What’s wrong, Dr. Dolittle?
Sometimes making an accurate diagnosis can be challenging.
As every dog owner and veterinarian knows all too well, dogs can’t tell us what is wrong.
But did you know that dogs can mask illness? In the wild, an injured dog is vulnerable, and acting like nothing is wrong can be a survival advantage. Luckily, dog owners know their pets very well and they may be aware of warning signs before a diagnosis is made. Besides obvious signs of illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea, most owners can detect if their dog is acting weird or just not feeling right, and seek veterinary attention.
Say it for Me!
Veterinarians are unable to obtain medical history straight from their patients, so medical records and owners’ observations are exceedingly important in order to learn about the dogs’ conditions before they can care for the animal.
A nice spontaneous anamnesis can help save a lot of time and often provides clues for a correct diagnosis, while an inaccurate one can be misleading, as it will possibly to provide too much information.
Your vet will usually want to have a look at
- Medical records (with previous laboratory test results and imaging reports)
- Vaccination history
- Current medication (bring it to the visit, don’t just describe them. Most medication come in the form of little white pills!)
and know if you’ve seen any changes in
When you take your dog to a veterinarian be prepared with accurate, honest answers to their questions about the dog’s history. Explain your concerns and ask your vet questions, try to remain objective, give details of the symptoms and how long they’ve been going on.
How Much Should You be Worried?
As stated, there are some noticeable signs and symptoms that will alert you when your dog is ill, and in these cases, it is easy to understand that your dog needs veterinary attention.
On the other hand, when problems arise about general health, patients can be subtler, but subtle symptoms can be the only indicator of disease onset. Occasionally household accidents can be related to your puppy’s excitable nature, but this might not be the case. An older dog may be slowing down and not eating as much, or maybe urinating and drinking more than usual. These symptoms can be missed, especially if they develop slowly and are so subtle that spotting changes day by day becomes difficult.
Small signs of abnormality, that can be perceived as aging problems, for example, can be indicators of disease and red flags for veterinarians.
Learning to recognize symptoms and subtle signs of illness is important and providing all the relevant information can help your veterinarian to prevent, monitor and treat disease.
Nose to Tail
From the moment you walk through the door, veterinarians start collecting information about your dog! The vet collects immediate impressions about your dog being “bright, alert and responsive” (abbreviated as BAR), notes the dog’s “body condition score” (degree of heaviness or thinness), as well as its posture and movements. Sometimes it is not apparent, but there are a lot of aspects taken into consideration; more than many people realize.
The physical exam can take just a few minutes, and usually includes:
- Observation of the dog’s movements, posture and awareness.
- Weight check.
- Looking at your dog’s eyes, ears, paws and toenails, skin and coat.
- Checking the mouth, to see teeth and the color of the gums, but also to test the capillary refill time, pressing gently on the dog’s gum with a finger than releasing to evaluate how long it takes for the capillaries to refill.
- Use of a stethoscope to check pulse and respiration rate, and listen for abnormal heart, lung, or digestive system sound
- palpation, to check size and location of organs (liver, spleen, kidneys, bladder, etc.) and lymph nodes, located in different sites of the body. Sometimes it is not possible to feel much though, and that’s because they’re overweight or refusing to allow you a good feel holding their abdomens tightly.
- Taking the patient’s temperature, that in dogs is a bit higher than our normal temperature.
Then veterinarians can specifically address the issues they picked up by doing other procedures, such as detailed neurological assessment or orthopedic examination.
Common canine diseases can display similar, unspecific signs and symptoms, often from mild to moderate. Patient history and physical examination are crucial to collect insights about your dog’s condition, but it might not be enough to fully evaluate the health status or find out what’s wrong, and in this case, the veterinarian may request additional tests. As your doctor orders tests to identify a health problem, your veterinarian can select similar tests to rule out certain diseases or determine the cause and seriousness of your dog’s condition – such as laboratory assays or diagnostic imaging.
The diagnosing process isn’t a simple one. It’s really important to recognize subtle signs of illness and to have a positive and open relationship with your veterinarian.