Glastonbury CT Vet

Complete Physical Examinations

CT Pet Phsyicals

CT VeterinarianThe physical exam is the basis for diagnosis and treatment of your pet. Our doctors perform a complete examination at least once a year (the "wellness exam" when vaccinations are given), as well as any time a pet is brought in with a problem. Unlike people, animals cannot tell us if anything has changed, making information from the owners and the physical exam even more important in identifying problems. You may notice that puppies and kittens get exams every time they come in for shots. This is similar to the way that human infants are examined frequently during their first 2 years of life, in order to make sure that development is progressing normally, and to catch any problems such as infections before they become serious. Throughout their lives, animals "age" faster than people, so that the physical changes that may take 4-5 years in a person to become apparent may occur within 1-2 years in a dog or cat. Frequently, even if the client says the animal is doing well, the veterinary staff may notice subtle changes that can easily be overlooked by people who see the animal is seen daily. We often find low-grade skin and ear problems, developing heart disease, dental disease and evidence of arthritis in these "routine" exams. All of these problems are best addressed early in the course of disease, rather than waiting until the pet's comfort is compromised.

The examination itself includes many things. It actually starts even before you see the doctor! The front office and technical staff observe the animal walking in, and take note of its attitude and any obvious abnormalities; they advise the doctor of any observed abnormalities. The receptionist or technician will get the animal's current weight; changes in weight are often a clue about underlying diseases like thyroid disorders or diabetes. The technician then takes the animal's temperature. While this seems uncomfortable, it is necessary. An elevated temperature often indicates a problem, and we hold off on vaccines so as not to put any additional burden on the immune system. The technician then briefs the doctor on how the animal has been doing and the duration of any problems. Finally, the veterinarian will look at the pet. They make a quick visual assessment of attitude, coat quality and weight, then systematically examine the animal:

  • Listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope to check for abnormal heart rhythms; murmurs which can indicate valve disease; and abnormal air flow through the lungs, which can indicate fluid or masses in or around the lungs.
  • Palpating (feeling) the abdomen to assess the size and shape of the liver, kidneys, intestines and bladder as well as determining the presence of masses
  • Measuring the lymph nodes ("glands"): enlarged lymph nodes can indicate infection or some types of cancers
  • Examining the ears with an otoscope to assess the ear drum, as well as identify inflammation and built-up debris that can indicate infection
  • Examining the eyes includes looking at the corneas (surface) and sclera (whites) for inflammation, which can occur with dust, bacterial infections, and allergies. We also look at the back of the eye with an ophthalmoscope, which lets us see the optic nerve and the rest of the retina, as well as differentiate true cataracts from normal aging changes in the lens.
  • Examining the oral cavity includes checking for color and moisture of the gums, as well as looking for broken teeth and evidence of periodontal disease, such as gingivitis and tartar.
  • The coat is examined for consistency and fullness, and examined for evidence of skin infection or external parasites like fleas and lice
  • If indicated, the joints may all be manipulated to determine the source of lameness or to identify arthritic joints
  • A rectal exam (in dogs) is performed in intact males to assess the prostate gland, in older animals to check for masses, and in dogs that have symptoms or a history of anal gland problems. It is also performed in animals with diarrhea to check for blood and abnormal material (bone fragments, stones, etc).

Doing a thorough examination even when there are no obvious problems allows us to determine whether a problem that surfaces later is indeed new, or the progression of an older condition. In addition, in animals with known abnormalities, such as fatty tumors or heart murmurs, regular exams allow us to chart the course of disease, and determine whether it is progressive or static.