The Importance Of The Physical Exam

Maintaining your pet in top physical shape and optimum health is the goal of every responsible pet owner. It is also your veterinarian's goal, and together, you can ensure that your pet stays healthy for years to come. Crucial to maintaining your pet's good health is the routine physical examination that your veterinarian performs on your pet. Why are regular check-ups important?

Early Disease Detection

Check-ups are important because they provide an opportunity to prevent diseases, detect them early, or even avoid them altogether. Unfortunately, many pet owners tend to underestimate the value of these visits because their pets appear to be healthy. However, this may be deceiving since many diseases and ailments, such as high blood pressure or a heart murmur, are often not evident in the early stages.

Obesity/Nutritional Counseling

Feeding a proper diet rates as one of the most important considerations in health maintenance. Its importance lies not only in optimizing a pet's health, but also in the prevention and management of many diseases. Nutritional counseling is an essential part of the veterinarian's check-up, and many pet owners use the annual examination as an opportunity to gain valuable advice on what to feed their pets.

Your veterinarian also uses the annual examination to determine whether or not your pet has an obesity problem. Obesity affects almost one out of every three pets, making it the most common nutritional disease among dogs and cats. Through visual assessment and palpation, your veterinarian can advise on whether or not your pet could benefit from a weight-reduction program.

Behavioural Problems

The check-up also provides you with the opportunity to ask questions answered regarding training and hygiene. Obedience training is important for your pet's health, because behavioural problems account for more deaths in dogs than any known disease. In fact, a well-trained and obedient dog is more likely to live to a ripe old age than a poorly trained one.

Obedience-trained dogs are also less likely to be involved in car accidents and dogfights, tend to be happier, and are less likely to have behavioural problems. Properly trained cats are less likely to have problems using their litter box. The check-up provides an opportunity to discuss training techniques and behaviour concerns with your veterinarian.

Heartworm Detection

Heartworm disease is a serious threat that causes cardiovascular weakness and lung incapacity. Caused by Dirofilaria immitis, these worms plug up blood vessels, which places an increased workload on the heart, along with restricting blood flow to the lungs, kidneys, and liver. This can eventually lead to multiple organ failure, including heart failure and even death. Visible signs of the disease often do not appear before the infection has caused significant and irreversible internal damage. As part of an annual physical examination, your veterinarian can perform a simple test to detect heartworm disease and prescribe an easy-to-use preventive.

What happens during an examination?

Before the physical examination begins, your veterinarian asks you questions concerning your pet's state of health. This is very important for determining whether or not there are problem areas that need to be addressed. For example, a "history" of poor weight gain or weight loss can provide a clue to your veterinarian that there may be a parasite problem. Intestinal parasites (worms and protozoans) are a common problem in pets, and carry with them the potential to kill your pet. This is particularly true in young puppies and kittens, but also holds true for adult animals. With a simple stool test, your veterinarian is able to detect the presence of these parasites.

After obtaining a history, your veterinarian performs a physical examination on your pet. Starting at the head, your veterinarian examines the eyes, ears, face, and mouth. Examining the teeth is especially important since up to eighty-five percent of all dogs and cats over four years of age have some degree of periodontal disease. Early detection of periodontal disease is important, not only for effective treatment, but also future prevention.

The veterinarian will then examine your pet's coat, looking for signs of parasites (such as fleas), and ensuring that the coat is not too dry or too oily, which may indicate a dietary imbalance. The veterinarian will also check your pet's weight. If the pet is too heavy, a change in diet may be required to avoid health problems related to obesity. If the pet is losing weight over time, that could be a sign that the pet has a related medical problem which needs further examination.

During the physical examination, your veterinarian also listens to the chest with a stethoscope to make sure there are no respiratory or cardiovascular problems. The early warning signs of heart failure can be detected in this way. Since more than 12% of the dog population experiences some form of heart problem in their lifetime, leading to heart failure, early detection is crucial.

How often should my pet be examined?

When you don't feel well, you know it, and you seek medical help when appropriate. Unfortunately, since your pet can't talk, you don't always know when it's not feeling well. In fact, because predators in the wild tend to prey on the sick or the infirm, an animal's natural instinct is to try to hide health problems, You should therefore take your pet to your veterinarian at least once a year for a complete physical examination. As the life span of a typical pet is very short (12.5 years for dogs, 15 years for cats), and your pet's health can change a great deal over the course ov even a few months, many pet owners choose to have a physical examination done every six months.


To learn more about the benefits of the physical examination, talk to your veterinarian.