Like any good pet owner, you bring your pet to the doctor when they get sick.
Maybe it’s an ear infection this time. Your pet has been scratching and shaking its head. One of the ears has a really bad odor and there is a lot of waxy discharge.
When you arrive to your appointment, the veterinarian comments on the condition of the ears and says, “From what I can see this looks like a mild case of x, y or z.” What a relief! Easy fix. You go home with some drops and everyone is happy.
The problem is that the ear doesn't get better and in fact it looks even worse than before. And now the other ear is looking bad! The doctor said this looked like a mild case. What’s going on here?
Like any caring owner would do, you cleaned the ears and put a few drops of some medicine you had from your other pet with a similar problem the night before. After all, the ear looked really bad and you didn’t want the doctor to think you are a terrible pet owner that doesn't look after their pet.
But think of your pet’s condition like a crime scene. Think "CSI Miami." By cleaning the ears you destroyed the evidence. It happens all the time.
The dog with the terrible skin gets a bath the day before the exam. The cat with the red eye gets a warm compress just before she comes in. We love to see your pet look their best. But when they get an illness, we want to see the problem in all it’s smelly, gross glory. We won't think you are a bad pet owner. Leave the goo, don't touch the rash, don't pick the scab.
We appreciate seeing what you saw when you made the appointment. For things like ears and skin, there may be cytology and culture tests that require a sample from the infected area. Cleaning and medication can interfere with our interpretation of the physical exam. We might get the impression that a case is mild when it’s really much worse and prescribe a medication meant for the mild disease that won't fix a more severe problem.
Sometimes there is a different problem, such as a seizure or other abnormal behavior. Just like the squeaky sound in your car that goes away the minute you drive into the car shop, the odds are pretty high that your pet will not repeat the odd behavior even if we sit and stare at them for a few hours. Try getting a video of the strange thing they are doing. Your veterinarian will be so thankful for the evidence. They might be able to eliminate one or several conditions based on the video which in turn can save time and money in unnecessary testing.
If you think your pet has a urinary tract problem, try to get a urine sample in a clean container the night before or that morning if you have a later appointment. And try not to let them use the bathroom just before they come in. Ideally, we want a fresh urine sample after we perform the physical exam. But if the bladder is empty, we might be able to use the sample you bring in.
Take a picture of the bag of food, including the lot number and expiration date if we are seeing your pet for an upset stomach. Don't forget the bag of treats too. And as you might have guessed by now, yes we want pictures of what you had to clean up. From both ends of the pet. A picture is truly worth a thousand words.
Evidence! We need it. Remember, you are the first person on the “crime scene” of the illness and we need you to gather and preserve as much evidence as you can.
Dr Greg Perrault owns and operates Cats & Dogs Animal Hospital in Long Beach.