Preventive Care Reimagined

Preventive care is a critical concept of veterinary medicine, and yet many owners do not fully understand it. The concept behind preventive medicine is that if we are proactive with our medical care, we can not only slow down diseases that hurt our pets but in some cases, we can prevent them entirely!  Prevention includes everything from vaccines and blood work that we do at the hospital to the flea/tick/heartworm prevention and dental care you do at home!  As you can tell, there are many ways you can help keep your pet healthy and happy, but finding the right preventive plan for your pet isn’t always clear! In this post, we will address the different parts of preventive care for our pets, and the prevention plans that Heart + Paw offers to make preventive medicine easy.

Physical Exams

This is simultaneously the most critical part of preventive medicine and the part that most people forget! During a physical exam, the doctor will assess your pet’s health from the tip of their nose, down to their paws, and back to their tail. The veterinarian can find masses, heart murmurs, fleas, ear infections, back pain, and so much more! The details gained from a simple physical exam are invaluable.  For this reason, making sure your pet has a full physical exam with a veterinarian at least once a year is critical to maintaining their health and well-being.


Vaccines help us to prevent some of the worst diseases that attack our pets. Cats and dogs share the same core vaccines – Distemper combination vaccine and the Rabies vaccine. The Distemper vaccine protects cats and dogs against a few serious and untreatable diseases that are regularly present in their environment. The Rabies vaccine is actually a legal requirement for all owned pets as a public health concern.

There is a second set of vaccines for cat and dogs however that are labeled “Lifestyle vaccines.” These vaccines are critical, depending on your pet’s lifestyle. Your veterinarian will often discuss where you live and where you plan to take your pet to determine which of these vaccines is needed. For cats who go outside, a Feline Leukemia vaccine may be recommended. Whereas dogs who love to hike a Lyme or Leptospirosis vaccine may be important. To better understand your vaccine options and which are recommended for your pet, feel free to contact your veterinarian for more detailed guidance.

Routine Lab Work

Routine lab work encompasses annual blood work, fecal testing, urine testing, and heartworm/tick-borne disease testing. General blood work, fecal, and urine testing is meant to serve as the internal physical exam for your pet!  This gives the veterinarian a broad and thorough view of your pet’s internal health and can allow them to catch diseases and problems before they make your pet sick!  About 50% of older cats have chronic kidney disease – a progressive disease that causes the kidneys to stop working. By doing annual blood work, we can catch this process in the early stages and ensure treatment and management is started right away to improve their quantity and quality of life.  For dogs, routine lab work may show us that your pet has been exposed to heartworm. This allows us to initiate treatment right away before any major life-threatening effects have started.

For all of these reasons, annual blood work can make a world of difference in how we manage your pet’s health and can truly help us prevent and stay ahead of problems.

Flea/Tick/Heartworm Prevention

We mentioned testing for tick-borne diseases in routine lab work but even better is to prevent the infections in the first place! Fleas and ticks carry all sorts of diseases and can also cause serious skin infections. Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes and literally results in worms living in the vessels around your pet’s heart! All three of these nasty parasites can affect the health and happiness of your cat or dog.  

While many people used to save prevention for the warm summer months, our weather has changed. With 75 degree weather in December and snow in May, our weather is severely unpredictable.  Anytime the weather rises above about 40 degrees, the mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks, can wake up and begin their search for hosts. This is why year-round flea, tick, and heartworm prevention is the current recommendation by veterinarians.  

Once you’ve decided to invest in prevention, it can be hard to sort through the huge number of options and choose the right prevention for your pet.  While there are many over the counter options, it is important to recognize that none of these protect against heartworm and some of them don’t even protect against many ticks either!  With options that are oral, topical, or injectable, and some that last one month, three months, or more it can be overwhelming. To determine the best flea, tick, and heartworm prevention for your pet, please contact your veterinarian.  

Dental Care

The importance of dental care for our pets has been a growing focus over the last few years. Research shows that dental disease can lead to not only oral pain but also heart disease, kidney disease, abscesses in the mouth, and more. New research has led veterinary medicine to put a new primary focus on teaching daily dental care and managing the dental disease.  Preventative dental care for our pets looks a lot like dental care for us!  They need daily dental care – just like we brush our teeth and floss, they benefit from brushing and dental chews.  Our pets also need dental cleanings – while we go to the dentist to have our teeth professionally cleaned every 6-12 months, pets also need professional cleanings with a veterinarian regularly.  How often is regularly? It depends on the pet.  Our smaller dogs and cats can need annual dental cleanings, while larger dogs with good dental health can be comfortable and healthy for a few years.  Your veterinarian will assess your pet’s teeth at their annual exam to determine if there is evidence of any dental disease and can recommend an appropriate plan for managing your pet’s smile.


While the choice to spay and neuter can be affected by decisions to breed or concerns for proper development and growth, there are still many health benefits to this decision that should be considered. While this short introduction to spaying and neutering does not cover all the pros and cons of this important decision, you can certainly discuss it more with your veterinarian to determine if and when the best time to fix your pet might be.

For male pets, the decision to not neuter is linked to a number of diseases such as prostatitis or even the growth of specific types of masses that will not resolve without neutering.  Neutering also prevents the development of negative behaviors such as urine marking, humping, and aggression.  While these behaviors do not affect your pet’s health directly, they can lead to a need to re-home a pet which can be quite traumatic for their health and well being.

For female pets, the decision to spay is even more important!  With increased risks for mammary (breast) cancer after the first heat, it can be an important preventative medicine decision to spay your pet. Choosing to spay can also prevent diseases such as a pyometra, a severe infection of the uterus, which can require emergency surgery.  

Non-Routine Testing

Non-routine testing refers to tests such as blood pressure checks, x rays, and other testing that is not regularly included for a majority of pets. These tests are not required for all pets however, there are cases where these tests can become routine and important to keep your pet healthy.  For example, if your cat is diagnosed with kidney disease, a veterinarian will often recommend regular blood pressure checks, as high blood pressure is a common secondary problem and concern for cats with kidney disease.  Another example is if your dog is diagnosed with a heart murmur during a physical exam.  A veterinarian may recommend annual chest x rays to monitor the heart and ensure we catch any early signs of heart disease before they can progress to heart failure.

There are many ways that non-routine testing can become critical for your pet, however, the decision to add these tests to your pet’s preventative medicine plan may require a conversation with your veterinarian.

Now that you understand the major aspects of preventive care and what it can do for you and your pet, choosing a Prevention Plan at Heart + Paw is easy!  The Prevention Plans simply take the options listed above that you feel best fit you and your pet’s needs, and package them into one simple annual plan.  By signing up, you save 20% on all of the preventive care for the year!  And the best part is, you can adjust the plan each year to fit your pet’s growing and changing needs as they age.  For more information on preventive care or the Heart + Paw Prevention Plans, please contact your veterinarian.

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About Us

Heart + Paw was founded in 2018 by Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. George Melillo, who currently serves the Mid-Atlantic area. Heart + Paw offers a combination of veterinary care, pet grooming, and dog daycare to help be a resource in your pet parenthood journey.

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