As any family member’s medical condition becomes more complex it is important to keep records at home. A journal can be a helpful reference for both you and your dog's veterinarian. This may be a spiral notebook or a digital record, whatever you find convenient. Tracking bathroom habits, drugs given, appetite, and other observations throughout the day can be vital in aiding your dog’s care.
Why Keep a Journal?
When we see our pet every day it is sometimes very difficult to see changes in their condition. A good example is weight loss or weight gain. Dramatic changes certainly can be noticed easily, but subtle changes may not be noticed from week to week. Keeping a journal will keep you in observation mode and help you track changes and give your veterinarian accurate data.
When your dog is ill, your observations are critical to help your veterinarian keep them healthy. Keeping a written record allows you to be very accurate regarding the day, time, and nature of anything unusual that you observe. Keeping a record will also help you pick up on subtle changes before they become something more serious.
There are pre-made journals that can be purchased and used to record your pet’s progress. However, it is probably best to create your own journal based on your dog’s specific health issues and which specific things you and your veterinarian feel are important.
What to Track When Keeping a Journal
Your journal should be chronological and set up so that you can note the date and time that each observation occurs. This will help you observe important changes from day to day.
Your veterinarian may provide some guidance about what information they find helpful, but here are some basic facts to record when you are keeping a journal:
- Medications: name, concentration (for example a 50 mg tablet), amount given (ex: 1/2 a tablet), how the medication is given, and the times they are administered through the day.
- Appetite and water consumption. Be sure to note how much your dog eats and what she is eating.
- Body weight. Particularly with smaller dogs, a change of a few ounces can be significant. Use a baby scale for animals under 15 lbs. for the best accuracy. For bigger dogs the easiest option is dropping in to the vet hospital to use their scale (most hospitals do not require an appointment for weight checks). Another option is to pick up your dog, weigh you both and then (here’s the part I try to avoid) weigh yourself and subtract your weight from the combined weight of you and your dog. This will give you the weight of your dog. However you choose to weigh them, do it the same way each time so you are making the most accurate comparisons.
- Defecation and urination. How often? How much? Any changes in appearance.
- Coughing, sneezing, vomiting or diarrhea. Frequency, volume, and describe what is produced (I.e., what does the vomit look like, is the nasal discharge clear or opaque).
- Seizures: When (time and day), how long it lasted, and what it looked like.
- Activity level: Is your dog sleeping more? Do they still go for the same length of walks?
- Behavior: Does your dog act the same? Do they become confused? Do they interact with you normally?
- Pain and lameness: What seemed to trigger the problem? Describe the lameness or where you think your dog is painful. How long did it last and when did you first notice the problem?
- Any new swellings, bruises, or changes in gum color, skin color, or hair coat.
- Sometimes temperature, respiratory (breathing) rate at rest, and heart rate may be important to monitor. If this is the case, your veterinarian will provide you with the range that they consider normal and when to contact them if the values are abnormal.
Some of your observations may warrant contacting your veterinarian immediately. It is always better to check in with any concerning observation, particularly if it is a change from your dogs “normal.”
Never hesitate to share concerns regarding your dog. After all, you are their best advocate and integral in their care.
Be sure to bring your journal to each visit with your veterinarian and to any other referral or emergency visits. It is also helpful to either bring all of your dog’s medications or to bring a concise list of current medications including all the information in your journal.
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