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Tips for Living Well with Your Dog: Health and Nutrition

Working with a veterinary specialist

Last of a four-part series

Veterinary medicine has made enormous advances in recent decades, and those improvements have led to a new breed of veterinarians - the specialists.
Nowadays a dog parent can find a veterinary specialist for just about any serious or chronic condition - such as heart disease, kidney failure and oncology - that may afflict a loyal companion.

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Specialists mainly work at large animal hospitals, but stand-alone clinics are beginning to crop up that do nothing but treat a specific disease such as cancer.

Developing good communication with a specialist can greatly enhance your best pal's medical care. So a pet parent can play a key role by acting as a facilitator of communication between the primary care veterinarian, normally the one to first diagnose a problem, and the specialist. And being a good coordinator of care means having a good rapport with the primary care veterinarian and specialist so you can relay important medical information to each.

Here are some ways to make yourself a better coordinator:
  • Ask your primary care veterinarian to recommend a specialist. The primary care veterinarian will likely suggest one that he knows and has worked with in the past. If he already has a working relationship with the specialist, it will be easier for you to facilitate communication between them.
  • Have your primary care veterinarian forward findings and test results to the specialist. Your primary care veterinarian probably has already done blood work and testing on your dog, so this will save the specialist time, you money and your dog from getting pricked with more needles than necessary. If some of the tests do need repeating, the original reports will provide a baseline for the specialist to compare with new test results to see if the condition is stable or getting worse.
  • Get to know the staff in the offices of primary care veterinarian and specialist. The veterinarians are busy examining animals, so the technicians and the office managers are the ones that do most of the paperwork. Develop a rapport with them. They work in veterinary offices because they love animals, so they are normally eager to help you in any way they can - which includes forwarding paperwork and test results.
  • Make sure you provide the specialist with your dog's complete medical history. Doing this is critical because the specialist needs to treat your dog's condition while taking into account his other medical needs to avoid interaction of medications or other complications. For example, I once had a dog that was being treated for cancer, but she also had a heart condition. The chemotherapy drug normally used to fight the form of cancer she had caused potential cardiac side efforts. Therefore, the oncologist choose another anti-cancer medication that had no potential cardiac risk.
  • Keep the primary care veterinarian updated. Make sure all reports and test results done by the specialist are forwarded to the primary care veterinarian. The primary care veterinarian will be treating your pal for his other medical needs so access to all information is imperative. And lean on the primary care veterinarian for advice when you must make difficult treatment decisions suggested by the specialist. Chronic illnesses can take an emotional toll on a dog parent, and a primary care veterinarian that you have a good rapport with can be a good, objective sounding board.
Lastly, in addition to being a good coordinator, a dog parent must do homework. Do Internet searches or go to the library and learn as much as possible about your pal's disease or chronic condition. Consider consulting with a second specialist to get more input. This will enhance your communication with the specialist since you will better understand the illness and medical terminology associated with it.

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
Our loyal companions are unable to use reasoning when it comes to important treatment decisions, so they depend on us to look out for their best interests. And knowledge and good communication are keys to making good treatment decisions.

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