Why Does My Pet Need a Rectal Exam?

We’ve all been there before. Bella comes to the vet for a regular checkup or maybe she has another pesky ear infection. Bella is very excited to come and get treats and attention. She is then disappointed to find that she must tolerate a full physical exam. As the friendly veterinarian is performing the part of the exam we usually save for last, you and Bella both wonder if it is really necessary to perform a rectal exam. After all, you are just there for an ear infection! I am here to tell you that it is absolutely necessary and you are not getting your money’s worth out of the physical exam if a rectal is not performed.

– The first thing a veterinarian evaluates on a rectal exam
is the quality of the stool. An owner may describe that there is blood in the stool but a veterinarian will be able to determine if it is actual blood or maybe just red dye from something the pet ingested.
For better or for worse, veterinarians have a lot of experience looking at poop and can learn a lot about your pet’s health by examining it.

– Another thing we evaluate is the anal glands. We can detect
and relieve an anal gland obstruction or treat an abscess. We can also find a tumor of the anal glands or colon early, before your pet shows any signs, which allows for the best outcome in treating these tumors.

– A rectal exam allows us to feel lymph nodes inside the
abdomen (the sublumbar lymph nodes) and helps us diagnose cancers and inflammation or infection that can cause these lymph nodes to enlarge.

– A rectal exam is a must for a pet that has sustained a
trauma such as getting hit by a car because it allows us to feel for pelvic fractures. We can also feel certain bony tumors.

– In male dogs, a rectal exam involves feeling the prostate
for enlargement or pain which may be signs of infection or cancer.

– We can feel the urethra in female dogs via a rectal exam.
This allows us to detect any abnormal thickening or stones lodged in the urethra. Sometimes stones are lodged in a position that overlaps with the pelvis on x-rays and a rectal exam is the easiest way to find them.

– Part of assessing a dog’s neurologic status is checking the anal tone of the dog. Decreased anal tone can be a sign of disease in the spinal cord.

As you can see, while rectal exams aren’t a veterinarian or a pet’s favorite past time, they are vital for assessing the health of your dog and diagnosing disease early in its course.

Alina Kelman, DVM