Getting a new pet is a big deal and everyone knows it’s important to get off to a good start. So besides buying supplies and making your home pet-safe, what else should you be doing if you’re adding a new, furry, four-legged member to the family? As a veterinarian, it’s a question I’m often asked by prospective pet parents. So whether your new pet comes from an animal shelter, rescue or a breeder, I’d like to share important things I believe all new pets should have.
Taking your new pet to the veterinarian is probably the most important thing you should do. Your veterinarian will do a complete physical exam to insure your new pet is healthy or address any existing medical issues. They will also make sure your pet is protected from preventable illness by recommending vaccines and parasite preventatives. Your veterinarian may also suggest microchipping your pet and spaying or neutering them if it hasn’t been done already.
2. FIV and FeLV test
If your new pet is a cat than feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) tests are essential. FeLV and FIV are important disease causing viruses in cats. FIV is sometimes called feline “AIDS” because like HIV, it attacks the immune system and makes the host vulnerable to opportunistic infections. FeLV also weakens the immune system, but in addition to predisposing them to infections, it increases their risk of lymphosarcoma, a highly malignant cancer. Testing cats for FIV and FeLV is important for 2 different reasons. If you already have a cat, you want to make sure that your new cat is free from FIV and FeLV. FIV can be transmitted by a bite or scratch from an infected cat and FeLV can be transmitted by sharing food and water bowls or even a litter box with an infected cat. The second reason to test is that knowing that your new cat has FIV or FeLV is important even though there is no cure for either disease. FIV and FeLV are terrible diseases, but they are not death sentences and cats can live with FIV and FeLV. If you know your cat is infected, you can take additional precautions to protect them from infections.
3. Heartworm testing
When most people think of heartworms, they think of a disease that only affects dogs. In reality, heartworm disease can also affect cats, although less frequently.
Heartworm disease is a potentially fatal condition caused by a type of worm that lives in the heart and the arteries of the lungs. It is transmitted by mosquitos and is found in every state, although it is more prevalent in the South. The best treatment for heartworm disease is prevention. Before starting preventative treatments, it is recommended that pets are tested for heartworm disease because serious complications can develop if an animal is already infected.
4. Fecal flotation
Internal parasites can affect both cats and dogs. Examples of internal parasites include tapeworms, roundworms, whipworms, hookworms and protozoa like toxoplasma and cryptosporidia. Internal parasites can be detected by testing an animal’s stool with a fecal flotation test (also called a fecal float). It’s important to test for internal parasites because they can be transmitted to other pets and some can even spread to people.
5. Screening blood tests
If you are adopting an older cat or dog, it is always a good idea to get screening blood tests. By definition, a screening blood test is a test done to detect disease before it shows manifestations and becomes symptomatic. So even if the cat or dog you are adopting looks healthy, it is ideal to get a screening blood test to make sure they don’t have problems like diabetes, kidney disease or thyroid disease. Screening tests are also important for animals of all ages if they will be undergoing surgery.
Depending on where your animal came from, some of these tests may have already been done. For example, most animal shelters routinely test for FIV and FeLV before placing a cat in their adoption program. However, never assume and always check your pet’s medical record to find out what has already been done. This is another reason why taking your newly adopted pet to the veterinarian is important: they will review your pet’s medical records to determine which tests or vaccines have been done and what if anything still needs to be done. Following these recommendations can help insure a healthy start for your new animal friend.