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Good communication improves pet health diagnosis

Q: My cat, Gus, went to the veterinarian recently for a medical problem. The vet did a physical exam, gave him an injection and sent me home with medication.

Gus is fine now, but I was frustrated with the poor communication. How should I handle this in the future? I can't go to a different veterinarian, because this is the only vet nearby.

A: I’m happy to hear Gus is doing well after his illness but saddened to hear that you and his veterinarian didn’t communicate well. Some veterinarians communicate better with pets than humans.

You can help improve the dialogue by giving the vet a good history and asking the right questions. The history is the story of what’s happening. Your vet relies on the history and physical exam to formulate a list of possible diagnoses, which will guide further work-up and treatment.

In one human medicine study, the history was responsible for 76 percent of the accuracy of the diagnosis. So, it’s important that you share all potentially helpful information. Begin with the date Gus was last normal. Describe the onset of the first problem, and then explain when each additional problem developed. Include any diet changes, medications or other treatments you tried.

After your veterinarian examines Gus, ask about those findings. Does Gus have dental disease, a heart irregularity, an abdominal mass, fleas? Then ask your vet to list the possible diagnoses and recommendations.

If your veterinarian talks about further testing and treatment, ask about your options. You may feel more comfortable doing all suggested diagnostic testing from the start, or you might prefer to proceed in a step-by-step manner, depending on how Gus responds.

If the condition is complicated, ask for written information or consult veterinarypartner.com for background.

Editor’s Note: Your dog’s first trip to the veterinarian should be an opportunity to learn about providing the best care for your pet. Here we share expectations for that first visit, including questions to ask as a new dog parent.


Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at askdrlee@insurefigo.com.

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