Providing your veterinarian with simple observations of a pet’s unusual behavior or symptoms, rather than an interpretation of what they mean, will help your pet’s physician diagnose and treat your pet faster, more effectively, and at less cost to you!
My human clients are often the single most important ingredient in helping me to identify and treat their pets’ maladies. However, there are times when the owners may inadvertently be the cause for conducting unnecessary, and sometimes costly, diagnostic procedures, or even delaying urgent testing and treatment by unintentionally furnishing misleading information.
Because patients themselves cannot tell the doctor the circumstances of their injuries, nor the onset and progression of their symptoms, the history their owners provide is especially vital. Can you imagine not telling your doctor where and when it hurts, or that the steak tartar you ate twelve hours ago had a funny smell? Well, the more keenly you are able to observe, the more accurate the information you will be able to supply.
A good observer should be able to provide most of the following types of information.
And you might pay attention to how your vet asks your questions. A good questioner should never ask leading questions – they should always be neutral and offer you several ways to express your answer. For example, I would never ask a client, “Is your pet drinking more water?” Try, if you are asked a leading type of question such as this, to think and answer in objective terms. I would ask if you had noticed any change, either up or down, in the amount of water that was being consumed.(I have learned over the years that often clients want to be so helpful, that in their stressed emotional state, they will agree to every question asked.)
The most important basic to keep in mind is to report your observations, not your interpretation of what you think you saw. Many times, these “diagnoses” are only red herrings that serve to delay the recognition of real symptoms. In some situations, this can be quite serious, and can even lead to death. The typical example below illustrates this point.
The client, the owner of a male or neutered male cat, observes his cat making repeated visits to the litter box. The cat is also straining to go, crying out and yet depositing nothing into the litter. This client, when describing the problem to the receptionist, often states his interpretation: that the cat is in trouble because it is constipated. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the real reason for the straining is linked to an inability to urinate. And this is a result of an obstruction of the urethra caused by a collection of small grain-like stones that form in the bladder and become adhered to each other on their way out. Time is really of the essence in treating these cases, as any delay in the treatment to relieve the obstruction can lead to rupture of the bladder, uremic poisoning and death.
If you’ve noticed a change in urinary frequency or volume, it makes good sense to bring in a urine specimen for analysis. Most people don’t realize that a complete urinalysis can be done on less than one teaspoon of urine. Collection techniques like the use of plastic litter for cats, and the use of flat pans strategically placed in a timely manner under your dog, make obtaining a sample more realistic. My champion collector was an elderly lady who trained her cat to supply a urine specimen directly into tin foil any time she crumpled it behind him. It was quite a sight!
Obviously, each bodily system has its unique situations and nuances. The more able you are to stick to straight observation, the easier it is for your veterinarian to be of help. Your pet will benefit medically, and your wallet will benefit financially.
You’ll find more articles that might help, Q&As from visitors with Dr. B’s and our Avian Experts’ replies, plus a place to submit your own questions. Just visit our Pet Care Info page.