I've often heard the alarming phrase: "My dog doesn't need a check-up, he's always been healthy". Didn't you know that an annual veterinary exam is the key to a long-lived, healthy pet?
The annual exam is much more than just a cursory check-up. It is most often during these exams that a veterinarian can pick up the early warning signs of a serious problem that will affect the dog in the future. Serious problems can often be corrected or at least slowed in progress when they are detected early.
The Nose to Tail Exam
Just like it sounds, the vet will start at the nose, and work all the way down to the tail.
The first stop is, of course, the nose. Checking your dog's nose for nasal discharge, your vet is looking for more than just a cold. Rhinitis is a symptom of many possible diseases, Canine Distemper or a respiratory infection are just two of many possible causes.
Checking your dog's eyes are a vital part of the exam,. A dog with dull, lifeless eyes is giving off warning signals of internal parasites, stress, or something even more serious. Dull eyes can indicate that a pet has a serious illness. Whoever said that eyes are windows to the soul was absolutely correct. If your pet's soul is dull, your pet needs help.
The eyes should also be clear of debris and discharge. Eye infections often start as just a little bit of ooze coming from the corners of the eyes. Eye infections are contagious to other pets as well as humans. It is important to catch these and clear them up early.
The dog's mouth is inspected for lumps, cuts, scrapes and the condition of his teeth. A mouthful of healthy teeth should look clean, and white, and your vet can indicate if your dog is in need of a scaling. A scaling is when the dog has his teeth scraped free of cavity-causing tartar. Lumps on the outside of your dog's jaws can indicate swelling from an abcessed tooth, oral tumours, or an allergic reaction to a bug bite. Lack of healthy in the gums would alert your vet to anemia.
Ears are notorious for harbouring bacterias that cause foul odours, and ear infections. A clean ear is a good ear, and it is a very good idea to keep alert for ear mites, a pesky inhabitant of ears that are highly contagious to other pets in the household.
Moving onward from the head, the next stop on the Nose to Tail exam is the chest.
Using a stethoscope, a vet will check your dog's lungs for any sounds of congestion, cough, or abnormal breathing patterns. This is extremely important, as a congested chest can lead to many health hazards. Bordatella, Distemper, or even Heartworm are just a few of the problems that can cause congestion.
Listening to your dog's heart is an important step in the exam. A dog's normal heart rate is 100 to 130 beats per minute. Any abnormality is cause for concern. Early detection of heart disease can help your dog live a longer, more comfortable life.
The Skin and Coat
The largest organ of the body, the skin can tell you many things about your pet's health. Your vet will check for fleas, ticks, and other external parasites, as well as swelling, cuts, scrapes, lumps, and condition of the coat. A dull coat on the outside means an ill pet on the inside.
Source of many woes, the abdomen is next. By palpating your dog's stomach and groin area, a vet will feel for any lumps, abnormal distending, and possible infections. She is also watching for signs of pain from your dog, indicating further problems.
Back and Tail
A trip down your dog's spine and tail tells if their are any spinal problems that may need correcting.
The last stop is the paws, as your vet looks for cuts or swelling, and muscle damage along your dog's legs.
There is quite a bit more to an annual exam than most people think. Without regular check-ups, some dogs will not display any symptoms, and owners will oftimes find themselves with an extremely sick dog on their hands, and sometimes it is too late to save them. Please make sure YOUR pet gets in to see a vet at least once a year, even if she always been healthy, after all, prevention is so much better than cure.