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Preventative Health Examinations
How often does your dog see the veterinarian? Annually for wellness exams or only when they are ill? Annual visits to the veterinarian are so much more than just vaccines! Pets live longer, healthier lives if they keep fit and see their veterinarian yearly for preventative health exams.
Early recognition of diseases is achieved by having a skilled veterinarian do complete physical exams, screening blood tests, urine analysis, and microscopic fecal exams annually. Complete preventative health exams involve a visual or manual (feeling and palpating structures) inspection of the entire body. Even though this exam doesn't take a lot of time, it can reveal many hidden problems. An examination begins at the nose and ends at the toes. Let's go through an exam to see what our veterinarians look for:
Overall Appearance: As patients enter the hospital the technician and veterinary staff are observing your pet's overall appearance. Things we observe at a distance include gait (is there a limp), coat condition, nail length, weight, and lesions.
Nose: Visual inspection at the start of the respiratory system to look for abnormalities such as crust or discharge.
Eyes: Visual exam of the eyes includes the cornea (surface of the eye), the internal structure, and tissues surrounding the eyes. Veterinarians will look for any redness, irritation, changes in pupil size, changes in the lens (such as cataracts), adequate tear production, and pressure of the eye to screen for glaucoma.
Oral Exam: Teeth and gums are checked for evidence of dental tartar, gingivitis, periodontal disease, fractured teeth, or abnormal growths in the mouth.
Ears: Veterinarians will begin with a visual inspection of the ear flap and outer ear canal. Continuing the exam we look for discharge, check for odors, hair in the ear canal, and finally an inspection of the tympanic membrane (ear drum) to identify any swelling in the inner ear canal.
Auscultation of the Chest: Next the veterinarian will auscultate (listen with the stethoscope) the chest, listening for normal or abnormal cardiac sounds (such as murmurs or irregular rhythm) and normal or abnormal lung sounds.
Lymph Nodes: When palpating the lymph nodes the veterinarian is checking for abnormal size. Swollen lymph nodes can be a sign of disease or infection.
Palpation of the Abdomen: Many organs can be felt and evaluated for enlargement or abnormal shape. How comfortable the pet is during palpation can alert us to a possible problem area.
Evaluation of the Skeletal System: Feeling and manipulating all joints and bones for signs of swelling, and/or pain. All joints are evaluated for range of motion and the gait is evaluated for any subtle lameness.
Rectal Palpation: This involves evaluating the end of the gastrointestinal system and anal glands for evidence of infection or abnormal growths. Male dogs are screened for enlargement of the prostate gland.
Skin and Coat: Finally the veterinarian looks for evidence of any skin diseases, growths, and external parasites.
For Our Senior Pets
As our pets age, we don't always recognize the subtle symptoms they may exhibit. Organ function can decrease over time without our pets showing any signs or symptoms of disease. Wellness blood screens and urine panels should be done annually and even biannually in our elderly patients. Trends on yearly blood panels can lead veterinarians in diagnosing disease early. Early detection allows us to make changes in a pet's diet and lifestyle. We may also intervene with medication to limit damage to that particular organ system.
Some common abnormalities in yearly tests include protein in the urine, subclinical (before symptoms show) urinary tract infections, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, anemia, diabetes elevation in kidney and liver enzymes. Occasionally an elevation in an enzyme may not diagnose a specific disease but lead the attending veterinarian to do further testing for other disease processes.
As an owner discuss with your veterinarian the type and timing of your pet's tests. Every pet is an individual and their lifestyle and breed will often dictate which tests we recommend for your pet. Athletic pets are more prone to orthopedic issues than a couch potato who maybe prone to obesity.
At what age should we start performing annual blood and urine tests?
Any animal can begin showing signs of illness at any age. Most young pets will have perfectly normal blood test results, however there are a small percentage of young pets that have inherited organ defects. Pets of any age undergoing anesthesia (including spays and neuters) should have blood tests done to screen for underlying organ dysfunction. Anesthetic procedures always carry some risk however we can minimize the risk to our pets by performing blood screens before any anesthetic event.
When is a dog considered elderly?
A large breed dog at 7 years of age is considered an senior dog while a small breed dog of the same age isn't. Small dogs are generally considered seniors at 10 years of age and above.
What other tests may my veterinarian request for my pet?
Blood Pressure: Checking for hypertension, an under diagnosed disease, that may lead to other conditions in the body.
Tonometry: This test measures the pressure inside the eye, this is an important test to rule out glaucoma.
Schirmer Tear Test: Tests the tear production of the eye.
Electrocardiogram (ECG): Monitors the electrical conduction of the heart.
Each pet is an individual and will work with you to develop the correct wellness protocol for your pets.