The Importance of a Physical Exam

The District Vet

295

For best health we visit the dentist at least once per year. And like clockwork see your physician for a physical examination. Your pets are biological creatures such as yourself and require the same amount of medical attention, if not even more. 

The average age expectancy for humans in the United States is 78 years, while the average dog is 10-13, and average cat is 10-15. They age much faster than us, so one year to us is equivalent to much more time for them. 

Commonly people say that their pets (especially cats) are not exposed to outside elements, therefore as a healthy-appearing adult, they do not need to see the veterinarian. Disease knows no bounds of time, and does not recognize whether you are indoors or outside. A simple analogy is us people: sickness, cancer, metabolic disease happens even in the healthiest-acting of us. Eat well? Yes. Exercise? Yup. And yet still medical issues arise. The difference is that when you are just a bit off, you see the doctor. Your cat or dog does not have that ability. 

Young pets, especially during growth from eight up to twenty weeks of age, need to be routinely examined to be sure they meet growth milestones and are developing normally. They are assessed for adequate and appropriate growth, skeletal abnormalities, breathing difficulties, eye development, etc. During these visits, nutrition is discussed along with behavioral techniques, socialization, and overall well-being. Vaccinations are administered along with starting a parasite prevention program. We make every attempt to start them off well so that we can aim for the best health outcomes. 

As our friends mature and especially when they enter their elder years, routine visits remain just as important. A pet does receive vaccinations at their visit, but much more, too. At every visit the physical examination appointment gives the clinician face-time with the client to discuss myriad health and wellness issues. A history is taken, asking about diet, digestion issues, lameness, behavior, etc. new medical findings, such as grapes being toxic to dogs, are brought up, along with new treatments, medications, and trends in behavior and nutrition. Medicine is not static; we are constantly learning new information, and the examination allows time to convey this knowledge. 

For healthy adult pets, an annual examination is appropriate, but when they reach seniority, at about eight years, twice per year may be needed. We do not see your pet every day, therefore we see large changes, whereas you may not notice a change since it was gradual. This is especially true in terms of weight gain or loss, muscle mass dynamics, gait abnormalities, size of skin tumors, opacity of the lenses in the eyes, and much more. Think of changes like grass growing—it is not observed to change in a day, but after a few weeks, the difference is noticeable. This is what we see. Much of what we do is based upon observation from the minute your pet arrives at our facilities. While your dog is walking into the exam room, or when your cat emerges from the carrier, we are watching. 

This is part of why it is so important to have a trusted relationship with your veterinarian. When we get to know a pet, we observe changes from appointment to appointment. With the emergence of so-called ‘Instagram Practices,’ where there are inconsistent and rotating doctors, you lose the personal touch and trust built over multiple visits. Many of our talks are of a sensitive nature, including weight loss, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and more. When we know you and your pet well, these times flow easier through a mutual trust. Your pet even knows it!

The physical examination is at the core of what we do as healthcare providers. Every time your pet sees us, we assess everything from the snout to the end of the tail. All of this with the goal of keeping your pet as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Please do not neglect annual or semi-annual visits- for health! 

Dan Teich is the Medical Director at District Veterinary Hospital.