by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
There are many similarities between health care recommendations for pets and those for people. It certainly is true with respect to regular physical check-ups being a pillar in best health care plans for both animals and humans.
The general physical examination your physician will perform when you receive your physical will correspond very closely with the one your pet will get from their veterinarian. It should not be hurried, it should include a good history-taking to learn about any changes you or your care-giver may have noticed since your last visit. Finally a thorough, hands-on, investigation of accessible body parts should occur.
Now, here are the most common abnormalities detected during history taking and physical examinations by veterinarians. Dental disease is often observed. A look at the pet's mouth and teeth, during such an exam cannot be considered a thorough dental examination. A general anesthetic is required to evaluate the health of individual teeth. However, in most cases, the regular check-up helps determine when more thorough dental investigations are needed. Lumps on or below the skin, and sometimes deeper in the body can be detected. Vomiting and increased drinking and urinating is often reported. Coat changes can be assessed. Arthritis can be found and heart murmurs heard on auscultation. Many dogs and cats are determined to be overweight. On the other hand, weight loss is commonly reported in senior cats (more than 10 years old).
Any of the above problems noticed in a pet could be very significant. Further diagnostic steps are likely to be recommended and a resolution may be important in maintaining a pet's good health.
Okay, now go back to thinking about the regular visit to your family doctor. It is unlikely to end with just the general physical examination. Almost certainly you will be asked to go to a nearby lab and have some blood and urine tests to complete the check-up. These tests are an integral part of a thorough health evaluation. The extra information gained is very important in assisting a physician to assess patient health.
Now, of course, there is no difference in the importance for a veterinarian trying to provide optimal care for a pet. When these tests are part of a pet's examination, what are the most common abnormalities detected? Increased liver enzymes may be found in the blood. Abnormal levels of these liver enzymes may indicate a number of disease processes both within the liver and in many other organs. Early therapeutic intervention can be very important in attempts to control or resolve many of these problems. Unfortunately, very little can be learned about the liver on physical examination alone.
Elevated kidney enzymes - urea nitrogen and creatinine - may indicate comprised kidney functioning. The kidneys are other essential organs. Fortunately, the kidneys have great reserve capacity. However, there are levels above which will lead to serious health - perhaps life-threatening - disorders will occur. Urine specific gravity measurements, learned from a urinalysis, will assist in interpreting kidney health. Often, if changes are found early in the course of a disease, it can make a tremendous difference in the outcome for a pet. Kidney disease is one of these. In some of the forms of kidney that affect our pets, minor adjustments in diet are profoundly beneficial in prolonging quantity and quality of life.
In cats, diabetes and hyperthyroidism, are two diseases that can be detected with the help of wellness blood testing. In early stages of these disorders, the most caring and observant of owners, may have no idea they are affecting their pet. Remember wellness testing, in addition to a physical, as a part of your pet's check-up is not duplicating information gathering. Both are very important in the health care of your pet. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at www.baycitiesanimalhospital.ca