Routine Health Examination
Routine health examinations are important as they can help detect underlying health issues, sometimes preventing them from becoming more serious health issues, thereby increasing your pet's longevity. They can be a way to assess weight, discuss weight management, and enable us to discuss and advise on preventative health care and enable you to discuss any concerns you may have with your pet.
What does a routine health examination involve?
The vet will ask you several questions to gain your animal's clinical history.
Some example questions may be:
- Has your pet had a vaccination within the last year? If so, do you know when?
- Has your pet been wormed in the last three months? If so, do you know which product was used?
- Has your pet had flea and lungworm treatment applied or given within the last month? If so, do you know which product was used?
- Has your pet had any change in their appetite, drinking, urine, or faecal output?
- Has your pet had any vomiting?
- Has your pet had any noticeable weight change lately?
- Has your pet been coughing or sneezing lately?
- Has your pet had any lameness or 'odd' behavioural episodes?
- Have you noticed any lumps or bumps on your pet?
- Do you have any concerns with your pet at all?
Often whilst asking the above questions the vet will assess your animal's demeanour, breathing, and body condition from a distance.
- Is the animal's demeanour appropriate, for example, are they bright and responsive, or lethargic and flat/ withdrawn?
- Is the animal overweight, underweight or ideal body condition? They will weigh the animal also to compare the weight to previous records.
The vet will perform a thorough clinical exam on your animal.
For this the vet normally starts at your pet’s head working backwards.
Eyes will be assessed for symmetry, pupil size and response to light, for any discharge present, for any dullness to the surface, any eyelid conformational abnormalities or any eyelid masses, for any abnormality in mucous membrane colour, and any prominence of the 3rd eyelid.
Nose will be assessed for any facial asymmetry, any discharge from the nose, or masses or lesions on the nose.
The mucous membrane colour and capillary refill time will be assessed, the mouth will be examined in case of foreign bodies, swollen tonsils, or masses within them. The teeth will be assessed in terms of colour, tartar build up, infection, alignment, malocclusion and gums will be assessed for any sign of inflammation associated with dental disease, or for any mass or epilus formation. Routine tooth brushing, or a scale and polish may often be recommended after examination of the mouth to help maintain good oral health.
Ears will be examined to assess external colour, signs of inflammation, odour or discharge, conformation and hair content- routine ear cleaning and/ or hair plucking may be advised as a preventative measure to maintain ear health. A small otoscope will be used to view the inner ear to check for infections, foreign material or any signs of ear mites.
Submandibular, prescapular and popliteal lymph nodes will all be assessed for size, and symmetry.
Larynx, trachea and thyroid
Assessed for any abnormalities in shape or size. In older cats the thyroid in particular will be assessed for any change in size. The trachea may be palpated to assess whether it elicits a cough.
Auscultation of the heart
The heart will be assessed to determine the heart rate (is it beating too slowly, too quickly, or appropriately), and for any irregular rhythms. (If any defect is detected, further investigation via an ECG may be advised), any pulse deficits- so it is likely the vet may be listening to the heart and feeling the femoral pulse on the inside of a hindleg at the same time, for any audible murmurs (which may indicate turbulent blood flow through the heart and may require an echo to investigate further if detected).
Auscultation of the lungs- the respiratory rate and effort will be observed from a distance. The lungs will then be auscultated over their entire field to assess any increased or decreased lung sounds, or presence of crackles or wheezes (if present further investigation and diagnostic imaging may be required).
The size of the abdomen will be assessed, and the abdomen will be palpated to assess size of organs or for pain.
The genitals and anus- will be assessed for irritation around the area (often marked by saliva staining or redness), for any swelling, discharge, or lumps. If there is irritation around the anus, then the vet may check your animal's anal glands (anal gland issues are more common in dogs than cats but can occur in overweight cats also). If your dog is entire, your vet may also perform a rectal examination to assess the size and symmetry of the prostate.
It may not always be taken if your animal hasn't shown any signs of illness lately, and is just in for a routine health check, but would be taken if your animal has been showing any signs of illness.
Limbs will assessed for normal gait/ the presence of any stiffness or lameness. Conformation will be assessed, and any muscular asymmetry. Assessed for any swelling or inappropriate limb placement.
Skin will be assessed for any signs of irritation- such as redness, saliva staining, hair loss and presence of parasites. There would also be an assessment of whether lumps are present anywhere on the body (if present further sampling via an FNA (fine needle aspirate), biopsy or removal may be advised).
In most animals when they present for a routine health checks the above will be performed very quickly by the vet as in most cases pets that seem healthy to their owners are found to be healthy to us too.
The most common abnormal findings that we detect at a routine health check are:
- Dental disease
- Skin disease (of which many are secondary to parasites e.g.: fleas, if not on appropriate preventative treatment)
- Heart murmurs, or heart rhythm abnormalities
- Anal gland issues
- Prostatic enlargement (in older entire male dogs)
Putting together all of the above a summary of the vet’s findings will then be made to you along with any advice for further treatment.
If no clinical abnormalities are detected within the health check, it is likely the vet will advise you to continue your current feeding and exercise regime, and they will offer some advice on routine flea and worming and vaccination protocols and dispense the products/ vaccinate your animal if appropriate.
In the cases where the vet may have found an abnormality on their clinical examination, they will then discuss the abnormality in greater detail with you and may advise further investigations or treatment.