If we’re lucky, we will nurse our pups through arthritis pains and failing senses. If we’re not so lucky, we will face cancer and liver disease. In each of these cases, though, we know the demons that we are fighting.
It’s heartbreaking to hear that your dog has cancer (believe me, I know), but what is just as heartbreaking is not knowing what’s wrong.
That’s why today I want to talk about your role as your dog’s health advocate and how you can help, not hinder, your vet as you seek more information.
Mystery Dog Illness: How You Can Help, Not Hinder, Your Vet
Our vets work tirelessly to keep our dogs healthy. They are underpaid and overworked and must master general medicine for multiple mammals. There is no doubt that they must love what they do.
Unfortunately, many of us expect our vets to diagnose our pups like a car in the garage. A couple of blood tests, a urinalysis and they should be able to tell you what’s going on, right?
Some dogs are prone to developing certain illnesses at general life stages and certain symptoms in all dogs are indicative of specific conditions. These are the things our vets test for first, it just makes sense. They run a complete blood panel, they test glucose levels, look at liver enzymes…but not all symptoms are as easy to diagnose.
Lead Poisoning, Lupus, and Lymphangiectasia, Oh My!
Imagine for a moment that you are expected not only to know the complete anatomical workings of multiple animals, but you are also expected to know EVERY illness or disease that can be contracted by those animals, how to test for those illnesses and how to cure or treat them. This isn’t even considering newly developing diseases and mutating strains of existing illnesses…
Big ask, right?
This is why our doctors and vets sometimes don’t have immediate answers or hit textbooks (or even *gasp* the internet!) The average brain can only hold so much information and for the average veterinarian that pertains to the conditions that are most prevalent.
So, it makes sense that a senior dog who is drinking excessively, urinating excessively, and who has a fruity scent on their breath should be tested for diabetes. The symptoms fit the profile and diabetes is something vets see routinely.
…But what happens when those “routine” tests and diagnoses don’t yield answers? What happens when there is no obvious answer?
How You Can Help, Not Hinder Your Vet
When your dog is experiencing a mystery dog illness, it’s important that you not hinder your vet’s efforts at a diagnosis.
What does that mean?
It means don’t assume that you know more than your trained veterinarian because you used Dr. Google.
It does not mean that you should stop advocating for your dog.
So how can you balance advocating without becoming a nuisance?
- Document your dog’s symptoms THOROUGHLY. You are observing symptoms your vet may not be and even if it seems inconsequential to you, it may be crucial to your dog’s diagnosis.
- Be honest. If you did something that led to your dog’s symptoms, tell your vet. Owners will often lie when they run the risk of “getting into trouble” for something they have done. Your vet couldn’t care less about what you do, their job is to help your dog and they can’t do that without the FULL picture.
- Be vigilant. Watch for subtle changes that only you might notice as your dog’s parent and let your vet know about them.
- Get footage when possible. If you can grab a picture or video of symptoms this can be extremely helpful to your vet because it lets them SEE symptoms in action rather than just hear about them.
Requesting Additional Testing
I mentioned above that you should avoid Dr. Google. This does not mean that you should keep your mouth shut if you think there is something that your vet should consider SO LONG AS THIS IS HELPFUL INFORMATION.
Cushing’s disease is the perfect example of this.
The symptoms of Cushing’s disease are often seen in other, more common illnesses. Because of this, many vets won’t test cortisol levels because testing is expensive and more common conditions are more likely (and cheaper to test for first).
Now, if, being your dog’s guardian, you see additional signs or symptoms of possible Cushing’s disease, don’t be afraid to ask your vet their thoughts. There is a difference between ASKING about the possibility of an illness and testing for a condition and TELLING your vet that you have made your own diagnosis via Dr. Google. In fact, your vet will likely welcome SENSIBLE questions and suggestions.
You MUST have an idea what you are talking about.
Your vet’s time is too valuable to waste explaining to you that your dog’s symptoms are more than likely not due to an illness that can’t even be contracted by dogs.
If, however, you have spent time and effort legitimately documenting your dog’s symptoms and have read up on specific (and likely) conditions that your vet has not yet tested for, talk to them!
Like I said above, your vet has more information to retain than you can possibly imagine. This sometimes means that a constructive outside suggestion can help to see things from another light.
Just remember, your vet is only human and as your dog’s guardian it is your job to do everything you can to help, not hinder, your dog’s diagnosis.