Physical Examination For Pet Owners

When I was a young veterinary student, few things produced as much pleasure as time spent with my pets.

Anatomy classes.  An hour a day of lecture time, five days a week. Four hours a day of hands-on laboratory time, five days a week.

“Learn this muscle, learn this bone, learn the name of this muscle’s attachment to this bone.” We wondered if we would ever get it all committed to memory. Eventually, we did.

On top of all the classroom hours, there were countless hours spent at home studying. To be able to find all those “parts”, a veterinary student’s pet is an invaluable living classroom. Unfortunately, they sometimes tired of hearing, twenty times a night, “Blossum, come here, I need to find a body part.”

While it’s not necessary to examine your pet twenty times a night, your pet’s doctor feels it important to know some basic information about your pet. There are some “parts” you should check on a regular basis, and know when there are problems with those parts to know when to call your veterinarian.

As human beings, we mostly go to the doctor when we’re sick or there’s a physical problem that needs attention. We don’t go to the doctor as often as we should for preventive care.

Veterinarians, however, mostly deal in preventive care. Indeed, there are times when the examination should be performed more often than annually.  “What can I do at home?” is a common question asked of veterinarians.

You can also perform an examination of your pet at home and learn to see problems at their earliest stages.

Here are some tips to help you perform a basic examination of the parts of your pet you can see and feel. It will help you to catch problems early, too. Once a week is not too often, but do it at least once a month.

Every doctor has a system of examination. He uses that same system every time and we suggest you develop a system that you follow each time. I like to start at the front of the body and work backward. Look at your pet’s eyes, ears, nose and throat. Get to know what’s normal for him and become concerned when those parameters change. Lift all lips, one at a time. Teeth should be white, all the way to pink gums. Brown and black colors may indicate tartar buildup or decay. Redness in the gums indicates inflammation, the gums may even be infected.

Lift the ears. They should have little or no odor. The ear canals should not be sensitive to the touch. They should be white or pink, not red. There should be no discharge. Do you clean your pet’s ears weekly and after every bath? It’s the single best way to prevent ear diseases.

Next, feel each of the joints in the front legs. There should be no pain or creaking sensation which might indicate arthritis or injury. Feel every part you look at for lumps or irregularities that might indicate a growth. Is the right the same as the left? Look at the feet, pads, and skin between the pads and between the toes. It should be the same color as the skin on the rest of the body, not red, cracked, peeling or crusty.

Feel over the ribs and abdomen. Again feel for lumps or bulges. Pain in these areas from light strokes is never normal.

Examine the rear legs and feet just as you did the front. Move from there to the tail.

Roll your pet on his back to examine the external genitalia. In the male dog, a small amount of yellowish-green discharge from the prepuce (sheath) is normal. Testicles, if he’s not neutered, should both be about the same size and both should be in the scrotum.

This is a good time to check the female dog’s mammary chain for lumps. Even spayed female dogs can have mammary growths, though cancer is almost unheard of if your female pet is spayed before her first heat cycle. The vulva should have no discharge or odor.

Overall there should be no hair loss or irregularity in the hair patterns. Skin should not be flaky or scaly, nor should the skin have an odor.

If, after doing your in-home examination of your pet, you find any abnormal areas, make an appointment with your pet’s doctor before the problems become more serious.

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