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By Annette M. Dixon, DVM
Quite often when you think about taking your pet to your veterinarian, it is either for vaccinations or illness. However, one of the most important reasons to have your pet visit your veterinarian is for a wellness exam.
A veterinarian is trained to notice health problems that a pet owner may not even know about. A wellness exam is a comprehensive physical examination of the entire pet. Health problems can often be diagnosed even before the pet is showing clinical illness.
An examination starts with the pet’s head. The eyes are checked for inflammation, irritation and ocular discharge. Are the pupils symmetrical? Do the eyelids have a normal appearance? Are the eyes clear or cloudy?
Next the nose is examined. Are the nostrils clean and free of discharge? Can the pet breath quietly through its nostrils? Some pets have dry noses. Some have wet noses. Some noses are warm. Some are cool. Typically none of these descriptions are indicators of health.
The ears are examined with an otoscope. The otoscope allows the inner ear canal to be examined. Are the ear canals free of wax, hair and foreign objects? Does the ear drum have a healthy appearance? The ear pinna, the flap, should be smooth, clean and non-irritated. The ears should have no odor.
The mouth is one of the most diseased areas that most owners are least aware of. Over 80% of dogs have periodontal disease by two years of age. During the exam, the lips, tongue, teeth and gingiva are checked for disease. Teeth are examined for fractures, looseness and pain. “Doggy breath” is a sign of infection.
The trachea, heart and lungs are examined by auscultation with a stethoscope. Are the trachea and lungs clear? Does the heart have a normal rhythm? Is there a heart murmur? Are respiration rate and heart rate normal? Does the pet have a cough?
The head, neck and shoulders are palpated (felt) for any lumps, bumps and abnormalities. This is continued down the back and under the ventrum (belly). The legs, hips and tail are also palpated.
The hair coat should be smooth and matte-free. Any patterns of hair loss are noted. Is there dandruff (dry seborrhea) or oily hair (greasy seborrhea)? The hair is parted and the skin examined. Are there any signs of external parasites such as fleas and ticks? Is the skin inflamed or irritated? Does the skin have any odor?
During the examination, a body condition score is noted. This assesses the overall condition of the pet. Is the pet overweight or obese? Is the pet too thin? Or is the pet a perfect “3” on the scale of 5. Body condition can help predict future health problems. A sudden change in body condition can signify ongoing disease.
The pet is also observed for lameness. Can the pet easily move? Can it rise or lay down comfortably? Does the pet show signs of pain and arthritis?
The wellness exam is one of the most important things you can do for your pet. It allows your veterinarian to see and become familiar with your pet. This allows your veterinarian to build a bond with you and your pet. The record that is completed at the examination can also be compared to when the pet is ill.
The wellness exam is also a great time for the pet owner to learn how to keep their pet healthy.
For more information, please call the Clarksville Veterinary Clinic at 573-242-3444 or Clarksville Grooming and Boarding at 573-560-3233.