A diagnosis demands sensible and methodical detective work. Each time we make a diagnosis, these are questions we answer in our minds.
1. Is the condition genetic or inherited?
Although 'gene therapy' is now a reality for some human diseases, cures are presently not possible for canine genetic conditions. The best way to avoid inherited diseases is through selective breeding of dogs and cats known to not carry the gene for that disease. Although genetic testing is still in its infancy, because of selective breeding its influence will be far greater in veterinary medicine than in human medicine.
2. Have any design changes we introduced into the breed of dog or cat increased its susceptibility to disease?
The risk of suffering from some medical problems increases when we modify design. For example, dogs with long backs and short legs are more susceptible to slipped discs.
3. Does the pet's environment contribute to the problem?
Our environmental demands are sometimes at odds with your pet's evolutionary defences. For example in nature, cats only met with unrelated cats on occasions of territory disputes or to mate. The risk of transmission of airborne infectious disease is naturally low. This risk increases when unrelated cats congregate either near sources of food or when boarded in a cattery. We enhance defences by avoiding unnatural risk situations or by vaccinating against transmissible infectious diseases.
4. What part of the condition is a manifestation of the problem?
For a pet with pneumonia, difficulty breathing is a result of damage caused to lung tissue by the infectious virus, bacteria or fungus.
5. What part of the condition is the pet's defence against the problem?
For the pet with pneumonia coughing is a defence, its way to expel mucus and debris, byproducts of its other defensive actions, from its air passages. Rather than totally eliminating its defensive cough we should work with it.
6. What other defences does the pet employ against the threat?
A pet might develop a fever and associated loss of appetite when it has an infection. These are defensive measures, reducing the germ's ability to multiply. We should not totally eliminate these defences but rather work with them by ensuring they do not become excessive.
7. What strategies does the 'threat' use to outflank your pet’s defences?
Diseases constantly evolve to cope with the threats directed at them. For example, antibiotics select for resistant strains of bacteria creating populations of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. We need to be aware of the tactics of the enemy when planning to assist a cat's or dog’s defences.
A good old-fashioned use of the senses is at the heart of simple and accurate diagnostics. In our experience most medical problems we see can be successfully diagnosed by sight, touch and smell. And listening. Listening to heart sounds, breathing sounds, response to touch, the sound of the feet and nails on the ground, but most important, listening to what you have to tell us.