When you call your veterinarian with a problem the response you are most likely to hear is, “We think Fluffy should probably come in for an examination.” We offer everyone an opportunity to come in and have an exam because we figure if it was important enough for you to pick up the phone and call it is important enough for us to take the time and have a look. So you load Fluffy into the car and drive all the way into the veterinary clinic and we perform a physical exam but we also put you through a barrage of questions. You didn’t know this was going to be a pop quiz! And an oral exam at that!
We call that line of questioning you receive in the exam room taking a history. In veterinary school they teach us that a thorough physical exam and good history lend 80% of the diagnosis. The testing and diagnostics that we recommend typically just help us confirm or distinguish between a few very similar illnesses. Our job is to ask the right questions to get to that diagnosis without having to rely too heavily on testing and diagnostics.
History taking is also the big reason we recommend that you bring your pets to the veterinarian every year. A good physical exam combined with a decent conversation about how your pet has been over the past year can catch a lot of illnesses before they become unmanageable. Often heart disease in dogs and kidney disease in cats are noticed first on routine examinations. It’s the questions in these diseases that get to the diagnosis and help determine the level of work up required.
Your job in the exam room is to answer our questions as completely as possible. If Fluffy has been vomiting for a few days there are going to be a lot of things on my list. If you also noticed that Fluffy has been drinking and peeing a lot more over the past few months, well that changes things. Another important aspect of the exam room conversation is that there are no wrong answers. I am asking questions to get a general sense of your pet’s health and well being. Your answers may encourage recommendations but they are never the wrong answers.
The basic questions to know when you are preparing for a veterinary visit when your pet is not sick are fairly straight forward. What type of food does your pet eat? How much and how often do they eat? Is their water intake increased, decreased or the same? Activity levels, are they also the same or have they changed? We want to know about any changes and anything that seems odd to you since the last time we spoke. This history combined with a good physical exam this should help us to determine that there is nothing to worry about this year as far as Fluffy’s health is concerned.
If you’ve come in for a sick visit there will be a different set of questions. We will want to know as much as possible about Fluffy’s medical history. This is where jumping around to different veterinarians can be detrimental to your pet’s health. If you have been coming to me since your pet was a kitten or puppy I can look through his record and get a sense of specific needs, ongoing illnesses or things we should be watching for. Otherwise, we have to try to piece records together with another vet and your memory and we can miss things like elevated liver enzymes six months ago or changes in thyroid activity. At the sick visit we will want to know about the changes as well but this time we want more specific information regarding this particular problem. How long has it been going on? Has it gotten better, worse or stayed the same? Have you done anything to treat it? Does it happen at a specific time of day? The answers to these questions can go a long way in diagnosing an illness and selecting the appropriate treatment.
So the next time you take a pet to the vet or have to make a phone call concerning a problem you’re having with a pet. Please try to remember we are not trying to quiz you but because Fluffy can’t talk we need as much information as you can possibly give us. In the long run it will save us time, save you money and possibly save Fluffy’s life.
Thanks for reading!