Why does my pet need a physical exam before receiving vaccines?

This is a common occurrence. When a pet is due for immunizations, some pet owners worry whether a physical exam is necessary. After all, their pet is in wonderful health, and they'd rather avoid the examination. It's about saving time, money, and/or stress on a pet for some individuals. Others believe their pet is in good health and that an examination is unnecessary. That's something we understand. If your pet need immunizations, though, you won't be able to avoid a physical exam. And it's not without reason.

First and foremost. Our veterinarians are required by law to have a veterinary-client-patient connection before they can prescribe any medication, including immunizations. The bare least we require to establish and sustain that relationship at our institution is a physical exam completed within a year. If we haven't seen your pet in a year, we will need to examine him or her before we can vaccinate him or her.

That's all right. The rule of law is the rule of law. Is that checkup still required if we have seen a pet within the last year? Yes. Without a doubt. And this is true without exception. Regardless of how long it's been since we've seen that pet.

Here's the deal: There's no substitute for a veterinarian's medical training and experience in assessing a pet's eligibility for a vaccine by reviewing a pet's medical record, obtaining a client's history, and performing a full physical – head to tail, top to bottom, inside (to the extent we can) and out – in assessing a pet's eligibility for a vaccine. A new condition might arise at any time, and while a pet may appear to be in good health to its owner, pets are known for hiding health problems from their family (it's a hard-wired impulse that frequently manifests in companion animals). There isn't a single veterinarian at our hospital who hasn't put off vaccination a pet that a pet owner felt was perfectly healthy but was actually too sick to receive a vaccine.

Vaccines are used to prevent dogs from infections that can be fatal. We administer them to keep the infections from spreading to other animals. We give them to protect the general public. (Think of rabies.) That is a responsibility that we take extremely seriously. Vaccines function by stimulating the immune system to produce protective antibodies. The body's energy reserves are put to the test as a result of this job. If we give a vaccine to a pet who isn't healthy at the time of vaccination, he or she may not produce enough antibodies to be protected, and it may take longer for him or her to recover from whatever infection is already there. In any case, we've failed in our duty. A complete physical examination is the bare minimum we can undertake to ensure that:

1) Receiving a vaccine will not jeopardise a pet's health, and

2) A pet is in good enough health to mount a strong immune response to a vaccine (i.e., able to build enough antibodies to protect that pet from a specific disease)

Every pet, including those owned by our own employees, is held to the same high standards. There's no room for error here. Because it is in everyone's best interest, vaccinations necessitate a physical examination.

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