In the veterinary world, we often see pets that have serious problems with only mild clinical signs. “He only vomited the one time”, “She has been coughing for a month, but only when she lays on her side to sleep”, and so on.
Sometimes little clinical signs are indications of mild illness, allergy or aging process. Other times they can be warning signs for a life threatening condition. It is often impossible to tell the difference when you are seeing these signs at home.
The radiographs below show a dog that presented for a physical exam after one day of diarrhea. I am sharing these radiographs with the owner’s permission. This was an older dog, who was well cared for, very well loved and current on his veterinary care. On exam, I could feel that there was a mass in his abdomen. We took radiographs and found not one, but two HUGE masses or tumors in his abdomen. The first picture shows the original radiograph. The second pictures shows the radiograph with the tumors highlighted.
This dog’s only clinical sign was a sudden onset of diarrhea, which had only been going on for one day. Due to the size, these masses had probably been growing for some time, but finally reached the point where they were compressing the intestines and causing loose stools.
All too often we see pets that have a long history of clinical signs that the pet owner has been noticing, but did not seem severe enough to warrant the trip to the vet. All too often, this delay in diagnosis has allowed the issue to advance to the point where more drastic treatment is needed, such as major surgery or referral to specialists, or it is no longer at a stage were treatment is a good option. The decision to delay is never made out of disregard for the pet. Most pet owners love their pets like family members. Postponing veterinary care is usually due to busy schedules, financial constraints or lack of understanding of health issues.
Our pets can have almost any medical problem that people can have, and a few more just to keep us vets on our toes. The body is very complex and animals have an amazing capacity to compensate for illness and injury, often without showing clinical signs. If your pet has a change in his or her usual habits, contact your veterinarian to ask their advice on whether or not the change is something that should be explored immediately, or if it can be monitored briefly and an exam set up if not resolved on its own in a reasonable time frame.
We cannot always save pets with early intervention, but there is a much better chance when problems are discovered and diagnosed early on.