Erin made this comment on another entry and I thought it was worthy of discussion.
If my dog is acting "off" and there's not a logical reason (such as just receiving shots, or a change in diet), I pack him up and take him off to the vet. He gets to go to the vet more often than most because he has allergies and likes to try and scratch his eyes out of his skull sometimes. I always fear though that my vet is like, "Oh no, it's them again." Am I just being overly self-conscious about things, or do vets prefer caution to people that just "hope it gets better?" Any advice for how I can develop my discretion regarding when to visit?
Personally, I'd rather see a patient in the early stages of a disease than the late stages. I always tell my clients that I'd rather them come in and me say it's nothing to worry about than them waiting until it may be too late to do anything. I will never make fun of them for this, and have many times each week where my recommendation is to watch the pet for a little longer.
Yes, I do see clients who come in for every little thing. And sometimes it does get a bit annoying. But even in these cases I'd still rather have the client come in. As frustrating as some people can be, there is nothing worse than someone coming in almost too late. The ones that really get to us are the people who have their pet in serious shape for days or weeks and then expect us to work miracles. That's not fair to us, as even the best doctor is not a miracle worker. It's also not fair to the pet, who should have been much sooner.
My first and best advice to you, Erin, and all of my clients is this: if you're worried enough to call the vet and ask a question, it's worthwhile bringing the pet in. If you have a concern, then we should examine it and determine if there really is a serious problem. Want more specifics? Unfortunately that's hard to do. Generally I'll say that if vomiting is happening every few hours continuously or goes on for more than 24 hours, come in. If diarrhea is going on for 2-3 days, come in. If you see blood, consider letting us look at the problem (though obviously a small scratch or cut likely doesn't need treatment). If there is sudden collapse, seizures, or neurological signs, come in right away.
Chronic disorders may be a bit different. A problem like allergy disorders isn't life-threatening and doesn't need to be seen as an emergency. However, it certainly needs treatment, and we vets know that these patients are going to need to be seen more frequently than your average pet. Again, we'd rather you come in when scratching starts rather than waiting until the skin is chewed bloody.
Hope this helps a bit for Erin and anyone else wondering if you should take your pet to the vet.