Woman holding smartphone in front of dog

About 10 years ago, clients started showing me pictures and videos of their pets. They’d whip out their smartphones for me to examine alongside the real thing on the exam table.

At first I thought it was a gee-whiz kind of a thing. People being hyper-fixated on their personal tech and all that. But it didn’t take me long to see the potential, which explains why the Internet is littered with articles and blog posts I’ve written over the past decade about how technology (smartphones in particular) can complement your relationship with your veterinarian.

Few Things Get Lost in Translation

Pets are kind of like cars. Sometimes you take them in to the mechanic and they refuse to do that thing you keep seeing, hearing or smelling. By capturing the behavior in a snapshot or video, you’ll no longer have to imitate that odd stomach gurgle or limp around the exam room to demonstrate your pet’s concerning problem. Here are a few ways your photographic skills could prove helpful for your pet:

1. Yes, we really do want to know what that diarrhea or vomit looks like. We really do care about the color, consistency, volume and overall appearance of your pet’s effluents. Sure it’s gross, but you might be surprised by what we can see in the tiniest smear of poop or pool of vomitus. 

2. It’s a great way to capture intermittent issues. As mentioned above, pets can act abnormally at home and look perfectly normal in the clinic. Whether it’s on-and-off limping, occasional coughing, a funny way of rising, a weird thing she does with her mouth or a sound he makes after eating, it’s important for us to see (and when necessary, hear) it.

3. Filming seizures can help us make diagnostic and treatment recommendations. A seizure is a classic example of an intermittent behavior. Filming one from start to finish (not easy, I know) can help your veterinarian a great deal. If you can, try to film him until he’s 100% back to normal. Recovery from a seizure can take up to an hour or two in some cases.

4. Visualizing sleeping, eating and other “normal” behaviors can be enlightening. Watching a pet doing his “normal” thing can be more useful than you realize. Signs of aging, vision loss, sleep disorders and oral issues are often elucidated by filming pets sleeping, eating and moving around their homes and neighborhoods.

5. Behavior problems are often better characterized on video. In the past, veterinarians were forced to rely on a pet owner’s interpretation of a behavior problem. (“Doc, she pees everywhere.” “He barks at nothing.” “He licks the floor constantly.” “He attacks other dogs, even when unprovoked.” “She quivers uncontrollably at the sound of thunder.”) A great many behaviors can only be fully appreciated by watching pets do them in their natural environments. Thank goodness for video.

6. Old-school still pics are still worth a thousand words. Videos are great, but nothing beats a perfect pic of a skin lesion or surgery site for remote consultation. To be clear: Most veterinarians aren’t willing to make clinical decisions based on just one pic (they’ll still need to see your pet) but sending one can be really helpful anyway. If nothing else, it helps document the progress of the lesion. In fact, I have some clients who take serial pics of their pets’ mass-removal sites to help them monitor the area more objectively for re-growth. Cool, right?

Do you use your smartphone’s camera in service of your pet’s healthcare? Tell us how.

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