Pet Talk: final physical for the year
December is upon us and 2018 is coming to an end. This is the time when we all rush to accomplish our own annual health exams, using that last bit of deductible in our insurance plans before the year turns. Just as we need our annual health exams, so do our pets. Preventative health exams in pets are crucial in detecting health concerns, preventing future disease and maintaining a healthy and pain-free life, just like we do for ourselves.
Annual health exams for pets are crucial at any age and always involve a multitude of necessary parts including:
Weight: Assessing your pet’s weight can detect subtle changes in weight such as weight loss and weight gain which can quickly lead your veterinarian to looking further into your pet’s health for potential health concerns. Subtle changes in weight may not be obvious to owners visually, who see their pet every day, but can signify health concerns could be beginning.
Temperature: Your pet’s temperature can be an indication of infection, and disease. For example, a low temperature is a sign of toxicity, whereas high temperatures can indicate infection or even cancer.
Ears: Your pet’s ears would be examined for infections, growths and foreign bodies and can be a great early indicator of allergies in your pets.
Eyes: It is often said the “eye is the window to the body.” Eyes will be checked for cataracts, conjunctivitis or pink eye, scratches or even tumors. Many changes in the eyes can reflect a disease process in your pet.
Dental health: Your pet’s teeth should be examined for fractures, abscesses and even growths, which can be causing more significant underlying disease in your pets. Dental exams are especially important in cats. Cats are unique in that they can get what is called a resorptive lesion, painful holes in the teeth that can cause them to lose their teeth.
Lymph nodes: Your pet’s lymph nodes are felt and checked for enlargement which can be an early indicator of infections or even things as severe as cancer such as lymphoma. Lymph nodes are often one of the first indicators, when enlarged, to changes that are not visible in your pet’s health.
Organ palpation: Your veterinarian will then check all your pet’s palpable organs for enlargement, evidence of masses or cancer and to establish a norm for your pet. This is one of the easiest ways we have to get insight into your pet’s internal structures early on.
Joint palpations: Your veterinarian will palpate your pet’s joints feeling for evidence of arthritis, joint changes, joint instability and joint swelling.
Skin: Your veterinarian will assess your pet’s hair coat. Poor nutrition, ectoparasites and underlying metabolic disease are a few health concerns found through evaluating your pet’s hair coat. In addition, your veterinarian will check any unusual lumps or bumps to determine if these are cancerous or benign and if they should be further tested to evaluate the potential that they will cause disease later on.
In addition to the overall physical examination, your pet should have a fecal test performed yearly to evaluate for internal parasites, which could potentially be transferred to other pets and humans.
Additional diagnostic tests may be recommended after your pet receives a full physical such as blood work, urinalysis, X-rays or even ultrasound.
That annual physical examination is the foundation for providing your pet with the best opportunities possible for a pain-free, disease-free life.
Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, is the owner of Mountain Animal Hospital Center and Mobile Veterinarian.