In the world of human medicine, it’s estimated that 80% of the maladies that prompt physician visits would resolve on their own with simple “benign neglect.” In other words, time is all that is needed for a cure. Does this mean that 80% of people are jumping the gun by scheduling a doctor visit? Not at all. It’s very important that they consult with their physician, the one trained to decide which 20% or so need more than “watchful waiting.”
“Watchful waiting” in veterinary medicine
Likewise, veterinarians are the people best trained to determine which animals would be most appropriately served simply with careful monitoring rather than treatment and medication. The key is for you and your veterinarian to be open to the possibility of “watchful waiting” if this is the most reasonable approach.
When is medication unnecessary?
A classic example of the“gotta do something” philosphy is the dog or cat examined by a veterinarian for two days worth of diarrhea. The patient is completely normal otherwise, and a stool sample check is negative for parasites. In this situation it would be absolutely appropriate to recommend a bland diet, some “watchful waiting,” and a followup phone call or email with a progress report in two to three days time (or sooner if signs become more severe in the meantime). This may not happen if you’re intent on giving “something” for the diarrhea, and, more often that not, that “something” is an antibiotic. Keep in mind that cases of canine or feline diarrhea caused by bacteria (therefore responsive to antibiotics) are rare at best!
Also, guess what the number one side effect of most antibiotics happens to be in dogs and cats. Diarrhea! Antibiotics are capable of disrupting normal bacterial populations within the intestinal tract which can then turn a simple case of self-resolving diarrhea into an ongoing nightmare. Antibiotics are not unique. Each and every drug a veterinarian can prescribe has the potential to cause adverse side effects. Giving medication when “watchful waiting” is all that is necessary defies logic as well as the important, universal, medical professional mantra that states, “First do no harm.”
What can you do to help?
If a client of mine absolutely, positively can’t stand the thought of doing nothing, I will let them do something that has zero potential to negatively impact the pet. In the case of diarrhea, this might include preparing a homemade diet, keeping a written log of bowel movements, walking the dog six times daily to observe stool samples, or disinfecting the litter box twice daily. Heck, I’ve even had clients who measure and weigh their pet’s bowel movements — their idea, not mine!
This article is my way of encouraging you to be okay with “watchful waiting” when your veterinarian determines that this is the appropriate thing to do. Understand the logic behind any medication your veterinarian prescribes, and avoid pressuring her to prescribe “something” for the sake of helping you feel more secure and comfortable. Time can be a wonderful treatment for many maladies.
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.