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We sometimes get calls from clients asking us to prescribe a medication for their pet’s symptoms without an exam. In so many cases, an exam is necessary and extremely helpful in making sure we are treating the problem appropriately. This blog post discusses some common pet problems and details why an exam may be your best course of action.

Diarrhea – why an exam is important: Diarrhea is a symptom with an underlying cause. There is always something that is causing your pet to have diarrhea. Sometimes this can be a simple food indiscretion and sometimes it can be the start of something more serious. If diarrhea continues without treatment it can further irritate the GI tract causing blood and discomfort. Some common reasons for diarrhea are:

  • bacterial imbalance/overgrowth of bad bacteria
  • ingestion of something that has caused irritation to the GI tract
  • intestinal parasites
  • food sensitivities or intolerance
  • stress/anxiety
  • sudden diet changes
  • pancreatitis

When we see a pet for diarrhea, the DVM will do a full physical exam. They will palpate the abdomen to look for discomfort or obvious abnormalities. A fecal check for intestinal parasites (including giardia – a common cause of diarrhea) will be recommended. In some cases a rectal exam will be performed and a direct fecal smear will be looked at under the microscope to look at amounts and types of bacteria present. A full medical history will be obtained to help determine anything that might have triggered the diarrhea. A bland diet will often be prescribed to help the GI tract heal. Medications and/or probiotics may be dispensed depending on the findings of the physical exam and fecal tests. If diarrhea is chronic, more testing may be indicated.

Reduced appetite – why an exam is important: When a pet’s eating habits change it can be cause for concern. Reduced or diminished appetite is usually an indication that a pet is not feeling well. This can be caused by many things and may be one of the first signs of something more serious. Some possible reasons for reduced appetite:

  • pancreatitis
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • GI obstruction
  • kidney or liver disease
  • cancer
  • food indiscretion (table scraps or eating trash, wood chips, etc.)
  • stress or anxiety

When we see a pet who is eating less than normal, a full physical exam will be done in addition to obtaining a full medical history. The DVM will palpate the abdomen looking for discomfort or abnormalities (tumors, fullness, etc.) and check temperature, gum color, etc.. Depending on physical exam findings, bloodwork and/or xrays may be indicated to check internal organ function or to look for things like foreign bodies. In some cases symptomatic treatment may be tried initially with more extensive testing done if things don’t improve.

Eye problems – why an exam is important: Eye problems can vary greatly from mild and self -limiting to very serious and chronic. An eye exam is extremely important to make sure that serious problems are caught and treated quickly and to make sure that the appropriate medication or treatment is prescribed. Giving the wrong medication can cause serious complications. For example, applying medications with steroids to an eye with a corneal ulcer can make things much worse. Some common reasons for eye problems are:

  • conjunctivitis (eye infection)
  • corneal ulcer (scratch on eye)
  • keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye)
  • glaucoma
  • entropian, eye or eyelid tumors
  • cherry eye
  • cataracts
  • viral infections

When we see a pet for eye problems, the DVM will do a full exam, concentrating on the eyes. Depending on the medical history and exam findings, eye tests may be performed such as measurement of tear production, staining of the eye to look for ulcers or measurement of eye pressures to check for glaucoma. Other symptoms that may be present such as congestion, sneezing, etc. will be taken into consideration to help determine if there is a viral component. Treatment will vary depending on what the underlying cause is thought to be. It can be harmful to try to treat eye problems without a comprehensive look at what is causing the issue.

Ear problems – why an exam is important: Discomfort, head shaking, odor and discharge are common symptoms of ear problems. Common causes of ear problems include:

  • yeast infection/overgrowth
  • bacterial infection
  • combination of yeast and bacterial infection
  • ear hematoma
  • ear mites (more common in cats)
  • allergies

When we see a pet for ear problems a full physical exam will be done. The DVM will look at the ears and examine them carefully with an otoscope. The rest of the body will be checked for signs of itchiness or skin issues. An ear cytology will typically be done to look at the debris under the microscope. This will help determine if infection is present and if it is caused by yeast, bacteria or both. If excessive inflammation/discomfort is present, a short term steroid/anti-inflammatory may be needed to help open up the ear canal and ease discomfort. Medication prescribed will depend on the cause of the problem and a drying ear cleaner may also be sent home. If ear problems are not treated the scratching and head shaking can lead to an ear hematoma, which is a swelling of the ear pinna (flap) caused by broken blood vessels from trauma.

Although it can be tempting to try to avoid the expense and inconvenience of a vet visit, in most cases it allows us to treat the problem more quickly without further complications that can occur if treatment is not appropriate or is delayed. Our main concern is getting your pet feeling better as quickly as possible, and knowing more precisely what we are treating is key in prescribing the treatment that will be appropriate for your pet’s issue.