Sunday 25 August 2019

Videos have a useful role for vets treating pets

Pete Wedderburn - Animal Doctor

For all vets in practice, videos have become a useful tool in the diagnosis and management of sick animals. Twenty years ago, videos were rarely used in the veterinary consulting room, but as technology has advanced, videos have become far more widely available. Now almost every pet owner has access to a mobile phone and almost every mobile phone has the capacity to record videos.

There are three main areas where videos can be helpful.

First, videos allow owners to show the vet signs of illness that are intermittent. There are some disease conditions which can have dramatic signs that only last for a short period, so that by the time the animal arrives at the vet clinic, everything has returned to normal. The vet can carry out the most detailed physical examination, but there's no sign of anything wrong. This can be frustrating for the owner and for the vet.

The classic example is a dog having a seizure, or an epileptic fit. Once the seizure is over, the animal often returns to full health within minutes. In the past, an owner would try to verbally describe what had happened to their dog. "His head went back, his legs were kicking etc". Many owners would try to mimic what had happened, paddling with their arms and staring wildly with their eyes. Of course, people still use these methods to explain what they witnessed, but to tweak a well-known expression, "a video can paint a thousand words". When an owner tells me that their pet has had a seizure, I'll ask them to try to remember to take a video if another one happens. Most seizures last no more than a couple of minutes, and while it's going on, there's not much that an owner can do anyway, other than stay near their pet, making sure that they don't hurt themselves. It's very easy to take out your mobile phone and catch a quick video while you are waiting for the seizure to finish. And if you show the video to your vet, it provides a detailed visual and sound description of precisely what was going on. There are many possible causes of seizures, and vets can pick up helpful clues about what's going on by watching the animal while it's happening.

Other diseases with intermittent signs include breathing difficulties of various kinds, such as pets snoring, episodes of coughing and asthmatic attacks with rapid breathing. Owners sometimes want to describe pets behaving in odd ways: I have seen videos of dogs staring fixedly at the ceiling, dogs chasing their tails repeatedly, cats trying unsuccessfully to miaow (they open their mouths but no sound comes out) and many other oddities. In each case, the owner's video gives far more information than a verbal description could ever do.

The second area where videos are useful is when assessing lameness. When a dog is moving rapidly, it can be very difficult to pinpoint the precise nature of a lameness. While it may be possible to see that a dog is lame on a particular leg, it's not easy to carry out a detailed analysis. A video can make all the difference. The dog can be recorded walking and trotting, from in front, to the side, and behind. The video can then be played back in slow motion, forwards and backwards. Computer software, available on mobile phones, iPads and laptops, makes it easy to do this. One of the best known programmes is called "Coaches' Eye": it was designed for sports coaches to help people with golf swings, swim strokes and other physical activities, but it is equally effective for analysing animal movements. Using a finger tip, you can slow down, speed up and reverse a video of a rapidly trotting dog. You can easily spot when the gait is asymmetrical, when a joint is stiff or when a step is foreshortened. This makes it much easier to identify which part of the limb is the source of the problem, as well as giving other helpful information. The computer programme also allows you to draw on the video, using arrows, lines and dots to highlight certain aspects.

The third way that videos are useful is to share information with others. In this globally connected world, it's easy for vets to discuss cases with colleagues elsewhere. The written word is still the main way of describing a case, but photographs of patients and their problems are also useful, and for some cases, a video can be the key to understanding what's going on. I remember a case of a dog with worn teeth: the owner told me that the dog had a habit of picking up flat stones in her mouth, using them to groom her own fur. This sounded bizarre, so I asked the owner to take a video. I then discussed the case with a specialist veterinary dentist online, showing him the images of the worn teeth as well as the video of the unusual, almost unbelievable, behaviour. When discussing cases affecting the nervous system, it can also be very helpful to send a video to a neurologist. The presence or absence of specific reflexes can sometimes helpfully be demonstrated on a video. Videos are useful for demonstrating surgical techniques. Many vets now attend continuing education classes online, watching videos of their lecturer not only explaining new techniques, but also actually doing the complex surgery in person.

Videos have become far more than just entertainment: they are now an important part of the veterinary clinical tool box.

Wexford People

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