Vet Checks- What’s is all about?

By Dr. Becker and Diane Weinmann

dog with vet
dog with vet

When you take your dog or cat for a wellness exam, do you have any idea what your veterinarian is looking for as he or she pokes, pushes, prods and palpates your pet? My educated guess is, probably not! I know I don’t have a clue….but I do ask and you should too!

While some vets are quite forthcoming and explain what they’re doing and why each step of the way, others are considerably less communicative.

Of course, some clients aren’t especially interested in the details of their pet’s physical exam. But if you’re curious about what your vet is doing and learning about your pet during an exam, I encourage you to ask questions. If an answer you receive is confusing, ask for clarification and don’t feel shy about asking what is normal and what is not!

Your Dog’s or Cat’s Physical Exam

The physical exam is a critically important part your pet’s wellness checkup. All body systems should be assessed to check for any abnormalities.

During the physical exam your vet should also check a pet’s weight, muscle tone, and joint range of motion, and measure the animal’s current status against past exam findings as well as norms for the breed, age, and gender.

The following chart provided by dvm360 with Dr Becker’s additions, may help you better prepare for your next veterinary wellness visit with your dog or cat.1

Body Part What Your Vet Is Looking For
Mouth ·         Signs of periodontal disease in teeth and gums

·         Bad breath

·         Tooth wear

·         Fractured teeth

·         Plaque accumulation patterns

·         Tongue coat and color

·         Gum hydration and color

Neck ·         Irregularities or changes in size of lymph nodes and thyroid gland

·         Cervical range of motion

·         Muscle tension from collar

Eyes ·         Signs of disease

·         Discharge

·         Squinting or tearing

·         Abnormal movement or reaction to light

·         Clouding of the lens

·         Iris health and irregularities

·         Eyelid, corneal, and sclera (the white part) health

·         Changes in vision

Ears ·         Signs of an ear infection (pain, tenderness, redness, swelling, yeasty smell, discharge)

·         Excessive wax

·         Color of the pinna (flappy part)

Heart ·         Weak or abnormal heart sounds

·         An abnormally fast or slow rate

·         Irregular beats or murmurs

Lungs ·         Wheezing, crackling, or other abnormal lung sounds
Abdomen ·         Any irregularities in the margins of the liver, spleen, kidneys, and bladder

·         Masses or tumors

·         Thickened intestines

·         Mammary chain abnormalities

Base of tail ·         Abnormalities in anal glands

·         Fecal mats

·         Evidence of soft stools

·         Growths

·         Parasites, like tapeworm segments and flea dirt

Legs ·         Limited range of motion in all limbs

·         Signs of pain or discomfort

·         Grinding sound in joints

Coat, skin, and nails ·         Poor overall quality of coat

·         Lumps and bumps

·         Warts and skin tags

·         Rashes

·         Areas of hair loss or excessive dander

·         Matted or saliva-stained fur

·         Fleas or ticks

·         Calluses

·         Ingrown, overgrown, or flakey toenails

·         Dehydration

Holistic vets will also palpate the vertebrae down the spinal column, assess joint range of motion and health, assess the body according to TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), ayurvedic or homeopathic principles, and assess pain or guarding behaviors as well as areas of tension, heat or cold.

This list is very comprehensive and most, if not all, of these areas are checked when I perform an acupressure session. The outcome or findings from checking these areas on your pet will help determine how to proceed with the acupressure session and what points will require work.

Other Tests Commonly Performed During Wellness Checkups

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • The CBC gives information on hydration status, anemia, infection, the blood’s clotting ability, and the ability of your pet’s immune system to respond. It provides a detailed look at the blood itself and reveals problems such as anemia or the presence of infection.
  • Urinalysis
  • The urinalysis is used to assess the overall health of your pet’s urinary tract, including the kidneys and bladder, and to check for other health indicators such as glucose regulation and liver function. A complete urinalysis measures the function of the nephrons in the kidneys and gives information about your pet’s metabolic and fluid status. The test is also used to evaluate substances in the urine that might indicate an underlying disease process.
  • Thyroid screenDecreased levels of thyroid hormones often signal hypothyroidism in dogs, while high levels indicate hyperthyroidism, commonly diagnosed in cats. Performing a complete thyroid panel is important, as measuring just a T4 may not reveal an underlying thyroid problem.
  • The thyroid screen helps diagnose thyroid disease, which is an especially common ailment in older cats and dogs. T4 (thyroxine) is a thyroid hormone.
  • Glaucoma screen
  • Glaucoma testing measures the pressure in each of your pet’s eyes quickly and painlessly. This is an important test because undetected glaucoma can lead to permanent blindness.
  • Retinal exam
  • This eye test is used to check for evidence of problems deep in the eyes by viewing the structures beyond the lens, through the pupil. The retinas should be healthy and there should be no signs of bleeding, degeneration, inflammation, or detachment.
  • Blood pressure measurement
  • This test checks your pet for hypertension (high blood pressure). Like humans, pets with hypertension are at significantly increased risk for kidney problems, heart disease, blindness, and other complications. Cats are especially prone to high blood pressure.
  • X-raysAbdominal x-rays can be used to assess the liver and kidneys. X-rays best define problems within the skeletal system, such as arthritis and bone tumors.
  • Since many vet clinics don’t have digital x-ray equipment and their x-rays still involve radiation, I don’t typically order them unless the results of other tests indicate a potential problem requiring further investigation.
  • Radiographs (x-rays), if indicated, can also be helpful as part of a pet wellness checkup. If your vet finds abnormalities on physical examination, digital x-rays may be needed to identify the underlying problem. Chest x-rays, for example, can reveal certain things about the heart and lungs.
  • SNAP 4Dx Plus or Accuplex4 (dogs)
  • These tests check for tick-borne illnesses, including heartworm, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis. They should be done once or even twice a year for dogs living in areas where ticks are a problem.
  • FeLV/FIV testing (cats)These viruses can suppress the immune system and lead to secondary infections, anemia, and even cancer. Early identification of viral positive cats gives you the best chance of managing infections optimally. As an involved, hands-on guardian, you are in the best position to make informed decisions for your pet — decisions that may not always agree 100 percent with the recommendations of your veterinarian.
  • Let me give you an example: I went to my vet for my husky, Neko. He was due for his shots and I was prepared to tell the vet what I wanted and why. They seemed surprised but understood that I was prepared for this visit. I discussed the Lepto shot at length with the vet talking about the pros and cons and the how my dog could come into contact with the disease. After careful consideration I decided that they vet’s responses to my questions and the type of area I frequently walked my dog necessitated him receiving the shot. After I agreed and he received the shot I found out that the shot actually only works for approximately 5 different strains of Lepto while there are 50 or more strains to the disease! I was not a happy camper. Needless to say, my dog has not received the shot again. Be wise people, consider carefully. I am not hating on vets – I love them, in fact, some of my favorite people are vets; however, we all have our unique way of looking at health and wellness. Make sure it’s the appropriate choice for your pet!
  • Partnering with your veterinarian in the care of your dog or cat should always be the goal. While it’s true your vet is the degreed veterinary professional in the partnership, you know your pet better than anyone, and are therefore the primary advocate for your animal companion. Tell your vet what you have observed, any behavior changes or anything you can think of that could make a difference to the quality of life your pet may have.
  • When it makes sense (like if you’ve just rescued a kitty or your cat has never been tested), these tests are run to check for the presence of the feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses. These viruses can suppress the immune system and lead to secondary infections, anemia, and even cancer. Early identification of viral positive cats gives you the best chance of managing infections optimally.Partnering with your veterinarian in the care of your dog or cat should always be the goal. While it’s true your vet is the degreed veterinary professional in the partnership, you know your pet better than anyone, and are therefore the primary advocate for your animal companion. Tell your vet what you have observed, any behavior changes or anything you can think of that could make a difference to the quality of life your pet may have.

    As an involved, hands-on guardian, you are in the best position to make informed decisions for your pet — decisions that may not always agree 100 percent with the recommendations of your veterinarian.

    Let me give you an example: I went to my vet for my husky, Neko.  He was due for his shots and I was prepared to tell the vet what I wanted and why.  They seemed surprised but understood that I was prepared for this visit.  I discussed the Lepto shot at length with the vet talking about the pros and cons and the how my dog could come into contact with the disease.  After careful consideration I decided that they vet’s responses to my questions and the type of area I frequently walked my dog necessitated him receiving the shot.  After I agreed and he received the shot I found out that the shot actually only works for approximately 5 different strains of Lepto while there are 50 or more strains to the disease!  I was not a happy camper.  Needless to say, my dog has not received the shot again.  Be wise people, consider carefully.  I am not hating on vets – I love them, in fact, some of my favorite people are vets; however, we all have our unique way of looking at health and wellness.  Make sure it’s the appropriate choice for your pet!

     

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