By Dr Basil Sands
I have been practicing in the Bahamas since I graduated in 1983 when I was taken in and trained under the tutelage of Dr. Barry Watson of the Bahamas Humane Society. Even though I worked only on the weekends at the Bahamas Humane Society, I was able to experience and treat more cases than most veterinarians would see in a lifetime.
Once again, thanks and kudos goes out to Mrs Betty Kenning, for giving me that opportunity to serve and to learn. If not for my bond to the government on graduating, I would probably be at the Humane Society today.
All too often I am asked usually during a phone consultation, or at the grocery store or at the gym, "Should I bring my pet in for an examination?"
Of all the questions that are thrown at me, this one can sometimes be the most difficult to answer. While I do not like to stress a pet (or their owner) with an unnecessary trip to the office I would also hate to delay care for a pet that really needs attention.
So I thought it may be helpful therefore to review some of the common pet health problems and symptoms that might warrant a visit to your veterinarian, as a result of all of my experience in the Bahamas.
We will start with the most basic but also most overlooked reason to take your pet to the doctor: his or her physical exam. Regular complete physical exams are one of the most important things you can do to ensure your pet's health and well being. There is little doubt that regular health checks can help save lives not to mention cost.
Very often, I am asked about a pet that is having a problem with vomiting or diarrhea. I tend to treat reports of gastro intestinal distress seriously. These symptoms can be simple and not so simple problems. It can be simple as a gastro enteritis as a result of the pet eating something it should not have or it can be the beginning signs of a pancreatitis.
The bottom line is that if the diarrhea continues for more than 24 hours or if at any time your pet seems listless, painful, weak, loses his/her appetite, or starts vomiting then your veterinarian should see your pet right away. When in doubt, it is always better to contact your vet.
I am also frequently called about problems related to the respiratory tract. As most people would agree, any difficulty in your pet's breathing should be evaluated immediately. Coughing is another symptom that warrants evaluation without delay. Sneezing on the other hand is not that serious, and I would tell the owner to closely monitor their pet at home. If the sneezing is persistent, then I will usually recommend a check up.
Limping or lameness can be a very concerning problem to pet owners and in most cases warrants a trip to the vet. Any non-weight bearing lameness should be evaluated right away as it could indicate a fracture. But in some cases it may be okay to wait a day or two to see if the lameness resolves on its own.
My general rule is that if an animal is bearing some weight on the limb, seems reasonably comfortable, and again is otherwise feeling fine, then it is probably okay to wait 1-2 days to see if the problem improves. With any orthopedic problem it is very important that the pet be rested, to prevent further injury and to encourage healing. Many pets are not very good about resting when they are injured, so in these cases you may need to confine your pet.
Problems of the nervous system can sometimes look like orthopedic problems. Clinical signs such as stumbling, falling, loss of balance, weakness and of course seizures should be checked out right away. Skin problems, especially those involving itchiness, are one of the most common dilemmas presented to veterinarians. In most cases, your vet should carefully evaluate any skin problems, so that an accurate treatment can be recommended.
If your pet is itching, check for fleas and ticks. While fleas and ticks certainly are not the only problems that can cause itching, they are far and away the most common problem. If your pet has been chewing or scratching for a while, you may notice some very red, moist painful sometimes hairless spots developing. These may be infected hot spots that really need attention of your vet.
Because in most veterinary medical practices, where communication between doctor and patient is limited, the majority of diagnoses are made from the physical exam and medical history of the patient. This underscores the importance of taking your pet to your veterinarian if you suspect a health problem.
The problem is you may not always know if your pet is having a significant health problem. If you have taken your pet in to see the doctor and it turns out to be a minor problem or no problem at all, feel fortunate. Ultimately, the time you spend consulting with your veterinarian during this visit will help you better understand your pet's health and how to differentiate serious and not so serious problems in the future.