‘Tell Me Where It Hurts’

Well, I’m writing this on a particularly damp and miserable May afternoon. When will spring finally set in?!? With rumours abound about a forthcoming heatwave I’ve got everything crossed that June will be a better month, weather-wise (and you should try typing with crossed fingers…it’s really not easy!). As things begin to open up again and our freedoms are slowly returning it would be nice if the sun would join us so we could enjoy those leisurely barbecues with friends and families that we dreamed of last year, the sunny days out at the zoo, the trips to the beach or the lazy afternoon whiling away the hours in a pub garden. C’mon sun, come out to play!

Sorry, after my short plea to the weather Gods (who I’m sure read this blog) I’ll get back to my original topic. I began to think about this one after a ‘chat’ with my little man, Jesse. He’s at that wonderful age now where he’s picking up more and more words every day and, although his vocabulary isn’t yet extensive and some of his utterances are a little difficult to interpret, it’s amazing what he can convey and the ‘discussions’ you can have with just the small number of words he has at his disposal. Language, combined with some intonation, gesturing and facial expression, really is amazing. He can ask for things with a point and a word, tell me how he’s feeling (I mean, we’re clearly not having in-depth man-to-man chats, but he can let me know when he’s cold), and he can even tell me off when I’ve done something wrong! It got me thinking about how much easier my job would be if animals had even a rudimentary grasp of language. James Herriot was spot on with his famous book ‘If Only They Could TalkHowever, as much as I dream of the day when I have an accidental bang on the head and wake up with the amazing ability to hear animals conversing, as they do in the films, it’s highly unlikely to happen. So, in the meantime, I just have to make do with the skills I’ve developed over many years of training and veterinary experience (and some pretty darn fantastic equipment, too).

How do vets go about diagnosing a problem?

The first thing a doctor asks when you visit their surgery is ‘What seems to be the problem?’ As a vet, we’re not afforded this luxury, so identifying an illness or injury and diagnosing a problem takes a little more investigation and examination. The owner (who thankfully can give a little linguistic insight) is usually our first port of call. The more information you can give us the better, as this gives us a great head-start. You know your pet better than anyone so please come furnished with as many facts and observations as possible – from whether your pet’s appetite has changed, to their sleeping pattern or any behavioural changes. If they’re lethargic, if they’re more snappy or bad-tempered than usual, if they’re drinking a lot, if they’ve lost interest in going for walks or playing, or if their bowel habits have changed (we’re not shy of a bit of poo chat!) … all these symptoms can help to signpost us in the right direction for an accurate diagnosis.

We’ll then follow this up with a thorough physical examination to identify any areas of pain or concern. This helps us to begin narrowing down the possible problems, eliminating some and highlighting areas for further investigation. Animals may not be able to speak, but they can communicate nevertheless, and we use these non-verbal clues to build up a picture of what may be wrong. The way they hold themselves, the way they look at and respond to us, flinching, limping, licking or curling lips, or growling/hissing/snapping can all help to indicate where a problem lies.

We vets become accustomed to interpreting these actions in all types of animals, to the point where there are times I feel like I’ve had an actual conversation with a dog, cat or rabbit (maybe I’ve already had that bump on the head!).

Once the physical examination has been completed we may either have a firm diagnosis, a fair idea of what may be wrong, or a list of possibilities. To confirm the diagnosis or continue to investigate the possible cause it may be necessary to carry out some further tests, and this is where our ‘state-of-the-art’ equipment comes in. Here at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre we’re fortunate enough to have some incredible equipment in our diagnostic suite and in-house laboratory, which enable us to carry out detailed x-rays, scans and even process blood work quickly and accurately on the premises. We can have blood test results back in as little as 15-20 minutes! All of this means that we can get to the bottom of what’s troubling your beloved fur baby quickly and make a start on treating their ailments as soon as possible.

So, despite the lack-of-language barrier, we have well-developed ways and means of getting the answers we need from your poorly pet. Turns out I don’t need that head injury, after all – what a relief!

Right, I’d better be off – Jesse has just toddled in waving a chocolate bar and shouting ‘Mine!’ … I wonder what he could be getting at?!?