Posts Tagged ‘alertness’

A Truly Hands-On Physical Examination

March 24, 2011

Have you ever gone to the doctor and realized after the visit that those healing hands never actually touched your body? C’mon now, that’s not okay!  Nor is it okay for your veterinarian to skimp when it comes to examining your pet.  In veterinary school, we are taught to perform a thorough physical examination on each and every patient.  It would be a travesty to miss a new heart murmur or enlarged lymph node on a patient that presented for limping.  The sooner abnormalities are detected the more likely we are to gain an upper hand.


Listed below are the elements of a thorough physical examination for your dog or cat.  Bear in mind, it takes no more than a minute or two for a seasoned vet to competently complete the following (by the way, it helps if you are not talking when the stethoscope is being used!):

  • Assessment of overall alertness and appearance
  • Evaluation of gait
  • Evaluation of the skin and haircoat
  • Measurement of body weight, temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, and capillary refill time (the time it takes for the gum line to become pink after it has been blanched by finger pressure)
  • Examination of the eyes, ears, nose, and oral cavity
  • Palpation of lymph nodes
  • Palpation of the thyroid gland (specific for cats)
  • Auscultation of the heart and lungs (listening with a stethoscope) on both sides of the chest
  • Palpation of the abdomen
  • Rectal examination (specific for dogs that are middle aged and older)

Vets perform physical exams differently in terms of order of events.  No matter in the least as long as everything is included. And please remember, such thorough exams are not to be reserved for only the annual office visit. If your kitty is vomiting or your dog has an ear infection, you should expect the whole shebang (although your dog or cat would probably prefer a mini-exam).

Is your veterinarian “hands-on” and doing one heck of a thorough job when it comes to the physical exam?  Please share your experiences.

Best wishes for good health,  

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook  

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.