December 2016

The importance of a medical history!

VETgirl loves the quote, “It is widely taught that diagnosis is revealed in the patient’s history. ”Listen to your patient; they are telling you the diagnosis.'”1

When veterinary students are taught how to take an appropriate medical history, they are often taught to include:

    • Presenting complaint
    • Last normal regarding the signs of illness and presenting complaint
    • Past (pertinent) medical history (Previous diseases/illnesses, previous surgery, etc.)
    • Medication history
    • The three “T’s” (e.g., trauma, ticks, toxins)
    • Systems review:
      • Cardiovascular system
      • Respiratory system
      • Gastrointestinal system
      • Nervous system
      • Musculoskeletal system
      • Genitourinary system

In this online veterinary continuing education blog, VETgirl wanted to highlight the “medication history” aspect of the medical history. One of the biggest mistakes we see is the veterinary team member asking the simple question, “Is your pet on any medication?”

The simple and easy answer from the owner is often, “No.”


Bluntly, owners at times are confused at the definition of medication.

    • Does that include drugs prescribed for that pet only?
    • Does that include over the counter (OTC) medications?
    • Does that include homeopathic or nutraceutical medications?

Ultimately, as a veterinary professionals, we need to adapt with the changing times. The simple question of, “What medications is your pet on?” may no longer suffice. You may be saying…”if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Unfortunately this will be a regrettable decision the first time you put a patient on a NSAID or corticosteroid where the owner didn’t disclose that their pet was already on aspirin prior to evaluation.

Maybe a better question moving forward is, “Are you giving any medication by mouth or otherwise to your pet? Prescription, over the counter, or homeopathic?”

When in doubt, better safe than sorry. Keep in mind that pet owners don’t always understand the same “lingo” that we use, and it’s important – for the pet’s sake – to make sure you are appropriately communicating to them!

1) Smith R. Thoughts for new medical students at a new medical school. British Med J. 2003;20;327:1430-1433.

  1. Hey! My names Yessenia and Im just starting my career as a vet assistant! Great article! I got some great pointers out of it! Next time I take a history Ill feel more ready and confident.

  2. 4th year veterinary student here about to go on my first externship rotation. I want to make a good impression. Thank you for the article, especially the part about medications. I’ll make sure to rephrase that question!

  3. I continually train on the medication question! We have modified our templates to ask if they are giving any supplements, or add anything to the food or skin.

  4. I think it’s important to include essential oils too given their increasing popularity; pet parents may not consider these as medications.

  5. This is a very good article! I make it a point to drag as much information as I possibly can every time I speak with a client. It is amazing how many things they don’t include, and not on purpose. They just don’t think about it. Great article

  6. This is extremely helpful. Oftentimes, owners would just tell me no but if phrased this way, they might be able to properly answer.

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