The Quiet Healer Speaks: Does my pet really need diagnostic tests?

As a very active volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America program and our local Council program called The Tribe of Nani-Ba-Zhu, my tribal name is Quiet Healer. This is because as a “doctor for animals” my patients don’t speak, so they can’t communicate verbally on where it hurts, or tell me, as a person would tell their doctor, on a scale of one to 10, today it is a seven, doc. Unless we have the powers of Dr. Doolittle as veterinarians (I don’t), we have to rely on the owners’ observations and comments and sometimes their filter on what is relevant and what is not.

Once an adequate history is obtained, a thorough examination should be performed. Upon gathering this information, your veterinarian will often request certain diagnostic tests be performed which may include blood samples, urine samples, radiographic exams, or other tests.  We are often questioned if all that is necessary. As veterinarians, it is our obligation to owners to determine what is important to the well-being of your pet and make recommendations on how to proceed. Ultimately, it is your decision as the owner, with some guidance and support by your veterinarian, on what procedures may be performed on your pet. However, since your animal can’t “tell” us what is wrong, diagnostic testing is vitally important as illustrated by the following story.

A couple of years ago a German Shorthair Pointer named Danny was brought to our hospital for a second opinion for a mass that had been diagnosed in his abdomen as untreatable cancer. The first veterinarian recommended that their dog should be euthanized. The patient was very thin and upon palpation of Danny’s abdomen there was a large mass (7 – 8 inches) noted.

When the owners were questioned on the results of blood tests, radiographic exams and  any other test results the response was, “there were no tests performed.” Those of us in the hospital, and Danny’s owners, were not willing to “put him down” based on only feeling his belly. We performed blood tests, urinalysis and initial abdominal radiographs.

The results revealed some mild anemia and otherwise relatively normal blood and urine results.  There was a large mass in the abdomen. However, it was not a tumor or cancer. The real cause: Danny was severely constipated and had a very large volume of feces in his lower bowel/colon. This was actually corrected surgically and by the next day Danny was feeling so much better!

Danny went home a couple of days later and continued to be loved by his family for several more years. The owners, and I am sure Danny, were very happy that we didn’t just rely on the history of not eating and not feeling well to make the ultimate and permanent decision but, in fact did appropriate diagnostic testing and treatment.

So, while “Dr. Google” will always be available, and history is vitally important to what the “next step” may be, diagnostic tests are often an integral part of treatment. Sometimes they are also important to simply to monitor or ensure your pet’s well-being, vitality and longevity. Develop a candid and honest relationship with your veterinarian and with open communication between you, decide together what is best for your pet, including what diagnostic testing should be performed.

Your pet will thank you for taking such great care of them and you can enjoy many more years together.

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