Despite the start of this, it leads to diet. Then again, just about everything leads to diet in my world.
I’m not sure what to call it. Maybe it’s radar of some kind, maybe it’s a connection from one soul to another, but most of us know when our dogs are “off”. Sometimes we can’t even put a finger on it and we feel silly trying to describe what “off” might mean. For example, I had a friend who swore she knew when her Golden was “off” by the way his whiskers looked. Crazy? Maybe, but she was never wrong. Not even once.
So, your dog just doesn’t seem to be right and you’re feeling torn. Do you go to the vet and try to explain what you can’t even find words for? Especially when you know that tests will cost money and the only thing that might be happening is your imagination running wild? Can you handle the look you’ll receive if the vet is pretty sure you’re just neurotic? Or, do you go to the clinic with full knowledge that nobody knows your dog the way that you do, and that ignoring your gut can backfire? How prepared are you to take things to the next level if necessary?
Expect that your vet will perform a physical exam and ask for information from you. The physical exam may or may not be helpful, but either way, chances are pretty good that bloods need to be reviewed. Here come the CBC (complete blood count) and chemistry, probably urinalysis and maybe fecal check. This is where you wish dogs came with zippers down their bellies, so you could skip the expensive testing and get to the answers.
If all of the above comes back as normal or unclear, and the dog still seems off, chances are you’re about to enter the world of more specific testing like those for tick-borne diseases, immune-mediated diseases, UCCR (urine cortisol:creatinine ratios), TLI (Trypsin-like immunoreactivity), and many others that may be indicated based on previous test results or your observations and the way the dog presents now that a few days/weeks have gone by.
Finally, there are even more diagnostic tests like MRI, ultrasonography, biopsy, exploratory, et al. Nobody can treat or cure your dog of something that can’t be diagnosed, so there’s valid reason to persevere with testing until an answer is found – but I have one caveat when it comes to my own dog. I ask myself (and the vet, obviously) if a procedure will change the outcome. For example, putting Tori through a bone marrow aspirate would likely have told us if she had IMHA (immune-mediated hemolytic anemia) or Lymphoma, so in that sense there was reason to do it because treatment would be different. But bone marrow aspirates are not painless and certainly not for a dog that has a spine problem to begin with. Further, average survival of lymphoma is fairly short, so did we want Tori to spend her time recuperating and doing chemo, or enjoying her life? And we’d know soon enough which disease she was battling, so we rolled the dice and agreed to treatment for IMHA. It so happened that we were right, but I wouldn’t have regretted the decision had we been wrong. Everyone has to make their own decisions. Mine is always about quality of life vs. longevity, although all dogs deserve both, of course.
I said this would lead to diet and here we are. Sometimes the thing that’s “off” is diet related and sometimes that diet needs to be addressing a condition that hasn’t been investigated. I can think of a few clients who had dogs with IBD and didn’t want the dog to be scoped or, when that wouldn’t show enough, refused to have the dog go through an exploratory. Having had dogs with IBD and colitis for 20+ years, I appreciate the worry and hesitancy, but the reality is that without a diagnosis, dietary changes are like shooting without aiming. It’s true that diet alone can have a huge impact on GI diseases, and not all dogs need to go through invasive procedures to receive that dietary help…but that doesn’t apply to this “when something’s off” blog. When basic tests have been run, diet has been tweaked many times over and something is still off, it’s time to dig deeper. Putting it off only delays helping your dog. It doesn’t change the fact that it needs to be done in order to find answers and a diet that will work.