We all know that we should see the doctor on a regular basis even if we are feeling healthy, but our pets should too! Regular checkups every 6-12 months (depending on your pet’s age and medical condition) are a must for all adult dogs and cats. Puppies and kittens should be seen every few weeks while they are growing rapidly and completing their introductory vaccines.
Why do we want to see your pet so often? It’s not just for the purrs and face licks, we promise! Regular checkups help us help you to keep your pet happy and healthy. We are looking for early, subtle indicators of disease or discomfort that may go unnoticed at home – the sooner we can intervene, the better chance we have of treating the condition. We are looking for those early-onset cataracts, that tiny new growth on the shoulder that might need to be removed, that slight back pain – and much, much more. But what exactly goes on during a nose-to-tail exam? Read below to find out!
The veterinary technician and veterinarian will speak with you to obtain a medical history of your pet. This includes information about their diet and exercise, any changes in energy level or behavior, changes in appetite or thirst, or changes in urinary and defecation patterns. We will also inquire about any unusual symptoms your pet may be showing at home such as coughing, scratching, or limping. This information helps us put together a more thorough picture of your pet’s health, and will help us to tailor medical recommendations.
Your veterinarian will listen to your pet’s heart and feel their pulses to check the rate and rhythm. We will also listen for any unusual sounds such as a heart murmur, which could be an indication of cardiac disease. We will listen to the lungs and trachea for signs of allergy, infection, fluid buildup, or other abnormality.
Inside the mouth, we will assess the health of your pet’s teeth and gums. The gums should be moist and pink (unless your pet has pigmented gums). We are evaluating them for gingivitis, abscessed teeth, fractured or badly worn teeth, or unusual growths on the gums or tongue. The majority of pets have significant periodontal disease by the time they are only three years old, and they often suffer in silence, so regular oral evaluation is very important.
Your pet’s ears will be checked for inflammation and pain, as well as for swelling or discharge that could indicate infection. Ear infections are a very common problem, and if not caught and treated promptly can cause severe pain and even impair hearing. An eye exam will be performed to look for cataracts, congenital defects, growths inside the eye, aging changes and retinal abnormalities. We will also look for signs of pain, glaucoma or inflammation.
The weight and body condition of your pet will be assessed to determine if they are overweight or underweight. Their skin and hair coat will be evaluated for infection, hair loss, itching, dry skin, unusual color change, or growths on or underneath the skin. Your pet’s limbs and back will be gently palpated and their joints flexed and extended – we are looking for signs of arthritis, pain, decreased mobility, or other orthopedic or neurologic abnormalities. We will palpate lymph nodes to ensure that they are not enlarged or painful, which are potential indicators of disease.
Abdominal palpation helps us assess whether your pet’s internal organs (such as liver, spleen and kidneys) are the appropriate size, or whether they feel too big or too small, which could indicate disease. We will also check for pain on palpation of those organs and of the intestines. For dogs, depending on your pet’s age, gender and medical history, a rectal exam may also be performed to check their prostate (males only), and/or anal glands.
If any abnormalities are detected on your pet’s physical exam, we will discuss potential additional diagnostic testing and treatment options at the appointment. We may also recommend blood, urine, or fecal testing to more fully assess their overall health, and will discuss preventative options for heartworms, gastrointestinal parasites, fleas, and ticks.
If you have any questions about what we are doing during the examination process, please feel free to ask us!