Why does my pet need a physical exam before receiving vaccines?
This comes up a fair bit. Pet owners question the necessity of a physical exam when a pet is due for vaccines. After all, their pet is perfectly healthy and they’d just as soon skip the exam. For some people, it’s about saving time, money, and/or stress on a pet. Others genuinely feel their pet is healthy and that an exam simply isn’t necessary. We get that. But there’s no getting around a physical exam if your pet needs vaccinations. And for good reason.
First things first. Ontario law requires our veterinarians to have a veterinary-client-patient relationship before they can administer medication of any kind, including vaccines. A physical exam that’s been performed within a year is the minimum we need to establish and maintain that relationship at our hospital. If we haven’t seen your pet within a year, he/she will need an exam before we can vaccinate.
Fair enough. The law is the law. But what if we have seen a pet within the year – is that exam still necessary? Yes. Without question. And without exception. Regardless of how recently we’ve seen that pet.
Here’s the thing. No matter how healthy a pet owner thinks a pet is, there’s no substitute for the medical training and experience a veterinarian brings to bear in assessing a pet’s eligibility for a vaccine by reviewing a pet’s medical record, obtaining a history from a client, and performing a full physical – head to tail, top to bottom, inside (to the extent we can) and out. A new problem can crop up at any time, and while a pet may seem perfectly healthy to a pet owner, pets are notoriously good at hiding health issues from their families (it’s a hard-wired instinct that plays out routinely in companion animals). There isn’t a veterinarian at our hospital who hasn’t at one time or another delayed vaccinating a pet that a pet owner thought was perfectly healthy but in fact wasn’t healthy enough to receive a vaccine.
We give vaccines to protect pets from diseases that can have disastrous consequences. We give them to prevent the spread of those diseases to other animals. And we give them to protect the public. (Think Rabies here.) We take that responsibility very seriously. Vaccines put the immune system to work building protective antibodies. That work makes demands on the body’s energy reserves. If we give a vaccine to a pet that isn’t healthy at the time of vaccination, he/she may not build enough antibodies to be protected and it may take him/her longer to recover from whatever already happens to be in play. Either way, we’ve failed in our responsibility. A full physical is the minimum we can do to be reasonably sure that:
1) a pet’s health won’t be compromised by receiving a vaccine and
2) a pet is healthy enough to mount a good response to a vaccine (i.e., able to build enough antibodies to protect that pet from a specific disease)
We apply those same standards to every pet, including those owned by our own staff members. No wiggle room here. Vaccinations require a physical exam because it’s in everyone’s best interest.
Dr. Iz Jakubowski
Royal York Animal Hospital
4222 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke, Ontario M8X 1Y6
416-231-9293 firstname.lastname@example.org www.ryah.ca