When you go to the veterinarian, you tell her what’s wrong with your pet, right?
Well, that’s easier said than done.
- It’s our job to get as complete a medical history as possible and ask the right questions — and sometimes the same question in different ways.
- It’s your job to be as prepared as possible and know as much as you can about your pet’s ongoing medical concerns.
History taking is a bit of an art. Some veterinary personnel are better at it than others. Even if there is a laundry list of questions your veterinary nurse may ask, sometimes the important information about your pet’s health is not in that cookie-cutter list.
Why We Ask So Many Questions
Some clients get frustrated when they have to answer questions from the veterinary receptionist or the technician. “Let me just talk to the doctor” is an occasional complaint. Veterinary staff members hate that phrase, by the way. It’s demeaning to the support staff when, actually, they do a lot to get the ball rolling in the right direction for you.
They know, for example, when a urine sample is absolutely needed. Getting the sample and having the info for the vet saves time and frustration.
There is value in being asked the same questions a few times. A client may say something to a tech and then something very different to the vet. Or, even better, going over a medical history again may jog a person’s memory.
If my patients could speak for themselves, this would be a bit easier. But Clyde the Afghan can’t interrupt and correct you when you tell the vet the wrong thing. “Of course I had this problem before,” Clyde is saying to himself. “Remember when you took me to that vet on vacation because I scratched my ear until it bled?”
In the majority of cases, it’s not that clients are trying to hide anything. They just may have forgotten something important, didn’t think some information was significant or never thought that some of their pet’s behavior may be related to the presenting complaint.
Take a Video
Take, for example, the all-too-typical problem of vomiting. Some days, it seems like none of my patients have a normal and happy GI system. But not all vomit is the same. It takes multiple questions from your vet staff to get to the bottom of the barfing.
Did you know that many people confuse vomiting with regurgitation? Explaining that your dog is passively regurgitating his food rather than actively vomiting tells me a lot more than I might discover in a basic exam. And, yes, along with a good medical history, I often ask people to videotape the process.
Coughing, sneezing, honking, seizing, passing out and walking “funny” are only a few examples where a picture is worth a thousand words. I love it when, after the client has been trying to mimic the snort, the duck sound or the wobbly walking, she says, “Oh, wait a minute. I have it on my cellphone.”
Yeah! That’s what we vets want.
Ask for Medical Records
Have you seen that commercial where the patient is being wheeled into the emergency room and the doctors are getting all of her medical history, scans, MRIs, etc. delivered to their computer? If only that were the case in all of human and veterinary medicine.
Sadly, the reality is that clients often show up with no previous records or the pet’s history may truly be unknown.
Any previous records or information you can bring to your vet can save time, money and get your pet on the road to recovery faster. Some people are embarrassed about seeking a second opinion or “trying out” another vet, so they don’t ask for previous medical records. Do you know how difficult it is to give a second opinion with no information?
Here’s a quick video of Marmalade the kitten’s first vet visit:
I am amazed when folks come in with perfectly organized, pristine files on their pets’ medical histories.
Organization, particularly at home, is not my strong point. Your veterinarian thanks you for taking such good care of Cocoa’s paperwork, for knowing her symptoms and for catching that honking sound she makes on your phone.
We appreciate everything you do for them. It makes our job a little easier and gets Cocoa back on the healthy road again.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, and was last updated Oct. 11, 2018.