The cornerstone of the veterinary visit is the exam. Unfortunately, our pets can’t tell us when they are feeling uncomfortable or in pain. The “head to toe” exam by the doctor will help uncover hidden causes of discomfort or signs of illness that may have gone unnoticed. When your pet presents for his annual or semiannual health check, he/she be will given a complete examination by the veterinarian.
The typical exam includes:
You may not notice, but when the doctor first comes into the room and talks to you, they are also observing your pet. Part of the exam is noticing how your pet looks as a whole. Are they over or underweight? Do they look bright and alert or depressed or lethargic? Are they nervous or calm? Are they standing and moving normally? Does their coat look healthy?
The doctor is looking at the eyes to see if the eyes are symmetrical, if the eyelids and surrounding tissue blink normally and are free of tumors or masses, if the cornea (the outer clear covering of the eye) is clear, if the blink reflexes are normal, the eyes look red or irritated, the iris (colored part of the eye) is smooth, and the eyelashes look normal. With the ophthalmoscope, the doctor examines to see if the lens and retina appear normal. If any abnormalities are detected, further tests (such as intraoccular pressure test for glaucoma or a test to quantify tear production) may be recommended.
Ears are checked for any excess debris, redness, or irritation in the ear canal and an otoscope is used to make sure the ear drum is normal.
The tongue, cheeks and lips are checked for any masses, wounds or ulcerations. The teeth and gums are checked for any tartar, gingivitis or broken or diseased teeth. On most animals, the gums are the best place to evaluate mucus membrane color, too. We always check the gum color for signs of anemia (pale pink or white), jaundice (yellow), or infection (bright red.) You will also see the doctor press on the gums and see how long it takes the color to come back. This is called “capillary refill time” and is an estimation of blood circulation.
The doctor will be examining your dog’s neck to check the size and consistency of the lymph nodes, the salivary glands, and the thyroid gland.
Bones and Joints:
If your pet has been limping, slower to get up, or having trouble on walks, the veterinarian will do an orthopedic exam, examining the bones and joints (including those in the spine) for pain, swelling, and abnormal laxity or movement.
The abdomen will be palpated (meaning “examined by feeling”) for masses and abdominal pain.
Skin and Coat:
The skin and coat will be examined for signs of dryness or flakiness, fleas or flea dirt, dullness, rashes, hives and infections, and any lumps or bumps.
The above is a typical wellness exam. If your animal is showing any signs of illness, a specialized exam will be performed in that area (special eye staining for eye problems and a neurological exam for certain musculoskeletal problems, for example.)