Common conditions in veterinary medicine may go unnoticed

Our pets are an important part of our families and we treat them as our children. We love them unconditionally and we almost always know when something is ailing them. Many diseases have tell-tale signs that help veterinarians diagnose what is affecting the pet. Examples include skin allergies (itching), upper respiratory infections (sneezing/coughing), arthritis (lameness), or urinary infections (urinating frequently).

Other conditions may go unnoticed; therefore it is imperative to stress the importance of a physical exam and routine testing of pets.

What exactly is included in a physical exam?

What exactly is included in a physical exam? Each doctor has his or her own technique of examining a pet. I start by examining the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and teeth. I then palpate the external lymph nodes and run my hands over the rest of the pet’s body checking for any unusual lumps, growths, skin conditions, or swellings. I then palpate the animal’s abdominal cavity running my fingers from the liver, to the stomach and intestines. I palpate the bladder, the spleen, and kidneys if possible. I check for any unusual growths in the abdominal organs, the presence of anything unusual in the intestinal tract, and any stones or growths in the bladder. I then auscultate the heart and the lungs listening for any heart murmurs or abnormal lung sounds. Finally I run my hands over each limb feeling for arthritis or any other conditions. In all pets we recommend a yearly heartworm and lyme blood test plus a fecal exam. These help diagnose any internal parasites a pet may have acquired. In senior pets we recommend yearly blood work, x-rays, and an abdominal ultrasound.

Many times we can pick up conditions that have otherwise gone unnoticed because the pet may not have started to show clinical signs. These include :

Dental Disease

For most of us, brushing our teeth is just a routine part of the day. However, studies have shown that only 1 percent of people actually brush their pets’ teeth. Brushing is an important part of maintaining a pet’s health. Dental disease is a very common condition and may only be noticed when a pet starts showing signs of severe disease. Conditions include painful, infected gums and teeth, severe gingivitis and tartar buildup with dangerous bacteria that can go through a pet’s bloodstream. This can cause heart disease and multiple organ damage. We highly recommend routine cleanings in our hospital if your pet is prone to the buildup of tartar. It is important to catch this condition early and maintain the health of your pet’s teeth. For the month of February we are offering $25 off a dental cleaning plus a free dental product. We are also giving away bags of dental “goodies” as samples to help keep up on your pet’s dental health. This includes special dental diets, dental treats, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and water additives.

Heart/Lung Disease: During a physical exam it is very important that your veterinarian fully listen to your pet’s heart and lungs with a stethoscope. Many times we pick up on a heart murmur or some lung sounds that indicate the start of asthma or heart disease. If medications are started early, the quality of life and time you have with your pet can be greatly improved.


Unfortunately cancer is a common condition in elderly pets. Many times during a physical exam an abnormal lump under the skin or a mass on an internal abdominal organ is found. A simple fine needle aspirate can be done in the examination room. This allows us to look for cancer cells under the microscope. If caught early these masses can be removed without return of the cancer.

Internal Parasite

Your pet may have a low grade parasite infection with minimal clinical signs. We highly recommend yearly fecal exams to rule out many of the intestinal parasites pets can acquire. The eggs of these parasites can survive extreme temperatures and they can easily pass between pets. Other internal parasites we test for include heartworm which is tested with just a small blood sample. Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes from dog to dog and is easily prevented with a monthly medication. If your pet acquires heartworm it can lead to severe heart and lung disease. Treatment for heartworm can be very expensive.


Other diseases like diabetes or kidney disease can be picked up just by a routine blood test. If a cat or dog is over 7 years old, we highly recommend yearly blood testing to rule out any of these underlying conditions.

I cannot stress enough the importance of yearly to twice yearly physical examinations to rule out any underlying conditions a pet may have. Our goal is to keep pets happy and healthy for the time they are here. Call the Dunkirk Animal Clinic at 366-7440 or check the website for monthly specials. Don’t forget it is dental health month for February and we are offering specials for this month. Also call and ask us about our senior wellness testing. We offer outpatient or inpatient testing for your senior pet and a discount is offered for these yearly recommended tests.