A thorough history and physical examination is the first and often most important step in the veterinary appointment. It is recommended for all new pets, prior to all vaccinations, and once yearly for healthy pets. Senior pets and pets with ongoing diseases may require more frequent assessments. If you suspect a health problem in your pet, the first step towards a diagnosis is to go over the history and physical examination with a veterinarian.
Your veterinarian may ask you many questions regarding your pet’s history, including: travel history, behavior patterns or problems, energy level, changes in urinating and defecation patterns, diet, exercise… etc. Owner’s questions and concerns are often addressed at this time.
The physical examination varies between practitioners. Your veterinarian will assess your pet’s nose, mouth, and dentition. They will examine their eyes and ears, and depending on the history and findings, may use an ophthalmoscope or otoscope for a more detailed view.
A stethoscope will be used to auscultate the heart and lungs for abnormal sounds which may indicate disease of these organs. The abdomen will be palpated, allowing evaluation of the intestines, bladder, spleen, and kidneys in some cases. Your veterinarian will examine your pet’s coat and palpate for any abnormal lumps or bumps, hair loss, itchiness, or discomfort. They will evaluate your pet’s muscle mass and body condition. Depending on the findings, they may perform further examinations to assess specific body systems such as neurologic, cardiac, ophthalmic, orthopedic, or other examinations.
The history and physical examination are the veterinarian’s tools to detect current and upcoming health problems. If abnormalities are found, further diagnostics or treatments may be recommended. Some diseases can present without abnormality on physical examination, however many diseases can be picked up in early stages through regular physical examinations and appropriate diagnostic follow-up. Early diagnosis allows veterinarians to begin treatment in early stages of disease, often prolonging the length and quality of life for pets.