I finished reading Dr. W. Jean Dodds and Diane Laverdure’s book, The Canine Thyroid Epidemic, and have some thoughts that may or may not appear later as a full review. One immediate reaction is that I was surprised by how the book offers just as much information specific to hypothyroid dogs as it does for general pet care. This is in accordance with the nature of the disease, given that thyroid problems impact a broad range of bodily systems. So the authors stress that one key to accurate diagnosis and management is to keep a detailed canine health journal.
Basically, they suggest that you spend about half an hour every week briefly documenting the condition of your dog so you get a baseline for what is normal and what changes according to seasons and according to age:
- Hair/fur: overall feel, shedding cycles, thinning areas
- Skin: including scabs, discoloration, oil production, smell
- Eyes: including opacity, discharge, redness
- Ears: color, wax buildup, cleaning schedule, odors
- Teeth and gums: gums, loose teeth, brushing schedule
- Urine: frequency, color, unusual accidents in home
- Stool: frequency, color, consistency
- Appetite: including notes on new food, if applicable
- Water intake: increased thirst without temperature or activity changes could be indicative of internal problems
- Energy levels
- Reproductive health: heat cycles and related issues (for unaltered pets)
Maybe you can even add — Nose: respiration, moisture, color changes (i.e. snow nose). Finally, with the ubiquity of digital photo devices, a couple clear pictures offering a good shot of face, body, and any necessary close-ups (eyes, paws, etc.) should be easy to dump into the file.
More details about what is considered normal is offered in the book (46-48). I am not providing extensive quotes out of respect for their copyright. At any rate, you should already have a sense for what is “normal” for your dog and your breed.
A health journal is not exactly a revolutionary concept, but it’s an important part of caring for any living creature that I hadn’t really considered as compulsory. Yet, as I mentioned in one of my very first posts, charting Bowdu’s health concerns was a motive for starting this blog, and for continuing to maintain it as consistently as I have. As redundant as my posts became during the summer months (“Yup, Bowdu’s feet still inflamed.” “Yup, he’s still in the cone.” “Bowpi’s slept 18 hours today, just as she did yesterday and the day before…”), I’m actually already looking forward to the month of July just to see if I can make any favorable comparisons between last year and this year, after all we’ve done.
Another motive was to contribute to and to organize some of this health and breed information, since it was hard for me to find reliable and accessible sources on the specific issues that mattered to me. Even though I don’t subscribe to the Google-knows-all approach to research, the internet has a strange way of bringing together like-minded people who are fixated on very specific issues.
Which leads me to the idea that a canine health journal could potentially be a novel concept by bridging patient-client relationships through this portable, universally-accessible medium. The Internet-savvy vets that I know have more than a website — they have blogs, they’re on Facebook, and they’re sending e-mail as mass newsletters and as client-specific communication. They’re using new media to establish a different kind of rapport with their clients. But this only seems to cover the human side of business affairs.
Now, I imagine that for some dogs that are far too nervous to be properly examined by a vet (like my Shiba), or for some conditions where behavioral information would assist with diagnostics (or at least help suggest the kinds of treatment that would be most helpful), a canine health blog would be extremely helpful supplementary material. If they were at all interested in scanning a record of their patient in more “natural” settings, well, most pet blogs I know start from home. What could be more natural than that?
I’ve never considered inviting my vet to be a potential member of my reading audience. If anything, half of the stuff I’ve filed under my blog’s vet tag has been my bitching about the practices at the Very Corporate Abomination of a clinic that treated Bowdu before our current vet, whom I’m maintaining a guarded optimism about. This blog has, at times, been a repository for my frustrated, antiveterinaryestablishmentarian shit talk. But if I had any intention of handing these public links over to my vet, I’d probably file them differently so that they’d be more useful. Maybe everything relevant would go under something like http://mywebsite.com/dog-name/health-journal (and with WordPress, you can even password-protect certain pages, though I’m not sure how this works with other blogging platforms). At any rate, if the vet is really curious about where I’m coming from, they’re free to page through the main blog itself.
Granted, there’s a lot of fluff in most pet blogs, much of it irrelevant to a vet’s concerns. I wouldn’t expect any vet to spend their professional time reading this crap. After all this time, I’m still too self-conscious about being a “Crazy dog lady with a blog for her widdle poochies” to invite most of my friends to read this, let alone my vet. But I know that if mine did, they would see a very different side of the Bows that is not always apparent in the clinic. I bet this is true for a lot of dogs. And I’m willing to hold out for the possibility that all this effort could sometimes aid in a more accurate, cooperative diagnosis.
Photo taken 29 January 2011. “Is he ever relaxed?” asked one of my vets while she was trying to befriend Bowdu who was backed into a corner. Why, yes, and he often shows us his belly of his own accord — but there is no way he will let a stranger get this kind of view, even if the missing fur on his belly is the reason for our concern!