Why understanding the difference between Symptomatic Treatment and a Diagnosis is important
When we first see a sick or unwell animal it’s not uncommon to take the approach of treating the symptoms and seeing how your pet responds to that treatment. The purpose of this being to remove any immediate pain or discomfort your pet is experiencing. This is what we call symptomatic treatments vs a diagnosis of a condition.
Medications or treatments are prescribed based on a thorough physical examination as well as what you have observed about your pet’s behaviour at home.
If the condition is transient then sometimes this is all it takes to clear it up. Common symptoms where this approach can be taken include:
- Suddenly lame or sore – we may prescribe some short term anti-inflammatory medications
- Single incident of vomiting or diarrhoea – we’d prescribe medications to bring relief
- Sudden onset coughing – we may prescribe some antibiotics and pain relief to begin with
With that being said – it is really important that we organise a follow up examination to asses your pet’s progress and response to that initial treatment.
If your pet has responded well and the symptoms have disappeared & not returned then we can assume that the prescribed treatment has resolved the problem. That’s great news.
However – if your pet has not improved or the symptoms have returned then we need to dig a little deeper.
We need a Diagnosis
To find out the true cause of your pet’s symptoms will most often require some diagnostic process. This usually includes tests or imaging (X-Rays, Ultrasound, CT, MRI) of some kind.
By definition Diagnosis is: – the process of determining which disease or condition explains an animal’s symptoms and signs. … Often, one or more diagnostic procedures, such as diagnostic tests, are also done during the process.
This is the same process you may experience when you visit your own Doctor. It’s not unsual for them to prescribe blood tests and referrals for diagnostic imaging like CT Scans or Ultrasound to help them work out the cause of your symptoms.
Getting involved in the Diagnostic process
If your vet recommends further testing of some kind, it’s because they need information that is above and beyond what they can determine from a physical examination.
Tests can serve one of two purposes:
- To rule out a condition OR
- Diagnose a condition
Just because a test produces a negative result does not mean it is a waste of money.
What it has done is RULE out specific conditions which is just as useful as giving us a result. What it tells us is that your pet DOES NOT HAVE this condition. For example ruling out a terminal illness is always a good result.
Your role as owner is to be actively involved in the process so you understand the reason for each step. This includes what your vet is hoping to achieve through any one of these tests.
We are fortunate to be able to conduct most of these diagnostics in house without you having to be referred somewhere else. This means we can often do them quickly and get you results sooner.
- Most Blood tests
- Ultrasound including Musculo-skeletal Ultrasound
- CT Scan
- MRI Scan
There’s no such thing as a Magic Pill
As much as we all like to wish that an injection or some pills is all we need to cure a sick pet, this isn’t the reality for most situations.
Most conditions will require some diagnostic process to get to the cause of the problem. This will often need more than one trip to your vet and in some cases your pet will need to be admitted to hospital to receive the care and treatment they need.
The medications my vet gave my pet made the symptoms disappear. Why Can't I just keep giving those?
Not all medications we prescribe every day are suitable for long term use. Many of these are intended for short term use only to keep your pet comfortable while we investigate the underlying cause of your pet’s symptoms.
The vet asked to see my pet again in a week's time. My pet is back to her normal self so there is no need to come back.
Whether you bring your pet back for the required follow up assessment is of course entirely your decision. However, keep in mind the vet has asked this because there are specific things that he or she wants to assess. Follow up visits are always recommended for a reason.
Just because your pet has responded well to the initial treatment does not mean we have necessarily treated the underlying cause. Symptoms may return.