A problem with a loved one is always concerning, no less so for an animal companion than for a family member. When our friend is limping, or can’t stop vomiting, or just looks sad and unwell, we as pet parents often feel helpless and worry about the worst.
An examination is a head-to-tail check of all body systems, to get a complete picture of a problem as well as to be sure no problem, possibly unrelated to the presenting complaint, is missed.
Here’s How a Check-up Goes
Look at the colour of the eye membranes, iris and cornea, and look for discharge. If there appears to be a problem, further testing may involve staining the eye with Fluorescein Dye to look for a break in the cornea, measuring tear output with a absorptive paper strip, measuring eye pressure with a tool called a tonometer, and looking at the inner and back portion of the eye with an ophthalmoscope.
Look for discharge, look for abnormalities with the leathery part of the nose (nasal planum).
Check teeth and gums, look at the tongue and the back of the throat – yes, pets have tonsils!
Look at the external ear openings, and palpate the ear canals for stiffness, soreness or itching (infected ears can be painful and itchy even if the openings look clean). If there is an issue with the ears, they will be inspected with an Otoscope. I may also do an ear swab: collect some ear material, put in on a slide, and stain it to look at it under the microscope.
The lymph nodes under the jaw drain and respond to all the tissues “upstream” of them – mouth, throat, eyes, ears, facial skin. If one or both lymph nodes are enlarged, and can not be accounted for by something already discovered in the examination, that is a clue to go back and look again. There are also lymph nodes that may be able to be felt in front of the shoulder blades, in the armpits, in the groin and in the backs of the knees.
Ear problems are often associated with an underlying skin problem. After all, ear canals are just tubes lined by skin. If I have any concerns about the skin, I will check common trouble sites such as eyelids and lips, throat, elbow crooks, armpits, belly, groin, between the toes and under the tail.
Heart & Lungs
Stethoscope examination can assess heart rate and rhythm, and find abnormal lung sounds.
Fingers can yield a lot of information about the insides. I will palpate to see if there is any pain in the area of various organs, if there are any lumps or masses that should not be there, and where possible to see the size and texture of various organs.
These will get a quick check while the temperature is being taken. If there is any enlargement, or history of “butt scooting”, they may get a deeper examination.
In small dogs, I routinely check for popping knee-caps (a common problem). In large dogs, especially as they get older, I assess their joints for range of motion and their spine for pain. I will also check joints on any pet whose mobility does not seem to be what it used to.
The Pet Parent’s Role
I will teach you techniques you need to know, such as deep-cleaning an infected ear, and brushing teeth. We will go over your pet’s nutrition: many problems can be alleviated or even prevented by dietary management. I will make sure you have a clear understanding of what is going on with your pet, why it happens, and why we are treating it a particular way. We may also discuss back-up plans – if one treatment strategy is not getting the desired results, what is the next step? My goal is to work with you, as a team, towards the mutual goal of your pet’s well-being!