AJ Debiasse, a technician in Stroudsburg, PA, contributed to this article.
A better conversation with your veterinarian begins with a better understanding of veterinary terms. Here is a quick veterinary vocabulary lesson to help you communicate with your veterinarian more accurately, and better understand what is going on with your dog.
Right or left?
Let's start with defining what are the right and left sides of your dog, using an example of limping. It is not unusual for clients to tell us that their dogs are limping on the right when it is actually their left side. This is because they are telling us what side they are seeing the limp on when they are facing their pet. In reality, the correct side is based on watching the dog from behind. In other words, there is only one right and one left side. Picture yourself on all fours. Your right is the same side as your dog’s right.
Front and back
The next common misconception has to do with joints. Even though dogs walk on four legs, the joints are the same as ours, honest. We often here "front knee" or "back wrist." As above, if you got on all fours, your wrist would be where your pet’s wrist is, and your knee would be where your pet’s knee is.
All joints are the same, in pets and people. So the front leg includes the shoulder, the elbow and the wrist (or carpus). And the back leg includes the hip, the knee and the ankle (or tarsus or hock).
Bones are exactly the same as well. One big difference is that most of our dogs have a longer spine, full of vertebrae that allow tails to wag with happiness.
The bone in the arm is the humerus. The bones in the forearm are the radius (the bigger bone in pets) and the ulna (flimsy in pets, it makes up the funny bone).
The thigh bone is the femur. The scientific name for the kneecap is the patella. The bones in the leg are the tibia (or shin bone) and the fibula (the flimsy bone).
An extremely common misconception is the stomach. dog parents will say things like “my dog has a tumor on the stomach. What is usually meant is that there is a mass under the skin of the belly (or abdomen).
Meanwhile, to vets, the stomach is the organ inside the abdomen, where food ends up. So if you can feel a lump on the outside in the skin layers this is not a mass on the stomach but a mass of the skin.
Likewise, a “stomach upset” is a very broad expression. Keep in mind that any part of the intestinal tract can cause vomiting or diarrhea. So instead of saying that your dog’s stomach is the issue, explain the signs he is showing.
Several organs, like the lung or the liver, are made of different sections called lobes. This allows us to remove a diseased part (or lobe) of the lung or the liver, while leaving plenty of organ inside.
In contrast, a kidney and the spleen can be removed completely and your pet will still function normally, another similarity our pets share with us.
These names and terms should help you have a more meaningful conversation with your vet. If you come across a word you don’t understand, never be afraid to ask. Sometimes, we get carried away when we explain a medical condition, and might use complicated medical words. We would be more than happy to tell you the correct terminology, because the more you know, the more you can help us, help your pet.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.