June 2011

PET EXTRAVAGANZA - What is Your Veterinarian Doing for You?

Author: Dr. Rebecca Latham of Heritage Animal Hospital

When clients move, they often ask what they need to know to choose a veterinarian in the new area. This has always been a difficult question for me to answer. Instead, I’m going to bring to light what your veterinarian should be doing for your pet and therefore, you.

First, on at least a yearly basis, if not every six months for an older or sick patient, a thorough physical exam should be performed. The physical exam is one of the most import aspects of what your veterinarian should be doing for your pet.
What is a thorough physical exam, and how, as a pet owner, do you judge what is being done?

The order of evaluation is not important. The completeness is:

• The mouth should be checked for teeth and gingival (gums) problems. Certain breeds (both dog and cat) are more susceptible to disease under the gum line that is not easily detected. If there are retained deciduous (baby) teeth, teeth that are crowded together, broken teeth etc., then there is a strong potential for abscesses and periodontal disease. Cats can have a very painful disease where the enamel of the tooth erodes away and exposes the sensitive nerve. Most people are unaware of the level of pain and disease in their pet’s mouth, because animals are very good at “dealing with” and “hiding” their problems. The color of the gums is also very important as an indicator of other health problems.

• The eyes should be checked. If there is any discharge, discomfort or if the cornea (outer portion of the eye) is dry or discolored, then further evaluation should be recommended. A “dry” or irritated eye can lead to changes in the cornea that can cause blindness. The lens should be checked for cataracts. Some cataracts can be removed and sight can be restored. Glaucoma (an increase in eye pressures) can occur in dogs and cats for a variety of reasons.

• The inside and outside of the ears should be checked. A tool (otoscope) must be used to see deeper into the ear canal.

• The lungs and the heart have to be listened to with a stethoscope. Heart disease in both the dog and cat can be treated with a variety of medications that increase the quality of life as well as the quantity.

• The body of the patient should be scanned/felt for growths, lumps, scabs etc. The veterinarian should also be feeling for any signs that the lymph nodes are enlarged. As animals (dogs in particular) age, it is very common to get fat lumps (lipomas) and skin growths that are benign. You cannot tell if a lump is “fatty” without getting a small sample and looking under the microscope. Just because it feels fatty does not mean it actually is. There are many serious and dangerous growths that can be cleared if found early and removed.

• Your veterinarian should be feeling deeply into the abdomen (belly) for any abnormal changes. Feeling an enlarged liver or spleen can be a reason for suggesting taking radiographs (x-rays) or checking blood work. All abnormal findings do not have to be life threatening, especially if found and treated early. Finding and treating disease before it causes a problem is goal of a good veterinarian.

• The muscles, joints, bones, and nerves should also be checked, both visually and physically. Animals are not small people. They do not voice their aches and pains the way we do. They cope with what they have, especially if it is a slow chronic process like arthritis. Your veterinarian should be checking for decreased range of motion in the joints, pain, a decrease in muscle tone, loss of feeling in the feet, etc. Aging is a fact of life, but pain should not be. A variety of treatments ranging from nutricuticals (e.g. joint supplements), prescription medications, such as Deramaxx and Tramadol, physical therapy, such as cold laser treatments to surgery can be used to treat joint, muscle, bone, and nerve problems.

After a physical exam, you should be aware of any issues, small or large, that are found. At that point, you as the owner should be made aware of your options for those problems. It is the veterinarian’s obligation to advise you of the different treatment choices. Once you are aware of the choices/options, then you, as an informed owner, can make decisions that are best for you and your pet. Your veterinarian can then help you and your pet down the path you choose.

The take home message: When you take your pet in for a physical exam, make sure everything is being evaluated. Ask questions if you are not sure. You, as the owner of that patient, should be the one who decides what happens. If you do not have all the information, then you cannot make informed decisions.

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