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Tips for Living Well with Your Dog: Health and Nutrition

'Speak' to primary care veterinarian

Third of a four-part series

good primary care veterinarian can add years to a dog's life; the exact number was six for one of my loyal companions.

My English Setter had a full life of pointing at birds, chasing rabbits and running on the trails because of a healthy rapport that I have developed with a veterinarian who has cared for my family's dogs for decades.

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My dog was 6 years old at the time, an age when many begin getting lots of lumps and bumps on their bodies. Most are skin cysts or harmless fatty lipomas in the space between their coat and muscles. All of my dogs have developed these growths, but I would still have our veterinarian double-check them every time my pal went in for a physical. They always turned out to be nothing.

One particular tiny skin lump on my dog's side - about the size of a pea - looked no different than the rest. After a quick look, our veterinarian focused her attention to me - examining me, in essence, with questions to help pump information from my memory. She had no hesitation prodding me because she knows I value good communication.

"There is one thing a little different about this lump," I hesitatingly told her at the end of the interrogation, trying not to sound too foolish. "This might seem silly, and I hope you don't think I'm crazy, but it seems like on some days that it's slightly bigger - then smaller. But I'm probably just imagining it."

From my seemingly benign comment, our veterinarian immediately knew the tiny lump was an early stage mast cell tumor, a cancerous growth that could kill my pal. They contain histamine which cause them to swell slightly at times. One week later, a simple procedure was done to remove it.

So try these methods to help improve communication with your primary care veterinarian. They will lead to better medical care for your dog and perhaps even save your pal's life:

  • Provide specific information. For example, just saying your pal has been having trouble holding down food is insufficient because a countless number of ailments can cause such symptoms. Give the veterinarian precise details such as if the stomach episodes are occurring just after meals, early in the morning or on an empty stomach. Your job is to provide as much information as possible, and the veterinarian's task is to sort through all of it for relevance.
  • Write it down. Keep track of every detail, even those that may seem unimportant. Those seemingly innocuous details may turn out to be important clues for your veterinarian - like in the case of the tiny lump on my English Setter. When you visit the veterinarian, reefer to the written information to help you remember all the little details.
  • Use the telephone to ask follow-up questions and provide follow-up information. I frequently have left update messages with the office staff of our primary care veterinarian regarding how my dogs are coping with medication or treatment. This allows the veterinarian to immediately flag any problems and contact me rather than waiting to finding trouble at a follow-up appointment. It also enhances follow-up care because the veterinarian will be up to date before you go to your next appointment.
  • If your dog needs treatment from a specialist, make sure copies of all reports are provided to your primary care veterinarian. Doing this is critical because your primary care veterinarian needs to coordinate your dog's other medical needs with the specialist's care to avoid interaction of medications or other complications. Also, your primary care veterinarian is an invaluable resource to discuss recommendations being made by the specialist and help guide you with treatment decisions. Reports from hard-to-contact specialists can contain complex medical terminology, and your primary care veterinarian also can help you decipher and understand them.
Perhaps the most important action you can take to enhance communication with your primary care veterinarian is to do research and educate yourself. If your dog is being treated for an illness, go to the library or do online research and learn as much as possible about it and any necessary medications. This knowledge will help you ask the right questions about care and treatment. And you will be speaking the same language as your veterinarian, which will make conversation flow.
Ultimately, the quality of your dog's medical care rests with your ability to develop good communication with your primary care veterinarian. Our loyal companions are unable to talk and tell us when they are feeling ill, so we must understand those non-verbal signals they give us, and, in turn, communicate this information to the veterinarian.

Health and Nutrition
Part 1: Unnatural truth about natural dog food
Part 2: Help your dog win the battle of the bulge
Part 3: 'Speak' to your primary care veterinarian
Part 4: Working with a veterinary specialist
When it comes to the health care of our loyal companions, the gift of gab can help save lives.

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