Wellness Examination Vet Huntingdon Valley

Do you ever wonder what your veterinarian is checking when you bring your pet into the office for their annual check-up? As Medical Director at World of Animals Veterinary Hospitals, I find my pet parents often know which vaccines they are due for, but less commonly understand what I’m actually doing when performing a physical examination for their pet. In the following article, I will help explain what your veterinarian is checking, and why Physical Examinations are important for your pet at least once per year.

Before every physical examination begins, I like to look at a patient from a distance and observe any changes in gait, weight loss, and temperament. Is your pet curious in the exam room? Sniffing the floor and corners, looking around the room curiously? Your pet may be nervous. This is common, as is attempting to stay on your lap or by your side. This may help give your veterinarian a head’s up to go slow with “fluffy,” and make sure we don’t do anything to further that anxiety.

After looking at the “forest” and not the “trees,” it’s time to start evaluating body systems. Many veterinarians prefer to start with the head and work their way down the patient, checking each system for diseases or abnormalities. While each veterinarian may have their own preferred ways to do this, it is important to always have a consistent, repeatable, system which results in a comprehensive physical examination.

I like to start with the patient’s eyes, and evaluate the corneas to look for obvious ulcers or scarring, followed by your pet’s conjunctiva to look for redness or swelling. Eyelid tumors are common in pets, and will be noted by your doctor if present. Using an ophthalmoscope, your doctor will look past the cornea. and evaluate the lens and retina for changes. Cataracts and Nuclear Sclerosis (an age-related change) are common in older pets, and can generally be observed easily with a hand-held ophthalmoscope.

After checking your pet’s eyes, the ears are generally evaluated to look for any redness, swelling, or discharge. Using an otoscope, your vet will look down your dog’s ear canals for masses/polyps or debris, and to also check for redness, swelling, or discharge all the way down to the eardrum.

The oral cavity is a common site of disease, and should be thoroughly evaluated. Your pet’s gingiva will be observed for inflammation and bleeding, as well as tumors or masses.

In addition, the mucous membrane color and capillary refill time along the gums can help identify anemia (a low red blood cell count) which can be caused by a number of disease states. Your dog or cat’s teeth are evaluated for decay/tartar/and calculus. When identified, the amount of decay should be scored using a 0-4 grading scale. If decay is noted, dental x-rays may be recommended to look for cavities under the gum line along with a Dental Cleaning.

Your pet’s lymph nodes are palpated to look for any swelling or enlarged nodes, an early sign of lymphoma in pets. Submandibular, prescapular, axillary, inguinal, and popliteal lymph nodes should all be evaluated. After that, it’s onto your pet’s heart, where murmurs and arrhythmias can be detected with a stethoscope. A murmur is an abnormal sound of blood flowing through the heart or associated arteries. The location and strength of that sound may help indicate if a disease is present, and, if so, wherein the cardiopulmonary system it is located. An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rate which could indicate a disease of the electrical conduction system of the heart. There are 3 normal variations as well which are not associated with a disease. Along with careful listening of your pet’s lungs, a determination can be made if everything appears within normal limits, or a true abnormality is discovered.

Many organs are located in the abdominal cavity of dogs and cats. These include the liver, kidneys, intestines, and spleen, as well as omentum and other lymph nodes. Your veterinarian is trained to feel your pet’s abdominal cavity for enlarged organs, masses, or other changes.

Your pet’s skin and hair coat are evaluated next, looking for masses, changes to fur coat and quality, and superficial skin diseases. Masses are classified based on location, size, and appearance, and if they penetrate into the underlying tissue or are raised off of the surface of the skin. Your pet’s record will indicate if any of these masses have been identified in the past, and can be used to see if they are changing in size or appearance. Masses on or under the skin of dogs and cats are extremely common, and testing should be performed to determine if they pose a risk to your pet’s health.

The musculoskeletal system includes the muscles, connective tissue, and bones in the body. Your veterinarian will check your dog’s neck, spine, limbs, and joints. Careful attention is paid to your pets knees (we call them stifles) to feel for luxating patellas, stability, and size. All 4 limbs are palpated for heat, swelling, redness, pain, and function to look for injuries or other disease states. This system also includes grading your pet’s body condition score (BCS), which is done in a 1-9 or 1-5 system.

The urogenital system is evaluated by palpating mammary tissue for masses, testicles (if present) for size, shape, and contour. In addition, female pets should have their vulva evaluated to look for discharge, swelling, or other changes. Finally, the neurological system, which includes the brain and nerves throughout the body, is evaluated. Abnormalities may be noted in conjunction with other systems already observed and more finely localized with the neurological examination. Some examples of this include abnormal eye movements, head tilts, gait abnormalities, or pain when pressing on your pet’s spine or rotating the neck.

Huntingdon Valley Wellness Examination Vet

Bringing your pet to the veterinarian for their yearly wellness check-up involves so much more than Vaccinations and Heartworm Tests. In all, over a dozen body systems are evaluated each time you bring your pet to the vet. Using the information from the physical examination, your veterinarian will then be equipped to make recommendations and suggestions, and guide you on which tests are appropriate to follow-up with, as well as lifestyle changes to help manage or prevent diseases. While there are many tests available to detect diseases in companion animals, none of them serve as a replacement for the physical examination, which is the foundation of veterinary medicine.

-Jeffrey Stupine, V.M.D