Videotaping for Your Vet

Rarely am I bothered by client misbehavior, but when a client answers their cell phone while we are in the midst of discussion, I admit to feeling a bit peeved. So why in the world would I invite my clients to whip out their cell phones during the course of an office visit? Because I want to see video of my patients’ symptoms! Unless you are like me- still using a cell phone that my daughter considers prehistoric- your cell phone allows you to have instant access to shooting video. And if I can watch videotape of your pet’s confusing symptom or odd behavior, I’m more likely to figure out the underlying issue, more so than with just your verbal description (no offense intended). And when I have a better sense of the underlying issue, I can more expediently, and often less expensively, guide you towards rational diagnostics and/or therapy.

Unless the odd behavior or new symptom is occurring round the clock, the likelihood of it happening in my exam room is slim to none. You’d be surprised what symptoms fully resolve when animals are under the influence of adrenaline. So, if your dog or cat is doing something bizarre that you think will be difficult to accurately describe to your vet, I encourage you to grab your cell phone and shoot a video (feel free to include some Jacques Cousteau narration if you like). By all means, nix the video if you sense you are observing something that is life threatening, and get to the nearest veterinary hospital ASAP.

Here’s a classic example of how videotaping a medical problem can be wonderfully helpful. A common symptom in dogs is referred to as “reverse sneezing.” It occurs when a dog feels a tickling sensation in the back of their throat. It is somewhat equivalent to a person clearing their throat. However, when dogs reverse sneeze, the symptoms appear ridiculously overly dramatic. They assume a stiff posture with head and neck rigidly extended forward. This is accompanied by forceful, noisy inhalation and exhalation that can last for several seconds, even minutes. Check out the example of reverse sneezing in the video below.

For the uninitiated, reverse sneezing is a scary thing to watch- clients commonly report that they think their dog is having an “asthma attack.” Show your vet a video of reverse sneezing and he or she will be able to recommend what to do about it as well as provide plenty of reassurance that, no matter how dramatic the symptoms appear, they are not causing any oxygen deprivation. As much as video is helpful in this situation, I must admit I will miss watching my clients trying to imitate reverse sneezing (oops- I just revealed one of this veterinarian’s dirty little secrets)!

Here are some examples of other behaviors/symptoms that should prompt you to grab your cell phone and shoot some video (if you can think of others, please let me know):

1. Weakness
2. Trembling
3. Incoordination
4. Falling down/collapse
5. Episodes of pain
6. Symptoms associated with passing urine or stool
7. Making odd noises (in this situation audio taping is a must along with video)
8. Coughing (again, adding audio is great)
9. Labored breathing
10. Limping/lameness
11. Odd behavior

Have you ever shared video with your vet? If so, did it prove to be beneficial in making decisions about how to proceed?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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17 Comments on “Videotaping for Your Vet

  1. Video documentation of seizures, especially suspected seizures and other odd behavior, will be a tremendous help for the vet to add to the evaluation of problems. It also might help in the evaluation for possible vestibular syndrome.

    And behavioral problems with dog interactions is a good one. Body language is sometimes hard to read without the help of a vet or ACVB vet.

  2. Yes, videotaping symptoms is a great tool! One picture is worth of thousand words, right? It certainly is.

  3. I am glad to see this post. I have a 14 yr. old diabetic, blind lab on insulin. She has started something new where she “screams” for a short period. I thought she was dying, but when you go to her, she starts wagging her tail and stops “screaming” when you pet her. I watched the reverse sneeze, but my dog seems to “scream” while lying down and waiting for you to come check on her. I thought she was in serious pain, but now believe she is “calling me” for a little one on one time. I wish she wouldn’t “call me” this way, it sounds horrible! I was just thinking of videoing this the other day so I could send it to the vet. It feels nuts to complain of your dog screaming, but if I could have a video to back myself up, then I wouldn’t sound as crazy!

  4. I am in the dark ages where cell phones are concerned, but my digital camera would suffice! I really love this idea – I had never thought of how helpful it might be for a veterinarian to actually get to SEE the behavior. Amazing idea!!

  5. I have used both video posted to youtube and photos emailed to my vet to show symptoms. My lab Carter had an odd rash on his belly/groin. I took a photo, emailed it to my vet, and he suspected petechiae, which can be a sign of a serious blood disorder. I immediately took him in, and he was treated. Not getting this immediate reply, I may have waited to take him in, or may have had to wait for an appointment.

    When Carter tore his second CCL, I videotaped him upon injury, posted to youtube, and sent the link to my vet. I had suspected another tear, and upon seeing the video, my vet agreed. Carter was able to be scheduled for surgery that week, after xrays confirmed the diagnosis. I believe photos and videos can be helpful to vets and owners. Carter’s symptoms would have still existed by the time we got to the vet, but I can see these being exceptionally helpful if a symptom or behavior is intermittent or behavioral.

  6. I should add that there was quite a bit of concern at that point about the stress an actual vet visit might cause him. He was pretty frail at the time. So that added additional importance and value to the option to send video as it saved the travel and stress of a vet visit to check it out.

  7. We were seeing what seemed to me to be odd breathing in our dog when he was in later stages of rather severe heart disease. I already had an email connection with his cardiologist so I was able to email her the video so she could see the breathing I was describing. So much better than trying to give a verbal description.

  8. Great post, Dr Kay. The video camera is also great for figuring out behavior / training problems. I set up the \candid camera\ to see what my dog does. He has some separation anxiety. In one instance, I set up the camera to see if all the food toys, etc I left for him would keep him busy and not stressed about my absence. The camera revealed that the toys lasted less than 5 min and he was extremely stressed the rest of the time.
    Now his is on Prozac and crated. I use the camera to measure his progress and report to my vet.

  9. My shih tzu, Twiggy, was receiving experimental treatment for bladder cancer at Purdue, and shortly after starting a new type of treatment she started having an odd wheeze while barking for her dinner. I posted it to youtube and e-mailed it to the oncology resident. Purdue is a 2-hour drive and I’d done plenty of driving for the chemo so not having to make another trip for this was great. We’ll probably never know why she wheezed, but if other dogs receiving the same chemo start doing it, the oncologist will have the video of Twiggy to compare with any new cases. (provisional diagnosis: feeling well enough to have an appetite and being overly-excited at dinner time)

    I have also brought in my camera to show the vet videos of my pets’ improvements on return visits. It has to be tough for them to prescribe medicine and just have negative feedback, never positive feedback. Shortly after she started receiving insulin my Karly had the gumption to climb over a baby gate and I showed a video of that to my vet. At her first visit she just slumped on the floor and looked like she wanted to die. If I were her vet I’d want to see a video of a sickly patient being well enough to get up to mischief!

  10. I have used videotaping of symptoms once with my girl Holly. She was experiencing an odd swallowing, licking behavior that occurred multiple times during the day and was a bit hard to describe. With a short video I was able to convey the symptom much better than I could ever have described it. As they say – a picture is worth a thousand words. Great post Dr. Kay

  11. I’ve taken videos for my vet twice, with wonderful results. Once was when my girl was having seizures and the other was when my boy was having trouble walking. The vet was able to provide a much more accurate diagnosis, as well as recommend the appropriate specialists (who also saw the videos). Videos are definitely the way to go whenever possible. I certainly couldn’t describe the symptoms as well as the video showed, and it was nice to have proof that I wasn’t overreacting or exaggerating the problem.

  12. I think my little foster dog has a reverse sneeze, it is scary and does seem similar to asthma.

    I volunteer with a lost and found pet service and about half the reports do not contain a photo. If someone comes in with a pet to check for a microchip, or a non tech savvy person comes in with their own pet for any reason, consider offering to take a photo and sending it by email to the person or a family member / friend.

    Recovery is much easier with a photo. Losing a pet is stressful.

  13. Hi Robyn,
    Thanks for taking the time to post your comments. I think it is intuitive to gently rub the underside of the throat in response to reverse sneezing. If it is more than an occasional thing or seems to be increasing in frequency, I think it is worthy to make an appointment with your vet.

  14. I have done this twice with great success. Although I thought my vet would think I was nuts :) She didn’t in fact she thought it was a great idea.. While both times it helped the second one helped the most. My male Labrador would tremble and shake and would not sit down. Then at times he would refuse to go up or down any steps and not even “food” would coax him too, so I knew something must really hurt.. Of course he would be absolutely fine at the Vet, jumping around, go up and down the stairs.. You get it… over reacting owner .. A couple of short video’s and voila diagnosis and treatment. Although he still refuses to do any stairs so we have a ramp.. But no more pain.. Video rocks!!

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  16. My dachshund/chihuahua, Ollie, was exhibiting rear end weakness and instability. I took videos and posted them on Youtube (easier to view) for my regular vet who, after taking x rays and being on pain meds, referred me to a neurologist for treatment. The neurologist was pleased to be able to see my dog’s movement before she even met him and did an exam. Ollie was diagnosed with a slipped disc which required a month of crate rest. I continued to post updated videos during the recovery period so that the neurologist could monitor his improvement. At the end of the month, we went in for Ollie’s final recheck and he got a clean bill of health. The videos actually saved the cost of an MRI and additional vet visits.

  17. So I think this is the same thing we call the ‘Cavalier snort’ at our house. I see it out on the street with other dogs occasionally, and their humans are quite frightened. We have it occasionally at our house (Cavaliers!). The trick I was taught was to gently put the palm of your hand on their head and gently tip the head down so the dog’s nose is pointed towards the chest. This resolves it in a few seconds. It works and doesn’t hurt! Is this what you’d recommend?