After an hour of searching this is the only category that I can find relating to the topic I want to write about and as I can't add a suggestion in this category I am going to proceed to write my review here as I find it important to share my experiences with other pet owners so that they can be warned of the dangers. This will be an on-going review as the illness of the dog progresses and hopefully gets better. (I will gradually add to it)
**A little bit about my dog **
Alfie is a boisterous 2 year and 8 month old cross bread. We bought him as a puppy from our local rescue centre around 2 years and 4 months ago. It is not known exactly what bread he is but the mother was a lurcher and the father is not known but the rescue centre told us they believe that the father could have been a bedlington terrier. (This would explain my Alfie's ever growing curly locks!) Alfie is one speedy animal and if we are not getting comments on how impressive he is people stop and stare at him crossing the field at point blank speed whilst other dogs ponder in the corners with their owners.
**04.11.2011** - On Wednesday this week, 2 days ago, Alfie was on his regular afternoon walk with my partner which involves some games of fetch and a general run around to tire him out for several hours. We have always used sticks with Alfie, there is no shortage of them in the park and with such a big and excitable dog a tennis ball will last him all but 10 minutes'. So there they were at the park and as Alfie is so fast he really enjoys beating the speed of the stick (which is fast) to catch it before it falls to the ground. On the last throw of the stick before they were due to go home Alfie had caught up with the stick and had managed to catch it in his mouth. At this point my partner tells me that her recalls Alfie yelping, he ran over but by the time he reached him he seemed fine so they proceeded home.
Once home Alfie refused to eat or drink and just lay on the grass shaking. When I arrived home I found him in the garden with slobber leaking down the side of his face. We managed to bring him into the house and my partner told me his concerns that part of the stick could be lodged into his throat. Upon examining the outside of his throat he would yelp at my touch. We agreed that he needed to go to the vets so we had to take him to an all-night one as it was getting rather late at night.
Upon examining him they didn't feel anything was stuck in his throat so he was given a pain injection and told to go back the following morning. Upon waking up in the morning I noticed that Alfie had a tennis ball sized pocket of fluid building up in his throat and his breathing was off. Upon taking him back to the vets we feared the worst. The vets kept him in that day and were planning major surgery and warned us that it could be fatal. In the afternoon we got a phone call from the vet and the operation had been completed.
The stick in question had ripped through the inside of Alfie's throat and right through his muscle tissue causing a pocket to form. This pocket was filling with fluid and it had also become infected. It was and still is very much touch and go, the stick could have damaged a nerve or artery but there is no knowing just yet. Alfie is back home for today, he has had to have a hole put into the outside of his throat which we have to drain regularly and he has been given antibiotics. He is due for a return visit tomorrow to fully discover the extent of his injuries. He still hasn't eaten or drank anything and he's not himself. I just prey everything will be ok.
I will keep the review up to date as treatment progresses. The reason I felt the need to write this review now is to warn people about the use of sticks. I would never have thought them to cause any harm and now I know it's not worth the risk. Rubber toys, tennis balls and you can even buy rubber sticks; all would make a great alternative. Please think twice before picking up that stick, it could cause a fatal injury.
**05/11/2011** Alfie has just arrived home from the vets today bringing excellent news with him. He was extremely lucky that the stick didn't damage any major nerves or artery's and he is well on his way to making a full recovery. He's still not back to his normal self but he has managed to eat a small amount of food and he even attempted to chase a bird in the garden earlier. We as a family have been through a lot of heartache over the past couple of days and we still have a rough couple of weeks ahead. Although Alfie will make a full recovery it could have turned out so differently which is why I will again mention the dangers of sticks. Thank you for reading my review/experiences and I hope people will listen to the message. Please don't use sticks.
Many regular readers of my reviews will be well aware by now that I have an extremely elderly cat - she has featured in many of my reviews about cat food and litter and all manner of moggy-related products. Her picture is my Dooyoo Avatar so many of you will be familiar with seeing her little face peering back at you when you are going about your Dooyoo routine.
~~ THE PAST ~~
I have no real way of knowing how old my girl actually is; I have had her for nearly ten years, and her age was estimated at being between 7 and 10 when I re-homed her, so realistically she could be twenty years old! Certainly she has many of the 'tell-tale' signs of an older feline, but I'll talk more about that later.
Her start in life was one of the most disturbing that I had ever heard of, when I was working in an animal hospital some ten years ago. She first came to the hospital to have her back leg operated on, as she had been hit by a car and the leg had been broken. Unfortunately, the 'owners' she had at the time (who were a trio of drug addicts and seemed rather incapable of looking after themselves, much less any other being - feline, or otherwise) had not thought it necessary to bring the cat in for treatment straight away, so the poor little mite had been left with a broken leg for several days before getting any sort of pain relief or medical attention.
The veterinary team managed to repair the leg and she was soon fixed up with metal pins repairing the shattered bones and a plaster cast to keep everything in place. She was returned to the owners with strict instructions on when to bring the cat back to have the cast off and further treatment given if necessary. Unfortunately, once again, the owners neglected the cat and ignored the instructions given to them and as a result the plaster cast was on her leg for far too long, causing further damage to the leg as a result. The veterinary team did their best to fix the leg and help it to heal. However, on more than one occasion it was suggested that the leg should be amputated as the cat had begun to self-mutilate; attacking the leg and biting it when she could. It appeared that the leg might have nerve damage... certainly she thought of the leg as being 'dead' and was refusing to walk on it or even clean it by herself.
I am happy to report that in the weeks and months that followed, several fortunate events happened. Firstly - and most importantly - the previous 'owners' were persuaded to hand the cat over for re-homing. It later materialised that they thought of the cat as a 'stray' and often shut her outdoors to fend for herself for a week at a time. We also had our suspicions that the cat had been beaten and to this day she is terrified of newspaper which suggests she was smacked with paper often. I've come across many abused and beaten animals in my years, and I'm fairly confident that this poor mite had her fair share of abuse to deal with.
Furthermore, with weeks and weeks of intensive nursing and therapy, the cat slowly but surely started to use the leg again without mutilating it. This was of course a triumphant moment for the nursing staff (myself included) as it meant she would have a better chance of being rehomed if she had not needed a leg amputated.
By the time the cat had been in the animal hospital for around two months, I had well and truly fallen head over heels in love with her. Not only had her health issues greatly improved, but it was not difficult to see that the once highly aggressive, spitting, growling cat who lashed out at any opportunity had started to trust us and let her guard down. What shone through eventually was her true personality and it was not at all difficult to see that she was really a lovely friendly little thing, who had just been terrified and trying to protect herself. Who could blame her?
After around two months of being hospitalised, I managed to get her signed over to myself and brought her home with me and there she has remained until the present day. As I didn't know her true age at the time, I thought of my re-homing the cat as giving her an enjoyable 'retirement' as it were. I guess in some way I was trying to make up for the awful start in life she had had to endure.
~~ THE PRESENT ~~
Well, we have had a very happy nine-and-something years together, but it is not difficult to work out that she is getting very, very old and very elderly. With that comes health problems of course, and unfortunately she was recently diagnosed with renal failure. We are managing to control it with the help of a prescription diet and some medication, and her blood tests have greatly improved in the past couple of months which is greatly encouraging.
On top of this however, she has a serious mammary lump which is a suspected tumour. She has had this lump for a short while now and whilst it has never bothered her or been painful, it seems to have got rather inflamed recently and seems to be getting bigger. In the last week it has got so inflamed that the cat has been licking it to the point of making it bleed and I just didn't feel it was fair to the cat to carry on this way.
We were given the option by our vet to have the lump removed under general anaesthetic. I was terrified of my girl having this done, given her age and other health issues, as I felt the anaesthetic would be risky and she might not pull through. Furthermore, I had to question whether it was fair to the cat to be put through yet more operations, stitches, painkillers and bucket-type collars considering how much of that she has had to endure in the past.
In the end, the vet agreed with me that my poor old girl really only had two options left... risk the operation and hope she makes a full recovery, or put her to sleep and let her slip away in my arms and she needn't know any more pain.
This choice was put to me last Thursday and I have to say it is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make.
Initially, I felt quite strongly that the cat should be put to sleep as I knew first hand all she had had to overcome in the past and had helped nurse her through all of the difficulties with her leg as well as the psychological issues she had to overcome all those years ago. I had to seriously consider whether it was fair to put the cat through any more. And, given her age, and the fact that she has other serious health problems (renal failure is not to be sniffed at after all!!) I just really had to consider whether it was time to call it a day and let the old girl rest.
My husband on the other hand, was of the opinion that she should be given the chance of the operation, and leave it in 'the laps of the gods' as to whether she pulled through and made a full recovery. It is true that she was certainly in no pain with the mammary lump, and given all she had overcome in the past it is fair to say she has a lot of strength and fighting spirit!
I also had to question whether I would be doubting myself at a later date as to whether I had been too quick to jump in and have her put to sleep without giving her the chance of the operation - I know for a fact that I would be questioning myself later down the line....."What If" she'd have had the operation and made a full recovery? "What If" I made the wrong choice? "What If" I wasn't being fair to the cat and jumped in too quick? "What If"????
Weighing that up against the opposing argument was no easy task however, and I was further tormented by thoughts of her 'slipping away' whilst on the operating table and me not being able to be with her or say goodbye. I am not ashamed to admit that the thought of not being with her as she slips away is one that truly breaks my heart.
After much deliberating, discussing, 'Googling' and worrying, I was gently persuaded that our old girl should be given the chance and what will be will be. In the end, I came to the conclusion that no matter what decision I made on behalf of my girl, I'd no doubt be berating myself at a later date. I had to do what I felt was in her best interests, and in the end I didn't feel I had the right to end her life if there was an operation that could fix her problem.
~~ THE FUTURE ~~
So, she was bundled off to the vet this morning, armed with a signed consent form to 'administer any necessary veterinary treatment'. I know she is in good hands, and I know that I truly have the poor mites best interests at heart, but I can't help but feel completely terrified and extremely anxious... I haven't had more than four hours sleep per night for about a week, and I've hardly eaten. I feel that I have a knot of anxiety in my chest. That will hopefully disappear however, once I know what the outcome of today's anaesthetic and operation is. Here's hoping that a whole morning of crossing fingers and saying prayers will do the trick and the phone call I receive at lunchtime will be giving only good news. It is not difficult for me to understand and accept the anxiety and stress involved when my girl is so unwell and at such a high risk... it is not an alien concept for me to be so distressed and so upset at the thought of my girl being in pain or of losing her altogether.
In the past however, I have come across many people who don't seem to understand the bond between owner and pet. I have found myself justifying and explaining myself to family and friends, colleagues and veterinary staff. Some of them 'get it' and some of them don't. That's fine with me - everybody likes different things and not everybody is an animal lover, I understand that. However, I have had experiences when some people really seem to question what all the fuss is about.
As a final word, I'd like to try and explain what all of the fuss is about, and what this little creature means to me. This small, furry, noisy being, who wakes me up every day at 6am by standing on my head and yowling into my face that yes, it is indeed breakfast time - time to get up, miaow!! This little fuzzy-faced friend, who seldom leaves my side whilst I am sitting reading a book, watching television, using the laptop or even taking a bath! She is always there, that cheeky imp who has such a fun-loving nature and who trusts me implicitly, which never fails to bring a lump to my throat when I am reminded of this trait of her nature. How can any animal be so trusting, so completely open and without fear or loathing of any human, after all she was put through, after all that she suffered? What an incredible little animal. What a gem.
So. What is all the fuss about? She is remarkable, unique, wonderful. She is a loving companion. She's a friend. No............ she's family.
*** UPDATE 2012 ***
It is remarkable to read this review back, some 12 months after it was written. Just reading over it now instantly transports me back to that time, bringing all the emotions and worries of that time rushing back.
I thought it would make a pleasant 'note' at the end of this review to give a small update of her progress. My beloved girl did, of course, survive her ordeal, and although she had some hiccups to contend with regarding her recovery, she is still with me, every day, by my side.
It is easy to look back now and say that yes, we did the right thing and made the right decision for my girl to have the operation but weighing up her options was so difficult and heart-breaking too.
There is no doubt in my mind that it was of course the right decision to make - after all, we've had an extra year with her already.. who knows how many more we will share together?
As a last word, I'd like to thank the Dooyoo community for all of their support at the time (you know who you are!) as well as everyone who left a lovely message on my review. These really kept me going through that horrible day - and the week that followed, that was filled with worry and heartache. The kind words and lovely comments were a comfort to me during the time I thought I might lose my girl, and it did help to know that people were rooting for her, so thank you.
From us both..........thank you.xx
A Personal View Of Serious Illness in Pets.
Foreword; PLEASE READ THIS FIRST
I've been busy with work for the last month or so and offline/ away from the Dooyoo community most of the time, so I wrote this article on my laptop over quite a few sittings -hence it's by a long way the most comprehensive and largest review/guide that I'm every going to write on Dooyoo...
I didn't realise how big this article had become; it's much longer than even I envisioned so I quite understand if you don't have time to read it all (a suggested quick reading strategy might be to skip to the conclusion and then scroll back up to any points that interest you).
However if you are caring for a pet with a serious illness I do hope you'll read the sections on vets, saving money on medication and watching out for some vets over keenness for prematurely/needlessly suggesting animal euthanasia (please don't think I'm anti-vet though; I like the good ones!)
I also hope that my fellow pet owning animal lovers who have the time will pop the kettle on (possibly several times; sorry -lol!) sit down and read the full story of my little angel; my wonderful dog Al!
I've done my best to check and correct any grammatical and spelling errors etc - but apologies if any have slipped through the net.
As any true animal lover knows; nothing you do for your beloved pet will ever equal what they give you back in return...
It is with an absolutely broken heart that a write this article. I recently lost my little angel Al who'd been battling against a serious heart condition for quite sometime now.
I really wanted to write something on this much misunderstood subject of pets with life threatening illnesses in the hope of helping out other animal lovers who find themselves in the position of having a seriously ill pet (pet is really too lowly a word; all our four legged friends are/were very definitely one of the family -but I'll use the word 'pet' throughout for simplicity).
I dedicate this piece to my beloved dog Al who truly lit up my life, and to those kind hearted people who may at some point find themselves caring for a sick animal and having to make difficult decisions, and cope with difficult situations navigating the minefield that is pet medical care.
Some people reading this intro to my article might perhaps have already mentally skipped ahead to an imagined punch-line or conclusion; thinking that you've already guessed what the 'difficult decisions' I mention are; and that they maybe refer to having an animal put to sleep when the going gets tough...
Nothing could be further from the truth...Instead I'd like to share with you my own experiences and you'll have to forgive me if I brag a little about Al here and there...
Are you looking after a pet with serious illness?
If you do have a seriously ill pet, I hope my story will help by showing you the mistakes I made seeking out pet health care, how I learned to save a fortune in obtaining pet drugs, how I learned to tell a good vet from a useless or greedy one and how having faith in your own judgement as the person who knows your pet best in all the world; is perhaps the most important aspect of all in ensuring that your beloved animal has as wonderful and as full a life as possible, and that you really do get the best care for your pet.
Just before I really start off; if after reading my article you have any questions about anything I've mentioned that may help with regard to caring for your own seriously ill animal - by all means send me a message and I'll be happy to share any information I've learned from my experiences. You're not alone it just feels that way sometimes -a few supportive words from a fellow animal lover can really help; and I tell you now from my experiences; Dooyoo is chock full of animal lovers!!
My guide to pet's with serious illness; Al's Story;
The Early Days
Firstly I'd love to tell you a little bit about my own dog Al, who I sadly lost a recently. We've always had dogs in our family (and a cat on one occasion too!), so when my previous dog passed away back in the late 1990's my sister started scouting around the local dog rescue centres to get me another dog as birthday present... She checked with me first of course to make sure I wanted another dog, and she knew I'd want to house an unwanted one from a rescue home (if you're just thinking of getting a dog do please consider getting a rescued one).
Sure enough, almost exactly 10 years ago Kaz (my sister) turned up on my doorstep a couple of days before my birthday with a beautiful little puppy whom I named Al...
I know there have been advertising campaigns telling people not to get pets as presents; but that's the first myth I'd like to dispel. Giving an animal to an animal lover as a gift is a wonderful thing, where as giving an animal to an uncaring person, or short tempered/ short attention span type person ('idiots' is I believe the collective name for them) at any time or under any circumstances is always an extraordinarily bad idea.
My Rescue Pup
Having had a pretty tough young life in the few months before I got him, Al wasn't very active for the first few minutes in his new home. He curled up in my lap without expectation...
His little eyes lit up the second he noticed the little plate of puppy food and bowl of water that I'd got ready for him... He tucked in heartily to the food and drink, then tootled back onto my lap, making eye contact with me properly for the first time before curling back up into a proper relaxed deep sleep; I think for perhaps first time in his short life Al felt safe, and secure.
All that afternoon Al just went from sleeping on my lap to eating food and jumping back on my lap; his little face when he got to the food bowl was always a joy to behold; it seemed as if he were amazed that there was food there, so freely available and easily won...
Settling In; One Of The Family
Al quickly got to know the family, we did all the proper things like getting Al vaccinated (always a good idea because there are some very nasty things dogs can catch other wise -though it's still open to debate as to whether yearly boosters are really necessary for the average dog; some experts say yes, while others say no; it's just a money making thing).
...that Christmas was one of the best ever; all the usual things that dog owners will be familiar with; a puppies first reaction to snow flakes, the first time they drag the tinsel round the house, the biting up stuff while they're teething; true photographic fodder, and the stuff that memories and funny tales are made of -lol!!
As soon as it was safe to walk Al (as you know you need to wait till those initial vaccinations kick in before you can safely expose a dog to the outside world of walkies), we all took him for walks here there and everywhere, it seemed his energy was almost boundless -long after ours had flagged Al was still ready for more fun and games :-)
The Unusual Favourite Walk
I've known many dogs in my life, but of all of them Al's behaviour was in many ways the most unusual; he had some really funny ways about him - for instance; Al's favourite walk involved going on a route that led to a deserted car park that had a number of very long thorny hedges running across it in places.
Rather than walk/run around the whole huge car park area or off into the grassy wild areas while we played ball -Al insisted on a specific route and a strange ball game;
Al would let me kick and throw a ball for him as we walked around the car park, until we reached one specific long hedge. Then Al's favourite game (literally for hours if you let him!), was to run up one side of the hedge with the ball in his mouth, jump through a gap in the hedge (always the same gap -lol) where he'd drop the ball in front of himself and wait for me to catch up and get to his side of the hedge, then I'd have to kick the ball down the other side of the hedge while Al chased madly after it (Always returning to me and dropping down to be kicked again).
And so it would go on and on; run up one side of the hedge (always the same hedge) and kick the ball down the other side... I took my sisters dog Hendrix (yes he was named after the famous guitarist -lol!) with me once, and he got so sick of walking round the same bit of car park he insisted on being carried until I made Al walk somewhere different....
The Next Eight Years
Al quickly became a much loved member of our family, and would zoom upstairs, jump on my bed and look out of my bedroom window whenever he suspected someone might be visiting; to get advanced notice of their arrival. Al would even tap on the window with his paw to any passers by that he knew. Al shared our lives and our home - sleeping on our beds (usually mine; but he'd visit and sleep on or near everybody at some point during in the course of a night :-).
I've heard some dog experts say you shouldn't let animals sleep on the bed because they can become assertive and try to change their position in the 'pack' (or in simple terms they'll growl and become a bit possessive of the bed)...
This commonly held view by some dog 'experts' is only half true though; some dogs can certainly develop unwanted behaviour characteristics (in the same way that people can) if given too much leeway, however it really depends on the personality of the dog.
In the case of Al, he was the gentlest dog I ever knew; so letting him sleep on the beds was wonderfully cute, especially as he'd often sleep with his head on your shoulder. If there were two people in a bed; like when my girlfriend stayed over, or when we were holidaying in our caravan in Somerset; Al would sleep between us to double the maximum amount of fuss available -lol!
Early Signs Of Illness? / Al And My Father
For eight years or so Al enjoyed excellent health, the only thing we never got to the bottom of was an occasional 'thing' Al would do (from ever since he was a pup) where he would very occasionally suddenly cease playing with a ball etc and stop as if to silently clear his throat...
We never got to the bottom of why he did that, the vets didn't have an answer and it may well have been totally unrelated to his later heart condition. His heart did seem to beat at a fair old pace sometimes too, but again nothing ever showed up during his visits to the vets for check ups/ inoculation boosters etc.
My father and Al had a very great relationship, so Al was a real comfort to me when I lost my father back in 2005 so Al really helped me through some dark times; just knowing that I had him to care for really helped me... though in reality I think it was Al who cared for me and my family more than we could ever have done in return - by sharing with us his wonderful unconditional love and friendship.
The Start Of Al's Illness
I remember one morning a couple of years back when Al jumped off my bed and went downstairs to the front door (something he'd often do if he heard an exciting noise like a bird on the porch roof or a postman three streets away!) but instead if scratching the door to go out; Al was coughing to clear his throat...
Of course I jumped up and went downstairs to see what was happening; but as Al would often wolf down food at breakneck speed and occasionally swallow something so quickly that it went down the wrong way -I just assumed he'd sneaked a chew onto the bed (or more likely someone had thrown one to him on the bed while I was asleep -lol!) and had eaten it too quickly.
I could see no evidence of a dog chew scattered about on the blankets, but as Al stopped coughing quickly I thought he'd cleared whatever the problem was and everything was ok. However the very next morning Al did the same thing and woke me up with his coughing; this time of course I had a really good look for any possible bit of food he'd been nibbling on, but found none.
Al seemed absolutely fine in himself; there was just this cough in the morning -but even so we decided to take him to the vets just to make sure he was ok.
Before I go any further let me just impart to you some hard earned knowledge on how to get the best treatment for your beloved animal from a vet;
I'm now, through experience, a lot more keyed up on how to spot a good vet from one who loves money far more than animals, but at the time I was (foolishly) more trusting, and believe me; blind trust in a vet can be a very expensive and worthless thing and of absolutely no help to your pet.
So before I go into more detail; please remember when dealing with a vet you don't already know well and trust; always be vigilante, always ask questions and most importantly - cross reference everything a vet tells you with independently researched information you've acquired elsewhere (the internet is a mine of information -as are libraries etc) ...
If you don't know the vet well be certain that what you are being told by them is actually true or at least a reasonable diagnosis of a specific pet illness, be certain that you've made the vet tell you if he/she is sure what is exactly or highly likely to be wrong with your pet -or if they're not sure and the treatment they're advocating and charging you for is merely a stab in the dark at an ailment, be sure they tell you this too. If you don't pay attention you can easily end up being charged a small fortune for what I call 'greedy vet syndrome'. (So that you'll never get caught out - I'll explain this unsavoury money making 'trick' to you in a moment, as it was one of the first lessons we learned).
Always remember that a genuine, honest vet will have no problem at all with answering your questions nor with admitting when they don't know the answer; I've met some very good ones who provided excellent care and were only to happy to justify and explain their opinions and treatment strategy; so please don't think that I'm 'anti-vet' (even though I personally think they overcharge for their services for the most part).
Give or take a few seconds it doesn't take a vet any longer to explain what they're thinking out loud than for them to form an opinion private; and a good vet will enjoy sharing his/her thoughts with you -so ask away! (You'll get charged a consultancy fee if they so much as say hello to your pet, so make the most of your time with the vet; they're taking your money so please don't be afraid to get your money's worth -after all your pet is depending on you).
If you get a vet who doesn't want to talk to you in any detail or share their thoughts fully (or tries to employ the 'greedy vet syndrome' which I'll explain shortly); you're in the WRONG PLACE and in my opinion; for the sake of your animal (unless it's an absolute emergency) and for the sake of your wallet/ purse; you should get the hell out of there and go somewhere else.... And please don't forget to help your fellow animal lovers by sharing with them your experiences of which local vets are good/ bad.
You can in some cases end up paying a lot of money for vet treatment, so make sure you get your money's worth, and most importantly be sure you're getting the best available treatment for your beloved pet!
Al's first Trips To A Vet For His Illness
Al's first trips to the vet were both expensive and pointless; we didn't follow any of the advice that I've written for you above - we were still naïve in our trust of vets in general...
Al was given a number of different treatments that did nothing to avert his cough, if I remember rightly the last silly diagnosis and treatment was for some imaginary ailment that Al had supposedly caught from foxes...
We started to notice the cyclic pattern that the vet had been using;
1) First the vet would diagnose an illness - without really giving a good explanation of his diagnosis.
2) Then we'd shell out our consultancy fee, plus whatever the cost of the medication was (complete with a hefty profit mark up for the vet's practice).
3) The treatment would not improve Al's cough at all, so we'd have to return to the vet again (complete with another consultancy fee)
4) The vet would then form another diagnosis and the cycle would begin again...
Wising Up To 'Greedy Vet Syndrome'
We quickly started to wise up (though still no where near as quickly as we should have) and started (as we really should have done from day one) asking a lot more questions...
When quizzed about why we'd had to spend money and waste time on some treatment that did nothing to cure Al's cough - the vet would simply say (always after the treatment had failed, never before) that he thought that ailment 'x' (insert an illness here in place of the 'x' -lol!) was the problem, but that there was always the possibility that the cause was ailment 'y'(insert yet another illness here in place of the 'y').
But because treating ailment 'y' was far more expensive than treating ailment 'x' he'd decided to treat ailment 'x' first (gee how scientific!!).
So supposedly (until we'd wised up) our vet had been doing us a favour (I think not) by kindly (greedily more like) letting us shell out loads of money to treat ailment 'x' - in the hope that it would bring results and save us from the dreaded (always alluded to as the far more expensive) ailment 'y'.
The trick to spotting what I call 'greedy vet syndrome' came to us when we realised that the vet was always providing information in hindsight. i.e. it was always past tense ...the vet would never say before we started a treatment that he wasn't sure that we were treating Al for the right thing (ailment 'x'), and there was no mention of any later ailment.
Only after a treatment would prove ineffective would we suddenly find out from the vet that he apparently wasn't that sure it would work, and that it could in fact be some other illness (ailment 'y').
An Analogy To Show How Totally Unacceptable 'Greedy Vet Syndrome' Is;
Imagine taking your car to a garage, the garage tells you what's wrong, charges you for the time they took to find the problem and charges you for the parts they used to fix your car... Then it turns out that your car still has the same problem so you take it back to the garage.
The garage owner then (and only then; not before) decides to tell you that he wasn't actually sure that the thing he fixed on your car was really the problem at all. He says that there's another more expensive problem that could be causing the fault with your car - but that he'd decided to fix the cheaper problem first (even though he wasn't sure it was the problem, and hadn't made any mention of this to you when taking on the job of fixing your car and charging you for it).
Then the garage owner charges you again for telling you the above information - and then goes on to charge you again for his next attempt to fix your car...
You'd be incredibly annoyed with the garage, and you'd raise hell till you got your money back or your car fixed at no extra cost...
And the above analogy is a good one of what I call 'greedy vet syndrome' because I think it demonstrates quite well how we are only too ready to stand up to outrageous behaviour in normal life... but we (I certainly did) can easily leave our brains in parked in neutral when it comes to getting the best treatment for our beloved pets because we're so distracted by worrying about them that we're not paying enough attention (I think a greedy vet is counting on this).
A Past Example? / Watch Out For 'Greedy Vet Syndrome'
Thinking back a number of years to the mid 1990's when I took my previous dog to the vets when he developed a paw problem - I believe I was subject to 'greedy vet syndrome' then too (now that I've re-examine the events with the new knowledge I've gained)... friends who've shared their experiences with me have also strengthened my suspicions that 'greedy vet syndrome' is not so rare as we might think;
SO PLEASE BE SURE to watch out for it when dealing with an unfamiliar vet... Both your pet and your wallet/purse will love you for it (and no good vet will object to telling you exactly what they think right up front -or admitting to you right away if they genuinely don't know something).
You can't expect perfection from a vet as we're all human and prone to err - but for the money you're paying you can expect your beloved pet's ailment to get a vet's full attention and their very best efforts ...and if you're unfamiliar with the vet; be on guard against 'greedy vet syndrome'.
After having wised up to 'greedy vet syndrome' and learning to ask the right questions the vet finally got around to mentioning that Al might have a heart problem.
(Really we should have already dropped this particular vet sooner -and chased him for a refund... but at least we'll never be caught out again; and hopefully now you've read this neither will you... and always remember to spread the word about good/bad experiences you had with your local vets among other animal lovers in your area so that they know who to take their pet to and who to avoid).
I didn't know much about dog heart complaints at the time -but now that I do have some experience; I think even I could have had a good stab at diagnosing Al's cough as possibly being related to a heart condition... So for a vet not to have noticed and mentioned that possibility very early on in Al's treatment is almost beyond belief...
So after finally getting beyond 'greedy vet syndrome', the vet got round to testing Al for a heart problem... we had a scan done (which ran like a video in real time) and showed up a weakness on the left side of his heart. Al's cough, it turned out, was related to a build up of fluid in his lungs related to the poor working of his heart.
A Few Thoughts About Practices With Multiple Vets
By now of course we'd changed to our second (and probably just about my favourite) vet. She was the least experienced vet at the practice we were now taking Al to, and had only just started to work as a fully qualified vet -but in terms of effort, care and thoughtfulness (and a distinct lack of greed; as I'll explain later) she still stands head and shoulders above the rest in many ways. If only all vets were of such a great calibre...
There in lies another problem; if you visit a practice with multiple vets - you have to quickly sort the wheat from the chaff and make sure you're getting a really useful one (you're pet is relying on you; and you are paying them handsomely; so be alert be 'picky'). So pay close attention to an unknown vet, watch out for 'greedy vet syndrome', use your common sense and gather opinions from other pet owners who live near you... and you shouldn't go far wrong.
Always bear in mind though that any practice with multiple vets that does employ even one vet who isn't very good/ doesn't treat your pet well, or that other trusted pet owners warn you about etc (or a vet that exhibits any of the warning signs I've mentioned previously) - then the management of that vet's practice isn't likely to be consistently good, or even worse; may be overly focussed on profits...
So if you're using such a practice (perhaps because you've identified a really good vet at the practice) but the practice itself is not one you have complete faith in, just be extra careful -be certain to stick with your trusted vet -and if there are any procedures/ operations to be done to your dog -make sure (demand if necessary) you know exactly who is going to be performing that procedure... ideally it should always be your trusted vet -or if they don't have the necessary skills/ equipment; someone your trusted vet absolutely and specifically recommends...
Don't Get Paranoid But...
Spare a thought for the support staff surrounding your pet too, like the veterinary nurses; do you trust them? Have you heard anything bad or good about any of them from a trusted source? You won't learn a lot from just meeting them -everyone's nice as pie when they're taking your money -lol!! so ask, ask, ask (did I mention ask?) ask your friends, neighbours, people you see walking their dog, ask the people COMING OUT OF THE VETS before you go in; what do they think when out of earshot of the front desk? ...Any way you get the idea.
Obviously I don't want anyone to get paranoid about vets - if you've already got a good relationship with your vet that you've built up over a long time and they've never steered you wrong; you really have very little to worry about (I'd recommend you still be vigilante and ask lots of questions though; you may learn something else really useful about treating your pet -and a good vet won't mind your interest at all; they'll probably enjoy explaining!).
I just want you to be on your guard when dealing with an unknown vet or practice -so that you don't make any costly mistakes or keep your beloved pet from getting the care they deserve. Of course once you've found a good vet you can relax a little -lol! But as I said above - please be careful and stay alert if your good vet is in a not so trustable multi vet practice (if you get a multi vet practice with all good vets and good management/ staff do spread the word to other local pet owners).
Al's Second Vet
Getting back to the second* vet who treated Al - although she had only just started practicing as a vet, she was really on the ball. She welcomed our questions and tried really hard to help Al. (By 'second' vet, I mean the second vet to treat Al for any length of time).
In no time Al was on a combination of drugs to help with his heart problem (I'll go over all of Al's drugs later) but there was one problem our excellent second vet struggled with; Al's heart arrhythmia (irregular heart beat). Al's heart beat became more erratic over time - it was extremely irregular at times, so much so that ever vet who ever checked it remarked how strange it was - yet Al coped remarkably well.
It's often the case that a vet is unable to determine the exact cause of heart arrhythmia - and our excellent second vet was quick to point out the limitations of her own specialist knowledge of the subject, and that we'd probably need to see a vet heart specialist instead of her.
By now our vets bills were really mounting up mainly because of all the medication that Al needed. One drug alone was costing us nearly £100 a month from the practice's pharmacy; and there were often two or three other's to contend with as well; so I'd estimate £200 a month average vet bills, plus blood tests etc...
To pay for a specialist too, who would most likely have shed more light onto Al's specific heart problem (which was a little unusual and off the beaten track by all accounts) but may not have been able to offer any better solution, would have easily run into thousands of pounds... (If I remember rightly the first quote we got just to asses Al was approaching £1,000)
I was only able to work part time, my girlfriend was out of work and my mother was only on a basic pension so while Al was worth every penny and we didn't hesitate to follow up on any drug/treatment to help him - it was a struggle at times to balance the finances...
We were just getting our heads together to work out how we were going to fund Al's visit to a specialist when the vet (Al's second vet) overheard us and realised we were struggling a bit juggling the finances.
Saving Money On Medication
Bless her heart she took us to one side, waited till there was no one else from the practice anywhere in earshot - no veterinary nurses, vets, or any other staff around (not an easy thing to do as there were interconnecting doors and other staff often passing by the examination rooms... and she told us how to get the drugs we needed for Al at the cheapest prices.
We had no idea about getting the best value for money when buying vet medication, (once again it was that problem of being totally distracted by Al's illness and hence not paying close attention or doing our 'homework' and research properly) ...we had always just bought whatever drugs we needed for Al from the practice's reception after seeing our vet. But for those of you that don't know; there's a much better way.
Risking the wrath of the other vets and quite possibly losing her position at the practice (so it's no wonder she secretively took us to one side) our kind hearted second vet explained that most of the drugs Al was on were 'human' drugs.
i.e. the drugs used to treat Al's heart condition are the exact same ones used to treat people too (I'll explain about getting non human drugs too shortly)... and it turns out that (although the veterinary practice often won't like it because they make a healthy profit from supplying your pet's medication) they CANNOT REFUSE to supply you with a human prescription for the drugs instead.
So you can simply take your prescription to any chemist or supermarket chemist etc (like you would for your own medicine after seeing your doctor) and you just get charged a NORMAL prescription price!!! The savings on more expensive drugs can be immense!
Animal Only Drugs
Where the drugs prescribed drugs have no human equivalent so are developed solely for animals, it's still possible to save a lot of money. You can still ask the veterinary practice for a prescription (though obviously it's not a human prescription -lol!) which you can send to any of the cut price online veterinary drug dispensing companies (make sure it's a legitimate company by doing a few minutes research online or check/ask any pet owners you know who've ordered drugs online or check/ ask on any good pet forum etc for advice/ recommended online shops).
There are quite a few good, cheap online veterinary medicine shops (they're easy to find with a bit of a search on the internet) so just go for the cheapest legitimate one (legitimate sites will ask for a prescription and have a proper UK address and phone number -look 'em up on google maps etc). You can pay by credit card or debit card if you want, but you'll still have to post them your vet prescription before they'll send you the drugs.
So thanks to a little help from Al's second vet -we managed to bring the cost of medication down to a much more manageable size (which was a good job because as you'll see later we needed the money for other procedures.
Al Gets A Lucky Break and a New Friend;
Al's second vet also promised to get her thinking cap on as to how we could get Al the very best treatment and expert opinions on his heart arrhythmia condition without having to pay out enormous costs involved in taking Al to a specialist. (If I remember rightly amid all the other whispered comments, she also said that the practice would also earn a profit simply for referring us to a specialist for Al; which is incredibly greedy considering how much we'd already spent).
So it was over the next few weeks that Al's second vet got stuck into helping Al; after a bit of research by the second vet, experimentation with medications, some too and fro phone calls and close monitoring of Al - his irregular heartbeat was brought more under control (for a good while afterwards anyway).
She got stuck into finding us a vet who had a lot of specialist knowledge in Al's complaint - and so it was that we were able to take Al on a little journey one morning to another veterinary practice not too far away to see the vet that our second vet had recommended we see.
Al got a thorough examination, and his heart and its electrical system was tested. After closely scrutinising the data, the 'recommended' vet was able to confirm that Al's heart arrhythmia was being controlled well by the digoxin drug that our friendly second vet had prescribed.
Al's second vet was very concerned about using digoxin because although it was a good way to control Al's irregular heart beat, the drug is only effective in a narrow band; apparently the dosage has to be just right to have an effect, but the drug is also a toxin so if the dose is too high you can potentially make your dog very ill).
Fortunately she monitored Al's reaction with blood tests and also keyed us up on signs to look for if Al was being poisoned by too much digoxin; but as it turned out (despite her own concerns about the limitations of her own knowledge) our vet got the dose almost perfect first time -and thankfully Al never did suffer any of the potential side effects.
Al responded well to his treatment (not too long after the cough developed, Al's health had deteriorated markedly, so it was great to see this decline halted; especially since he had such a huge zest for life even though his body was struggling to keep up) and our vet (Al's second vet) advised us that having now gathered a lot of data on Al's condition and sought out the best veterinary opinions she could find, it was thankfully no longer necessary for us to worry about finding all the money we needed for a specialist to treat Al.
Incurable illness? Better To Treat It As A Challenge Not An Inevitability
Al's second vet told us that the consensus of opinion was that Al's heart condition was slightly unusual (later vets we had for Al confirmed this too) and quite possibly of genetic origin. The heart condition was incurable...
...even so we always kept an ear to the ground (internet searches, asking any pet owners and vets we met, phoning round etc) for any possible cures; we once heard a rumour about surgery on a dog with supposedly a similar complaint performed in the US, but we were never able to verify the claim and check whether it really was for the same problem, or even whether the dog survived...
We never found a cure for Al, though we did find out lots of useful little bits of information here and there (as you'll see later; some of this research gave me an idea for a little operation that extended and greatly improved Al's life when his heart condition deteriorated) so I'd definitely advise anyone who's looking after a pet with an incurable illness to keep searching/ looking anyway...
(You may not be able to do anymore than you already are for your beloved pet - but it removes that feeling of helplessness that gets us all sometimes when events are beyond our control; it's always a moral booster to feel like you're doing something positive -it gives you control back... and who knows there's always a one in a million chance you might get lucky and drop on something really useful that will help your pet).
Though (as Al's second vet went on to explain) Al's heart condition was incurable and would undoubtedly get worse and worse over time and shorten his lifespan considerably (at the time all the expert opinion was on Al lasting a matter of a few months, and that he could potentially keel over and die at any moment if he performed any activity that put higher demands upon his heart). The various pills that Al was now on (by this time Al was on 12 tablets a day) would merely prolong temporarily and improve it's - but what Al's second vet understandably failed to take into account was the intangible; Al's love of life and desire to stay with those who loved him most!
Not All Vet's Are Equal; So You Just Need To Stay Alert...
It was great to have finally got to grips with Al's illness and found him the best treatment available, even though we were ultimately fighting a losing battle. I'm forever grateful to Al's second vet for being such a kind soul. Unfortunately she moved away not long after the events described above - but despite only just starting out in her career as a vet, in my opinion she was in many ways head and shoulders above the other vets we saw in the course of managing Al's illness; and quite simply at heart a better person.
We were exceptionally lucky to have found Al's second vet; someone who cared more for animals over money and genuinely cared about people too -if not for her our vet bills would have been very high indeed (much to the practice's delight no doubt)...
...But even if we hadn't met our second vet/ and indeed after she moved away we still got excellent treatment for Al because - we remained very alert, always double checked everything a vet told us, did our own research too and made our opinions known in no uncertain terms if we were dissatisfied. So if you haven't found a good vet you can trust yet - I recommend our approach as outlined above...
There clearly are great vets out there if you look hard enough - so DO be choosy; it's your money and your pets health that are at stake; YOU are the one most in charge of your pet's healthcare, you are the one who loves them most and you are the one who knows them best; you're doing the vet a favour by going to them not the other way round- it can be a lucrative profession with lots of competition so always remember there are plenty more fish in the sea!
Day To Day Life With Al; Mostly Wonderful Times
As I mentioned earlier; not too long after Al's cough developed his health started to go deteriorate as his heart condition worsened. It's very important to point out though that Al himself was incredibly happy -it's just that his body couldn't always keep up (in fact this is exactly what Al's third vet said to us; I'll come to him in a moment).
Al had gone from his normal 'looney' self to not being able to walk so far or jump about so much as he'd have liked. We gave up trying to calm Al down -as he was still as mad about going out for walks or playing games etc as he's always been; it was just that he got tired out a lot sooner.
He'd still demand to go out for walks, he'd still run down the stairs like a bolt of lightening if someone opened the front door to go out, or knocked the door to come in -and especially if anyone even walked past the place in the kitchen where his favourite dog chews were kept.
He'd still insist on sleeping on our (and usually my) bed. Even during the times when he wasn't doing so well, he'd still wait at the bottom of the bed wagging his tail until someone walked past and noticed he wanted to be lifted on the bed...
...Or if I was asleep in bed and Al hadn't come up stairs with me (a very common scenario whenever there was someone still up in the house who'd fuss, play with or feed treats to Al -lol!) then Al would simply walk round the side of the bed and wake me up with a cold nose and a licky kiss to whatever part of my head was closest to let me know he wanted to be lifted on the bed :-)
We still took Al away on holiday with us to uor static caravan in Somerset -and he loved it; indeed the thing Al hated most was not being part of the action.
It was an absolute joy looking after him -so please don't think that caring for a pet with a long term serious illness is difficult or unrewarding... far from it; it was a joy to take care of Al.
Up's And (Not Many) Down's
Obviously there were the inevitable up and downs where sometimes Al would get ill, and we'd be very worried, and the inevitable routine of making sure Al got all his pills (and at the right time) throughout the day. Most of the time however, Al had a wonderful life and really enjoyed himself. When he was feeling well he'd (literally) drag one of us (usually me) on long walks to his favourite car park (remember the hedge story earlier? -lol)-and when he felt keen on a walk but not so energetic he'd just take me/us on a little amble along the road or round the block.
We learned quickly that rather than us make the decision of how much exercise Al should have (in the belief we were helping Al by reducing the more strenuous exercise he) it was far better to let Al 'tell' us how much exercise he wanted...
By trusting Al to pick his walks it made everything simple and maintained the highest quality of life for him. Whoever walked Al (usually me -but I had to fight off some stiff competition from the rest of the family sometimes as everyone loved him so much-lol!) had simply to pay attention to Al's pull direction and energy to see exactly what Al wanted to do.
How We Managed The Daily Routine Of Giving Al All His Pills
Day to day life with Al was generally wonderful, and as long as we made sure he didn't overdo it and made sure he got his pills everything was great. Coming back to the pills; just in case you find yourself in a similar position of having to giver your pet a lot of pills during the course of the day, and that sometimes (due to work commitments etc) it was not always possible for the same person to give all the pills...
...he best method we found was to simply write out a few pieces of paper each week (we used the small note pads that we kept by the phone). We'd mark out the days of the week horizontally and AM and PM (or the exact clock times) in horizontal lines...and draw a little grid using a ruler. At the top of each piece of paper we'd have the name of the drug so it couldn't be confused with any other of Al's medications (and we'd also use a highlighter pen to give each drug title a different colour to make it even easier to differentiate between them).
Each time we actually gave Al a pill we'd tick the box on that day and time on the piece of paper pertaining to that particular medicine... that way if one of us had to go out, whoever was left in the house would be able to see at a glance what drugs Al still needed to have that day, and exactly when he needed them.
The Excess Fluid Build Up
As time went on (far beyond the few months of life we were expecting with Al) Al continued to enjoy an enormously satisfying life; and we felt lucky to still be sharing it with him -however it became more and more difficult to rid the body of the excess fluid generated by his heart condition.
Al was already on a very large dose of diuretics to help him pass as much excess fluid as possible when he urinated (Al was on two different types twice a day -it's apparently much better to have two different types when administering high doses as possible side effects are less than if you'd have given just one type of diuretic; because different ones have different side effects), but the excess fluid was really starting to build up by this point.
To look at Al after the fluid had started to build up you would be forgiven for thinking that he was perhaps overfed and hence obese. In truth however, Al's increase in size and mass was due soley to the fluid; if anything the fluid was having a negative impact on Al's size as it actually impaired Al's to consume his normal food intake -there just wasn't the room left in his stomach/ abdomen.
A reduction in calories was bad news for Al as his poorly heart needed a lot more energy to function than a normal heart would - and this reduction in calories combined with the extra demands and weight that all the excess fluid placed on Al's body meant that Al's condition was unstable again and we were headed for serious trouble.
Al's Third Vet
.Al's third vet that we settled on was very competent and experienced and reasonably caring towards Al (By 'third' vet, I mean the third vet to treat Al for any length of time) though not in the same league as our second vet. We were confident in his ability and also confident that we could get the best out of him (thanks to our lessons learned about vets -lol!).
The only problem with Al's third vet was that he wasn't big on ideas - to get the best out of him you had to push/field ideas and spur him into action; a bit like winding up a clockwork toy! When Al started to gain fluid, the vet initially increased the dosage of diuretics (which seemed reasonable and sensible enough) but when this didn't work his efforts seemed to fizzle out somewhat.
He did contribute by finding a slightly more obscure diuretic (moduret) that apparently wasn't used so widely nowadays -that seemed to help Al a little more than the other combination. So we replaced the prilactone with the moduret as one of Al's diuretic pills).
The Fluid Drain Procedure
But despite the new diuretic combination of pills Al continued to gain fluid so we needed to find a solution quickly. Now you'll perhaps remember what I said about not giving up and doing your research to find new and better ways to help your pet -and so it was I looked into the fluid problem, using a little lateral thinking... Since dogs and humans share many of the same drugs it follows that in many cases they must share the same complaints - so after a little research I found that people with excess fluid can either have a small operation/ procedure to drain the fluid, or else they can have a permanent/semi-permanent drain fitted to facilitate the drawing off of the excess fluid.
Armed with the above information we took Al back to his third vet and asked if he could in fact drain away the fluid that was making Al ever larger and heavier and putting even more strain on his heart.
After talking to Al's third vet, it turned out that draining fluid is not a particularly uncommon procedure in animals, so Al's vet should have suggested a fluid drain as soon as Al's excess fluid ceased to be controlled well by the diuretics (but we were by now, when necessary -well used to guiding vets rather than being foolish enough to trust them, -so Al's third vet's failings and apathy were no great surprise or hindrance; though if he'd acted properly it would have saved Al some discomfort).
Battle Hardened And Wiser
I don't know if Al's third vet really picked up on our glances to each other and sarcastic smiles when he said 'you know I was just thinking about draining Al's excess fluid' - just after we'd made the suggestion -lol! He perhaps didn't at first realise how battle hardened we were to all the little tricks of the trade statements that some vets made...
A vet claiming to have already thought 'something' only after having that 'something' pointed out to them, having first had abundant opportunity in the preceding weeks to have mentioned that 'something' treatment to us (because they are supposedly the experts in animal care, and are being paid handsomely for that expertise) was one of the first 'tricks' we came across... indeed there are echoes of this hindsight trick in the 'greedy vet syndrome' that I explained earlier in this article.
As amusing as it was spotting the vet trying to deceive us that he was really 'on the ball' all along - it's very annoying that Al had to wait longer than necessary get the treatment he really needed. I'd urge anyone taking care of a pet with serious illness who hasn't found a vet you really trust -to instead trust your own judgement, do your own research and if necessary take the reigns and guide your vet to ensure your pet gets the appropriate treatment in good time.
Not Too Bad A Vet -Most Of The Time
Now don't get me wrong, Al's third vet was very experienced and generally not bad at all (else we'd have instantly gone elsewhere) in that he definitely had the skills to help Al (just not always the imagination or enthusiasm) ...that's why we let him treat Al, we just had to pay close attention and do a lot of the research ourselves -so we knew which direction to guide the vet in.
It turned out a permanent drain wasn't a good option because Al was quite lively, and despite his very poorly heart enjoyed a wonderful quality of life - he just couldn't be as active as he'd have liked - so it was very likely that any permanent drain device that was fitted to Al would be knocked out at some point, so the risk of injury and infection were too great.
We settled on a drain operation -which involved taking the excess fluid from Al's lymphatic system via his abdomen. Initially Al's third vet wanted the option of using sedation -but as you probably know (and we'd found out from our research) sedation can potentially be a bad idea for a pet with a bad heart -and since the procedure only involved putting a drain into Al's abdomen - a relatively straight forward operation that wasn't painful just slightly uncomfortable - we put our foot down and said no to the sedation (which could well have killed Al with his heart condition).
Plan For The Fluid Drain
Initially they were going to drain the fluid off in a morning, but (again having done our research) we asked whether given the amount of fluid Al had built up -the vet couldn't either split the fluid drain procedure into tow separate operations on different dates (there's a danger of causing low blood pressure if you drain off too much fluid too quickly) or something similar...
After much questioning of Al's vet we settled on having the drain procedure done in one day - but instead lengthening the time taken to do the drain so that Al would be drained of some fluid, his blood pressure checked and then the drain procedure repeated again a little later -and so on until either the fluid was drained or Al was beginning to react negatively to the drain and the procedure was stopped.
An Amazing Amount Of Fluid Removed
Sure enough the drain operation went really well; we took Al to the veterinary practice at about 9am and picked him up around 3.30 pm the same day. The difference in Al was amazing he'd gone from a bloated 30kg down to 18kg, and the difference was all fluid!
Without all that weight on him Al was bounding with energy when we picked him up - the only sign of his drain operation were the two small staples used to close the small wound on his abdomen where the drain had been fitted. Thankfully Al's blood pressure had remained fine throughout the day - and because there was no sedation involved we hadn't put any extra strain on his heart.
The only negative point (which we expected anyway) was that the maximum price the vet quoted us for the operation was of course not as much as they actually charged for the procedure. Though later we were usually able to keep the cost of a drain operation down to around the £100 mark as a rule (+ medication + consultation fees - don't think you'll see too many staving vets -lol!).
But at that time -we had no idea whether we would need to have Al drained just once -and the diuretics would then keep things under control for a while at least -or whether Al would need to have his excess fluid drained again.
Temporary Fix / Permanent Solution
Unfortunately due to the nature of Al's heart complaint which caused the fluid build up -it turned out that we needed to have Al drained of excess fluid roughly once a month (usually just a tad over) to maintain a good quality of life for him. To have Al drained anymore than this would have been a bad idea because as well as the unwanted fluid, a drain also removes much needed protein too. Al's heart had to work very hard compared to a healthy heart, so he needed lots of energy and protein -and being bloated with fluid had already limited his appetite and food intake until we sorted the problem out. So we got our heads together - including Al's third vet, who be fair offered some helpful information (better late than never) regarding what weight Al should reach before we implement another drain procedure.
It worked out that Al hit the 30kg weight that was the cue for him to have a drain operation -approximately a month after the previous drain. We also won a concession (quite rightly too considering how much money they were making from us) from Al's third vet to let us bring Al up to the practice when we thought he was getting close to needing another fluid drain procedure and use their large stand-on scales without being charged (it took under a minute to weigh Al so it's not as though we slowing them down any).
Despite the promise of Al's third vet that we could use the scales at the practice to weigh Al without charge, and the fact the other staff at the practice were made aware of this agreement - there was one hiccup. On one memorable occasion when Al's third vet wasn't present and we attended (having first phoned the practice to set up the weighing of Al, as usual) to check if we were approaching the 30kg limit we'd set for Al, one of the vets (I'll call her vet number four for simplicity as she crops up again later - but she was never one of Al's proper vets so I won't call her Al's fourth vet; I'd rather trust a witch doctor -lol!) who was in the room with the scales tried to charge us a consultation fee!
Enter Vet No. 4; In An Attempt To Make A Quick £25
Vet number four (who was well aware of who we were and what we were doing) actually interpreted us saying 'hello we're here to weigh Al again' as a consultation... suffice to say no money changed hands; as I was only too happy to make my disgust and displeasure known at the front desk in front of all the other customers* to embarrassingly good effect.
*I use the word customers to describe the people bringing their animals into the waiting room - as I've learned (because of their own money orientated behaviour) to think of a lot of the vets and practices I've encountered as traders selling a product (like a baker sells you bread, or a bank sells you insurance etc) much more so than as dedicated carers for animals (the image they often try to reinforce).
Dealing With Unreasonable Vet/Practice Behaviour; Be 'LOUD & PROUD'
I didn't appreciate vet number four trying her luck to see if she could milk us for money, especially since we didn't even find out she'd tried to charge us a consultation fee until we were back at the front desk and she'd made herself scarce. If you ever find yourself in a similar position (of a vet or practice being unreasonable) the best strategy we ever found (I call it the LOUD & PROUD technique) was to do what generally doesn't come easily to most of the kind hearted and gentle pet owners that I've met...
BE LOUD and BE VERY VOCAL if a vet (or the practice or any member of their staff) has done or is trying to do something unacceptable -and above all MAKE SURE you do all this right out IN FRONT of and IN EARSHOT of all the other people in the practice's waiting area.
You don't need to be rude (even though they may deserve it) just make sure every 'customer' in the waiting room knows exactly what unreasonable thing that the vet/practice has or is trying to do.
Bad news spreads like wildfire (everyone likes an exciting juicy story to tell around the dinner table or in the pub, or on facebook etc) the vets, and the veterinary staff at the practice are only too aware of this - so if they start messing with you; hit 'em right where it hurts. (I wish we'd thought of adopting the LOUD & PROUD complaint technique much earlier in Al's treatment -it would have saved us getting our time and money wasted by Al's first vet).
In the same way that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; I believe that when it comes to vets; a complaint right out in the open is worth a hundred phone calls, complaint letters etc (you can do all that stuff to if you want) but please even if you're not used to standing up for yourself; if the occasion warrants it - don't be afraid to dig deep within yourself and let everyone in the place know what's going on. Expose what's going on; BE LOUD & PROUD!
Back To Al And His Monthly Fluid Drains
Moving back to Al; his monthly fluid drain operations gave him a new lease of life. Al was despite his very poorly heart surprisingly active and had an amazing zest for life. After each drain procedure Al would have about two weeks of brilliant mobility -he'd merrily drag me/us on his favourite walk (round the hedge on the car-park -lol!) where he'd run about with his ball; we couldn't have dissuaded him from being so energetic if we'd wanted to. Al would also be able to bound up onto the beds as he pleased, or take up his favourite position in my bedroom window.
By around the third week after Al's drain - the fluid would be noticeably building up on him again and so he'd be less mobile. The additional weight of the fluid stopped Al being quite so 'bouncy' - but he'd still be able to go on walks round the block, or longer if the mood took him -though it really would literally be a walk, rather than bounding about.
Al seemed to completely understand and adjust to the monthly cycle of drain ops - when he was being slowed down by all the excess fluid he'd tend to adjust his walks so that they involved lots more time spent sniffing everything and games (Al always told me when he wanted to play -not the other way round :-) would involve not so energetic things like him passing me one end of his soft plastic bone shaped toy and we'd have to walk along together like that; for some reason Al loved doing that (Al's games were always a bit unusual but he liked them, and it was always a joy to see him so happy!).
The Fourth Week
By around the fourth week after Al's little drain operation - Al would be approaching his 30kg in weight so wouldn't be able to move very far or climb up onto the beds etc. (Al would instead wait by the beds till one of us noticed that he wanted to be lifted onto it).
Al wasn't any less happy than he was a week after his operation, though it must have been a bit uncomfortable for him carrying all that excess fluid -and of course he tired quickly so would only 'ask' to be walked to the front hedge of my garden and back (and maybe just a little way up or down the road if the mood took him).
As I said earlier; we always let Al decide how far he wanted to walk or how much he wanted to exercise/play and we found this was a much better method than trying to guess what Al might want... So if you have a dog with a heart condition and you're unsure about how much/little exercise is the right amount (like we used to) then I hope you'll consider our solution of simply letting your pet tell you how much exercise they want and need.
The only problem we encountered during the forth week after Al's drain procedure (and hence not long before the next fluid drain) was that he still really wanted to go out - even though he really couldn't get very far (usually to the front hedge and back). I found a novel solution one night when I was going out to get something from my car, and Al expressed a very firm desire to go outside with me...
As I park my car just the other side of my front hedge I knew Al would be ok to come with me, but as soon as I opened the door Al tried to get in (not something he usually does even though he's familiar with car journeys). Of course being so heavy with excess fluid he couldn't get up on the seat... He just waited with his front paws on the seat while giving me the 'well hurry up and help me onto the seat cuz I like it here' look- lol!
So I popped Al in the back of the car and had the idea Al around his favourite 'walk' route; since he was too heavy to physically walk the route. Sure enough Al sat in the back as pleased as punch while I drove him round his favourite route - round his favourite streets and up to 'his' car-park with the hedge he liked to play along.
Al loved it; he sat in the back of my car staring at everything and occasionally licking my ear and sticking his nose out of the window... I was really pleased to have found something to amuse Al so much during the fourth week after his drain operation, when he was too heavy to be able to go very far under his own steam.
Another Great Idea
We found another great way of letting Al enjoy the outside world during the fourth week after his drain operation (when he was heavy due to the excess fluid build up and tired quickly) all thanks to an excellent review I read on Dooyoo by a fellow animal lover (whose Dooyoo name is goosey).
The review was for a pet stroller; a pram like device used for transporting poorly dogs. I had no idea such a thing existed until I saw goosey's review -so I was really excited at the idea. Goosey was even good enough to message me via Dooyoo and offer advice as to where I could get a pet stroller -and once I explained about Al - goosey very kindly even offered to lend us her pet stroller.
I didn't borrow the pet stroller though; as goosey had needed it once for one of her own dogs in an emergency, and it would worry me in case she ever needed it again in a hurry but hadn't got it to hand because she'd kindly lent it to us. Nonetheless, it was extraordinarily kind of goosey to make the offer - especially since she only knew me from Dooyoo..
So initially we were going to buy Al his own pet stroller - but then somebody had a flash of genius (I can't remember which of the family came up with the idea; but it worked a treat) and suggested we use an old wheelchair. Sure enough the wheelchair idea worked brilliantly and saved me all the expense of buying a pet stroller.
Folding Wheelchair: Ideal Transport
So if you're on a budget and can't afford a pet stroller - and you need to move your poorly dog about (when out of the car) - then as long as they can fit safely/comfortably in it; I recommend a cheap second hand folding wheelchair (the one with the small wheels designed to be pushed by someone behind the chair).
During the times when Al was too heavy with excess fluid to walk far (usually around the fourth week after his fluid drain operation, and only a week or so before his next fluid drain) the folding wheelchair came in very useful.
What I'd do was to let Al out as normal for his tiny walk to the front garden hedge, or maybe slightly further up the road a little way (about as far as he could manage when he was full of fluid) and I'd take the lightweight wheelchair with us. If Al wanted to go for a trip round the block in his chair I'd pick him up and pop him in the seat.
Al really enjoyed sitting in his chair and being pushed on a short 'walk' and occasionally he'd want to get off and have a sniff or wee -lol!! Al was very clever though and realised that when I took the wheel chair out into the front garden -he could expend his energy walking further up the road than usual -because he knew that as soon as he got tired he had only to look at me and I'd pop him into the chair and wheel him back home.
My Arms Get Tired!
It did go hilariously wrong on one occasion though (while Al was about 4 weeks into his monthly drain operation cycle and hence quite heavy and quick to tire); I neglected to take the chair out with us on one of our little walks to the front hedge (it was cold and I thought Al would want to come straight back inside)... but Al had got used to being able to go up the road knowing that I'd wheel him back when he got tired; so off Al went, quite a way up the road considering how much excess fluid he was carrying.
I of course foolishly didn't have the chair with me - but since Al was now off down the road (even though it was night time and there was no traffic) I couldn't risk running back to get the chair in case a car drove down the road or something, so I had walked up the road with Al.
Sure enough a few hundred yards and a lot of sniffing later Al looked up as if to say 'Yep; I'm ready for you to wheel me back home now!' the only snag being that I didn't have the chair -lol!
So I had to pick Al up in my arms (Al liked this 'game' lot more than my arms did :-) and carry all near 30kg of him back to the house - Al really enjoyed the 'new' method of travel, but my arms ached for days... believe me; I never forgot the chair again when Al was at his heaviest!!
Fortunately though Al only needed the wheelchair to extend his walks during the last few days before his next operation. Obviously a few days later it would be time to drain Al's excess fluid again -and he'd go back to his usual energetic self and the whole four week cycle would begin again.
Al's Condition Stabilises Again
Thanks to all the medication and now the (roughly) monthly fluid drain procedure Al's heart condition stabilised again. We weren't fighting a desperate battle anymore, Al had a great life, and was able to do his favourite thing -be fully active member of the family again in his own wonderful doggy way.
The fluid drain procedure had given Al a new lease of life - there was no way we'd found of curing Al's heart problem - but through a lot of love and a bit of effort we'd bought Al a lot more quality time (though of course it was Al's great zest for life that always spurred us on).
Al had given us so much love and brought so much happiness into our lives; looking after him when he was ill was the very least we could have done in return! I know many of the pet owners reading this will feel exactly the same way about their furry friends too...
Al's irregular heartbeat resurfaced but seemed not to have any further negative effects on him. Things were going surprisingly well for Al considering.
A Turn For The Worse
Everything was going great but then Al picked up a bug of some kind that made him feel very poorly, gave him diarrhoea and took away his appetite. We immediately took Al up to see his third vet; who luckily had had to treat a lot of dogs for the same illness.
Apparently there was a bug going round (much like human colds and flu 'do the rounds') that a lot of dogs had caught - and our vet seemed well clued up on how to treat it. The treatment involved antibiotics and a tube of diarsanyl (that could be dispensed in measured doses twice a day) to settle Al's stomach and aid his digestion.
The treatment work well, but it took Al a while to recover properly as he already had his severe heart problem to contend with and this reduced his ability to deal with further health problems and recover as quickly as a healthy dog.
Al's zest for life and desire to be right in the middle of everything family wise with his larger than life personality, all returned within a day or so of treatment (indeed even when he was poorly and obviously not feeling well he still maintained that little sparkle in his eye and still made the effort to interact as much as he could within the limitations of how he felt - Al's spirit was an unbelievable force to behold!)...
Unfortunately, his body couldn't keep up with his spirit - and it was a few weeks before he really able to be as energetic as he wanted to be again. In the meantime Al had lost a little more muscle mass due the not being able to eat properly when he had the bug, and of course Al's heart wasn't getting any better. Once lost it was very difficult to build up the muscles to their former state - it wasn't like a healthy dog where you can simply feed and exercise them more because Al's poorly heart would use up loads of the energy he got from food just to keep functioning, so putting muscle back on was very difficult irrespective of the amount or type of food given (and believe me Al liked to eat -lol!!).
Fortunately Al recovered from the bug, and was (relatively) soon back to his old self, though a little thinner for the experience (the thinness in no way altered/slowed the build up of excess fluid - that would still build up throughout the month; though thankfully the amount of fluid build up never seemed to increase or accelerate further/ faster than the monthly fluid drain operation cycle we'd established).
The bug Al caught was (until Al recovered) a real worry to us though; because when you have a pet with a serious underlying illness - when they get ill you always have the possibility that they may not survive. The best way we found of dealing with this fear - was to forget it as much as possible and concentrate instead on looking after Al; so by taking control of the things we could take control of it lessened the worry about the things which we could not.
Al's Drain Operation Goes Wrong
Once Al had got over the bug, everything returned to normal - and Al was again enjying his life with renewed vigour, being a bit thinner (not counting the fluid) certainly seemed to have no effect on his love of going out for walks or playing etc.
We did make a mistake though that having read this far I hope now that you never do; we put too much trust in Al's third vet! We really should have known better by now considering Al's long history of treatment, but because Al was doing managing so well (and thankfully hadn't gotten any worse despite his very poorly heart) we weren't a sharp as usual at spotting the danger signs.
We should have noticed that Al's third vet and the support staff at the practice who helped with Al's monthly drain operations were starting to treat the procedure as very run of the mill and were getting complacent. This didn't happen previously because we were always so 'on the ball' and paying very close attention; but we'd let our guard slip on this occasion of Al's monthly excess fluid drain operation - and boy did we regret it!!
The danger signs were all there; Al's third vet didn't pay so much attention to him during the consultation just before the drain operation, the veterinary nurses who were usually so attentive to Al (in some cases probably more out of fear of us than love Al -lol! Though there were a couple of veterinary nurses at the practice who we'd come to trust, unfortunately they weren't present that morning).
The first time we felt concerned that Al's drain procedure had not gone to plan was when his third vet phoned us far earlier than expected to say Al had been drained (as I explained earlier; generally Al's drain procedure would take a while because the vet was supposed to drain the fluid gradually over time so as not to cause Al to have low blood pressure).
At The Vets
When we saw Al he didn't look too well and was clearly still carrying a lot of excess fluid, and even worse there was fluid leaking out from the wound in his abdomen his abdomen all over the floor. The wound itself was far larger than the tiny small incision that Al usually had after a drain procedure.
For every other drain operation just one or at most two small staples or stitches were more than sufficient to close the wound -then the staples would be easily and painlessly removed 10 days later. On this occasion however the Al's wound was quite big, not properly closed by the staples, and a large area of skin around it was really sore and inflamed...Too late we realised the mistake we'd made in letting our guard down and trusting Al's third vet!
The vet started making excuses - the first lie out of the vet's mouth was how he'd noticed much earlier (pretending he'd been attentive to Al) that Al was still leaking fluid from his wound and was about to phone us to tell us not to come and collect him till they'd sorted the problem out...This was complete rubbish of course, or he'd have mentioned it to us in his phone call.
Then for some reason Al's third vet thought he would placate us by offering to keep Al at the practice, bandage Al's wound up, and wait until the fluid leak stopped - the vet seemed to think we would be more concerned about Al's fluid leak causing a mess in our car, or house than about Al himself!! What an idiot!
Leaking Fluid And Neglected?
Despite Al's third vet's claims, it was clear from the look of surprise on the vets face when one of the veterinary nurses brought Al into the room, that he had no idea that Al was leaking fluid. Another clue was of course that if the vet had known Al was leaking fluid or any of the veterinary nurses had been paying attention to Al (especially since they knew we were just coming up to collect him, and how annoyed we'd be at why Al's wound was so inflamed and oversized and why his fluid drain procedure was largely a failure) they would have bandaged Al's wound...
But of course the vet or the staff supposedly looking after Al didn't know what condition he was in - they had ceased to give Al the attention he deserved and needed (and that the vet and practice were being paid very well to give); they had grown complacent.
Al's third vet / the staff at the practice probably gambled that - as all the other fluid drain operations had gone so well; Al didn't warrant the same attention anymore (even though the wanted the same amount or more of money from us). I think perhaps they probably took too many 'jobs' on from 'customers' probably for reasons of greed.
Al's third vet went on to say that (as we could already see quite clearly) he also meant to phone us and let us know that the fluid drain procedure hadn't gone very well (yet another phantom phone call!) because the drain device itself had blocked up long before all the fluid had been removed from Al.
The £30 Excuse
Apparently Al's third vet (so his ludicrous claim went) stopped Al's drain procedure as soon as the device got blocked because to discard a blocked drain device and replace it with another new fluid drain device would cost another £30.
Now we knew we were being taken for a ride into greedy vet fantasy land; considering all the vet's other inflated charges (which were always a quoted price); the very idea that the vet would stop Al's fluid drain operation (that Al desperately needed) to save us spending a mere £30 is a joke; it was simply a lie.
If there was the slightest hint of truth in the vet's statement then he could have simply phoned (as you remember from the preceding paragraphs; Al's third vet was very keen to make the false claim that he was always willing to phone us to keep us informed about Al's condition!) and told us the drain was blocked and let us give him the go ahead to use a new drain device. Though of course in reality if Al's third vet had been giving a true account of what transpired, the vet (knowing how much Al needed the fluid drained to ease the strain on his heart and give him back his mobility) would simply have carried on with Al's procedure using a new drain -and added £30 to the bill...
So What Went Wrong?
... But of course Al's third vet did not follow the either of the logical routes (either phoning us for permission to use a new or using a new drain anyway and simply adding it to the bill), clearly we were being mislead. It's hard to know exactly what went on that day - but I believe the following scenarios are very likely to have happened.
Likely scenario 1:
Al's third vet (and the veterinary staff supposedly looking after Al) got complacent and didn't give Al the care he warranted, probability by filling the time they should have been looking after Al by greedily squeezing in more money making 'jobs' -instead if giving each pet the care they deserved (and that the vet/staff had been paid to do).
This first scenario would also explain why Al's vet didn't mention the fluid leak from Al's wound, Al's poorly condition nor the failure of the drain procedure when he phoned to tell us to collect Al - the above scenario would also account for why the vet/staff didn't bandage Al's wound before we got there and it would explain the surprised look on the vet's face when he saw Al being led into the examination room by one of the veterinary nurses (because, through not caring for and watching him properly, they simply had no idea that Al was in that condition).
Likely scenario 2:
Al's third vet wasn't paying attention and messed up inserting the drain into Al's abdomen; hence the resulting very inflamed, large wound.
Likely scenario 3:
Al's third vet simply didn't have a second/spare drain device to replace the blocked one and he didn't want to admit.
In Conclusion To The Failed Drain Procedure
Although we'll never really know what happened to Al that day -out of sight of us, I/we believe the above three scenarios are very likely. The thing we are very sure about is that Al didn't get the care he deserved.
We didn't stop to complain properly there and then, as it was much more important to get Al home and safe, but a few days later we went back to the veterinary surgery to get stuck in... We went for the jugular and an extended LOUD & PROUD complaint at the front desk where all the other 'customers' could hear.
We confronted Al's vet and the staff involved in Al's drain procedure -with all the scenarios above, if nothing else it was a real treat to watch them squirm in front of the 'customers'. They tried to persuade us to go into one of the examination rooms to discuss the matter further (don't ever fall for this trick; it's purely to prevent the 'customers' waiting in the practice from hearing you dish the dirt on the practice's failings) but of course we carried on our very vocal complaint right there in the waiting room.
I was really angry at the way my beautiful little angel Al had been treated (and I guess a little angry at myself for letting my guard down when things were going well and putting my trust in a vet who really wasn't worthy of it. I have found vets I trust, so don't think I'm out and out anti-vet; I appreciate the good ones!) so I deliberately took the LOUD & PROUD technique up to a new level by blatantly telling people in the waiting room about what had happened to Al -right in front of the staff and vet.
This was a great move as it was clear I'd 'hit a nerve'!!! So instead of the whinging pathetic excuses the vet and staff had been giving us... we got their full attention and strong efforts to resolve the problem and end our displeasure (and advertising of their incompetence).
Incidentally; If you do find yourself having to complain due to unacceptable behaviour by a vet/practice you'll find that the staff will tend to group together in the hope of trying to impress you as a collective of 'experts'... don't be intimidated by their knowledge of veterinary matters - it is what they're paid to do after all (think how little they'd know about your specific job or hobbies!) ... Just wait for them to trip themselves up with a statement that stretches the truth (or blatantly disregards it) then jump on that; you'll wipe the floor with them, figuratively speaking -lol!
After yet more antibiotics Al recovered from the mishandled fluid drain procedure - though of course he needed another one soon afterwards because he still had loads of excess fluid left after the failed operation.
Our Vigilance Pays Off
We never again let our guard down with Al's third vet - the possible consequences to Al's health were just great. We started searching round for a better vet again- one who was trustworthy as well as experienced - but due to our vigilance we were able to manage Al's third vet very well while we continued our search for someone better.
There were no more mishaps, in deed the monthly drain operations that followed were flawless and occurred completely without incident. We settled back into the same routine as we'd had before the one bad drain operation (though this time we never relaxed our vigilance) though we still kept up our search for a better vet and veterinary practice.
Al managed considerably well - sometimes it was hard to think of him as a pet with a life threatening illness. He'd still demand to go on his long favourite walks and play energetically sometimes -though these occurrences were becoming less frequent (though not infrequent).
By now the walks Al preferred mostly were the slightly shorter ones - consisting of about 10 to 15 minutes of walking, sniffing and a little bit of playing thrown in for good measure! His heart was perhaps a tad worse, his weight had slipped down fractionally (his proper weight not including excess fluid) but other than that Al's condition was surprisingly stable.
Still Loving His Life
Given how poorly his heart was Al's quality of life was incredibly good, and he was in his element around the house splitting his time between whoever was at home (and who ever was eating the tastiest thing -lol!). We knew how lucky we were to have Al still with us, but something just seemed to be driving him on - Al was just so happy, and happy to be with us (and us with him!) that I don't think he wanted to give up and leave us.
Caring for Al all throughout his illness was really no problem at all (poor vets/treatment aside and the occasional health scare). It was an absolute joy looking after Al; if anything it brought our family closer together... and Al really enjoyed the attention; in many ways Al still somehow managed to give us just as much (if not more) more love, attention and affection than we could give Al in return (we tried hard but we couldn't keep with such a great spirit and endlessly loving soul; though we tried our best -lol!). So please don't think of caring for a pet with a serious illness in a negative way; it's just different to having a healthy pet, not worse or even particularly much more trouble.
Al Gets Poorly Again
Everything was going along fine -and we were really enjoying our precious time with Al, when Al suddenly took a turn for the worse and picked up another bug - with very similar symptoms to the bug he'd caught previously; loss of appetite, feeling poorly, loss of energy and diarrhoea.
Given Al's serious heart problem and fragile health any extra illness is a serious worry, and potentially life threatening. We didn't know how things we go, but we rushed Al down to the multi vet surgery where Al's third vet practiced. Unfortunately Al's third vet wasn't there that day (as you know we didn't trust him completely; but as long as we stayed vigilant and kept on top of Al's treatment the vet was a safe bet).
It turned out that the only vet at the surgery was vet number four (she was not one of Al's regular vets as we didn't trust her) who you may remember once unsuccessfully (because we complained loudly) tried to charge us a consultation fee for little more than saying hello to us as we were busy getting Al weighed. Unfortunately we were still hadn't found the new vet/practice for Al that we were searching for - so we were still using the same so-so vet practice as usual (which was ok as long as we were really 'on the ball'; but it wasn't ideal).
With Al being so ill it was easiest and kindest in terms of the shortest car journey to take him to our usual practice (though the idea was certainly fielded in the family as to whether to try somewhere else; as none of us liked or trusted vet number four)... but we reasoned that, since we had nursed Al through a similar bug and knew more or less what treatments to ask for; we could still get Al the medicine he needed despite the vet.
We Take Control Of The Treatment/ Bad Call By The Vet
It was essential to get Al treated as quickly as possible; we could worry about a follow up trip to see either his third vet (or an alternative better vet) another day. Sure enough thanks to our experience with not so great vets, our previous experience treating Al, our research, and our unshakable belief in our own judgement as the people who knew Al best - we got exactly what Al needed...
...Though not without the vet number four trying her best to convince us that Al (despite the symptoms we'd already recognised) wasn't actually ill with a bug; he was dying from his heart condition, would be dead in a matter of hours anyway and that we should have Al put down!
Vet number four even brought in a second opinion; a veterinary nurse who checked Al's heart, noticed his irregular heartbeat (if they'd have checked Al's notes on the practice's computers they'd already have learned of Al's long term irregular heart beat -but better late than never I suppose; bless!!).
Thankfully we had long since learned to trust our own judgement when it came to Al's care; we'd already learned that not all vets were worthy of our trust. We were in much more informed position -living with Al day to day, and knowing him so well - than a not-so-great vet, who only saw Al for a few minutes...
If We Listen; Animals Will 'Talk' To Us
Contrary to the myth; animals are far from 'dumb' so while it's true they cannot speak, you have only to read the many signs and signals that your pet will impart through their behaviour to know broadly how they are and how they feel. (The better you know your pet the more subtleties you'll pick up on too).
From Al's symptoms (which were identical to those he experienced with the last bug he caught) it was clear to us that he was suffering from another bug/virus - rather than terminal heart failure. Al's heart was in poor condition generally (and his heartbeat was irregular anyway), so having to cope with an additional illness as well certainly was a serious worry for us - but we knew vet number four's suggestion of having Al put down because he was supposedly dying (and she claimed Al would be dead in a few hours anyway) was a bad call.
You'll be happy to know that four hours later Al was far from dead -lol!! ...and as the antibiotics and diarsanyl (the same treatment as for the other bug) we'd demanded for Al started to work he began to get over the bug and recover.
Euthanasia; My Put Down Of Putting Down!
Before I continue with Al's story, I'd like to share with you my/our perhaps non standard views on animal euthanasia. I'd really like to share with my fellow animal lovers, especially those caring for seriously ill pets my views on euthanasia and veterinary over keenness to rely on it.
I want to give my fellow pet owners a more balanced view - rather than just a vet's opinion (which as I'll show is not necessarily impartial, nor always the right choice).
So I would please ask any owner of a pet who is seriously ill - and has been prompted/ pressured by a vet to have your beloved pet put down - to please read this section on euthanasia first. My thoughts and conclusions are drawn from our own experiences from dealing with a number of vets.
Firstly, to be absolutely clear; I'm not in anyway against ending an animal's life if it's genuinely suffering terribly, the suffering can't be alleviated and the illness/ condition is incurable and worsening intolerably - but we've found that some vets will promote the idea of euthanasia long before it's even appropriate to even mention it.
So please bear in mind that the consequences if you get it wrong and agree to euthanasia too soon (or needlessly) are truly terrible; you can't bring your beloved pet back once you've gone down that route... there's no second chance; and you'll have potentially robbed your pet of (in some cases years) of high quality life.
I hope that by setting out my criteria for euthanasia, and sharing from my own experiences examples of when vets were wrong to advocate/push/promote euthanasia (as well as explaining why vets are not always impartial) ... that I may impart to you a more balanced view of euthanasia (instead of just an unchallenged vet driven view); so you can decide what's really best for your beloved pet with a clear conscience.
If A Vet Suggests Euthanasia Should Their Opinion Be Blindly Trusted?
In answer to the above question; in my experience I'd have to say a resounding NO - you should NEVER blindly trust/follow a vet's suggestion of having your ill pet put down.
If it's a vet you really trust who suggests euthanasia for your seriously ill pet (if it's not a vet you trust - then be extra, extra, extra careful!! -for reasons I'll explain shortly)... you should certainly take on board what a trusted vet says, but then check/verify what you're being told by the vet...
...with all the trusted information you obtain elsewhere through your own research (and hopefully you'll consider what's written in this section too) as even a trusted vet can get it wrong sometimes... but above all; I recommend trusting your own judgement; since you're the person who knows your beloved pet best - before you make such an irreversible decision as euthanasia.
My First Experience Of A Vet Needlessly Suggesting Euthanasia
I could begin with just the examples of vets needlessly suggesting euthanasia throughout the time we sought treatment for Al treatment for his poorly heart, but I think - to illustrate my point even better I'll start a lot earlier than that...
My first experience of a vet needlessly suggesting euthanasia was right back to my school days in the 1980's when our family had a lovely Rhodesian ridgeback cross. When the dog got to the ripe old age of fifteen, she developed a weakness in one of her back paws. When we took her out for a walk occasionally the top of her one paw would drag on the floor - as if she had a weak 'ankle'. My parents took our dog to a vet as soon as the problem started - because she'd got a few small grazes on her one paw.
The vet's advice was (you guessed it)...euthanasia!!! - Yes that's right, the vet suggested that we have our dog put down because it was getting on a bit in years and the problem might potentially get worse (This was many years before we'd learned to be weary of a vets opinion - but even back then when we were still so naïve, the vet's advice seemed a severe).
...So we got our heads together and the solution our family found for our dog's problem was simply (after a bit of imaginative thinking) to just put a weak elastic band on the paw that was prone to turn over and drag on the floor occasionally - every time we took our dog out for a walk (being old she didn't walk far anyway - so it worked perfectly). The elastic band stretched gently under the paw's pad and around the back of her leg, stopped the paw from turning over.
All we needed to help our elderly dog live out the end of her life happily was an elastic band; not a bad difference between a dog needing the occasional use of an elastic band and euthanasia!!
Vets Needlessly Suggesting Euthanasia For Al
The example I gave above happened a long time ago back in the mid 1980's, but unfortunately (as we found out when seeking treatment for Al) an over keenness for euthanasia still exists among some vets.
Right from the first moment we found out it was actually Al's poorly heart that was his problem; vets were suggesting euthanasia (in much the same off hand way and with seemed like almost the same frequency that a person serving at McDonalds might ask if you want to 'go large' on your order -lol!).
Even when Al's symptoms were barely more than a cough - vets would suggest euthanasia. Even our favourite vet (Al's second vet) made some comment early on in our dealings with her (this was just before we really got to know her, and she really got to know Al and got stuck into helping Al - after which she wisely never mentioned it again). Every single vet after that also 'tested the waters' with the euthanasia angle - often when Al's condition was well under control and he was doing great -lol!
A couple of Al's better vets openly admitted their mistake in suggesting euthanasia - once they'd got to know Al better and understood how well he coped, and what an amazing quality of life he had - which was a good of them, but it would have been better if all the vets who needlessly threw the idea of euthanasia about, had studied form a little better before doing so.
The Most Common Reason/ Excuse
The most common reason/ excuse given by vets for suggesting euthanasia was some variation on the theme that 'Al could possibly collapse and die at anytime' (if he did something strenuous and then it turned out his heart couldn't keep up)... so the suggestion would be made that we should spare Al that (possible) experience and have him put down (even though this suggestion was usually made when Al was, despite his illness, doing surprisingly well!).
So let's consider the logic of this (as set out above) most common vet suggestion/argument;
The suggestion that we should end Al's life simply because he MIGHT at some totally unspecific unknown and possibly imaginary date in the future just possibly under some specific set of circumstances, put so much of a strain on his heart that it would cause him to collapse and die was - in my opinion (and that of my family) a very daft and ludicrous one!!
To use an analogy to illustrate how silly this argument for euthanasia is - it's perhaps like saying that because you drive a car you might conceivably be involved in a car accident that might injure or kill you -so why not end your life now so as to avoid that slight possibility of being involved in a serious car crash!! How stupid!
If we'd have been foolish enough to pay any attention to the vets then Al would have been robbed of a huge amount of time, happiness and enjoyment - counting from the first vet to suggest it; Al would have died, needlessly almost TWO YEARS before his time!!
So DON'T let a vet lead you BLINDLY down the euthanasia path - it's a cruel indeed to steal away your beloved pet's life just because they get ill... please remember that illness, even serious illness doesn't naturally equate to unhappiness or a poor quality of life in your pet.
The 'Hiccups' Another Time To Watch Out For
Naturally there will be some 'hiccups' in the life of a seriously ill pet (Al certainly had his) where their health takes a sudden unexpected turn for the worse. Al had a few 'hiccups' (as described earlier) on the two when he caught bugs and when he had the drain procedure that the vet made a mess of (also described earlier).
Now of course it's always a worry when your seriously ill pet has a 'hiccup' in their otherwise normally great life (despite the illness), because there's always a chance you could lose them, or that they become so ill there's absolutely no chance of recovery (please the only criteria/circumstances where I would consider animal euthanasia acceptable) then it may be that the kindest thing is euthanasia; But...
...(and there's always a pesky 'but' -lol!!), in our experience with vets; they often bandy the word euthanasia about long before it's even mildly appropriate to even field the suggestion (I'll explain why I believe some vet's are so keen on euthanasia shortly).
You might remember from a little earlier in this article (just before I moved on to the subject of euthanasia) - where I described the events around the second bug Al caught and how the vet (together with a second opinion from a veterinary nurse - who we wisely also didn't trust -lol) said that Al was definitely dying and indeed would be dead in a matter of hours, so we should have Al put down...
That's an extreme example of a 'hiccup' (in my experience the vet's don't normally bring in a second opinion) where a vet wrongly recommends euthanasia - but as long as you stay 'on the ball' and pay attention to your pet's opinion of how they feel, more so than the vet's views - you won't get suckered into accepting euthanasia, when what your beloved pet really needed was some proper care.
Remember This Analogy That Helped Us And You Won't Go Far Wrong
Imagine instead of animal it's another person or even you who suffers a 'hiccup' in your health. It doesn't even have to be a serious one - have you ever had a little too much alcohol to drink (I'll say 'inadvertently' had too much to drink -and give you the benefit of the doubt -lol!!) or perhaps you've been on a boat in breezy conditions and felt sea sick, or even been laid low by a bad bought of flu? Etc etc.
Assuming you're in pretty good health -non of the above ailments are going to pose a great threat to you - but during the worst time of your hangover, seasickness etc - you feel (and look) absolutely terrible; you might even half jokingly say that you wish you were dead -but of course you don't mean it!
Now put yourself into the position of your pet (not literally -lol; you don't need to get on all fours :-) and imagine if you couldn't speak or easily convey the message that although you feel bad, you have no desire to end your life as you're pretty certain things are going to improve for you once you get over this temporary ailment. Now imagine the vet suggesting you be put down because you look so ill... hardly acceptable is it?
... and yet this is how the 'hiccup' euthanasia was 'sold' to us; a vet would use the 'hiccup' (the fact that Al was poorly at that particular moment; that's why we took him to see a vet after all) as leverage to make an apparently (but not really) credible attempt to sell us on euthanasia- even though sometimes (as was the case with the forth vet) they hadn't even correctly diagnosed the illness.
Thanks purely to our own research inspired by our love of Al - and trusting our own judgement over any vet as the people who know Al best we were never drawn in to making a terrible wrong decision over euthanasia. If you have a great relationship with your pet, they will always 'tell' you how they feel, and you'll be able to tell the difference between a terminal demise in their health as opposed to a hopefully temporary, and definitely separate illness.
Now with a pet who is seriously ill anyway - it could unfortunately be that this separate illness 'hiccup' does send them into a terminal demise, but without treating the illness first you are effectively throwing in the towel before the fight has even started...
So I recommend you give your pet that chance - Al had three big 'hiccups' and a few minor ones too - and he survived them all and had a terrific life... So please don't let an over-keen-on-euthanasia vet use a 'hiccup' in your pet's health as leverage - just remember my little analogy about how you feel/look when you're hung over/ in bed with flu or seasick (my you are having a bad week -lol!) -you'll look like death warmed up; but that doesn't mean you should be put out of your misery and put down!!
Why The Over Keenness By Some Vets To Suggest Euthanasia?
It is my opinion that the veterinary over keenness for animal euthanasia that we encountered is for the most part money driven. Once the treatment of an animal becomes more involved (perhaps entailing more time and thought on the part of the vet)...
...because the animal develops a more complex aspect to their illness, or suffers a 'hiccup' etc - or even if the long term outlook isn't good - then (in our experience) that's the cue for a vet to bring up or suggest euthanasia (some vet's were so predictable you could set your watch by their comments!).
This is a win/win situation from a (not so good) vet's point of view because firstly; when treating your pet is easy they can profit well from short/long term illness in your pet.
But when the going gets tough, and the (not so good) vet has to do work hard to help your beloved pet - it's much less hassle for them to put your animal down; they don't have to work hard, and they still get paid for it (so can they truly be trusted as being impartial?). Plus of course - the veterinary practice might possibly make even more profit out of you if you want the ashes or a casket etc...
...and in the long run, as long as they don't offend you the vet potentially stands to profit from your 'custom' again, because (as the vet knows) most people who lose a pet will have another one - and will return to the same veterinary practice again.
Of course the above explanation is only my opinion and that of my family (based on our experience with different vets) - though I've found many animal lovers who agree with me... I'm not suggesting that all vet's are the same; but I personally would never take a vet's word about euthanasia without seeking further information elsewhere.
In Conclusion To The Section On Euthanasia
So in conclusion to this section concerning some vets apparent over keenness to needlessly push euthanasia as an option; given the opportunity to share my opinions on the subject with other pet owners - they would be; don't be fooled, don't be bullied, don't allow yourself to be mislead, don't be susceptible to any guilt trip speeches a vet may try to lay on you... in fact I'd recommend that you don't do anything that in your opinion and judgement (as the person who knows your beloved pet best) is not in your pet's best interests.
As I said earlier; the only circumstances we'd consider animal euthanasia is when those circumstances match our no-chance-of-making-a-terrible-mistake criteria (as written out near the very start of this section on euthanasia) where there animal is in terminal decline and beyond help.... Due to my experience with vets, I personally wouldn't trust a vet's opinion on euthanasia without first obtaining further independent information.
The way I look at it - meaning no disrespect to them (as there are some very good vets out there as well as the ones I wouldn't let treat my teddy-bear), a vet is a tool (albeit an important one) you use to help treat your beloved pet; YOU are the one looking after your animal - or to put it another way; if you weren't paying them, would your vet still treat your pet?
...So don't let them talk you into needless/premature euthanasia if what your pet really needs is appropriate treatment.
One Final Thought/ Something Shocking I Discovered
One final thought on this subject for animal lovers - during our research online while searching for things to help Al -I came across a few mentions of some very unpleasant info which though it might not bother everybody, will send a chill down any animal lover's spine (or indeed anyone who is anti animal experimentation and cruelty)...
Apparently, according to the information uncovered during our online searches - some vets take part in animal experimentation experiments; they undertake operations on completely healthy animals (which are later killed or die as a consequence of the operation) to perfect/learn new skills...
Now the whole animal experimentation argument is a little outside the scope of this article (as you've probably guessed I'm very much anti animal testing and cruelty - I could give many good reasons why I think doesn't help either man or animal -for instance people die every day from taking medicines exactly as prescribed, that have been deemed safe after animal testing... but as I say the whole animal experimentation argument is a little off topic).
However if a vet is experimenting on a healthy animal -dog, cat etc (which will then either die or be killed) simply to perfect skills/ practice procedures, then there is a real conflict of interests;
A vet is supposed to care for animals not deliberately harm them - a human doctor/surgeon does not operate on healthy people (then let them die) to learn his skills (so even those people who are pro animal testing for human medicine -although I don't agree with it -will hopefully see the argument doesn't hold up well when applied to vets -there's a direct conflict of interest).
We only found out about (and were very surprised by) some vets involvement in animal testing in passing while looking up things related to Al's treatment -so vet involvement in animal experimentation isn't a subject that I've looked into greatly -I have no idea how widespread it is (or not as the case maybe - I hope it's rare)...
...but I will give my opinion and say that a vet who operates/experiments on a defenceless healthy dog/animal etc and causes the animal's death (either through the experimental procedure or because the dog etc is killed afterwards) but on the other hand treats dogs and animals - is not someone I would have even one tiny grain of respect for...
If you kill an animal on the one hand and treat it on the other - it would appear that the motivation is purely financial. This is not and never can be animal care, and I certainly hope it's not a widespread practice!!
Returning To Al's Story
As time went on my little angel Al, although his spirit and zest for life remained undimmed, and although he'd recovered so wonderfully from his health scares, was slowly declining as his heart condition got gradually worse, and he was less energetic.
Al's quality of life was still brilliant, and he still had his little 'moments of rushing about - and even improved sometimes in little spells, though the slow generals trend was downhill.
You wouldn't know it from how Al acted though- he just wouldn't stop, you couldn't persuade him not to be involved in everything or follow various family members about the house (and right up to the end Al would follow anyone of us who dared to step outside the front door, even for a moment -lol!
Al still went on walks, all be they usually much shorter one's (even right up to the end of his life Al went for walks; he loved them!), he still played with his toys, tried to get as many tasty treats in between meals as possible, and he was as wonderful company to be with around as he'd always been.
So please don't think that caring for a pet with a serious illness is all doom and gloom, or hard work - other than making sure Al had all his pills at the right time and his monthly fluid drain procedure -it was really very little different from having a healthy pet; and as Al was so wonderful (but I'm sure your pet is wonderful too-lol!) it was a joy looking after him anyway.
We had began to (dare to) hope that, since we'd really got a good routine of treatment going and because we were so 'on the ball' when it came to veterinary care (and especially because in no uncertain terms Al had let us know that he didn't want to leave us or give up) that Al might be able to continue his great life for a good while longer...
...but alas it wasn't to be, Al suddenly took a turn for the worst and despite his brave struggle right up to the end - he was just to weak to recover.
The End Of Al's Life
Of course we tried everything (by this time we'd finally settled on vet number five at a practice that had come very well recommended) but there was just no where to go.
Al really was dying this time, but even at the end he was still his old self, still the same magic twinkle in his eyes, still the same playful nature and unstoppable will to interact - but he could barely stand (we took turns sitting by him -as we'd done before when he was ill, otherwise he'd follow you round anyway whether his body was strong enough or not; you couldn't stop Al and his breathtaking spirit).
Al's heart was giving up, his spirit never did! There was nothing else we could do for our little angel... our little angel who had adopted our family and made the house such a wonderful place -I was luckiest of all to have known Al because he was my dog (and I was his human -lol!) and got to spend the most time with him.
So after getting expert opinions and doing our own research, and being absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt certain that Al only had a few days to live (estimate one to three days before his heart finally gave up) and that those days would not be pleasant for him as he had literally overnight lost both the strength to stand and his appetite for food (in his weakened condition the lack of food alone was deadly as his poorly heart needed so much energy)...
...we decided, having run out of all treatment options, and to spare Al the suffering of his inevitable impending heart failure (since Al's health had deteriorated to the point where he was in rapid terminal decline, his condition was untreatable and in the last day or few days remaining to Al - he would not even be able to eat or stand) to let Al slip away peacefully at the vets practice.
So, with my arms around Al, and other fmily members fussing him we let our little angel slip away, surrounded by those who loved him most -and whom he in return loved most. Indeed, vet number five also said that that Al had probably only lived such a surprisingly long time despite his poor heart, simply because he was so happy and didn't want to leave us... You know, I believe she was right!
So that was the end of my little Al's life - I don't really have an opinion on the existence of an afterlife one way or the other; but (as a friend of mine on Dooyoo kindly commented in a message) perhaps Al is reunited with my late father now... it's certainly a beautiful thought!
What did I learn?
Now that I've lost my little Al and have had time to reflect on caring for a pet with a serious illness; what have I learned and what would I change?
In the hope of helping a fellow animal lover caring for a seriously ill pet I'll set out the answers to the questions -
I learned that that taking care of and owning (I'm not sure I like the word 'owning' anymore than I like using the word 'pet' - but I use the term for simplicity; in reality I shared my life and time with Al in the same way I would with any member of my family) a pet with a serious illness can be just as rewarding (if not more so) as taking care of a healthy pet. Indeed, I don't think that even Al knew he was ill 99% of the time!!
If anything Al's illness strengthened the bond between Al and me, and Al all the other members of 'his' family (which included my girlfriend and other visitors -lol).
Looking after Al made me a better person - and it also made me a very lucky person; lucky to have such a priceless friend as Al.
I/we learned that not all vets/practices can be trusted!!
I/we learned that there are some great vets out there!! ...(though I still don't advocate blind trust in any vet).
I learned to trust my own judgement (as the one's who know my beloved pet best in all the world) over that of a vet.
I learned that some vets appear to be over keen on (and premature in) their suggestion of euthanasia (as I wrote about in the euthanasia section earlier in this article).
I learned to save money on vet medication/drugs by getting a prescription and ordering online (if they're animal only drugs) or collecting them from a chemist shop/supermarket chemist if they're 'human' drugs.
We learned what questions to ask a vet to make sure we got the right treatment for our pet, and what danger signs/words to look/listen out for to show up an untrustworthy (in our opinion) vet.
We learned/developed a great technique for complaining about poor treatment at a veterinary practice (see the 'loud & proud' complaint technique earlier in this article) and put a name ('greedy vet syndrome') to some suspect money making behaviour that some vets appeared to exhibited -so we could always recognise it.
What Would I Have Changed?
With regard to looking after Al all through his serious illness - other than the obvious impossible change of magically making Al's heart work normally - there are only a few things I'd change.
I'd like to have had the knowledge, attitude and opinions I have about vets now -back then when Al first got ill. I doubt Al would have lived any longer, but I would have been able to spare him a few needless health upsets and we would have saved a load of money...
Looking after a seriously ill pet isn't always cheap, but most of the time (as long as you're watching your vet like a hawk, and are getting your pet's drugs by prescription) if you remain 'on the ball' it's manageable (I still think that veterinary charges on the whole are far too high though).
But other than wishing we were a little sharper/wiser sooner with regard to our dealings with some vets and wishing we knew about buying animal drugs on prescription sooner etc -a there isn't much else we'd change.
(Firstly; I know this is a very long article for Dooyoo so you may not have had time to read the whole article - so I'll try and make the key points here (though some points may already have been made earlier in some cases). Just scroll back up and read any sections on any keywords/phrases you might find useful or interesting).
Caring for a pet with a serious illness is a very worthwhile and rewarding thing to do. It is every bit as rewarding as having a healthy pet -though there may be a few extra things to take onboard such as organising the administering of medication/pills throughout the day -and finding a good (or at least competent) vet.
When using a vet, be sure to get the best treatment for your pet, watch out for 'greedy vet syndrome', be sure to not have your money wasted, and if the medication/drugs for your pet are expensive get a prescription for them instead of buying them from the veterinary surgery.
Don't get suckered into agreeing to unnecessary, needless or premature euthanasia for your pet - some vets are over keen (see the examples above) and not always impartial (they get paid for it after all). There's no second chance if you get it wrong -and robbing your pet of life if they're still enjoying it is cruel (see the full section on euthanasia above) DO get independent advice and research information before making a decision -DON'T get suckered!! (See the only criteria we would deem acceptable for euthanasia in the euthanasia section above).
If your pet suddenly takes a turn for the worse (see the health 'hiccups' section) be sure to get your pet the treatment they need - don't let a vet use it for an excuse/leverage to talk you into blindly having your pet put down (please see the only criteria we would deem acceptable for euthanasia in the euthanasia section above)..
Do enjoy the time you spend with your beloved pet - if they recover you'll have built an even closer bond with them -and if they sadly pass away you'll have the knowledge that you gave your pet the very thing they wanted most in the world; lots of attention from you!
When it comes to your pet's treatment and care - if you know your pet really well and have put the time/research in to familiarise yourself with their particular illness -I recommend (in my opinion) that you trust your own judgement even over and above the vet's.
If you find a really good vet - tell the other pet owners who live locally to you about them.
Likewise if you come across a really bad vet - tell/warn the other pet owners who live locally to you about them too.
Either way - it's probably not a good idea suggest a vet or practice who you haven't had relatively recent dealings with... in case circumstances/standards/personnel have changed in the meantime...
Al will always have a special place in my heart (as I'm sure your pet has in you're your) and I'll never forget him and the gift of his company. It broke my heart to lose him -but the worst pain would have been if I'd never have known him -now that would have been the greater tragedy!! ... And if there is an afterlife (I see no harm in a little wishful thinking -lol!) you can bet Al and me will be running around and playing together again -plus my father (who Al loved to bits) will want a break by then -lol!!
Would I do it all again; you bet I would (I just make a better job of managing/picking the vets)... Will I give a home to another rescue dog? you KNOW it!!
Thanks so much for reading through some/all of my article - again I apologise for the length but I wrote it a number of sittings without realising quite how big it had become -lol!! I hope you found my article interesting and my tips/experiences useful. I just have a few final things that I wanted to say that didn't really fit inside the article, but I feel need mentioning...
You'll notice that I never name vets or practices; I decided against it because in the case of Al's second vet - naming her may make her unpopular with other vets where she works (because of how she helped us behind the other vets backs) -and if I name one vet it might make it easy for someone to trace back/forward and find her identity.
Also, if I tell you a certain practice is good or bad - what if the staff/vets change and then the advice I give out is counter productive. Better by far for anyone looking for a good vet to ask other pet owners locally - a little research goes a long way; stay vigilante when it comes to your pet's treatment and you're unlikely to go far wrong....
PS My Next reviews/Articles will all be of sensible size I promise - lol!
The serious illness in pets that I want to discuss is strokes in cats. If you research online many sites claim strokes are not common in cats, however according to my vets they are getting an increasing amount of feline stroke patients which may be for some environmental reason or may be because lots of people keep their cats in nowadays to avoid traffic etc. I personally keep both my lads (cats) in for safety reasons which is how I spotted all of my cat's strokes. Yes, I did say all and he's still here and full of beans.
This leads me to my next point, if your cat has a stroke don't assume that's it, he'll never recover and there's no hope. Although they can be devastating and fatal in cats (as well as dogs and people) most of the time a cat will make a near full or completely full recovery so never decide what to do until they've had week or two to recover, the first week you may not notice much improvement but week 2 and week 3 often bring a dramatic change so I can't stress that point enough. Some people immediately assume they won't recover but a decent vet would always advise a wait and see approach.
My lad is now 14 and he's on medication for hyperthyroidism and eats a diet to control struvite (both of which I'll probably discuss at a later date in a different review). He was diagnosed hyperthyroid a few months before his first stroke. The first one happened out of the blue, he followed me inside one day and couldn't walk straight. He used the walls and kitchen cabinets to get inside then proceeded to circle. His head was constantly turned to one side (known as head tilt) and he didn't respond to my voice at all. I panicked, I'd heard of many cats that circle before the inevitable and he's my baby. I phoned the vet who said he may have an ear infection or be having a stroke (the two are very similar in symptoms) and bring him in. My partner had my car that day so I called him to bring it home and he rushed home in 15 minutes.
As I opened the door to my partner, with my lad still in my arms, he suddenly snapped out of it. His head returned to normal position and he responded to my voice again but laid on the floor exhausted.
I took him to the vets where he was given a steriod injection for any swelling of the brain and I was told he may or may not have more but as he'd come round so quickly he should be fine. They took a blood test and discovered his medication had made him slightly hypothyroid so we reduced the dose to fix this assuming this was the cause. If a cause can be found often you can prevent more strokes but again often a cause cannot be identified.
He was indeed fine and after a week of being very tired (normal sign after a stroke) he returned to his usual lovely, happy, chatty little self with only one tell-tale sign. Some twitching of his head and front paws at various times throughout the day. But he was ok otherwise and we went about our business with him being my little shadow and chasing my toes under the bed covers for the next 8 months.
The second stroke must have happened in the night, I found him woozy and lethargic the next day so back to the vets for another steroid jab. This time he needed 2 weeks to recover, it wasn't his thyroid level this time either. He was very tired, a bit constipated (again normal after a stroke) and wobbly for 2 weeks than recovered. This time he was left with a worsening of the twitching but nothing else so on we went.
2 months later I noticed he couldn't sleep in the day. Unusual for a cat so I was very watcful. I was supposed to go out that eveing but decided to stay in with my boy instead. He was ok, except he still couldn't sleep, until 11.30. At that point he came downstairs, went into the kitchen and started frantically sniffing everything.
At first I thought maybe we had a mouse in but rapidly realised my lovely little lad was blind. Like the other times he was wobbly and woozy and didn't respond to my voice but this time his sight had gone. He had no head tilt but I could move anything around in front of him and he didn't react. Blindness can be a result of strokes so this came as no surprise to my vet.
I kept him in one room away from the staircase and dimmed the lights (all good things to do), it was hot weather so I turned on a fan and then just crawled round with him moving things out his way, talking to him and letting him sniff me. He recognised my scent as he kept rubbing his cheek on me. He comfort purred throughout except one point where he laid down, sighed and stopped purring and I honestly thought I'd lost him. But no, he stumbled about with intermittent rests for 1 and a half hours. He wouldn't be picked up, I think not having a stable surface under him frightened him so we just had to stop him hurting himself and wait it out.
I talked to a vet (my least favourite at my vets because he specialises in horses and cattle so not much of a small animal man) and he said I'd done all the right stuff and just wait it out. So, after the hour and half my partner had returned home, we'd decided to sleep downstairs to keep my boy away from the stairs and he'd gone to fetch sheets when I tried picking my lad up again.
This time he let me and sat still while I stroked and talked to him. Then he wanted down so I put him on the floor and he went to the door that leads to the stairs. I let him through to see what he'd do, following right behind him in case he fell, and he went upstairs, into the bedroom and flopped on the floor. Then he looked at us and really saw us. Seconds later a moth flew by and he actually caught it! What a little star!
We knew he'd got his sight back and the stroke had finished so we all went to bed. I got up every hour to check him and he was fine. The next day he was exhausted so he slept right through most of it. On the Sunday he went downhill. He was vomiting, felt hot in my arms, kept thinking he needed the loo when he didn't at all, he'd just been and was very lethargic. I called the emergency vet, we agreed to meet at the clinic an hour later.
Can I just say at this point that I love the fact you can call a vet 24/7 and they come out without complaint. If only I could get anywhere near that standard of medical care!
We met the vet at the arrnaged time and it turned out to be one I'd never seen before. I was anxious about this but it turned out to be a good thing. She found my boy had a temperature so he was given antibiotic in injection form and some tablets to come home with, some antacids were given for sickness and I brought some home (this is liquid and is given by a small syringe so I decided only to use it if he didn't stop vomiting for fear he might inhale it as it was given) a steriod jab for the swelling, some rehydration sachets for his water and a small bottle of liquid paraffin to ensure he wasn't constipated. She also looked at his last blood test and said he had mild kidney trouble which could be normal for his age or may have been the beginning of renal failure (very common in cats) and she detected a heart murmur. She said to bring him back in a week and we could discuss a new treatment plan. (By the way, I'd have paid with my soul to keep him healthy but this all only cost me £68)
Now, no-one else ever said there was anything that could be done for these strokes as the cause could not be found so I was intrigued. The next week was very difficult, the antibiotics upset his bowels so no need for the liquid paraffin and he was very lethargic which could have been stroke-related, a side effect of the tablets or infection related. We just couldn't tell until he finished the course. 2 days after finishing the course he was much happier so I think it was the antibiotics.
We returned the next week which coincided with his 3 month blood test for his thyroid so I asked for a full panel to check his mild kidney trouble out at the same time. I insisted he wasn't scruffed for the test and my vet was fine with this, she brought a very experienced nurse in to do it and he sat perfectly still and only growled when the needle went in and when it came out. I thought the whole scruffing him would distress him further so I didn't want that after his recent stroke. His temperature had returned to normal so we'd got rid of the infection.
The new treatment plan consisted of some vasodilators (dilate the blood vessels to prevent extra strain on the heart and clots) which had only been approved for dogs, not cats. Now this was a no-brainer for me, either wait for the next inevitable stroke that may be fatal or try to avoid it. My vet said she'd used them in other cats with good results so we brought them home. They are called vivitonin and are sometimes used for senility in cats too but are still only licensed for dogs in the UK.
Some side effects to watch for are vomiting, upset stomach and dizziness. We're a couple of weeks in with these and no side effects have manifested.
But the unbelieveable thing is after just 2 weeks my lad seems like he's had a few years knocked off his age! He's racing about outside for the first time in 18 months, getting me up early just for plays and fuss for the first time in 18 months and more remarkably his residual twitching from the previous strokes has almost completely gone! His eyes look clearer and he's very, very happy!
My advice for anyone with a cat having a stroke is:
Dim the lights, cool the room if hot, keep the cat warm if cold, keep the cat to one room and ensure he doesn't hurt himself, speak and touch the cat if he's ok with being touched, don't if he isn't but do speak to him to reassure him. I personally see no gain in loading a cat mid-stroke in a box and taking him on a terrifying car journey to the vats so I always wait until the symptoms pass before the vet trip. They cannot stop a stroke anyway so you gain nothing from going before the cat has come round.
At the vets make sure you speak up, you're the only voice your cat has so make use of it! If you want a blood test ask, if you don't understand anything pipe up!
Afterwards expect a very tired, lethergic cat for a week or two, possibly constipation or possible temporary loss of continence (bowel or bladder, either can be affected), some wobbly walking, head tilt is possible, mood swings, no purring or enjoying being fussed, a change in appetite (this is usually huge after the steroid jab then can taper down to less than normal), hunched sleeping postures and open coat. But 2-3 weeks usually sees a dramatic improvement. During the 3 weeks keep things safe, if you have a garden pond fence it off, keep any eye out for any problems with stairs etc.
If your cat has several strokes ask your vet about vasodilators, many clinics are trying them with cats at the moment with some great results.
As far as me and my boy go, he's happy and healthy right now and we hope these tablets will prevent completely any more strokes or at worst reduce the frequency and severity if there are more. I hope this helps another feline somewhere out there!
I'm rating with one star only because I have to but seeing your animal baby ill shouldn't have any.
Anyone who has a close bond with their dog will understand that they are more than 'just a pet'.. they are companions, best friends and family members who have provided years (hopefully) of love, laughter and companionship whilst asking for very little in return, and if they become ill with a serious illness, it is utterly devastating as unforunatly all too many pet owners will understand.
My eldest dog is Ruby, she is a 12 year old Cavailer King Charles Spaniel which I adopted from an animal shelter just over seven years ago. She was extremely badly neglected for the first five years of her life by her previous owner- he kept Ruby chained up outside all year round in all weathers with a cardboard box.. yes you did read that right- a cardboard box, as shelter from the wind and rain, he beat her almost daily (she still has a fear of newspapers, belts and slippers.. the things she had been hit with), she was never walked further than the end of her street and he had let her collar become so tight that the skin had started to grow over the top of it, and when he noticed he had simply ripped the collar out through the skin that had grown over- she still has scars and hair loss around her neck because of this. Then a neighbour finally decieded to call the dog warden (what on earth took her five years to do so, I'll never know) and Ruby was rescued weighing 3.3kgs- less than half the weight a dog of her breed should be. She then spent 7 months regaining health in the animal shelter, she was overlooked by all the visitors who came to visit the dogs.. she wasn't as pretty as the other dogs, she wouldn't play as much as the others and she would snarl at anybody who came near her kennel. Nobody wanted her, well nobody except me of course. I took her home the same day I met her. The people who never chose her, don't know what they're missing ;)
When she came to me, she was scared of everything and anything.. it was the first time she'd been allowed in a house, first time she had been given toys to play with, quality food & fresh water, a warm bed and twice daily walks.. it was also the first time she could live without fear. It took her almost 18mths to get her to trust me, but since then she has been my shadow.. and if she can help it, she'll never be more than a few steps away from me!
So incase I haven't made it clear enough already.. Ruby is a extremely special girl to me, and she is truely my best friend so as you can imagine, I was crushed when 3 months ago she was dignoased with cancer..
Cancer can affect dogs of any age or breed and 25% of the dog population will die of cancer- a real depressing thought. Dog's over 7 years are more at risk and the following breeds are prone to Lymphoma Cancer: Golden Retrievers, Boxers, German Shepherd Dogs, Pointers, Scottish Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Schnauzers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Danes and Poodles. Although not one of the 'high risk' breeds, this is the type of cancer Ruby has and will be the one I will be concentrating on during this review. (Sadly, my two other dogs are on the 'high risk' list though so I may be faced with this problem again in the furture).
Ruby had been acting fairly normally- she was her usual grumpy self and didn't act very different to how she normally behaves- she was eating and drinking okay and still full of energy for her walks. It wasn't until I found a lump behind her knee that I knew there was a problem. I'm a veterinary nurse, and sadly ''ignorance is bliss'' cannot be the case with me- I'd seen lumps like hers too many times before and I knew instantly what it was. However, she underwent all the relevant tests just to make sure but when her results came back my fears were confirmed.
You should check your dog on a regular basis for any unusual lumps- get to know whats usual for your dog and what isn't, how much he normally eats during a day so you can keep an eye out for appitite loss and just what his general mood is normally like.
Cancer symptons to look out for are:
* Abnormal lumps- Just like they should with humans, any lump you may find on your dog should be checked out as soon as possible. Never leave it hoping it may go away on its own- it may be a harmless cyst, but if it is cancer then it needs to be caught early for the best chance of sucessful treatment. Tumours for the Lymphoma cancer often appear round the leg, throat, neck and chest area of your dog.
* Weight loss & no appetite- These can be a sign of many illnesses, no just cancer but still best to get them checked.
* Lack of energy- Same as above
* Bleeding/ discharge- If your dog has this coming from any part of their body, it must be seen by a vet as soon as possible.
Cancer is treatable if caught early enough- lumps can be removed and survival rates are thankfully quite high, tests will be carried out on your dog to see how advanced the cancer is and advise you on the best treatment available, tablets will do for some dogs whilst will need operations and chemo- it depends on the indiviual dog. The most important thing to remember is try not to worry, as hard as it may be. Vets know what they are doing and will give your dog the best treatment possible, whatever your dogs test results may show. Cancer treatment is expensive- Like many owners, I would give every last penny I have if needed to treat my dogs illnesses, but this isn't possible for some though, so pet insurance is a brilliant opition and one to consider sooner rather than later.
Many people will not understand my decision I have made regarding Ruby- but I have decieded not to have her cancer operated on. She is an old girl, and it would take too much out of her. I'd rather my last times with her to be whilst she is happy and enjoying life. Rather than put her through an operation to remove the lump, only to have it return again, or for her to be miserable and in pain and on tablets and going through operation after operation. As much as I'd like another 5 odd years with her, I can't be selfish in this case and need to do whats best for her. Her cancer was dignoased almost 3 months ago, and is quite an agressive form- therefore everyday I have with her is a bonus, whether I have 3 more weeks or 3 more years with her, I'm treating everday like it could be my last with her.
If you have do have your dogs cancer treated (which don't get me wrong- I do recommend in the majority of cases!), aftercare is important. Dogs recovering from cancer surgery are going to be very sore and not them self for many days.. thick, warm bedding is important and an easily digestable food should be supplied by your vet, if not boiled chicken and rice will do- its a great comfort food to dogs and will settle stomachs and fill them up without being too harsh on their systems. Its extremely important to keep an extra special eye on your dog after cancer treatment, to ensure it doesn't return and if it does- treatment can be started again as soon as possible. Like I mentioned before, treatment sucess rates are quiet high so always stay hopefull should your dog be dignoased with cancer, never give up hope.
Give your doggie an extra special hug today :)
**A SAD UPDATE: 28/5/08**
Ruby lost her battle yesterday, she fought till the end but it took too much out of her.
Ruby, my babes, you'll be missed more than words can say. I love you.
Having an animal in the home is a huge responsibility and not one to be taken lightly, though finding out that your pet is chronically ill and is not going to get any better is something any pet owner may have to face up to.
I have had my rabbit for around five years, and early on in its life, it developed problems breathing, and was prone to an illness known as 'Snuffles'. Sounds a cute name doesn't it, but believe me the illness is a sad one which means that the mucus membrane is producing too much fluid, the rabbit sniffs all the time, and has a discharge from its nose, much like a human being would have when they have a cold. Having snuffles on a regular basis takes the strength out of the poor animal and being a caring owner, I wanted to find out why he was perpetually ill.
We had Xrays done on the rabbit and what it showed was that his lungs were hardened and under-developed. This worried me, and I wondered if there was anything that we could have done to prevent this under-development, and we assured that whilst many rabbits are strong, occasionally a weak one will suffer symptoms like this, either because of over breeding, or that they are just born with defects.
He went through several years where the space between the bouts of illness were long ones, and at one stage even had a six month period of no illness. We wondered whether temperatures played a rôle in the illness though were assured that unless the rabbit were subjected to instant changes of temperature, this was unlikely. We also asked about whether we were changing the litter tray often enough, and started changing it daily instead of every couple of days in an effort to aleviate any possibility that the scent from the tray was upsetting his breathing.
He then developed Gingivitis, which really is a painful condition, and causes his gums to have white and red infamed areas. In humans this is caused by bad dental hygeine, though in rabbit can be caught from air borne germs, and finding the cause is not easy. He would not eat. He would not move. He just sat in a corner and looked thoroughly miserable. This was treated with the right anti biotics in the end and he got over that.
Having had the rabbit thoroughly examined by two vets because I was so fed up with the poor creature being subjected to injections almost on a weekly basis, I now know that the rabbit is going to be handicapped for the rest of his life, from a defect that has been with him since birth. One may ask whether he should be put down, and believe me I did ask this question, although he is part of the family and its not only our own pleasure I was thinking of. Rabbit enjoys a good quality of life between episodes, and I wouldn't even think of destroying a handicapped animal just because it causes me inconvenience.
We found that one of the major side effects of constant snuffles and mucus problems was that bunny doesn't produce enough saliva to eat properly or digest. He was very dehydrated, and what we have started to do now is supplement his water intake with a hand held dropper three times a day. He actually benefits a lot from this because it means that there is sufficient fluid to help his digestion, and to enable him to go to the toilet. He had not been for such a long time that we really were worried about a blockage of some kind, although the vet assured me that from the Xrays, this was not the case. What was happening was that he was failing to produce fluids needed to digest the food he ate, and almost gave up eating altogether because it was too hard for him to eat and breathe at the same time.
Having established that more water helped enormously, he has shown an enthusiasm for eating that he hasn't had for a while which is encouraging, although is still very picky about what kind of food he will eat. For example, greens are a no go area at the moment, and we are not sure why Bunny rejects them, but know that we have to supplement the nutrients he is in need of, and here bought dried sticks which contain all the green vegetables that a rabbit needs.
Choosing a Vet for a chronically ill rabbit.
Though the first vet that I had was very caring and had been giving the rabbit correct treatment, I was worried. He was a farm vet and much more accustomed to farm animals and rabbits that are being bred to eat. He liked Rabbit though I thought perhaps his attitude was a little on the rough side, and saught secondary advice. The second vet has a history of treating domestic rabbits, was gentle, weighed the rabbit, did thorough examinations, and seemed to care more. I want the best for my rabbit and chose the second one based on their treatment of my little creature. They also do not give everything in injection form, and have encouraged the bond between me and Rabbit by making me work harder, get closer and more involved in his treatment and this has done both me, as an owner, and Rabbit as my pet a closeness that really does work. Passing the buck to the vet isn't enough for chronically ill animals. They also need special treatment in the home environment, and having the second vet explain what I could do to improve the quality of life of the rabbit was important.
Recognising Chronic illness as opposed to occasional illness.
The thing to look out for with a rabbits health are the following, though not all of these mean chronic illness.
1.Grinding of teeth. This means that the rabbit is in pain. Never ignore a rabbit that grinds his teeth.
2.Dribbling. Dribbling can be caused by something as simple as a tooth problem and can be treated quickly and effectively. Constant dribbling should be looked into as it affects not only the breathing of the rabbit, but also the quality of its life, its digestion and its morale.
3.Sitting alone in a corner and not being sociable. This too could be put down to short term illness, though rabbits are generally sociable creatures and if he sits hunched up in a corner and refuses nourishment, turns his back on you constantly, and does not perform the normal functions of eating, drinking or pooing, something is wrong. Again, none of these may be serious ailments, so the sooner treated the better.
4.Runny stools. This could be an effect of diet, but is certainly worth checking out.
5.Not being able to hold a leaf in his mouth. This really is sad when you see it, and my rabbit displays this. Again, usually this can be put down to a simple tooth problem that can be recitified. In rabbits case, it can't, so I have to hold leaves for him to eat.
6.Problems with eyes. This really is important as signs of ingrowing teeth affect the tear ducts and are first noticeable in the eyes. This can be treated though should be reported to the vet as soon as possible.
The rabbit needs constant looking after. Usually a rabbit is excessively clean, and where he had snuffles for so long, his coat under his chin was all sad looking and matted. I wash this area with a damp flannel but no soap, since rabbit will lick and I certainly don't want to add soap to his diet in his current state. I then brush the hair thoroughly. He hates it, although he preens and shows off how good he looks after a brushing.
I have to give the rabbit a Cortisoid treatment to stop pain, and believe me it works pretty fast, though instead of the harsh injections, I buy this in fluid form and using the vets instructions and following them to the letter, feed him the medicines by mouth, profitting at the same time by giving him the extra water that he needs. I was worried and equated this treatment with Cortisone, that can weaken muscles with constant use, although was assured by the vet that the medicine he prescribed is different and simply aleviates pain. He also has to have a form of antibiotic and believe me, rabbits can be killed by treatments of anything in the Penicillin family so having a vet that is accustomed to the treatment of rabbits is essential.
I treat my rabbit against parasites. You may think that having a rabbit in the home would ensure that he would not be affected, but any animal that eats hay or fresh vegetables is prone to parasites, and parasite damage to rabbits really can be serious. The treatment is simple, by the mouth over a period of several days, plus a cream rubbed on his skin.
Living with a poorly rabbit.
I love my rabbit. You may think if I love him so much, why don't I call him by his name, although I have all the way through the review. He is called Mr. Rabbit. Rabbits are sociable, clean, affectionate, and very intelligent. They let you know if they want something, and you get to recognise their needs just as you would recognise your childrens needs. I know that he is going to be ill for a long time. He's an ornery rabbit, but that suits me. He doesn't care for being picked up, but as part of the treatment, I had to overcome the fear of hurting him, and get to grips with handling him. He hates it, but little by little, I have learned to approach it right. Feeding him with the tube is darned hard work, but I know that by doing so, I am improving the quality of his life, and giving him the necessary water that he does not take from his bowl. This helps his mobility, and his digestion. He's a beautiful, exquisite creature and is worth every bit of effort put into nursing him. If you have a sick rabbit, learn to deal with his needs, and what you and the rabbit get back is an understanding between owner and rabbit, a quality of life that is the best the rabbit can have, and a wonderful experience of caring. They really are worth it.