The Veterinary Corner
To identify a potential pet illness, you must be able to recognize what is normal for them. You will have to decide when an abnormal situation warrants a veterinarian visit. Sometimes the condition is so serious it leaves no doubt, but other times the changes are subtle and recognizing symptoms can save your pet’s life.
The following information teaches you how to examine your pet and determine what is normal. The primary suggestion is to give your pet a “mini” physical exam occasionally when there is nothing wrong so you get used to what is normal for your pet. At the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways our clients have access to their animal’s records via the internet. Pet Portals gives the owners the ability to manage their pet’s health care, view medication schedules, communicate with us online and to learn more about their pet’s individual health and life-stage issues. It can be easily accessed via our website or independently. All the information is kept confidential and is available only to the pet owner at any time.
Hands-on Physical Exam: Before starting a hands-on exam, stand back and look at your pet for a few minutes. The posture, breathing, activity level, and general appearance can tell you a lot. Then, start the physical exam, making sure to look at the following areas. Consult a veterinarian if an abnormal condition exists or you are concerned about any exam findings. If you have a question you can call and speak to us.
Nose: A normal animal’s nose is moist and clean. Nasal discharge, such as thick greenish mucus, or bleeding is not normal and it is wise to consult with a veterinarian.
Skin: The skin is an important indicator of overall health. Feel your pet’s skin and haircoat, noting any masses or sores. Many older pets can develop accumulations of fatty tissue known as lipomas. In order to differentiate these benign masses from cancerous ones, it is important to have your pet evaluated by your veterinarian and have an aspirate performed. This simple and quick procedure can help us to determine the nature of the lump and help you decide if further tests or treatments are needed.
Normal: shiny and smooth haircoat; soft and unbroken skin; minimal odor.
Abnormal: sparse or patchy haircoat; open sores or sounds; oily or greenish discharge; foul or rancid odor.
Eyes: Your pet’s eyes should normally appear bright, moist and clear. The eye should be centered between the eyelid, the pupils should be equal in size. The whites of the eye should not appear colored, such as red or yellow, and should have only a few, if any, visible blood vessels. The pupils should react and shrink equally when bright light is shined into either eye. Conversely, the pupil should enlarge equally when the eyes are held closed or the room darkened.
Dull or sunken eyes are abnormal. Eyes that appear to be dry or have a thick discharge is not normal. If eyes are not centered this is an indicator of a problem. Another abnormality is unequal pupil size. Yellow (jaundice), or red (bloodshot) eyes indicate a problem. Pupils that fail to respond or respond differently when bright light is shined into either eye need immediate attention. Pupils that fail to respond or respond differently to the dark should also be examined.
Ears: Chronic ear problems are common in pets, and are often a result of allergies to inhaled pollen (like hay fever in people) that are then complicated by secondary infections with bacteria or fungus. Ear infections can be painful and head shaking can lead to an accumulation of blood (or hematoma) in the floppy part of the ear called the pinna. It is important to determine the type or source of the inflammation in order to treat it properly.
Normal Ears: skin smooth and without wounds; clean and dry; almost odor-free; typical carriage for breed and pain-free.
Abnormal Ears: wounds or scabs on skin; lumps or bumps on skin; any sign of a rash, crust, moisture, or other discharge in ear canal; any strong odor from the ear; atypical carriage for breed, for example, a droopy ear in a breed with normally erect ears, painful or swollen ears. Your pet’s ears should be clean and odor-free. If you would like to learn how to clean your pet’s ears please stop in at the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways and we will be happy to teach you the proper method.
Normal Mouth: The mouth is an area that often lets you know when there is a problem. If you do not want to get delicious kisses from your pet because of bad breath that is a clue. Your pet’s gums should be pink and the teeth should be clean and white.
Abnormal Mouth: Tartar accumulation around the base of the teeth; the gums are red, pale, inflamed, or sore in appearance. Press on the gum tissue with your finger or thumb and release quickly. Watch the color return to the gums. This checks the capillary refill time (CRT) and is a crude assessment of how well the heart and circulatory system are working. A normal CRT is 1 to 2 seconds for color to return. This can be a difficult test to interpret sometimes (for example, if your pet has dark or pigmented gums), and should not be relied upon as definitive evidence that your pet is sick or healthy.
Neck, Chest, and Breathing
Normal: It is difficult to hear the pet breathe at all except when he or she is panting; the chest wall moves easily during respiration; and most of the act of breathing is performed by the chest wall.
Abnormal: Any unusual noise heard while the pet is breathing could indicate a problem, there is noticeable effort by the pet to move the chest wall; the abdomen is actively involved breathing; the pet stands with elbows held out further than normal or, is unable to lie down.