How Veterinarians Listen to Our Furry Friends Part 1

Posted by Dr. Rebecca Jackson on Jan 18 2013

As I was sitting down to write my very first blog (the last one doesn’t really count, as I was just talking about my career!), I was overcome with a sense of complete anxiety. What in the world am I going to write about? There are, oh I don’t know, an unlimited number of things that can go medically wrong in an animal’s body. Why should it be difficult to decide on just one topic to write about?!

Then I realized, that is the exact problem. Medicine is not mutually exclusive. Attempting to choose one medical condition is nearly impossible, because one condition always leads to another. The body is this wonderfully interrelated and complex mechanism of checks and balances, and we only know a fraction of what there is to know about how it all works together.

To add to this complexity the fact that animals are unable to talk to us in order to tell us how they are feeling. Unfortunately, I have yet to have a cat walk into my office and say, “I’ve been feeling nauseous lately, and my heart seems to be racing at times.” Now, I do have some extremely observant pet parents that almost seem like they can communicate telepathically with their furry family members, but some things are still lost in translation. Veterinarians are in a profession of assumptions, and we have to rely on our pet parents to fill in as much of the information as possible.

Although our furry family members don’t communicate with words, they do “talk” to us in other ways. As veterinarians, we depend on our clients to identify abnormalities in behaviors and habits so that we can piece together the puzzle that is our pets. So, next time you are at your vet’s office, don’t be annoyed by all of the questions. They really do help us understand what’s going on in your furry family member’s body; but this is only the first step in the process of putting the puzzle together … we still have a few more steps to go.

So you brought your furry family member to your veterinarian because something is wrong, and you have been asked a million and one questions (I saw a sign at the Philly marathon a couple of weekends ago that said, “A marathon is 26.2 miles. Because 26.3 would just be too far.” That’s why I added in the “and one” to my questions; because a million just wasn’t enough), and you haven’t even seen the vet yet. Chances are, your vet is going to ask you an abbreviated version of the questionnaire the technician just asked you, but don’t fret. This is all part of piecing the puzzle together.

Your vet will then do an exam of your pet (assuming your furry family member will allow this), and make recommendations based on what they are finding. (I know, we’ve all been there, but bear with me. I’m hoping there will be a point by the end of this blog.) Depending on what your vet finds, they might recommend blood tests, radiographs, ultrasounds, urine tests, fecal tests, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask your vet what these tests are, what they will tell you and how much they cost.

And don’t be surprised if one test leads us to another. Oftentimes, vets find information on the first test that helps us determine how to narrow down further tests. For instance, we often will run a general blood test to get an overall picture of the internal environment of your pet. This test (usually referred to as a chemistry panel or similar variation) oftentimes helps us narrow our search as to the offending organ or system. This means, we may recommend more tests based on what we find on the chemistry panel. Believe it or not, we aren’t trying to meet a quota for tests run. We just have to narrow the puzzle pieces down to the edges so that we have a starting point to put things into place. And remember, a “normal” test DOES give us a great deal of information. It tells us where to stop looking for problems, so we can focus elsewhere. The puzzle is starting to fill in.

The next blog with address how else vets and pet parents can “listen” to our furry family members…

To more waggin’ and purrin’, rwkj.