for good measure: dr. alan stewart on why metrics and data matter

Posted by Dr. Alan Stewart on Dec 16 2013

What can you do to help the veterinarian help your pet? In this age of technology, knowledge and data are power.

Last week, I had an incredibly sweet and rather active five-year-old neutered male German Shepherd named Rocket come into the office because he had been losing weight. At the exam, Rocket weighed about 59.5 lbs, but could easily have carried a healthy 77 lbs. His weight loss happened relatively quickly, but he hadn’t suffered from vomiting or diarrhea and his water intake was normal. He even had a voracious appetite!

The dog’s owners complained that despite a great appetite and feeding him high-quality food, he continued losing weight. When I examined him, I found Rocket to be very alert (even a little hyper!), his heart and lungs sounded normal and his abdominal palpation was quiet. I did observe that this hair was somewhat dry and course. Rocket’s owners asked that I run more tests, so I did a basic blood panel, urinalysis and performed abdominal ultrasound. Fortunately, all this was quite unremarkable.

Quick calculations revealed that a dog of his size and weight could easily consume roughly 1,243 calories. I asked Rocket’s owners the simple question of how much are they feeding their pet. Immediately I got two answers; one of the owners said 2 cups and the other said 3 cups per day.

On average, most dry dog foods contain between 350-450 calories per cup. I made a simple recommendation that they increase Rocket’s feeding to four-and-a-half cups per day. One month later, Rocket had gained nearly 9 pounds and had a much brighter and healthier looking haircoat. The owners (and apparently Rocket) were quite happy.

The moral of the story is: do your best to know exactly what's going into and coming out of your pet. There are many ways of doing this. In previous blogs, I have mentioned measuring the amount of water you leave out for your dog or cat. Similarly, I think it's important to know exactly how much you are feeding your dog or cat. If you come to an appointment with your veterinarian prepared with this very basic information, it can be quite helpful.

Now for what comes out of your pet; I am usually thrilled when owners bring in pictures of their pet’s stool, particularly if it's abnormal. In this day of ubiquitous smartphone cameras, it is quite simple to keep a photo gallery of your pet's stool if you have concerns. If you don’t feel like snapping fecal photos, there are stool scoring charts you can consult to assess whether your pet’s stool is healthy.

Speaking of photo galleries, it would also be worthwhile to create a simple photo gallery to record your pet’s mucous membrane color, hair coat and body condition, and keep that information to use as a baseline in the future.

Simple measurements and metrics can prove to be quite helpful in giving your veterinarian a clear picture of your pet’s health, so he or she can always offer your pet the very best care.