When it comes to your pet’s health, keep it simple

Published 4:49 am Tuesday, July 26, 2011

By DR. FRED SELF / Veterinarian

“Could it be…?” is one of the hardest questions I have to answer, because it is one of the most open ended questions that can be asked. “Could it be that my neighbor shot my dog?” “Could it be that my cat swallowed a string?” “Could it be that my dog is allergic to lettuce?” Yes, in fact, all of these things could be true. But are any of them fact? The best way to approach the “Could it be…?” question is to follow Occam’s razor.

Occam’s razor, also called the law of succinctness, suggests that when all possible paths arrive at the same answer, the best path is the one that makes the fewest assumptions. For instance, if, in the middle of the day, your dog shows up on your front porch after being locked in the back yard. It is more likely that it dug under the fence than that your neighbor came home from work early and cut a hole in the fence. Our professors explained Occam’s razor in two ways. First, by saying if you hear hoof beats, look for horses, not zebras. Second, they would say to us, “Keep it simple, stupid!”

In practice, it is hard to tell an Internet savvy client that their research is wasted. But when they bring in their pet who is losing hair and has sores on its body and ask could it be lupus erythematosus, sometimes you have to point out the fleas running around and explain that parasites are more likely to blame. It can be the same with vomiting and diarrhea. A vomiting pet is more likely to have eaten something in the garbage or dead in the yard than to have been poisoned.

I am not trying to say that severe cases are unheard of. My point is that if you notice a problem with your pet, think first on the small scale. If you see vomiting, ask what has happened in the last two hours, in the last four hours and in the last 12 hours. Was the kitchen garbage turned over? Possibly your pet ate something that did not agree with him. You are more likely to determine a cause if you start from the present and look back through the last day than by trying to think of all the conditions that could exist.

It always works best to look for the simplest, most obvious causes first.

Dr. Fred Self is a veterinarian at Shelbiana Animal Clinic, along with Dr. Charles Thornburg. You can reach him at 669-7717.