I fear that the physical examination is becoming a lost art. Perhaps every generation of veterinarians has had the same feeling
as they see more and more technology enhancing our ability to reach a diagnosis, but at the same time replacing some of the
time-tested techniques of the physical examination. I am certainly not against technological advances-most of us at academic
institutions are drawn there because of the advanced diagnostic equipment available to us. I am, however, chagrined by the
growing dependence upon imaging, laboratory evaluation, and other sophisticated techniques to make a diagnosis when often
a physical examination and a very simple confirmatory test would reach the same conclusion in less time and for less cost.
My goal in this presentation is to review the techniques of physical examination both for the part-time bovine veterinarian
as well as the experienced bovine veterinarian. There is no question that the combination of excellent physical examination
and excellent use of sophisticated diagnostic equipment will achieve the optimal results.
We often hear the term "complete physical examination," but how often do we perform one? The truth of the matter is that we
do not need to perform a complete physical examination on every patient, nor do we have the time. We routinely perform what
might be called a "standard physical examination" which includes a brief review of all important body systems. Based on the
history and the results of the standard physical examination, we then perform one or more focused physical examinations. If
we performed every one of the focused physical examinations that we knew, we would then perform a "complete physical examination."
But let's not argue over semantics. Let's try to learn how to efficiently evaluate an animal by use of the standard physical
examination and how to focus on particular areas to gain the most information possible from a physical examination.
There are many ways to approach a physical examination; many correct ways. The approach that I will use in this paper is to
begin with observation at a distance and then examination of the restrained animal. I'll then discuss the acquisition of vital
signs and basic auscultation, concluding with regional focused examinations beginning at the head. Because neurological examination
is frequently difficult and confusing, I'll spend a bit more time on that aspect.