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How does a vet diagnose your pet?

April 29, 2021

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It takes 5 years to train as a vet. Like human doctors, vets are learning and gaining experience all the time.  They continue to improve their clinical knowledge and understanding to improve their diagnosis skills, but how does a vet go about pinpointing exactly what is wrong with your pet?

Animals don’t talk so they can’t tell us where it hurts or how they feel.  Making a diagnosis is a very skilful practice. It’s the result of training, knowledge, experience and understanding. Try to imagine that it’s a very complex riddle with missing clues!

How does a vet find the clues?

Examination – when it’s not obvious what’s wrong (like a broken leg), a physical examination can provide lots of clues.  Checking the heart rate, breathing rate, temperature, eyes, ears, mouth and weight can provide important information.  An examination can reveal pain, infection or irritation or may indicate an issue that might be going on inside with another of your pet’s organs.

Talking to the owner – no-one knows their pet like the owner.  The vet will ask LOTS of questions about eating, drinking, sleeping, toileting, exercise, behaviour and habits. They will want to know about any changes an owner may have observed. For example, an owner may be asked if their pet is eating less than usual or drinking more than normal.

Thinking about your pet specifically – the vet will take into account your pet’s species, their breed, age, gender and previous medical history.  Certain illnesses are more likely to occur in certain breeds or species. 

All this information helps the vet to understand more about your pet’s health issue. They will recommend a treatment based on the outcome of this investigation. It is an incredibly skilful process and to the naked eye seems effortless. This skill develops from 5 years of training and continued learning and experience from the day to day interactions and examinations of animals. 

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Why doesn’t the vet always know what’s wrong?

Not all conditions will be successfully treated first time.  Some conditions and disease can have very similar symptoms so further tests or investigations might be recommended. To make it even more complicated, some “symptoms” or disease are as a result of another, underlying condition. To manage or remove these symptoms the underlying condition needs to be identified and treated or managed.  In some cases it is also not possible to “cure” some disease or conditions i.e. arthritis or allergies.  In these cases treatment will be recommended to manage bothersome and sometimes painful symptoms. This will give comfort to and provide a better quality of life for your pet.

Visit the PDSA website for more information on how a vet finds out what is wrong with your pet and if you have any concerns about the health of your pet, call the team today. 

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