What can my vet tell about my cat from a physical exam?

Cat_clinic_Odriscoll_t180If you watch Dr. O’Driscoll examining your cat, you may think most of it just looks like a kitty massage. But a physical exam can give an enormous amount of information about a cat’s health. Here is some of what she is looking and feeling for during an exam:

  • Body condition (overweight or underweight)
  • Mental state (alert, disoriented, depressed, nervous, etc.)
  • Gait (how the cat moves, any limping, etc.)
  • Signs of dehydration (sunken eyes, loss of skin elasticity, and sticky gums)
  • Ear discharge, infection or itchiness
  • Facial symmetry
  • Eye discharge or redness
  • Abnormal eye movements, pupil size
  • Broken teeth, tartar, gingivitis, bad breath, mouth pain
  • Nasal congestion or discharge
  • Signs of brain disease (by testing facial reflexes)
  • Size of thyroid glands in neck
  • Size of lymph nodes (under chin, in front of shoulder blades, and behind knees)
  • Heart beats per minute
  • Heart rhythm
  • Heart sounds (need a stethoscope for this)
  • Pulse quality (by feeling femoral artery in back leg)
  • Breaths per minute
  • Lung sounds (stethoscope again)
  • Respiratory effort
  • Size of liver and spleen
  • Size and shape of kidneys
  • Size of bladder
  • Any lumps or fluid in the abdomen that shouldn’t be there
  • Abnormal intestines (yes, intestines can feel “wrong”)
  • Evidence of diarrhea, parasites, discharge or other issues around the hind end
  • Any joint swelling or pain, any back pain
  • Any skin lumps, bumps, itchiness, or hair loss
  • Presence of fleas or ticks
  • Torn or overgrown toenails

That’s not everything that a physical exam can discover, but you get the idea. Also, it is possible to discover a lot about a cat’s health status by talking with an owner about the cat’s habits at home – that’s why we ask so many questions about what your cat eats and when, litterbox habits, etc.

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