The Importance of a Yearly Physical Exam

Ah, the physical exam.
Ever wonder exactly what your veterinarian is looking for when she looks into your cat’s eyes or your dog’s ears?  Just wonder what your pet is thinking!  The physical exam is the routine assessment of a patient’s body from nose to tail. Veterinarians need to touch and feel a patient in order to be able to collect a vast amount of information about your pet. However, statics show that people are getting more pets but fewer pets are visiting veterinarians. Some of the reasons include more people have access to Dr. Google and go to the internet to get medical advice and medications. The cost of veterinary care continues to increase making pet owners limit visits to their family vet. However, visiting your veterinarian more frequently with your pet actually can save more money in the long run and help pets live longer healthier lives. Skipping wellness care can mean subtle problems are not diagnosed early before pets feel sick. Early diseases usually do not make a pet feel ill and therefore, do not have symptoms of illness, but can be found on a physical exam or annual blood work.
Veterinarians spend 4 years learning to look, feel, smell, hear, and see diseases in pets. Our education can not be replaced by an internet search. So what are we looking for when we do a seemly “routine” physical exam. The following is a summary of the different things vet’s are evaluating your pet for on an exam:
Eyes– Signs of disease; discharge or tearing; abnormal movement or reaction to light, eyelid abnormalities, retinal disease
Ears– Signs of ear infection including pain, gland swelling, redness, odor, mites, ear canal tumors, and ear drum disease and rupture
Mouth– Bad breath, level of calculus on teeth, gingivitis, oral tumors, gum color, tonsils, dehydration
Heart– Heart rate, arrhythmias, murmurs/valvular disease
Lungs– Wheezing, crackling, muffled heart sounds, increased airway sounds
Abdomen– Increased abdominal organ enlargement-liver, spleen, and kidneys; bladder size, pain, or stones; intestinal thickness or gas; discomfort on palpation; excessive fluid
Legs– Muscle symmetry, grinding sounds or feel in the joints; limitations in range of joint motion, painful bones or joints, lameness
CoatSkinand Nails– Overall condition and quality of coat; lumps and bumps; excessive dander; saliva-stained fur; fleas/ticks; skin rashes and infections; overgrown nails; tapeworms, fecal matting, or anal gland disease around bottom
Lymph nodes/Thyroid– Any irregularities or changes in size
How can I afford more preventative care for my pet when I am on a budget?
Veterinarians realize that pet owners need help affording quality care. Some progressive small animal veterinarians are offering wellness plans or preventative care plans. These plans include a comprehensive package of preventive services based on the pet’s age and health needs, then the total cost is discounted.  The plans benefit pets and pet owners because they do the following:

  1. Payment Flexibility- Clients can pay for plan all at once or over a 12 month period making the cost very affordable and breaking any financial barriers to excellent care.
  2. Excellent veterinary care- Wellness plans include not only two comprehensive semi-annual exams but they also include unlimited office visits. An additional wellness plan benefit is discounts on products and services outside the package plan.
  3. Avoid higher cost later- Skipping preventative care can lead to big bills later. Pets are not always able to tell pet parents when something is wrong like a tumor growing along a gum line or heart valve starting to leak.
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