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Pet Health Education

The importance of diagnostics

By Lisa Lannen, DVM | September 16, 2009

In veterinary school there were several memorable lectures. One in particular came flashing back recently. A radiology (x-ray) professor stated, “It is better to do the diagnostic (detection of diseases or other medical conditions) and obtain a baseline normal than to never look at all.”

“Blackie,” a 9.5 year old Schnauzer mix, was adopted by his current owners six years ago. His exam was challenging but diagnostics helped uncover one problem we suspected but another that was a complete surprise. At the end of July, “Blackie” came in limping on his right front leg with duration of two days.

The physical exam is a key component of a pet’s visit in any veterinary office. The doctors may not always explain what they are doing but the weight, temperature, heart and respiratory rates along with the palpation of the body (to examine by touch) provide us with a myriad of details. “Blackie” acted uncomfortable when his right wrist was flexed but he was very stoic about it; all he did was turn his head slightly and stop panting. He acted the same way when his right shoulder was extended.

A conservative medical approach would have been to perform blood work to check organ function and send “Blackie” home with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) for pain and inflammation (similar to the old way of “take an aspirin and call me in the morning”). However, “Blackie’s” owner was willing to take a radiograph of the right forelimb.

As expected, there were changes in “Blackie’s” shoulder consistent with arthritis. Because “Blackie” was small it was possible for us to take a picture of the entire foreleg. Just past “Blackie’s” wrist, towards the digits, was a surprising diagnosis. It had a metallic appearance and after looking at two separate views, the identity of the foreign body was suspicious of a sewing needle broken in half.

Once surgery was performed it was found that the foreign body was indeed a sewing needle in two pieces. From the oxidation or black color, it may have been there for quite sometime before settling next to a tendon. Rubbing on the tendon most likely caused the lameness that prompted “Blackie’s” owner to bring him in. However, we also uncovered arthritis.
Because “Blackie” is so reserved about his pain, the diagnostic radiograph provided us with the proper diagnosis so accurate treatment could be provided.

Not all diagnostics obtain the answers we may be expecting, but it opens the window much wider allowing the doctor and owner to provide the care a pet may need.

This article is courtesy of Animal Health Services, 37555 N. Cave Creek Rd.