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Filed in Cats, Dogs, Health

A thorough physical examination at least once each year is a very important part of preventive health care for both dogs and cats. Puppies and kittens should be checked as soon as possible after they are born and should begin their routine vaccinations at about 8 weeks of age. Some pet owners elect to have their animals checked every six months.

At the start of the physical exam, your veterinarian will take a complete history of your pet's health, including past medical problems, behavior, diet and vaccinations. The animal's temperature, weight, pulse and respiration also will be noted. Using a stethoscope, the veterinarian will listen to the pet's heart to check for any irregular sounds and to the lungs for any unusual noises or breathing rates.

Your pet's eyes can reflect its health, often helping the veterinarian determine quickly if the animal has anemia, jaundice or infection. Using an ophthalmoscope, the veterinarian also will check for corneal lesions, proper pupil size, reaction to light and abnormal bleeding or discharge.

Next, your veterinarian will check your animal's teeth for decay or excessive buildup of tartar. A dentistry may be recommended to keep the teeth strong and healthy -- an important part of the digestive process. Your pet's gums, lips, tongue, palate, throat and tonsils also will be examined.

An otoscope will be used to check your pet's ears for wax buildup, foreign bodies or infection. Then your veterinarian will palpate or feel the animal's abdomen, kidneys, liver, intestines and spleen to check for tumors, enlarged organs, gas, fluids or other abnormalities. The reproductive organs, legs, joints, paws and foot pads, neck, tail and spine all should be evaluated, too.

A fecal or stool sample may be taken to check for worms.

The skin will be checked for parasites (such as ticks and fleas), tumors, abscesses and infections. The condition of your pet's hair coat can tell a great deal about the animal's nutrition. Hair and skin also can signal problems with the thyroid glands, other hormones, or pollen and food allergies.

In addition, your veterinarian can give advice the most effective flea control.

After the routine physical exam, should there be any concern, your veterinarian might recommend further diagnostic procedures, such as a blood test, urinalysis, skin scraping, ear swab, electrocardiogram or X-ray.

Source: Ask the Vet, reprinted with permission by Pet Food Express. Ask the Vet is published by Veterinarian's Best, Inc.

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