That’s right. Your vet might be good, but there are some diseases that she cannot diagnose as well as you, the pet owner, can. So know these, watch for signs, and tell your vet if you see them. While she doesn’t have specific diagnostic tests for these conditions, she can certainly offer treatment or adaptations to help your pet.
1 – Hearing loss
Many owners will bring this up during an appointment. “Can you look in his ears? I don’t think he can hear so good anymore.” Or “Is there a hearing test you can do for him?”
I’m happy to look in your pet’s ears, and they often look quite normal. Fact is, there is no hearing test for dogs and cats. We can’t say “raise your paw when you hear the beep” like we do with kids (at least back in my day!). The way we diagnose hearing loss is with the owner’s observations at home. You know your pet. You know he used to always hear you come in the door, and now sometimes you have to wake him up. He used to not like when you ran the blender, and he doesn’t seem to care any more (hey, not all hearing loss is a bad thing!) You also probably noticed that some noises he can hear better than others. Pets lose hearing in certain frequencies more than others as they age. Also, some sounds have more priority. Treat jar opening, or cheese wrappers can often still be heard.
Hearing loss in cats may be accompanied by increased or louder vocalizations. They can’t hear themselves (as well) and are less inhibited. Hearing loss is common in older dogs. One report I read said 89% of dogs over the age of 12 have some level of hearing loss. So do not be surprised if your senior dog falls into that category.
2 – Dementia
This is big. Owners might not know it’s dementia, but they are the ones who will notice the signs. Ideally, your vet will bring it up, and knowing what to watch for will help you diagnose your pet earlier. As with any condition, early diagnosis allows for better intervention. Changes in behavior such as pacing and not lying down, being awake at night, and potty accidents in the house can all be symptoms of dementia (also known as cognitive dysfunction). While there is no cure per se, there are treatments that can slow the progression of the disease. There also are adaptations you can make to your home to make life better for your aging dog or cat…and you.
Because dementia / cognitive dysfunction is such an involved syndrome, I have more detailed articles that spell out all the symptoms to watch for. Here’s my article on dementia in cats, and here’s for dementia in dogs.
3 – Phobias and anxiety
While we try to be pet psychologists, some animals just don’t open up like we wish they would. The way dogs and cats act at the vet is usually not the way they act at home (thankfully!). Problems like storm phobias, separation anxiety, or other stresses and fears can only be diagnosed by the owner. Let your vet know about these things – we often can help. I’ll be honest, separation anxiety is perhaps the most frustrating behavior problem owners deal with, and we vets do not have any easy fixes. Other fears and phobias, such as storms, fireworks, etc, we can offer help for. Years ago vets used to prescribe acepromazine for anxious dogs, which we have since learned actually causes more anxiety, so it is no longer given (or shouldn’t be) for fears and phobias. There are many other safe and effective medications, as well as training tips and tricks, your vet can suggest. Here’s my in-depth article on anxiety, and some over-the-counter ways you can help your dog or cat.
So your vet might be fantastic, but since she doesn’t live with your dog or cat, she can’t know everything. Your observation skills are important, so know that your veterinarian wants you to be observant, and help “diagnose” anything you see. 🙂