When owners take their pets to the veterinarian for their annual or semiannual wellness visits, they often focus on what else needs to be done– what vaccines might be needed, perhaps a heartworm or feline leukemia test that is overdue, fecal examinations for parasites, blood work to screen for disease, medication refills, etc. But this focus on other things overlooks the most important part of the veterinary visit – the physical exam.
Veterinarians use the physical exam and a pet’s history to make decisions about all aspects of an animal’s medical care. The details differ from veterinarian to veterinarian, but below is a general list of what occurs during a complete physical examination:
- Determination of a pet’s weight, temperature, pulse and respiratory rates.
- Observation of the way a pet investigates the room. What is their demeanor? Is the pet’s movement normal? Does the pet appear to hear and see well? How does the pet react to people in the room? Is the pet’s body symmetrical? Does the pet’s coat look healthy and well-maintained?
- Visual examination of the eyes, ears, nose and mouth including a thorough oral exam if the pet will allow it. The doctor may use an ophthalmoscope to check the eyes and an otoscope to look deep into the ears. Veterinarians also use their hands to feel for irregularities and sense of smell to detect infections or other problems.
- Visual examination and palpation of the rest of the head, neck, chest, abdomen, hindquarters, legs and feet. The veterinarian will look under the fur to check the health of the skin and pay special attention to any areas on the body that look or feel abnormal or appear to be causing pain for the pet. For older dogs, the doctor may also perform a digital rectal exam to feel for prostatic disease in males and tumors in both sexes.
- Auscultation of the heart and lungs using a stethoscope while simultaneously feeling the pulses to check for abnormalities in breathing rates or patterns, lung sounds, heart or pulse rhythms, pulse quality and heart sounds.
Even if your pet is not due for vaccines, diagnostic testing, or a pet medication refill, do not skip the wellness visit. The benefits of a complete physical exam, performed at least once a year, are immeasurable.