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Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Tragedy Of Owner Failure

Yesterday I saw a nine year-old mixed breed dog who came in because of a swollen belly.  The owner reported that the abdomen had been growing larger and larger over the last six weeks or so.  When I examined the dog she was about as wide as she was tall (a short dog, but still....) and was breathing somewhat rapidly.  I suspected ascites (fluid in the abdomen), did a quick abdominal tap to confirm my thoughts, and was "rewarded" with a rapid 20ml of yellowish fluid.  To make a long story short, the heartworm test was positive, indicating that the dog was in end-stage heartworm disease and right-sided heart failure.  And yes, the dog had been coughing prior to the fluid ever being noticed.

The day before that one of my associates called me to tell me that a patient had pyometra, a severe and life-threatening uterine infection.  The owner couldn't afford to take her to the emergency clinic for surgery, and was going to bring her to me the next day.  I had been in the clinic a while yesterday morning with no sign of the client, so I had the other location called (I work for a practice with multiple satellite clinics, and I was working at a different one than my "home" location).  Apparently the client wasn't going to be able to come in until after 3:00, which was too late to safely do surgery and monitor the patient as it would come too close to closing time.  My associate was going to try and get her to somewhere else sooner, as I'm not working again until Tuesday, but the owner didn't seem rushed.  While she's checking her calendar, her dog might not live.

All too often I see cases that happen entirely because of owner non-compliance or otherwise their failure to properly care for their pets.  In the first case about $6 per month worth of prevention could have kept the dog from ever getting ill.  And if they had brought the dog in at an earlier stage, it wouldn't have lead to such severe illness and could have been treated easier.  In the second case, spaying the dog when she was young would have again completely prevented such a potentially deadly infection.  And when your dog might die, do you really want to spend several days checking to see when a life-saving procedure fits into your schedule?

These situations are some of the greatest frustrations of a veterinarian.  We go into this profession because we love animals and want to make and keep them healthy.  We spend incredible amounts of time, stress, and money learning how to heal and do surgery, and then work hard to improve our skills once we're out of school.  And in most cases the biggest barrier we have to successfully doing what we're trained to do is not a lack of skill or equipment, it's a lack of caring from owners.  In the first case above, the client had thought the coughing might be heartworm disease, but didn't bring the dog in until it was almost too late.  I don't know anybody who hasn't been told "spay or neuter your pet".  And then when we do still have the ability to help these pets, often our hands are tied by the owners' decision.

And the hardest part to us is when these cases should never have even come up, as they are completely preventable.

Owners, please do what your vets tell you to do.  We're honestly looking out for YOUR pet's health.