Doc, My Pet Doesn’t Need an Exam

RJ having his Exam 2

Photo by Heather & Charleen Photography

Veterinarians and veterinary receptionists hear this line all the time. Don’t get me wrong. My clients love their cats, dogs, bunnies, budgies, and geckos. We’re all so darned busy these days, and a trip to the veterinary hospital costs time and money. Veterinarians understand what it’s like to work a ten-hour day and then shoot off to be on time for children’s soccer games and swimming lessons. We delay going to the dentist and forget to give our dogs their heartworm medication on the first of the month. Veterinarians know that it can be a pain to get a cat into her carrier and how much time it takes to get rid of the dog hair on the backseat of the car.

We also know that not all problems can be handled over the telephone.

Let’s look at a couple of conversations from pet owners calling the clinic.

My Cat Has Ear Mites Again

Probably not, Mrs Williams. When Snuggles was eight-weeks-old, we treated him with a very effective medication to kill the ear mites. We even repeated the treatment a month later for safety. Kittens are infested with ear mites directly from their mother. Mama Cat got them from the other cats in the barn where they spent the winter keeping warm.

Snuggles is ten-years-old now and hasn’t seen another cat since he left his brothers and sisters as a kitten. With an exam, I can tell you that he has lost two pounds since last year, and he now has a soft heart murmur. His ear canals are clean. Those sores you see in front of his ears are not from ear mites. We perform a senior blood panel, and I let you know that he has developed a condition called hyperthyroidism. A small nodule on his thyroid gland is causing an increase in his metabolism and crazy things are happening inside his little body.

The good news is that we have many options for care that could allow Snuggles to live a great life for several more years. Dispensing ear mite drops based on a phone call would have wasted your money and delayed a crucial diagnosis.

He Just Needs His Rabies Shot

I get it, Mr. Johnson. You’ve been planning this family vacation for months, and you found out that the kennel where your dog is staying when you get to Minneapolis wants him to have his kennel cough booster. And Boomer needs to be vaccinated against rabies to cross the Canadian-U.S. border. These expenses aren’t in the family holiday budget.

Kennel cough is a group of infections that cause a croup-like condition in dogs. Most commonly, we vaccinate against the viruses, parainfluenza and adenovirus, and the bacteria, Bordetella bronchiseptica. The symptoms can range from mild sneezing and coughing to pneumonia. Dogs are most likely to develop kennel cough when they interact with infected or carrier dogs in confined quarters and/or in otherwise stressful environments. Many kennel owners, dog groomers, and dog trainers insist on kennel cough vaccination to avoid transmission among dogs in their care. Your veterinarian will check to see if your dog is healthy enough to receive the vaccination and discuss any new or chronic breathing problems that may complicate the administration of the kennel cough booster.

Rabies is a horrible neurological disease that causes death in any mammal that is exposed through the saliva, often a bite, from an infected animal. Humans are just as susceptible as any other mammal. In June 2016, an Alberta woman was exposed to rabies after she tried to break up an altercation between a rabid bat and a household cat. She had to receive post-exposure inoculations to protect her from developing the full-blown disease. Veterinarians are required by legislation to examine a pet and ensure that he or she is healthy prior to receiving the rabies vaccination. We will never be complacent about this issue, folks.

Just Give Me the Same Pills as Last Time

I would love to do that, Mrs. Smith. The only thing is the last medication I dispensed was an antibiotic for your twelve-year-old Cocker Spaniel’s bladder infection. The chances of your three-year-old cat having the same problem as Maggie, even though they were both peeing on your couch, is actually pretty remote.

Senior dogs get bladder infections. In many cases, spayed female dogs dribble a little urine when they’re sleeping. Over time, they can lose muscle tone in the structures that control the bladder. As your veterinarian, I performed a complete examination to determine the extent of any urinary incontinence and tested the urine to decide on what kind of infection was bothering Maggie. With that information, I decided that your dog did not need to be treated for her incontinence (yet) and prescribed an appropriate antibiotic for her condition. I’m glad to hear that she felt better so quickly.

Your young cat has a completely different problem. Based on our telephone conversation, Ben is a boy cat who has been eating a dry cat food from the grocery store. He never goes outside, so he hasn’t been to the vet since he was neutered at six months. He started peeing on the couch a couple of days ago and is now screaming when he tries to urinate. Antibiotics are not going to fix him. In fact, not treating him just might kill him.

When you bring him into the office, I am going to perform a complete physical examination. Ben is going to start screaming, like he did at home, when I feel his belly. I can palpate a bladder the size of a large orange inside his abdomen. His urethra, the tube that empties the bladder, has been blocked by mucous and crystals. He literally cannot pee. The blood you’ve seen on the furniture in the last few days was just the start of the process. Without emergency anaesthesia and treatment, the toxins from his urine will cause kidney and heart failure and a painful death.

The good news is that his condition is manageable. Once we unblock his urethra, we can start him on a diet of canned cat food and prescribe medications to control his symptoms. He probably still won’t need antibiotics. Thank you so much for bringing him into the hospital today. You have saved Ben’s life.

Yes, Your Pet Does Need an Exam.

Here’s the thing. I cannot diagnose your pet over the telephone any better than you can tell me what colour my socks are (and I have some pretty awesome socks). I need both of you right here in my exam room. I have to listen to you very closely and ask lots of questions to receive the correct history. I have to look at your pet as she walks out of her carrier or limps into the exam room. I have to touch your pet, check her teeth, listen to her heart, and palpate her abdomen. A very wise veterinary professor once told me and the rest of my classmates, “You won’t miss a diagnosis by not knowing. You will miss it by not looking.” Please let me look. I am your veterinarian, and I am here to help.