The Annual Physical Exam

Dogs and cats add so much to our lives, unconditional love, affection, and entertainment, just to name a few. As good owners it is important that we repay the favor and take the best care of them that we can. Regular veterinary care is one big way that we can extend the lives of our pets and keep them happy and healthy.

Most annual veterinary visits include a physical exam, vaccines, heartworm test, and a fecal. Weight, temperature, pulse and respiratory rate are recorded, and a medical history is taken from the owner. Examining the dog from nose to tail, doing a few diagnostic tests, recording some vitals, and getting a history can give us a lot of information about the health of your pet and also give us a baseline to compare to when those days come that the pet is sick or not acting like themselves.

During the physical exam the veterinarian will examine every organ system of the dog or cat. Most veterinarians will start from the front and work the way to the back. But before that we look at the general appearance of the animal. Just from watching the patient walk around the room a lot of information can be gathered about the overall health of the animal.

We also determine body condition. Dogs and cats come in so many different shapes and sizes. To determine if a patient is a healthy weight we use a body condition score. From there we can recommend changes in diet or exercise if necessary.

The oral cavity is the first to be examined. The gums should be pink and moist. Pale or dry gums can be an indication of anemia or dehydration. The teeth are evaluated for tartar and loose teeth. Most dogs have some degree of dental disease, and sometimes a dental cleaning is recommended.

Next are the eyes and ears. The eyes are evaluated for redness and clarity. The lens and retina are examined with an ophthalmoscope. The ears are evaluated for redness, sensitivity, and the amount of wax and debris with an otoscope. An ear that is painful or dirty may have an infection, which is an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast.

Listening to the heart and lungs can give us a lot of information. We can hear heart murmurs, arrhythmias, and even abnormalities in the lungs. This can give us early indications of heart or lung disease.

The skin is examined for any hair loss, dandruff, redness, or dryness. These can be an indication of allergies or parasites that affect the skin, such as fleas or mites. Recommendations can be made on how to manage itchiness.

The abdomen is felt for any pain, masses, or hernias. All the lymph nodes are examined for changes in size or shape, which can be an indication of infection or in some cases, cancer. The earlier any of these abnormalities are noted, the better.

Any stiffness, lameness, or ataxia is noted. Neurologic or orthopedic issues can be investigated. The legs are felt for any swelling or pain. Osteoarthritis can be diagnosed and managed with medicine, joint supplements, and even laser therapy.

One of the most important parts of the annual visit is hearing from you, answering any questions you might have and letting us know about any changes that your pet has experienced. Things you might not find significant can be clues to disease. Or if you just want to tell us how awesome your pet is, then that’s cool too. Dogs and cats can’t talk and you as the owner know them best, so we rely on you as the owner to speak for them. So check your calendar and make a point to visit your veterinarian every year.