Comprehensive Physical Exam

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We always encourage pet owners to keep a written account of any changes they observe in their pet’s health or behavior, as these can be indicative of disease or major body changes. If you have any concerns, please express them to us at the beginning of your appointment, so that we can properly investigate and address them. Videotaping strange behaviors (put those smart phones to use!) allows the doctor to see exactly what you are witnessing at home.

The importance of a physical exam cannot be stressed enough– many diseases can be discovered early or a diagnosis pursued based upon the doctor’s findings during a physical exam. In many cases, when treatment is started early in the disease process your pet has a much better prognosis and a better chance of living a long and healthy life.

At every physical exam, your veterinarian reviews your pet’s recent history, thoroughly assesses major body systems from nose to tail, and is there to explain any abnormal findings and answer any questions you may have. A physical exam, recommended regularly in young animals, yearly in healthy adults, and at least twice a year in geriatric pets, is a quick way to methodically check your pet for the signs and symptoms of many diseases. It is the starting point of diagnostics for any sick pet. If you have any concerns or there are any unusual findings, a more in-depth workup is then performed.

During the exam, the doctor will check the ears, skin, and hair coat for any signs of allergic disease, infection, parasites, or other diseases. They will listen for any changes in your pet’s heart, like a developing murmur or arrhythmia. Any signs of respiratory disease, including a cough or increased respiratory effort, are noted at this time as well. Your pet’s teeth and gums will be checked for signs of dental disease and any obvious growths or changes, and the mucous membranes will be assessed. The external structures of the eyes are examined and any development of cataracts or lenticular sclerosis will be mentioned to you. If the doctor has any concerns, they will perform a more in-depth exam of the interior of the eye.

At a physical exam, your pet’s entire body is palpated- the doctor uses their hands to feel tissues and internal organs, looking for any abnormalities. The doctor will feel for any changes in lymph nodes, which can be a sign of infection or cancer, as well as for any change in muscle tone. Many of the organs in the abdomen can be felt at this time, giving the doctor an idea of their size and shape- and often of the presence of large organ masses or even stones within the bladder! The GI tract and urogenital systems are also checked at this time, and your doctor will assess the anal glands and check for any signs of growth or change in these areas.

Once your pet is determined to be healthy, your vet may administer any vaccinations they are due for or perform common diagnostic tests, like a heartworm or lyme disease test. We are always happy to perform a courtesy toe nail trim, at your request.

We always recommend that a pet receives regular physical exams. The majority of the diseases that we diagnose leave tell-tale marks upon your pet, many of which are found incidentally during a routine physical exam before an owner realizes anything is wrong. Catching diseases early is one of the best ways to keep your pet healthy.

Spay/Neuter

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Spaying and neutering pets is the #1 way to control animal populations and has the additional benefit of helping to prevent diseases later in life, including uterine/breast/prostate/testicular cancers and life-threatening emergency conditions like a pyometra (uterine infection) or perineal hernia. Many rescue groups and shelters require spaying and neutering as part of their adoption policy; many breeders also encourage that your new pet is spayed or neutered unless explicitly planned to be bred.

Watch us neuter a chinchilla

Spay

Female pets are “spayed” when they undergo a surgical procedure (ovariohysterectomy) to remove the uterus and ovary reproductive organs. This makes your pet incapable of becoming pregnant; the removal causes your pet to stop producing sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone. This has an immediate benefit of ending heat cycles which can cause a mess in the home, entice un-neutered males, and lead to undesirable behaviors like possession guarding and sometimes aggression. In the long-term, lower levels of these hormones have been linked to a much lower incidence of breast cancer, a very serious cancer in pets.

Removal of the uterus ensures that it will not be able to become infected later in life. An infected uterus is a very real risk in older un-spayed females.  In the worst case, the infected uterus can cause death; and at best only require an emergency hospitalization and emergency pyometra spay, a costly and risky process.

While opinions have changed throughout the years and vary by veterinarian, our policy for a safe, inexpensive, and medically beneficial spay is to recommend spaying your pet as early as 16 weeks of age and preferably before their first heat cycle. Many owners are apprehensive about having surgery performed on smaller pets like toy dogs and young kittens; but it is very common to spay kittens as small as 2lbs! If you have any concerns we strongly encourage you to discuss them with your veterinarian. Our doctors are always happy to answer any questions you may have about your pet’s surgical procedure.  They will arrange a tour of our surgical facilities, introduce you to our staff, and allay any fears you may have. The benefits of a spay far outweigh the known and avoidable risks of anesthesia and surgery. With an experienced veterinary team like ours your pet will be at home and happy within 36-hours!

An ovariohysterectomy is a fairly quick procedure; pets are fully recovered within a matter of days! In fact, the biggest detriment to recovery is that pets feel so well they don’t know they should be taking it easy! This is why we request that your pet stay hospitalized overnight, keeping them restricted and calm for the first 12 hours after surgery.  They go home the day after surgery. Because of changes that occur to the reproductive organs during a heat cycle whether or not your pet is in heat can have a large impact on the duration of surgery, recovery time, and cost of the procedure. If your pet has already begun going into heat, we recommend waiting 6 weeks after their last heat to schedule the appointment.

Neuter

Neutering of male pets is accomplished by the surgical removal (gonadectomy) of the testicles, the male reproductive organs that are responsible for producing testosterone and sperm. This prevents male animals from impregnating females, but also reduces and eliminates a number of highly undesirable traits that can be triggered and strengthened by the presence of testosterone. The surge in testosterone production following your male pet’s sexual maturity can cause marking behaviors (urinating in your house), inter-male/territorial/general aggression, dominance attitude toward humans, mounting, and escaping/roaming. Intact males also experience a higher likelihood of prostate cancer later in life, as well as the possibility of testicular cancer. They have a higher incidence of developing perineal hernias, where fat or even abdominal organs like the intestine or bladder can protrude from the pet’s abdomen. Those are emergency conditions difficult and expensive to treat, and in worst-case scenarios are fatal. Intact males are also more prone to growing benign or malignant perianal adenomas- tumors of the muscle around the anus. Even benign growths can be problematic and require surgical removal.

Neutering typically involves surgically removing testicles which have descended out of the abdomen and are easily accessed. This makes the procedure a very quick one in smaller/younger pets. Because the testosterone levels typically begin to rise around 4-5 months of age, we recommend neutering around 3-4 months. Increasing age/size of the pet can lead to increased duration/complexity of surgery and overall cost, as well as resulting in established “male” behavioral traits which may not be affected by neutering/eliminating testosterone production.

In some cases, a male pet will have one or both cryptorchid (un-descended) testicles which are retained within the body and do not drop. These testes, in particular, should be removed as they have a much higher incidence of cancer development and will continue producing testosterone and allowing your pet to breed. Retained testicles are removed via a more involved surgical procedure, similar to a spay, where the abdomen itself is opened in order to access and remove the testicle(s).

Pets typically recover very quickly from a neuter and are kept overnight to keep them quiet and restricted. Neutered pets often go home the day after surgery with their only complication being licking of the surgery site in which case the use of an e-collar may be necessary for a few days. It is very important to note that male dogs retain sperm within their reproductive tract up to one month after neutering, and thus are still capable of impregnating females for 30 days.