By Dr. Julie Damron
Stockton Record January 22, 2009
Every pet should have a physical exam at least once a year. This is medically important for indoor as well as outdoor pets. Canines and felines that are older than seven years of age, or companions that have debilitating health conditions should be evaluated at least twice annually and possibly more frequently depending on their health status.
California law requires any pet receiving medication to have an annual examination.
Pets age more rapidly than people. It is thought that on average each year of a dog or cat's life is equivalent to seven of ours. When our companions reach the age of seven, changes can happen more quickly. Pet owners may not be aware of subtle changes in the physique of their pets because they see them on a frequent basis. Many behaviors that people associate with aging may or may not be normal. Many problems can be improved with medications. Many health issues, both hidden and symptomatic, can be identified during the physical exam and associated tests.
A thorough physical exam is just as or more important than the vaccines that are usually paired with it. A head to toe evaluation should include looking in your dog or cat's mouth, looking at the eyes, checking the ears, evaluating mental status, looking at the coat and skin, evaluating the weight and muscling, feeling for pain and mobility in the shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees; watching the gait, feeling the abdomen, listening to the heart, looking under the tail and additional evaluation as needed depending on symptoms. The patient should be weighed. Diet should be discussed. An internal and external parasite program should be discussed. Dental hygiene should be discussed. The client should mention any changes they have noticed for their companion in the last year. Significant abnormalities may include, but are not limited to changes in weight and/or appetite, increased water consumption, increased urination, vomiting, diarrhea, panting, coughing, exhaustion, difficulty getting up and down, growths, itching, hair loss, odor, and others.
Depending on the pet's age and condition testing may be recommended such as a fecal exam, heartworm test, blood panel, urinalysis, and/or Xrays. A patient that looks physically normal on the outside, can still be having health problems within. This is why laboratory testing is cornerstone of care in veterinary medicine. Evaluation organ function routinely is suggested for all patients; but especially for those that are greater than seven years of age. This group of patients is more prone to kidney and liver disease, hormone imbalances, and cancer. Prognosis for any health issue is best when treated in the early stages. Your veterinarian can customize a health care program for your cherished companion.