Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Five ways to use your smart phone to improve your pet’s health

As we have stated before, cats alone justify the existence of the smartphone. 

A picture is worth 1000 words and when it comes to some topics, such as the texture, volume and colour of diarrhoea, words don’t come easy…

The emergence of the smartphone has, mostly, been a plus for pets (with the exception of their owner’s attention being diverted by it of course). I think it improves the human animal bond and certainly have been shown countless photos of patients looking cute by owners – which is always nice.

But astute owners also use their phone to aid their pet’s health. They may not all be pretty, but here are five ways you can use your device to the betterment of your best friend.

  1. Record episodic health problems – Seizures can be difficult to distinguish from syncope, or fainting, but a video of an episode (together with a physical examination and other diagnostics) can be helpful in distinguishing the two. Similarly there are phenomenon like reverse sneezing which can be challenging to describe, but a video will show your vet exactly what you are talking about and can help localise the problem.
  2. Collect a “visual” sample – People used to bring me all sorts of take away food containers with horrendous stool samples within. Most of the time – especially if these have been sitting around for a while – we can’t do much with them, but a photograph of stool, diarrhoea or vomit can be really helpful. If we need a sample we can always collect one or send you home with a sterile specimen jar (and a pair of gloves). But sometimes there is enough information in the photo for us to understand a bit more about the type of diarrhoea, for example, and what might be causing it. (Speaking from bitter experience if you take these kinds of photos you might want to be cautious about who scrolls through your phone – there’s nothing like a shot of frank blood in vile stool between selfies to really turn someone off).
  3. Monitor clinical progress – sequential photographs can be used to document wound healing, the reduction or progression of a lesion or lump and so on. It gives you a more objective measure but also some sense of the rate of progress which can be helpful. Of course you need to communicate this info to the vet – simply photographing a lump won’t make it go away.
  4. Documenting behaviour – problem behaviour is common in the home setting but pets aren’t always their usual selves in the consulting room. They might be excited, scared, subdued or hyper – but some animals simply won’t do at the vet what they were doing at home. This is where a video can help enormously.  
  5. Keeping records – a phone is a handy way to record medications, vaccinations, flea treatment, heartworm and reminders (there are lots of apps for doing this, I'm not going to plug any particular one).

Images and video are no substitute for a physical examination by a qualified veterinarian, and diagnoses should not be made over the phone. Photographs and pictures can be misleading, but used well they can be very helpful. Images are more useful if they contain something that gives an indication of scale (eg a ruler, tape measure or even a standard sized object like a coin) and location (take an establishing shot that shows the whole animal as well as the close up).