Ask a vet a question and...

Whenever you ask a vet a question about your pet, don't be surprised if the answer is a question!

Why? Because you, as the pet owner, are the major source of information regarding your pets condition.

This is an essential concept that you need to grasp, particularly in an emergency situation when speed of action can make all the difference to the outcome of the situation. The veterinarian will be relying on you to provide essential information.

Veterinarians, despite all their training and experience, are not mind readers.Nor can they be expected to make an accurate diagnosis simply by looking at your sick pet. This seems to surprise a good proportion of the pet owning public!

The process of coming to a diagnosis can range from a few simple questions and a clinical examination to a long drawn out affair utilising all sorts of tests and equipment. In getting to a diagnosis, the most critical element is accurate information - and that is where the pet owner plays such a vital role. The more accurate the information, the more accurate and timely the diagnosis is likely to be.So when you ask a vet what is wrong with your pet, be prepared. Make as much information available as possible, and answer all questions as fully as possible.

So with that in mind, lets look at what your obligations to good pet health are when you take a sick pet to the Vet.

1) PLEASE take the pet yourself. It is no use sending someone else along, even if you write a note. This person will be unlikely to be able to answer anything more than the most basic of questions which will not only frustrate all concerned, but could even send the diagnostic process off on a wild, expensive, and fruitless journey to nowhere.

2) You need to know what is normal in order to recognise the abnormal.

3) Realise that the less obvious the problem, the more accurate information your Veterinarian will want from you. For example - if you see your dog being knocked over by your neighbour's car and it is not able to support itself on one of it's legs, then it's fairly obvious where the main diagnostic effort will concentrate on. Contrast that with a dog that hasn't eaten for the past 3 days and has developed a slight limp - the net is going to have to be cast much wider!

4) Be as accurate as possible with regards to the timing - when did the problem first start? What has been the sequence of events since you first noticed the problem?

5) Diet. Have you changed the type of food your pet is fed lately? Has your pet gone off it's food or is it eating less than usual?If so, since when?

6) Has the water intake changed? Drinking more or less than usual? Has the water source changed?

7) Has your pets level of activity changed? If so, how and over what period?

8) Anything out of the ordinary is worth mentioning.

9) Don't make up answers just to provide an answer. If you don't know or are not sure, then say so. It will save time and money in the long run.

The diagnostic process.

Why is the vet bombarding you with questions? The diagnostic process (briefly) involves the vet gathering as much relevant information about the case as possible (the questions!).The vet then will most likely perform a basic clinical examination. Based on that and your information, he (or she) draws up a list of most likely causes (the differential diagnoses or DD's), ranks them in order from "most likely" or "most common" to "least likely or common", and then proceeds to work through the list using a variety of tools ( further clinical examination, X rays, Blood tests etc) to either rule in or rule out each listed cause.

The length of this process obviously depends on what is ailing your pet. If it is something uncommon, then you can expect more questions as the investigative process continues. Don't get frustrated with this as the more structured and methodical the process, the more likely a definitive diagnosis will be made!

But, and its a big BUT,remember that many ailments are multifactorial i.e. there is more than one cause, and that many different causes can give rise to the same clinical symptoms.

Lets take a dog that has been vomiting for the past 24 hrs. Our DD list would range from a host of bacterial and viral infectious agents, a foreign body lodged in the gut or a twisted gut to pancreatitis, kidney failure etc etc. All those and more, or a combination of them, could give rise to your dog vomiting.

This is vital to understand. Each case is different, even if the symptoms would appear to be the same! And sometimes, one cannot arrive at an exact diagnosis, especially if costs are a factor. However, many cases can be successfully treated without a definitive diagnosis.

If for example, after the diagnostic process has ruled out the other possibilities, it is clear that our vomiting dog has a viral infection, then it might not be that important to diagnose exactly which virus it is. It could be one of several viruses, but most of these cases will respond equally well to the same treatment regime.

To wrap up. The more you can tell your veterinarian accurately and with conviction, the better chance he/she has of making an accurate diagnosis and the better chance your pet has of receiving the appropriate treatment.

OK, with the above in mind, understand that asking a vet for an opinion online cannot be better than taking your pet to see a vet "in the flesh" because he/she can only form an opinion based on the information you are providing. This means that the accuracy of your information becomes even more critical.

If you want to ask a vet a question online,