Warning: I am not a veterinarian. All advice I give should be taken with a grain of salt, as with a lot of advice you may read online. I just like to help animals, through helping their pet parents, with the 19 years of experience I have gained by working in veterinary medicine. Ultimately, you should consult your veterinarian before trying anything yourself at home.
“Why can’t the veterinarian just tell me what to do over the phone?”
“My dog/cat just needs the same medication they’ve been taking for years. Why does my pet need to have an exam when the doctor already knows what’s going on?”
I hear it multiple times everyday, animal parents calling in and getting upset because we can’t recommend anything over the phone for Fluffy’s vomiting, Spot’s limp, or Ginger’s diarrhea. Or the doctor requires an exam before we continue any more refills on Cookie’s medications.
I can understand the owner’s situation; often a financial, time, or even a trust issue. But, it’s also important the for pet owners to understand the veterinarian’s situation.
What’s best for your pet?
First and foremost, it’s not in the best interest for your pet.
Animals age must quicker than humans do, therefore their body’s change much more quickly than ours. Regular check-ups to monitor these quick changes are important for your pet’s health.
The doctors need to make sure that they keep your pet’s health first in everything they do. Unfortunately, this doesn’t often cooperate with your time limitations or financial situations.
Did you know that it’s ILLEGAL for a medical doctor, animal or human, to prescribe a medication if they’ve never done a physical exam on your animal, or if it’s been over a year since their last physical was performed.
It’s also ILLEGAL for doctors to give medical advice over the phone without first seeing your pet for a physical exam, or verbally giving you treatment advice over the phone for an issue they haven’t yet seen your pet for.
I could go into the whys and hows, but the plain and simple answer is, if your doctor is found prescribing medications on a regular basis to patients that are not up to date on their annual physicals, they could loose their medical license.
You know, that degree that your vet went to college for 8+ years to obtain and are still probably working to pay off their college debt (it’s very, VERY expensive, and a lot of very hard work, to go obtain a medical degree).
It’s also not what’s in the best interest for your pet to do these things.
Veterinarians take an oath when they graduate college. In this oath it states:
“As a member of the veterinary medical profession, I solemnly swear that I will use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society. I will strive to promote animal health and welfare, relieve animal suffering, protect the health of the public and environment, and advance comparative medical knowledge.”
Veterinarians want to help animals. It’s what they love and have spent most of their adult lives trying to educate themselves about.
Regardless of how you feel about your pet’s vet, whether you would trust them with your pet’s life or you think they’re out to take every penny you’ve ever earned, there are TONS of different reasons your pet could be sick. The doctor has to see your animal, put their hands on them during the exam, listen to their heart and lungs, look in their ears, mouth, and eyes. And sometimes, diagnostic tests are necessary to figure out what’s going on inside of your pet.
A doctor’s physical exam should be thorough. Unlike in human medicine, where the doctor basically just looks at you and maybe listens to your heart and lungs, a pet’s physical exam is much more thorough.
Your veterinarian will do a nose to tail examination of your pet. Usually starting at the head; making sure the eyes, nose, mouth, teeth and ears have no issues. The feel along the neck, for any abnormalities in the skin, lymph nodes, or spine. Then they feel along your pet’s body for the same reasons, stopping to listen to your pet’s heart and lungs. The may look at their legs and feet, then the feel the abdomen. In the abdominal area, the doctor feels for all the major organs and any abnormalities there. Then they feel along the back, and may look and feel along the rear legs and feet before looking at their rear end and tail.
Based on the pet parent’s history, usually asked prior to or during an exam, the doctor may choose a specific spot to pay a little more attention to. Based on their findings and the history, the doctor can then choose, if needed, the appropriate diagnostic test(s) that they recommend be done to obtain even more specific information that the doctor can’t get from the exam alone.
What Are Diagnostic Tests?
Diagnostic tests are: blood work, x-rays, urinalysis, ear cytology, fecal analysis, and so on. Some clinics may even have MRI, CAT scan, and ultrasound. These tests are essential to find out what problems your pet may be having inside of their bodies; diseases or infections that the doctor can’t see or find on physical exam.
Sometimes it can be an “easy” visit. The doctor may recommend that you try a medication or use an ear cleaner. But, if those recommendations don’t work, then diagnostic tests are a must to figure out why your pet is not doing well.
Your veterinarian is not Superman, they don’t have x-ray vision. They may be able to pinpoint where the pain is coming from during a physical exam. They may be able to tell if there’s a tear in a ligament, a break, or possible lesion on the bone. But how severe is it? What type of break occurred? How much of the bone does the lesion cover?
Each of these illnesses requires a different treatment. Each treatment is based on the severity of the illness. The doctor doesn’t know what treatment is best for your pet without knowing the information that an x-ray can provide.
The same is true for many illnesses that x-rays help to diagnose every day, not just limping.
Why is your dog shaking his head all the time, scratching his ears, or has a foul smell?
Only a ear cytology can identify what microorganisms are causing your dog’s distress and smell.
Getting a sample of your dog’s ear discharge, that your doctor needs to look at under a microscope, or send in for a culture, can help determine what medication is best to use in your dog’s situation.
Is your pet urinating inside of the house? Is it abnormal because they’ve never done that before?
Maybe they seem to be urinating too much, or too little. Straining for long periods of time, but hardly anything is coming out.
Urine Cytology helps the doctor identify micro-organisms, like bacteria, and crystals that could be causing your pet’s discomfort.
There are many other types of cytology that are essential to diagnosing issues that the doctor would not be able to diagnose without that vital information.
Blood work can give your doctor answers to many questions, or help them fit together the puzzle pieces with other diagnostics test, to help come to a diagnosis.
From liver and kidney issues, electrolyte imbalances, to infections and much more. Blood work can be used to help to diagnose many different issues or diseases.
Getting annual blood work done can help to create a healthy baseline and keep a close eye on any changes, so that you and your doctor can act fast when changes start to appear .
Vomiting, lethargy, limping, shaking, coughing, and many more symptoms you may experience when your pet is sick. Each one of these, together or individually, can have so many reasons as to what’s causing them. In most cases, there is really no “one answer” that your doctor can give you that would tell you why your pet is not doing well, without the help of important and informative diagnostics tests.
Your pet’s treatment is then based upon the information the doctor gets from their physical and those test results.
Otherwise, the doctor would basically be guessing what they’re treating your pet for, possibly wasting your money, if the treatment is not the correct one. Wasting precious time, that your pet may not have, if the illness is serious enough. Do you really want that?
Your veterinarian NEEDS to know what is going on inside your pet’s body to understand what treatment needs to be done, or rule out serious illness; so you, your veterinarian, and your pet can feel better.
If the diagnostic tests are normal, you can go home with the peace of mind, knowing that your pet’s blood work was normal, their x-ray showed no disease in the bone or organs, or the ear cytology showed no infection.
If an illness is found, the doctor then feels sure about what treatment protocol needs to be started.
You can see why your veterinarian can’t tell you what’s going on with just a phone conversation. Why they tell you an exam is necessary, and why they sometimes can’t just give you a medication to help your dog or cat fell better.
Physical exams and diagnostic tests are important information for you, your pet, and your veterinarian to help figure out the best course of action in the treatment of your pet.
It’s important to find a veterinarian that you trust, someone who is willing to listen to you and understand your individual situation. A doctor willing to explain everything to you, and discuss all options. Put the care of your pet into the hands of someone you trust with your pet’s life, because one day it may come down to having to do just that. It’s what’s best for you, and your pet’s future, that you do what is recommended by a doctor that you believe wants the best for your pet.
I will try to write a post about pet insurance soon, but this can be a very valuable financial tool you can use during any stage of your pet’s life.
Just like with people, it can help you when you need it the most. Veterinary bills can get expensive, pet insurance can help to absorb much of the cost of your pet’s healthcare if they get sick or injured. It’s bound to happen at some point, it’s better to have pet insurance now to prepare for the future.
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