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Investigating problems

When you bring in your pet with an illness, they obviously can’t tell us what’s wrong. None of us claim to be Dr. Doolittle! Initially, we will seek to gather as much information as we can about what has been happening. We refer to this as history taking and we’ll often ask some questions which seem a bit odd, and we may even repeat ourselves in an effort to get an idea of what’s wrong. We’ll often also refer to previous episodes recorded on our notes.

Owners often don’t realise that we are examining their pet as we chat. Our hands may be running over the animal as though stroking them when in actual fact we’ll be feeling various structures such as the lymph nodes - the glands that we have in our necks, and armpits etc. We’ll also be checking for body condition, how fat or thin they are, or whether they are dehydrated.

We’ll then start looking at them according to what problem they have, or appear to have.

Auscultation involves using our stethoscope to listen to their heart and lungs. It takes us a long time to learn to listen to the heart and lung sounds. Compare it to knowing how lots of different birds sound and sing. We can learn about the heart rate, any heart murmurs, and compare the heart sounds to the pulse which we may feel in a back leg.

stethoscope 1Heart murmurs may be very alarming for an owner to learn of. The murmur is produced by turbulence in the flow of blood. The heart is made up of different chambers separated by valves and walls. If the parts of these valves don’t fit perfectly together, they leave small gaps. If blood goes back through these in the wrong direction, we then hear the turbulence produced. We can then compare this to our knowledge of abnormalities and reach a diagnosis, although we often back this up with further investigations such as x-rays, ultrasound and ECG which tells us about heart rhythm.

We also listen to the air moving through the lungs. The noise is produced according to changes in the lungs so if the tubes through the lungs narrow as the result of bronchitis or asthma, then the noise gets far greater, and much harsher. We might also listen to whistles, and bubbles.

We’ll often then palpate their abdomen - feeling for the structures that we know of, how big they are, if they are where we expect them to be, and whether we can feel any lumps and bumps that shouldn’t be there.

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