The Exam Room:

The exam room is where most of a veterinary visit happens.  Here the veterinarian looks at our pet, talks to us about what has been going on, and performs a physical exam.  In many clinics, this is also where our animals might get shots, have their blood drawn, or have their temperature taken.

Physical Exam:

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A physical exam is when the doctor looks at our animal, listens to our animal, touches our animal, and, yes, even smells our animal!  These can all give important clues to how our animal is feeling.

First the veterinarian looks at our animal.  Is our puppy running around and barking, or is he sitting in the corner?  Is our bird chirping and singing, or fluffed up on a perch?  Is our cat licking her paws, or is her fur sticking out straight and her eyes wide open? These are all important things that help tell the veterinarian how our animal might be feeling. 

Next the veterinarian will examine our pet from one end to the other!  There are many parts to an animal, and the veterinarian has to look at each one. It’s like a big puzzle; the veterinarian needs to look at every piece!  We’ll start from the front (the head!) and work our way back:


First we have the nose; do we see any snot? Is our pet sneezing? A clean nose is a good thing!

Next we have the mouth; the veterinarian should see nice clean teeth, pink gums, and a big tongue! Don’t reach into your pet’s mouth; those teeth are sharp! Leave that to the professionals!        

A clear, bright cat eye!

A clear, bright cat eye!

After the mouth we see the eyes.  A veterinarian will use an ophthalmoscope to look inside the eyes.  Outside the eyes should be clear and bright.  The white of the eye should be white! The veterinarian will make sure the pupils (the dark part of the eye) act appropriately, and that everything inside the eye is in the right place!  Some dogs can get nervous when a veterinarian looks directly into their eyes, so if your dog is shy your veterinarian may wait and look at the eyes last.

An  otoscope  for looking in the ear!

An otoscope for looking in the ear!


Next come the ears.  The veterinarian uses an otoscope to look inside the ears, into the ear canal. At the end of the ear canal is the tympanic membrane, also called the ear drum! Dogs have very long ear canals, so it can take awhile to find the ear drum!  The veterinarian will want to make sure the ear canal is clean, and the ear drum is intact!  Ears are also where smell can be important; a stinky ear might mean an infection!




Once we finish the ears, we move down the head to the neck.  In cats, the thyroid gland can sometimes be felt here if the cat is sick.  For sick dogs, feeling the neck might cause them to cough, which could mean they have a sore throat (or a collapsing trachea, but that’s for another lesson!).


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Next we come to the chest.  A veterinarian will use their stethoscope to listen to the heart and lungs.  Dog and cat hearts go ‘lub-dub’ just like human hearts.  The veterinarian will make sure the heart sounds strong and healthy, and the lungs are clear and clean.  A crackle sound in the lungs could mean our pet has an infection!

Attached to the chest are the front legs.  The veterinarian will feel the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and feet, and make sure all the joints are smooth and healthy. This means stretching the legs forward and backward, which might look a bit odd!  Older dogs may have slightly ‘crunchy’ joints, which can be a sign of arthritis, and may be why they don’t like to jump into the car or go upstairs anymore!  The veterinarian will also look at the paws and toes to make sure the feet are clean and the toenails are trim!


Next we move to the belly, or abdomen.  Here our veterinarian will feel (or palpate) to make sure the stomach and intestines are nice and squishy, palpate the two kidneys, and see if they can feel a bladder (they will if your pet needs to pee!).  When looking at the abdomen, the veterinarian will also be checking our pets’ skin to make sure the fur is clean and healthy, and there are no signs of bugs!


Behind the abdomen are the back legs and tail.  Just like the front legs, the veterinarian will stretch them out to make sure the hips, knees, and ankles are all smooth and healthy, then look at the paws and toes.  The tail exam is usually pretty short; hopefully it is wagging!



While the veterinarian examines our pet, they will also ask us many questions! Our pets can’t talk, so we have to speak for them. The veterinarian can learn a lot by examining our pet, but they need to know what is going on at home too! During an exam, the veterinarian will ask lots of questions, such as:

1)   How much is your pet eating?

2)   How much energy does your pet have at home?

3)   Has your pet had any accidents?

4)   How long has this been going on?

…And many more!

For example, the veterinarian might think our dog is very shy and quiet, but we know that at home Spot was bouncing off the walls! He is just nervous at the veterinary clinic.  Or the veterinarian might give Spot a treat, but we know Spot didn’t want to eat breakfast yesterday.  We also know that a sock has gone missing! That is very important information for the veterinarian, who may need to take an X-ray of Spot’s belly to look for the sock!

Let’s say Spot had an accident in the house.  The veterinarian will want to know if it just happened today, or if Spot has an accident every day (we hope not!).  Maybe Spot had an upset stomach one day, or maybe he needs to be potty-trained!

The veterinarian can learn a lot by looking at our pet, but they need our help to get the full story.  By answering these questions, we can help the doctor help our pet!

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