History and Physical Examination

Chapter 1 History and Physical Examination

Veterinarians are faced with many diagnostic challenges on a daily basis. By far the most important diagnostic tool that veterinarians possess is their ability to obtain a complete history and perform a thorough physical examination. This information, when accurately interpreted, lays the foundation for a logical diagnostic and therapeutic plan. A systematic and thorough history and physical examination prevents unnecessary diagnostic testing and needless cost to the owner.


Obtain both objective and subjective information when collecting the history.


Primary Complaint


For a complete history, include a system-by-system review of the patient’s general health. This can be accomplished by the experienced clinician as the physical examination is performed. The novice may prefer to obtain the entire history before proceeding with the physical examination. Develop a consistent and systematic method. One method is to begin with questions concerning the patient’s head and proceed caudally, as demonstrated in the following text. It is left to the clinician’s discretion as to how in-depth the client is questioned about systems that do not appear to affect the primary complaint. Apply the general principles described in the previous section in the approach to all body systems (e.g., onset and duration).

Cardiopulmonary System

Syncope is a transient loss of consciousness that may be precipitated by exercise in patients with underlying cardiac disease (see Chapter 148). During a syncopal episode the patient usually demonstrates very little motor movement. The episode typically lasts less than a minute, and usually the patient returns to normal within a short period of time. Seizures vary greatly in severity. They are often preceded by a preictal phase during which the patient may be anxious or disoriented. The actual seizure usually involves a loss of consciousness and active motor activity such as tonic-clonic limb movements and rapid jaw movements. The postictal phase may last from minutes to days. The patient may be either overly agitated or depressed during this time. Seizure disorders are discussed in Chapter 127.

Digestive System

Most problems related to the digestive system are clinically manifested as anorexia, regurgitation, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, or a combination of these. Determine which clinical sign is being exhibited, because the owner may incorrectly interpret what is observed. For example, owners often assume that their pet is constipated if it is observed straining to defecate, when diarrhea may be the actual cause. Ask specific questions to differentiate between vomiting and regurgitating. Regurgitation is characterized as a passive ejection of ingested material from the esophagus. It typically occurs soon after a meal is eaten. The regurgitated material is usually undigested and tubular in form. Vomiting frequently involves an abdominal heave movement or retching. Time of vomiting in relation to eating should be noted and is variable depending on the underlying disorder. Vomitus is not tubular in form and may consist of froth, fluid, yellow-green bile, food, or ingested foreign material. Include the following specific information in approaching a digestive system problem:

See also Section 6.

Urinary System

Often, the owner complaint may be that the pet is urinating excessively. The following questions help distinguish whether excessive urination is due to polyuria or pollakiuria:

See also Section 7.


An accurate and detailed history is essential for successful management of dermatologic problems. Remember that some systemic disease processes may manifest themselves in cutaneous changes, such as hyperadrenocorticism or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Some clinicians prefer to have the owner fill out a standardized dermatologic history form prior to specific questioning. Include the following questions on such a form, or directly ask the owner:

Aug 27, 2016 | Posted by in SMALL ANIMAL | Comments Off on History and Physical Examination

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