College of Veterinary Medicine

Pet Health Topics

How Does My Veterinarian Make a Diagnosis?   


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.
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When my pet has a problem, how does my veterinarian decide what is causing the problem? 

The approach to a health problem is based on training, experience and probability.  Some health problems are common, others are rare. Some problems occur more commonly in young animals, other problems are more common in aged pets. Some problems are common in one part of the country but rarely occur in other locations. 

After getting a history of your pet's problem and examining your pet, your veterinarian will go through a mental or written process of listing all the problems from the history and physical examination. The veterinarian then decides which organ(s) and disease(s) may be causing the problems and narrows down the lists based on the age, breed, sex and travel history of your pet. 

The veterinarian then recommends tests to determine which organ(s) and disease(s) may be responsible for your pet's problem(s). Tests are often recommended in stages, beginning with screening tests that are relatively inexpensive and have little potential for causing harm to the animal.  Based on the results of the screening tests more sophisticated tests, which often cost more and may have some risks, may be recommended. Although your veterinarian cannot predict what will be found on a specific test, usually the veterinarian will provide some possible outcomes for each of the tests so that you can decide whether the costs and risks are worth the information that may be gained. This is referred to as cost-benefit ratio. 

Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.

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Last Edited: Jul 22, 2009 9:35 AM   

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