Monday, April 12, 2010

How to Help the Vet Treat Your Pet

By Julia Williams

Wouldn’t it be great if our pets could talk? They could tell us when they aren’t feeling well or when they think something isn’t quite right with their body. Better yet, we could take them to the vet and let them describe their symptoms and health issues in great detail. It would be so much easier and quicker for the vet to diagnose health problems if our pets could tell them what’s wrong! Unfortunately, very few people have a real life “Dr. Doolittle” vet who can chat with animals. Which means it’s up to us to take an active role in our pet’s health, and do everything we can to help our vet diagnose and treat them.

The most helpful thing a responsible pet owner can do for their animal is to keep detailed records of their health and medical history. In the veterinarian’s office, a timely diagnosis might mean the difference between life and death. A detailed medical history can provide important clues to the current issue, and may prevent unnecessary tests and needless expense. I keep a big notebook for my cats that includes basic information on when they were born, when they were immunized and spayed or neutered, and details of all other vet visits. If you have a good memory, you might think it’s unnecessary to write it all down. However, the stress and worry of a medical emergency can make it difficult to remember things, and having written records can lessen your anxiety.

Reviewing your pet’s medical records can give your vet valuable information, especially if you move to a new city or want to change clinics for some other reason. Many vet offices will ask the previous vet to send over your pet’s medical file, but this doesn’t mean that owners shouldn’t also be keeping their own records. For one thing, you may have information in your notes that was not recorded in your pet’s file. Also, as with my own medical records, I like to take a more hands-on approach – I just prefer not to rely on someone else when it comes to providing my vet with the information he needs to treat my pet. Medical records are essential to have, because a new complaint may be a consequence of a previous condition and/or treatment.

Aside from comprehensive record-keeping of treatments and illnesses, there are other pieces of information that can help your vet treat your pet. Some breeds of dogs and cats are predisposed to certain illnesses, so knowing your pet’s pedigree can help your vet determine which diagnostic tests to perform. However, if you aren’t certain of your pet’s lineage, don’t tell your vet you have a purebred cat or dog just because it resembles a picture you’ve seen. And if you’re not sure exactly how old your pet is, an approximation is still useful for your vet, since some medical conditions correlate to aging.

Environmental history is another important component of your pet’s records. Your vet needs to know if your cat is allowed to roam outdoors, because they can exposed to many diseases, toxins and other health risks that aren’t an issue for indoor cats. A pet’s travel history may also be useful to your veterinarian, particularly if your pet has been exposed to diseases that are endemic to certain regions but not prevalent in your local environment.

Dietary history is also essential information for your vet to have. In addition to knowing which brand and type of food your pet eats, their dietary history should include how often they are fed, if they are routinely given treats or snacks, what their usual appetite is like, and whether there has been any weight gain or loss. You may also find it useful to watch your pet eat from time to time. A pet that chews only on one side of its mouth or suddenly refuses to eat kibble in favor of canned food, may indicate the presence of an oral health issue that needs treatment.

Because dogs and cats can’t talk (at least, not in a language that most of us understand), veterinarians must rely on pet owners to speak for them. The more information you have about your pet’s health, the easier it will be for your vet to diagnosis what ails them. Then, they can devise a treatment plan that gets your four-legged friend quickly on the road to recovery.

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, July 2005.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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