A good, thorough physical examination for a dog includes checking the following organ systems:
Eyes - The eyes have been called the windows to the soul, but they are also windows into the health of other organ systems in the dog's body. In addition to eye diseases, tumors, and injuries, the eyes can tell us about problems as distant as the brain and the liver.
Ears - There are a variety of ear problems common in dogs, including bacterial infections, yeast/fungal infections, cancers or other growths, and like the eyes they can even tell us about problems with the liver or bile duct system. Ear infections in dogs have many possible causes, including floppy ears, hair that grows in the external ear canal, humidity, water (often contaminated with bacteria) in the ear canals from swimming, even common skin allergies can cause chronic ear infections that don't respond well to treatment unless the underlying skin allergy is controlled.
Teeth and gums - Tartar accumulation, gum infection, damaged or broken teeth, and tumors inside the mouth are all problems best handled early in the disease process. Certain aspects of heart and circulatory status can be seen on an examination of the mucous membranes in the mouth.
Heart and lungs - Abnormal heart rhythms and heart murmurs can be early clues to heart disease in dogs. Early detection of heart disease is critical; once symptoms of heart disease develop it may be too late for treatment to be effective. Changes in lung sounds give us clues about both heart and lung function. Annual heartworm testing and monthly heartworm preventive are important preventive measures with our year around heartworm problem.
Skin and hair coat - If your dog doesn't have a healthy, shiny hair coat there could be dietary deficiencies, hormonal diseases, allergies,
parasites, or even behavioral problems. Common environmental allergies (pollen, mold spores, etc.) present most often as very itchy skin. Dogs can be so miserable from the itching associated with allergies that we have seen a dog chew its own leg off (and bleed to death) in an attempt to stop the incessant itching.
Muscles and skeleton -Abnormalities in the bones, joints, or muscles can be clues to underlying injuries or degenerative changes. Often times a slight change in muscle mass in an area can tell us there is pain and the dog is compensating by a subtle shift of weight away from the painful area. Larger breeds may have genetic predispositions to hip abnormalities and resulting hip pain.
Neurologic system - Abnormalities found on neurologic examination can be signs of underlying problems in the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, even an ear infection.
Bladder, kidneys and genital area - Kidney disease is one of the most common serious medical problem in older dogs. Changes in the size and shape of the kidneys can be a warning sign of kidney disease. Dogs can also develop bladder and kidney infections, tumors, or bladder and kidney stones.
A comprehensive physical examination should be done every 6 months. This would be like a person having a physical examination every 1-3 years depending on age.
Routine blood work is recommended to check the status of internal organs, particularly kidney function in cats. Standard blood panels detect kidney disease only after the kidneys have lost more than 75% of their functional mass. The blood panel we use includes a new proprietary kidney test that can detect kidney disease as early as 25-50% loss. Options for treatment and control are more numerous and more effective when started in the early stages of the disease.