I’ve discussed in previous posts why it’s important to see your veterinarian on a regular basis and what we look for during an examination. An equally valuable part of the visit is what we refer to as “history-taking.” I rely on your observations and descriptions in lieu of being able to ask your dog or cat how he or she is feeling. It’s been my experience that the more “in tune” you are with your animal companion and the better you are able to express your observations and concerns, the more successful we will be at achieving a positive outcome. Conversely, discussions with someone who is not familiar with the animal are often less helpful.
The person who knows the most about the animal’s behavior should be the one to meet (ideally) or speak with the vet. If another family member is asked to transport the animal companion to the vet’s office, it would be great if he or she provided the phone number of the primary caretaker.
A complete set of questions that may be asked in order to figure out what’s wrong with your animal companion could include the following:
- Why did you bring Winston in today—what’s going on with him?
- When did you first notice this problem?
- Is the problem getting better or worse or remaining the same?
- Is Winston’s behavior normal or unusual? Does he seem listless and less energetic?
- How is his appetite? Is he eating just as eagerly as in the past?
- Is he coughing or sneezing?
- Is he vomiting? Has he had diarrhea? (If these are not known because the dog spends a lot of time outside, it’s best to acknowledge that.)
- Is water intake the same as in the past?
- Has Winston had any major medical problems in the past? (Certain diseases, such as pancreatitis, can be recurrent or contribute to future health problems.)
- Is he on any medications? (If so, it would be ideal if you brought these with you, especially if you’re seeing a new doctor.) Why is he on these? Have they helped?
- What is his regular diet?
The following are some secondary questions:
- Has Winston had any major surgery in the past or been on medications for prolonged periods?
- Does Winston travel or has he traveled out of his area of residence?
- Does Winston have access to or has he been exposed to any chemicals, drugs, or toxins?
- Has Winston had any dietary changes lately? (“Oh, yes! He had some shrimp and paella over the weekend—is that bad for him, doctor?”)
- Does Winston spend most of his time indoors or outdoors?
- Have there been any changes in the household recently (travel, guests, or new animal companions)?
Try to be aware of your animal companion’s “normal” behavior so that you’ll be able to answer the questions outlined above as accurately as possible and identify any unusual behavior, which could be a symptom of illness. This will be a big help to both your vet and your animal companion.