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Let Us Help You Decipher Exams

Alyssa with Dr- Krick and Groot

What is evaluated when your pet receives an exam at their vet visit? We commonly say that an exam is a nose to tail examination of your pet but what does that really mean? When you break it down, an examination most likely entails much more than you might think.

Our exams at Hill Country Animal Hospital are comprehensive. Even with comprehensive exams we need you to tell us about how your pet is at home. It is not uncommon for your pet’s adrenaline to be pumping when they are here in the hospital which can mask symptoms that you see at home. Look over the parameters below and note any concerns you have for the vet the next time you are here for a visit with your pet.

Our doctors look at the following parameters to help them determine the health of your pet.

General Appearance

Is your pet bright, alert and responsive or is he quiet and depressed? Just because your pet is quiet doesn’t always mean he is not healthy, but evaluating this parameter helps us establish a baseline for your pet. Establishing baselines is very important so that we can distinguish normal from abnormal/sick.

Oral Cavity  

This field of the exam is aptly named because it is not just the teeth that get examined. The doctor is examining the teeth, gums and mouth for any disease processes, tumors, foreign objects in the mouth or teeth that may be broken or loose.  

Mucous Membranes

Examining mucous membranes can tell us quite a bit of information. If your pet is appropriately hydrated his gums should be moist. Are your pet’s gums pink like they should be or are they pale or dark red? These symptoms can provide information about potential disease processes in the body that may require further investigation.

Establishing a Dental Grade

The doctor assigns this grade as a number out of 4. This number indicates the severity of your pet’s dental disease process. For example does your dog have a significant amount of tartar present? Are his gums red and inflamed? Does he have missing or broken teeth? These symptoms are indicative of what we may find beneath the gum line and tell us that intervention is warranted on an immediate or routine basis depending upon the severity of the problems above the gum line.


Eye exams are as important for pets as they are for people. Dogs cannot tell us when they have dry eyes and need medication and cannot tell us when their pressure is getting high or when they are developing cataracts, so an eye examination is an important tool in preserving your pet’s vision for as long as possible.


Some breeds are more prone to ear issues than others but an ear exam is always important to make sure your pet does not have anything that doesn't belong in the ear and that they are not red and inflamed. Most importantly the ear exam can also tell if the ear drum is still intact during times of infection.


The doctor listens to your pet’s heart and assesses your pet’s pulses to make sure there are no abnormalities that have developed since the last exam. These potential abnormalities could include a new or worsening murmur, an arrhythmia, an unusually slow heart rate or a heart rate that is too fast.


Your veterinarian listens to your pet’s lungs to make sure that everything sounds clear in the lungs and trachea when he breathes. If anything abnormal is heard we can explore the issue with further diagnostics (usually starting with an x-ray).


This exam involves the doctor palpating/feeling your pet’s abdomen to look for any abnormalities such as tenderness, masses or enlarged organs. Your input about your pet’s diet routine and observations of any diarrhea or vomiting at home help the doctor assess your pet’s gastrointestinal health.


Evaluating the musculoskeletal system involves what you tell us as much as watching and examining your pet. We want to know if your pet is getting around well; does he have trouble getting up from a lying position; or is he limping, etc? The doctor will also try to determine your pet’s joint health based on extending and flexing limbs and will assess your pet’s musculature for signs or atrophy or other abnormalities.

Lymphatic System

When the veterinarian examines your pet’s lymph nodes he or she is looking to make sure they are normal in size. Enlarged lymph nodes can then signal that we need to perform more diagnostics. Enlarged lymph nodes can be the result of infection, bacteria, viruses or even cancer.


This part of the exam looks at the exterior of your pet’s genitalia to make sure it is free of any bumps, masses, discharge or staining. We want to look for any abnormalities that could be causing problems for your pet.


The integument is the skin and nails. We examine your pet for any bumps, masses, missing fur, abraded skin, infection, etc. We are always on the lookout for fleas and ticks too!


During a well visit neurological exam we are looking for any overt signs of neurological issues like head tilt, foot dragging, weakness, seizures. Your communication with the doctor is important here if you have noticed any neurological signs at home.

Pain Score

If your pet seems painful on exam, the veterinarian will assign him a pain score that ranges from 0 to 9 out of 9. 0 means no pain present. If your pet has a pain score above 0 we can explore the cause and treatment to help your pet feel better.

Body Conditioning Score

This is the pet version of a BMI (Body Mass Index) in people. It is scored on a scale from 1 to 9.  A score of 1 means your pet is very thin, 9 is obese, while 5 is ideal! If your pet is under 5 the doctor may advise you to feed more or a different food and if your pet is over 5 he or she may suggest a lower calorie food or just cutting back on calories.


Your pet’s behavior is also assessed at his visit. Behavioral issues such as anxiety and/or aggression may warrant a separate, in-depth behavior consultation. If the issue is more complex we also have the option of a referral to the veterinary behaviorist.

These descriptions are not all encompassing but it does give you an idea of what goes into an exam and it will help you understand the discharge instructions that you receive after your appointment as well. As always, if you have questions about your pet's exam reach out to us.


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From Facebook:

This is a very pleasant vet office. Love that you really try hard to make it pleasant & ensure the least amount of stress for the animals. Everything is top notch.
Camie A., San Antonio, TX
I was very impressed with the welcoming facility and how much Harley was catered to. She never leaves the house but she felt at home in her exam room roaming around and jumping on counters. She even greeted everyone with open arms even though she was in a new place. She as well as her sister will be coming back if the need arises.
Kari W., Helotes, TX
This was my first visit with a dog that I had had for a week and a half. I wanted him thoroughly examined for health and a neuter. I had a number of questions since it's been a long time since I have had a younger dog and Dr. Rooker took all of the time necessary to answer all of my questions. I'm afraid I kept everyone there late and I really appreciate the excellent experience. You are my new veterinarian.
Dori O., Helotes, TX
This is probably the best office I have been to. I’m not just talking about for the animals…the customer service from the first phone call, to stopping in to pick up meds, to the moment I walked out and even the follow up call! Top notch. Appreciated that you are able to check out in the room. This is really helpful especially to keep interaction without pets to a minimum. I will be back. This was a wonderful 1st time experience. And thank you to the doctor for following up with a call.