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To establish the components of a best-practice, baseline companion animal physical exam (CAPE).


25 small animal veterinary internists and 20 small animal primary care veterinarians, all teaching the CAPE at veterinary colleges in the US, Canada, and Australia.


Using the Delphi Method of Consensus, 3 rounds of online questionnaires were sent to participants. The first round included demographic questions, questions about teaching the physical exam, and an open-ended question allowing participants to record details of how they conduct a CAPE. In the second round, participants were asked to rate components of the CAPE, which were derived from round 1, as “always examine,” “only examine as needed,” or “undecided.” Following round 2, any component not reaching 90% consensus (set a priori) for the response “always examine” was put forth in round 3, with a summary of comments from the round 2 participants for each remaining component.


35 components of a baseline CAPE were identified from round 1. The 25 components that reached 90% consensus by the end of round 3 were checking the oral cavity, nose, eyes, ears, heart, pulse rate, pulse quality, pulse synchrony, lungs, respiratory rate, lymph nodes, abdomen, weight, body condition score, mucous membranes, capillary refill time, general assessment, masses, haircoat, skin, hydration, penis and testicles or vulva, neck, limbs, and, in cats only, thyroid glands.


The findings establish an expert panel’s consensus on 25 components of a baseline, best-practice CAPE that can be used to help inform veterinary curricula, future research, and the practice of veterinarians.

Open access
in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association