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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Features February 2015 Issue

12 Pre-Exam Questions to Think Through

Itís up to you to explain your dogís symptoms to his vet. He canít do it himself.

When you bring your dog to the veterinarian for his annual or semi-annual exam, the doctor may very well ask you whether there have been any changes in your pet since his last visit. But the phrase “any changes” is rather vague, and besides, sometimes changes come so gradually that they’re hard to detect until they have become quite dramatic. That’s why paying attention to your dog’s habits and lifestyle variations is critical in advocating for his continued good health. As we frequently say, you are the most important partner on your dog’s health care team, the one who is most intimately familiar with his day-to-day life and therefore in the best position to make the first clinical assessment about whether something might be amiss.

This becomes particularly important as your dog reaches over from middle age into his geriatric years. Noticing changes in his behavior or demeanor that you can bring up to his doctor may help you stave off illness — or treat it at the outset, when it’s easier to keep symptoms in check and sometimes even reverse a health problem. Treating a disease at the outset rather than after it is far gone tends to be much less expensive as well.

Here are the 12 what-is-my-dog-doing-differently questions you need to ask yourself before his wellness exam. Supplying meaningful answers to the vet will take a lot out of the guesswork and sleuthing that sometime go into diagnosing an illness.

1. Is he drinking more water? An affirmative answer could be indicative of diabetes or Cushing’s disease, allowing the doctor to probe in the right direction for a possible diagnosis.

2. Is he urinating more? Again, something like diabetes might be the culprit.
Have there been changes in appetite? Has your pal become more picky, less hungry? Perhaps the dog has a gastrointestinal problem.

3. Are there changes in tolerance to exercise or physical activity? For instance, has it become harder for your dog to run around in warm weather? A disease such as laryngeal paralysis makes it more difficult to breathe.

3. Does he make new/different noises while breathing? Certain sounds may be indicative of heart disease.

4. Has the sound of his bark changed? That could indicate problems with the lungs or other systems.

5.
Has your dog begun to have episodes of vomiting or diarrhea — even mild ones? Sometimes something like kidney disease may be exerting its influence.
Have there been unintended weight changes — gains or losses? Weight loss could be a sign of painful dental disease.

6. Does his coat look different, perhaps thinner or dryer, or does he look different in general? Some dogs with a sluggish thyroid get a somewhat “puffy” look.

7. Have you noticed changes in his desire to socialize with people or with other dogs? A change in social demeanor can be an indication
of pain.

8. Does your dog seem disoriented? Does it appear as if he becomes lost in his own home or walks into a room and can’t figure out a way to exit? That can be a sign of the canine version of Alzheimer’s, and there are ways to slow the course of the disease, at least for a while.

9. Are there new lumps or bumps anywhere on his body? The vet will check, but why not draw his attention right to them? Sometimes a biopsy will be needed to see if a cancer is present.

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