Dr. Lila Miller, D.V.M., ASPCA Sr. Director Animal Sciences & Vet Advisor
THE BASIC HEALTH EXAMINATION
EXAMINATION OF THE HEAD AND MOUTH
FEEL THE HEAD AND UNDER THE NECK
This allows the animal to become familiar with being touched, permits an assessment of the musculature of the head and jaw, and gives an indication of the animal’s temperament, and whether the mouth can be safely opened and examined.
FEEL UNDER THE NECK AT THE ANGLE OF THE JAW BELOW THE EARS FOR THE LYMPH NODES
It will take practice to tell when they are enlarged, but basically you shouldn’t feel anything larger than a lima bean if they are normal. In diseased animals where the enlargement is a significant indicator, they will be much larger and very noticeable
Enlargement- chronic infection, Lymphosarcoma
EXAMINE THE OUTER EAR SURFACE FOR HAIR LOSS AND SWELLINGS
Thin hair on the ear may be normal in some breeds, like Dachshunds
Hair loss- mange, ear infections
Swellings- aural hematoma (Bleeding inside the ear flap)
EXAMINE INSIDE THE EAR
The normal ear should have minimal ear wax, which is light brown, and no odor.
Closer examination may require the use of an otoscope. The cone of the otoscope should be inserted gently in the outer area of the ear canal so the bottom of the canal can be visualized. It is not necessary to insert the cone deep in the ear, and this should be avoided, as it will cause discomfort and struggling, and possibly introduce an infection.
Make certain the cones are cleaned, disinfected and dried between uses.
Dark brown, coffee ground appearing material- ear mites
Pus and/ or odors- bacterial, yeast or fungal infection
LOOK AT THE NOSE AND NOSTRILS
A hot, dry nose in the absence of any other symptom does not indicate illness!
Hair loss on the top of the nose- autoimmune skin disease, trauma
White discoloration of the nose- sensitivity to plastic food bowl
Discharge from the comers of the nostrils-respiratory disease
EXAMINE THE MUCUS MEMBRANES, GUMS, AND TEETH.
(If the animal is shy about having its mouth opened, these procedures can be done with a piece of gauze wrapped around the muzzle)
Lift the lip and check the color of the gums and mucus membranes.
They should be pink and smooth. Areas of black pigmentation may be present on the gums in some animals. This may be normal.
Check the capillary refill time by pressing on the gums gently.
The area pressed should turn white, but the pink color should return in less than 2 seconds
Pale white gums- anemia, maybe parasites, feline leukemia, internal bleeding
Yellow gums- liver disease, pancreatitis
Bluish gums- cyanosis (poor oxygen exchange)
Slow refill time- cardiovascular disease
Examine the teeth
Determine the age (see addendum). The mouth does not have to be opened to make a rough estimate of age.
Check for overshot or undershot jaw
Check for extra canine teeth (double dentition)
OPEN THE MOUTH TO EXAMINE THE ORAL CAVITY.
Check the condition of the mouth, teeth, gums, tongue and hard palate if possible.
Grasp the top of the muzzle and open the mouth by pulling the lower jaw down gently.
Broken, discolored, loose teeth – old age, poor diet
Excessive tartar and calculus- kidney problems, neglect
Ulcers- respiratory infection in cats, ingestion of caustic substances
Split hard palate in a cat may result from a fall from a high rise.
String under the tongue in a cat may indicate a needle and/or thread was swallowed
Smell the breath
Foul odors can be a sign of kidney disease or dental problems.
© 2000 ASPCA
424 East 92nd Street
New York, NY 10128-6804