual vet visit is part of being a responsible pet owner. According to the nation’s most influential professional organizations, pet health insurance companies and veterinary schools, these visits — which typically include a nose-to-tail examination plus tests or shots — are critical to the field’s new focus on preventive medicine.

Vets first noticed a dip in annual check-ups in the early 2000s, long before the recession. The average number of visits in a year for dogs dropped from 1.9 to 1.5 between 2001 and 2006 and from 1.0 to 0.7 for cats in that same period. Visits have remained low in the years since, despite a spike in 2011. Researchers blamed a number of factors — including the rise of Internet services that often trump the traditional vet — in an article published in JAVMA, the official journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. They also cited “feline resistance” as a big barrier; cats hate going to the vet and their owners hate taking them there.

But vets need to see their patients to stay in business and to keep pets in good health. So Partners for Healthy Pets created public service announcements and placed ads promoting annual visits in magazines like Real Simple, Shape, People and Prevention. They had their work cut out for them, as 24 percent of all pet owners and 40 percent of cat owners in America think that routine checkups are unnecessary, according to a report published last year by JAVMA.

Even though the campaign ends this year, it’s part of a long-term change championed in a commentary by Ron DeHaven, executive vice president of American Veterinary Medical Association, published in the May 2014 issue of JAVMA. DeHaven called for “a fundamental shift” in the veterinary profession toward preventive care. He envisions a transformation like that which occurred in dentistry — a field that once treated patients primarily for gum disease and cavities now has patients in the habit of scheduling preventive check-ups twice a year.

When it comes to their own pets, though, vets don’t always practice what they preach. A surprising 20 percent of vets who own cats and 12 percent who own dogs failed to give their pet an annual exam this past year, according to a study conducted by Bayer HealthCare — a pet health care company.


About the Author

Amy Nordrum

Amy Nordrum is a science writer who has published in Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, The Atlantic, InsideClimate News, Psychology Today, Men’s Journal, and American Cowboy. She was previously based in Alaska and holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ohio University. Amy is currently completing here fifth NYC-based media internship with Scientific American.



There are a lot of dogs and cats that have died in my neighborhood just this year. Many of which are because of some sort of disease. I don’t want the same fate for my pets. I haven’t taken them to have a check-up for years. I’ll have to start doing it at least once a year.

I liked that you explained that taking your pet to the vet once a year as part of preventive medicine. I would imagine that animals can acquire diseases and health problems that their owners aren’t able to identify. I will be taking my dog to the vet annually to ensure his health is properly taken care of.

I like how you suggested that you should take your pet to the vet at least once a year. My brother wants to get a dog and he is doing some research to know more about pet care. I will definitely share this article with him so he can learn more about what professionals advice for pet care.

I like how you said that you should take your pet to the vet at least once a year. My neighbor has two large dogs and as far as I know, he never takes them to the vet. It would be a great idea for him to take them to the vet for a general checkup.

Megan Adler says:

It really helped when you said that we should take our pets to the vet at least once a year. I have 2 dogs and a cat and my husband doesn’t understand the fact that they need regular vet visits to make sure everything is right. I’m going to share this article with him so he can see that its necessary and as a good pet owner you should schedule regular vet appointments.

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