Why Does Your Pet Need a Physical Examination Before Vaccinations?

By: Dr. Carrie Wright 

Why not just go to a low cost vaccine clinic you ask? Well, vaccines are important – there are many preventable illnesses that can be avoided with a proper vaccine schedule (such as the rampant Parvo epidemic here in Reno/Sparks area, or Rabies

which can be passed to humans). But there may be even more conditions and disease processes that can be picked up with a simple physical exam.   Not to mention, early detection often translates into financial savings for you in the long run. And finally, according to the Nevada State Board of Veterinary Medicine, a licensed veterinarian must perform a physical examination on your pet before administering vaccinations.A physical examination usually starts with obtaining a detailed history of your pet.    We typically ask you about your pet’s lifestyle, any changes in behavior, appetite and eliminations, and any other concerns you may have. Even before we first touch your pet, we observe his mentation (level of alertness and how he responds to us), and watch him move around the room (which can tell us about possible gait abnormalitits or arthritic pain). We quantify vital signs, such as heart rate (listening for any arrhythmias or murmurs) , respiratory rate (in case we hear increased or decreased sounds), and body temperature, and obtain your pet’s weight (which we can compare to previous visits).

Next, we check your pet’s mucous membranes (which can tell us things like hydration status, and oxygenation, and help rule out anemia and certain bleeding disorders).  A thorough oral examination can help us find dental disease (gingivitis, tooth infections, broken teeth, and oral growths).  We palpate your cat or dog’s abdomen for discomfort or changes in organ size or potential masses.  Palpating for lymph node enlargement can help us detect infections and certain cancers. Looking in your pet’s eyes help us rule out infection, cataracts, or other abnormalities.  We can check the ears for inflammation, debris, or foreign bodies (we have a lot of pets with foxtails in their ears this time of year!).  Ear infections are very common in our pets and we may obtain an ear swab to determine what is growing in there!  Examining your pet’s fur and skin helps us detect problems, such as allergies, infections, parasites, and growths (which we can often check with a simple fine needle aspirate and look at the cells under the microscope).

Considering all the things that can be found on the physical exam, it’s easy to see why the vaccinations are often considered secondary to the examination.  These results may affect our decision to vaccinate at all, or  we may elect to change vaccine schedules according to their particular issues. It is ALL about the preventative medicine! Our goal is to keep your pet healthy and happy for a very long time!