Pet owners are encouraged to medicalise their dog’s life and this can result in costly treatments. The trick as a dog owner is to identify what costs (treatments) are necessary and which are not.
Consider how you manage your own health and try to apply this to your pet. If you have a stomach ache one day, do you rush to the doctor? If you have a slightly sprained ankle, do you go straight to the doctor or just put less weight on it while it heals? What most of us do in these human situations is take the conservative route first. But not so with our dogs, however.
Growing up in the 1970s with my dad as a doctor (of humans) we kids were ‘never sick’. I missed half a day off school in my entire primary schooling, and I’m pretty sure that was in grade 6 when we left school early to go on a holiday (and I have all my school reports still to verify this stellar attendance record). Similarly, our pet dogs, a Yorkshire Terrier called Bimbo followed by a Welsh Terrior called Rastus, never had a trip to vets after their first year of vaccinations. Exception being when the time to say goodbye came, at the ages of 9 years and 15 years respectively.
Oh how things have changed!
A visit can bring more than expected
Occasionally I take calls from DA owners asking my advice when they are at the vets.
Two calls came in recently.
Call number one
This concerned a sick adult mini dachshund who had been off his food and not keen to go for his walks. This went on for a few days and then when he started vomiting the owners decided, quite rightly, it was time to go to the vet.
The vet clinic appropriately took a series of X-rays. They identified a bone in his stomach; a small bone, the size of the top of your little finger. By this time that bone had been there for about five days.
The owners were advised he needed emergency surgery to open his stomach and get the bone out. This is when the owners rang me for my thoughts.
I stressed that I am not a vet, however if he was stable and did not have a bowel blockage and was eating I was not sure why there was such urgency to undertake such serious surgery. Cutting through the muscle of the stomach would involve a painful convalescence; it’s major stuff.
My advice was to ask what the conservative approach would entail. Namely, if he is medically stable and there is no blockage then why the urgency? The owners replied the vets were concerned the bone could enter the intestines anytime soon and possibly perforate the bowel.
To this I suggested they ask how great the risk was if it indeed did pass into the lower gut. Specifically, bone is calcium based which is readily dissolved by acid. The pH of a dog stomach is around 1.2, which is highly acidic (a pH of 7 being neutral). Considering the bone had been there for five days, any sharp projections would logically have been etched away – indeed as the x-rays showed. This is because a sharp projection has a large surface area to volume ratio, meaning big exposure to the stomach acid and relatively rapid erosion. What were the chances of a smooth small piece of bone causing bowel damage?
I stressed again that I was not there and I am not a vet, but that these would be valid questions to have the vet answer before embarking on such dramatic surgery.
I did not hear back for a few days. At which time I received a string of happy photos of the dog and his owners. Within a day or so he had completely recovered.
Call number two
Call two came only a few days later. In this case a four year old adult dog was taken by his owner to the vet for a sore back. This was on a Friday. The owner contacted me to say she was devastated as they said he would need back surgery and they were scheduling him for Monday morning when the surgeon would be in. The cost was to be huge. And back surgery is a seriously major event for a dog to go through.
I asked if was an emergency; had slipped a disk or something? She said it wasn’t an emergency situation. I suggested she ask what conservative treatment could they follow. After all, we can all strain our backs. My experience is a dog with a sore back – not unlike a human – will be given anti inflammatories, pain relief and rest (in the immediate term at least).
This conservative path was followed and the dog made a complete recovery in a few days.
(As an aside, I was left to ponder the dachshunds’ popularised yet fallacious reputation for back troubles and wondered if this influenced the surgical solution.)
Step back and imagine this is you or your child; what would you do then? Have you ever been offered immediate major surgery at a first presentation?
If your dog is stable and not in pain and a vet advises serious surgery as that first step, ask what the conservative treatment path would entail.
If you are not comfortable with what you hear, and your dog is NOT a medical emergency, it’s time to seek a second opinion.