We’re doing lots of our annual exams right around now. But what does that really mean? Why not just go to a shot clinic or find your own? What’s the benefit of an annual exam? We will be transitioning off curbside soon, but it can be extra hard to know what’s happening when you’re in the car and we are in the clinic with your pet. I’ve learned through experience that even when we are in the room with owners, it is often hard to appreciate what we are doing if you don’t know. Today I am going to talk a little bit about what we look for at an annual exam and why we ask the questions that we do.


We look at the lips, gums, tongue, and teeth. We look at the degree of calculus on the teeth as well as how it is affecting the mouth. Is there calculus with gingival recession (I call this when the gums are trying to run screaming away from dental disease), gingivitis (early stages when the gums are just starting to get upset) or are the gums perfectly healthy? Can we see any roots starting to be exposed that would mean a dental cleaning is more urgent? Are there broken, worn, or discolored teeth, and does it appear that these have been ongoing or a new issue? Is the tongue and roof of the mouth healthy, or are there areas of ulceration? Do they have fresh (ish) breath or a distinct odor that might indicate dental health, stomach health, or kidney health issues?

It may look like we are just taking a fast look around the mouth, but we actually have a lot of things that we are looking at and considering. So when we recommend a dental treatment, x-rays, or other dental health intervention there are actually a lot of factors that we are considering.


We feel each joint for pain, swelling, or osteoarthritis as well as doing a full range of motion (bending, extending) of them all. Our pets are very good at adapting to joint changes (especially cats!) so they may have some early pain that you don’t even notice. We also feel for muscle changes that may indicate a pet is using a leg less than the other. There are many times when a pet will let us move one leg completely while guarding the other.

We may feel crepitus (joint crunching!) while moving a joint that indicates osteoarthritis. Many times we can catch these changes early and intervene to make pets feel better before their pain is debilitating. This also includes the vertebrae and feeling along the spine for changes.

Heart and Lungs

We listen to the speed and quality of lung sounds. We can hear wheezes, crackles, and other things that can indicate asthma or other lung diseases. We can also hear the trachea and sounds that indicate changes with the larynx. We listen to the speed and quality of the heart as well. We can pick up murmurs, monitor murmurs for changes, and even hear speed changes that may indicate other diseases.


There are a lot of things to feel in the abdomen. We feel the liver, spleen, kidneys, bladder, and intestines. We feel for the sizes, the shape, and the way the intestines move through our fingers. Unfortunately, we don’t have x-ray vision, but there are many changes that we can pick up with just our hands that will lead us into further investigation.

Ears and Eyes

We look in the ears for redness or discharge, plus any odor that might not be normal. We look at the front of the eye (cornea), colored part (iris) the lens, and the whites. We also look at the conjunctiva. And color changes, redness, swelling, or vessel changes can lead us to further exploration.

Coat and Nails

Another important part is noting and changes in hair, nails, or pads. Hair loss or changes in certain areas can point us to diseases. It also may just be an indicator that we need to change something in the diet for optimal health.

So while it may look like we are just petting your dog, there is a lot to look at. If your vet does indeed just pet your animal, then you know that there could be a lot of things they need to look at deeper. Don’t be afraid to ask us questions about what we are seeing or hearing. Especially, don’t be afraid if there was something that you noticed that we didn’t mention. We may have forgotten, or you may just know something more than we do since you see your pet daily. Working together we can make sure that we have a good baseline on your pet at least yearly.

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