Veterinarians are faced with many diagnostic challenges as we see our patients every day. As many pet owners realize, perhaps the most imposing challenge facing their veterinarian is that their pet cannot verbally tell their doctor what is wrong. By far the most important diagnostic tool that a veterinarian has in hurdling this obstacle is the skill of obtaining an accurate history and performing a thorough and comprehensive physical examination. This is by far the most valuable service that a pet owner will receive from their veterinarian. It lays the foundation for determining an appropriate diagnostic and therapeutic plan to hopefully restore a pet to complete health.
Although not actually part of the examination, taking an accurate history from a pet’s owner goes hand in hand with the examination in determining what may be wrong. Taking a history should include questions about the pet’s at home environment , diet, appetite, behavior, activity level, vaccine status, heartworm testing and prevention and most importantly the clients primary complaint about their pet’s health. Though retrieving much of this information may seem somewhat tedious at times, it is vital for the veterinarian to obtain prior to the physical examination.
Performing a physical examination is an art and should be done systematically and thoroughly. It should not be rushed through or concentrated only on the area of primary concern. Many veterinarians will begin with the pet’s head and examine their eyes, ears, nose and mouth. The heart and lungs should be listened to with a good quality stethoscope. The abdomen should be palpated to help evaluate the gastrointestinal tract as well as other organs, such as the liver, kidneys and spleen. Lymph nodes may be palpated throughout the body in such areas as below the jaw, the neck, the lower abdomen and behind the knees. The patients skin and hair coat should be evaluated over their entire body, including their limbs and feet. The patients musculoskeletal system should be examined by palpating their neck and back, as well as all four limbs. The neurologic system should also be evaluated. Finally, the vital signs (temperature, heart and respiratory rates) should obviously be recorded as well. Though many, if not most, of these evaluations may reveal normal findings they are all critical in evaluating a patient completely. Time and time again as practicing veterinarians, we have found unexpected abnormalities, such as heart murmurs, dental disease, degenerative joint disease and flea infestations on routine yearly examinations.
Even for patients coming in for yearly vaccinations or apparently minor problems it is very important to have regular physical examinations performed. Cats and dogs age 6-9 years for every human year, therefore our beloved pets age much more rapidly than we would like to admit. This makes it all the more important for examinations at least on a yearly basis. In fact, many of our clients are beginning to have examinations for their pets every 6 months, especially for our geriatric pets over 7 years of age.
As stated above, a physical examination for your pet is the single most valuable service that you will ever have a veterinarian perform. We don’t charge our clients for office visits or for stepping in the door of our practice. Our fees are for the examination of your pets by one of our doctors and the wealth of information and care that you and your pets will receive. Maple Springs Veterinary Hospital stresses the importance of preventive health care for our patients. Regular physical examinations lay the foundation for this.