The first semester of vet school has been all about learning how to do a physical exam on a variety of species. The idea is that we should know what normal looks like before we are taught about abnormal. We’ve gotten hands on experience with dogs, cattle, horses, and goats. In addition, we had a lab that went over the proper handling and care of several different exotic species and pocket pets. This has by far been one of my favorite parts of vet school, and I’ve got some tips and tricks for important things to do during a physical exam.
First, know your TPR’s! TPR stands for Temperature, Pulse, & Respiration, and luckily for veterinary students, every species we work on has just a slightly different normal TPR range than the next, and we need to have a good idea of all of them. Oh, and did I mention that breed or size can also affect the ‘normal’ range? I have a running Excel sheet of all the different species’ TPR’s I have been given during my first semester.
Second, know about BCS! BCS stands for Body Condition Score and is used to determine if an animal is underweight, normal weight, or overweight. As you expected, BCS scores also differ between species, and they even differ based on an animal’s purpose. For example, dairy cows have a range of 1-5, while beef cows are judge on 1-9. Determining BCS is done by looking at the animal and palpating ribs and spinous processes of the vertebrae.
Finally, lymph nodes! Lymph nodes are areas where lymph aggregates and lymphocytes can initiate an immune response. There are several lymph nodes that can normally be felt during a physical exam. In dogs, both the superficial cervical and popliteal lymph node can often be felt.
These are just a few of the important things that can be done during a physical exam! Starting to learn how to actually do a physical exam has been one of my favorite parts of veterinary school so far!