You and your veterinarian working together

You and your family will enjoy having your dog all the more if he remains fit and healthy. The person who is best placed to help you ensure this good health as well as give advice on the treatment of disease or injury is your veterinarian.

 

It is important that you find a veterinarian that you trust and with whom you can easily communicate. It is essential that you work together in the interest of your dog, and indeed your family. Veterinary practices have evolved to offer a range of services and are not all the same. Find out more by following the link to the veterinary practices section.

 

 

 

The recognising when your dog is sick section stresses the need for you and your family to carefully observe your dog and note any behaviour or signs that are abnormal. Some of the common signs and symptoms of disease that you may recognise are described in another section.

There are many causes of disease including infectious agents, parasites, toxins, hormonal problems, hereditary disease, nutritional imbalances, trauma and malignancies etc. These may affect one specific organ of the body or a range of body systems.

 

The symptoms of disease are therefore very variable and recognising a range of signs may be very important in the diagnostic process.

Visiting a veterinary clinic when your dog is unwell

Most veterinary clinics see their clients by appointment; though they should have a means of seeing emergency cases. Most initial contact is made by telephone and to help the receptionist make the most suitable appointment for you it is useful if you can give a clear and concise summary of your dog's problem. In a multi-vet practice, stress if you wish to see a particular veterinarian as they may not be on duty at all times.

 

Most clinics can deal with emergencies that arrive without prior warning. However, they often have a "triage" system which involves a preliminary assessment of the severity so the case can be prioritised and slotted into the existing work schedule. This could potentially involve a long wait, so a prior telephone call is always advisable.

All clinics should have a facility to deal with out-of-hours cases. Arrangements may vary, so it is a good idea to find out about this before an emergency arises.

 

 

 Making a diagnosis

In attempting to diagnose a problem, your veterinarian needs your full cooperation and will go through a series of steps. These include:

1. History – your dog’s current problem
2. History – details of your dog and any previous problems
3. Clinical examination of your dog
4. Further tests
5. Possible referral to a specialist
6. Treatment and response
7. Follow up – further preventative advice 

1. History – your dog’s current problem

This is the first step. Because your dog cannot talk, it involves you describing the signs you have seen – what is actually of concern to you? It may be useful for you to discuss the dog’s condition with all the family before you see the veterinarian so you can get as much information as possible. Your veterinarian will normally just listen to your “story” and then may prompt you by asking additional questions to try and get a more complete picture.

Listing the range of signs seen is important. It is also helpful to get an idea of timescale. Has the problem occurred suddenly or has it being going on for some time? If so, home long? Is it getting worse?



Is the problem present all the time, or only occasionally? Does there appear to be a trigger factor? So for example, if a dog has a cough, is this triggered by exercise? If a dog is vomiting, does this only follow feeding and if so how long after feeding? Is a lame dog worse after rest or at exercise? These and other examples are considered in more detail in the signs and symptoms of disease section.

Is your dog on any medication at the present time? Have you attempted to treat the problem yourself and what has been the result? It is quite normal for people to try some remedy first and you should not feel it necessary to hide this fact from your veterinarian.

Are there any other dogs in contact, and are they affected in any way? Does anyone in the family have any signs of disease, such as skin lesions? There are diseases of dogs that can be transmitted to people. These are called zoonoses and are discussed in more detail in Risks to your family.

 



Changes in weight are often very relevant and so it is useful if you weigh your dog on a regular basis and record this on a chart or calendar. Is your dog drinking more water than normal?

A particular difficulty occurs in old age. In such cases there is often a range of diseases present at the same time, and aging of one organ system could well influence other parts of the body. Specific health issues relating to older dogs are discussed in the older dog. Medication is often supportive rather than curative and response to medication may not always be as hoped. It can be easy to treat each problem in isolation without considering your dog’s overall quality of life. However difficult, euthanasia may become an option and this delicate subject is considered in the death of your pet.

 

 

 

 

2. History – details of your dog and any previous problems 

There are other details about your dog that are important to consider:

  • Breed - Some diseases are much more common in particular breeds, especially those with a hereditary basis. Prior knowledge of this may influence your choice of dog and some conditions may be identified by health screening programmes.
  • Sex – Diseases of the sex organs are clearly restricted to a particular sex, but other diseases may be more common in one particular sex. Neutering has an impact on disease incidence – neutering a bitch will prevent womb or ovarian problems later in life, and if it is done prior to the first season there is a much reduced risk of developing cancer of the mammary glands. This is a very important consideration in deciding when to neuter a bitch, and your veterinarian will be able to advise.
  • Age - This is very important. Some diseases are common in young growing dogs whereas others may be more typical in the older dog. Tumours tend to occur more commonly (though not exclusively) with age, and a number of diseases may be the result of wear and tear on the body tissues. Dental disease tends to be more common in the older dog, but may be prevented by regular oral hygiene measures. Your veterinarian can advise on this. These issues are considered in changing needs with life stages section. 
  • Diet – Some diseases may result directly from a deficiency or imbalance of specific dietary components. This may be more commonly seen in young growing dogs fed on an unbalanced diet. Over-feeding will lead to obesity and this is becoming a common problem in pets as well as humans. Certain diseases such as osteoarthrosis, heart disease and sugar diabetes are more common in obese dogs. These issues are discussed in more detail in a good diet.
  • Vaccination status - Modern vaccines are generally safe and effective if administered correctly. A previously healthy vaccinated dog is unlikely to succumb to those specific viral diseases, whereas a young un-vaccinated dog is especially at risk.
  • Parasite control – Follow the links to find out more about the control of internal and external parasites. Parasite infestations may weaken the dog’s immune reaction so making additional infections more likely. External parasitic conditions often cause intense irritation which leads to self inflicted skin damage and the development of secondary bacterial skin disease. Some diseases may be transmitted by bites from parasites (eg Ticks) and so effective and regular control will reduce the risk of developing these diseases. Some parasites may be more common in different parts of the world.
  • Recent travel history – this is becoming more relevant as families take their dogs on holiday from Northern to Southern Europe. Some diseases that are more common in the Mediterranean area and may require special precautions to safeguard your dog. Your veterinarian will want to know about recent travel (even over the last few years) as this will potentially increase the range of disease possibilities.

 

 

 

 

3. Clinical examination of your dog

Your veterinarian will now carry out a full clinical examination to assess the normal and abnormal signs shown by your dog. He will then consider these in relation to the information gained from the history. The examination may identify further clues that stimulate additional questions about the history.

At the end of the consultation, the veterinarian may feel he has sufficient information to make a provisional diagnosis and so provide the appropriate treatment. Alternatively, he may wish to confirm his thoughts before advising on treatment. You should understand the cost implications of any further tests before agreeing to proceed.

 

4.Further tests

There are a whole range a further tests that may be performed including laboratory tests (eg blood and urine tests), imaging (X Rays, ultrasound, MRIs, endoscopy) or surgical procedures. The value of these individual tests will vary with the particular problem. These tests/procedures may be expensive and some may require sedation or anaesthesia to perform, hence increasing the cost.
Your veterinarian will discuss which tests he feels will give the most information to help with your dog’s particular problem. He may suggest performing tests in a step-wise fashion – performing an initial screening test before selecting more specific ones. This might appear to result in frustrating delays but is often the most cost effective and logical way of reaching the diagnosis.
Some of these tests can be performed at the clinic with a fairly rapid result. In some cases, the samples have to be sent away to an external laboratory or tests performed at a specialist centre. The variety of services offered at different clinics is considered in Veterinary practices.

5. Possible referral to a specialist

Your veterinarian may find it difficult to come to a diagnosis himself or may feel the diagnostic tests and treatment required are beyond his expertise. He may choose to refer to a colleague with more specific experience. This may be within the same clinic in the case of large hospitals, or at a different clinic. Some clinics now function purely as referral centres and are considered in Are all practices the same section. Referrals are a normal part of veterinary practice and you should not be afraid of suggesting this. There are however certain ethical protocols that should be followed to ensure your dog gets the best service from all concerned. 

 

6. Treatment and response

One a specific diagnosis is made, it is possible for your veterinarian to advise appropriate treatment – whether this be medical or surgical. There may be a range of treatment options which might vary in potential efficacy, safety, cost and the practical ability to administer the medication. All these factors need to be considered before the treatment plan is agreed.
Once agreed, it is important you understand your own obligations. A successful treatment will depend on you administering medication as instructed or providing appropriate post-operative aftercare. Routine follow up checks are essential since progress may not be as expected and the treatment protocol may need to be adjusted. 

 

7. Follow up – further preventative advice

Hopefully there will be a successful outcome to your dog’s problem. However this will be the time to discuss what preventative measures could be introduced to prevent the problem recurring in the future. Such advice may be given by your veterinarian himself or he may refer you to a qualified veterinary nurse (services offered).

 

 

 

 

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