Occasionally, when clients come into the veterinarian’s office, they often just want a quick vaccine. They might need to board a dog, so they require a Bordatella-kennel cough (not portabella!) vaccine. Or perhaps the Animal Control Officer has nabbed their pooch on the lam and now demands proof of a valid Rabies vaccination. Even non-felonious pet owners occasionally want the quick needle and the hasty retreat out the door. Many owners don’t want to be bothered with a physical exam. So when someone asks me, can you just do the shot and forgo the exam, the quick and easy answer is, sure, I can do the jab. But I’m not doing anyone any favors-you or your animal.
Here are the reasons why spending time with your vet and getting a thorough physical for your pet is such a good idea. In the first place, veterinarians know the right questions to ask to elicit important information. Issues about eating habits, dietary changes and the all important question regarding water consumption tip us off to potential problems. Many disease conditions like Diabetes or kidney failure cause an animal to drink more water. Aging cats often suffer from hyperthyroidism where they may lose weight in the face of a ravenous appetite. Kitties also drink more and therefore urinate more. Hence, for a cat, a history of changes in litter box habits prompts us to look for those three major diseases. Changes in elimination patterns or sleeping schedules might be red flags, signaling illness, or at the very least, issues which merit further investigation. A dog which formerly slept through the night, but now asks to go out at midnight may be drinking more water, or may be unable to control her bladder. So a good vet spends some time on history-taking. Ascertaining what behaviors are normal for the pet, and listening for any differences in those traits lead us to investigate particular body systems.
Secondly, there is so much more that a vet sees on a physical exam than most owners detect at home. Our eyes are not better than most, they just know what to look for. Irregular eye movement or unequal pupil size are subtle abnormalities which may elude all but a skilled observer. Vets have ophthalmoscopes and otoscopes to look deep into eyes and ears. We also listen to the heart and lungs, detecting murmurs, changes in cardiac rate and rhythm or changes in respiratory patterns. A seasoned vet’s fingers know what to feel when running over a patient’s body. Skin tags, cysts under the skin, benign fatty tumors and not-so-benign masses may reveal themselves to a vet’s touch.
It’s obvious where I’m going with this. By doing a thorough physical exam at the time of vaccination, doctors can discover disease processes which may just be getting started. Then we have a chance to control them before they progress too far. So give your pet the gift of a good physical.