WHAT IS A PHYSICAL EXAMINATION?
Most pet visits to a veterinarian at Animal Medical Center will include a physical exam. A physical examination is the evaluation of the anatomy and behavior of the pet to determine overall health. It is the most important tool a veterinarian has to assess the pet’s general health status. It is not unlike your visits to the doctor.
The veterinarian performs palpation, auscultation as well as visual assessment. Healthy pets are evaluated for early problems. Sick pets are assessed to see where the problem is occurring. As you know, often times the pet won’t tell us! It is up to the veterinarian to decide based on the physical examination.
WHAT DOES THE VETERINARIAN LOOK AT DURING THE EXAMINATION?
Much information is found during a physical examination. Below is a basic list of what your veterinarian may evaluate on your dog or cat:
- Weight: Weight is an important part of the exam. Fluctuations may indicate illness. Also, controlling obesity is vital for the health of your dog or cat.
- TPR: Also known as the temperature, pulse and respiratory rate. These are commonly called the “vitals.” These measurements alert the veterinarians at Animal Medical Center of possible problems like infection, pneumonia, heart disease and pain.
- Behavior: Does the pet seem alert or lethargic? Are there symptoms of pain, nausea, malaise like crying or shaking?
- Mucous membranes: Does the pet have wet, pink gums that indicates proper blood circulation and hydration?
- Oral health: Are there signs of dental disease like tartar build up and bleeding gums? Does the pet open his/her mouth normally? Does the throat show any signs of disease?
- Eyes: Does the pet see normally? Are there signs of cataracts? Does the pet’s pupils respond to light? Is there abnormal discharge, corneal trauma or excessive redness?
- Ears: The veterinarian will assess ear health by looking for discharge, abnormal odor, redness. Often times, an otoscope is use to check the ear canal for infection, mites and/or ticks.
- Neurologic health: The pets behavior, eye responses and gait are often assessed to see if there is any neurologic problems. Reflexes are checked and simple testing of the pet’s ability to move the legs properly help the veterinarian decide if there is a problem.
- Heart: Does the heartbeat sound normal? The veterinarian checks for normal pulses as well as murmurs and arrhythmias.
- Lungs: Does the pet breath easily without force? Does the pet have any crackles or wheezes to the lung sounds? Are the gums blue?
- Abdominal health: Palpation is used to evaluate the abdominal organs like the kidneys, spleen, intestines, liver and bladder. Sometimes, tumors are found just with palpation. Also, the pet is evaluated for belly pain and discomfort.
- Orthopedic health: In addition to palpating the bones and joints, the way a pet walks tells the veterinarian a lot about bone/joint health. Joint flexibility and signs of pain during this exam help veterinarians diagnose arthritis and other bone problems
- Skin/coat: Does the pet have hair loss, flaky skin, scabs or itchy areas? Is the skin oily or have a smell? Are there signs of fleas, ticks or mites?
- Anal/urogenital area: This area is evaluated for skin health, discharge and pain. Intact females will be checked for signs of heat like bleeding.
All these factors are taken into account when deciding on the health of the animal. These findings, with information from the owner on how the pet is doing at home, help the veterinarian make decisions on care.
WHEN SHOULD MY PET HAVE A PHYSICAL EXAMINATION?
Young (less than 6 years old) healthy pets should have a physical examination at least once a year. This is usually done during the annual vaccination visit.
Older pets (greater than 6) should have an exam twice yearly. This allows the veterinarian to possibly detect early problems and diseases. Dogs and cats age more quickly than humans, thus the importance of early detection is vital. Often, a dog or cat can can have healthier senior years if treatment for problems, like arthritis or kidney disease, are addressed at the earliest point possible. Without frequent exams, these problems go unchecked.
Any dog or cat exhibiting abnormal behavior could be a candidate for an exam. Problems like not eating, vomiting, limping and head scratching are common reasons for dogs and cats to come to the vet. Dogs and cats will hide their illnesses as long as they can. Often times, the moment we know there is something wrong, the problem is already advanced. So, never hesitate to call us with questions or make an appointment for an exam if your pet is not acting normal.
HOW DO I MAKE AN APPOINTMENT FOR A PHYSICAL EXAMINATION?
Call us at 806-794-4118.