Friday, January 13, 2012

The Honor and Privilege of Caring for a Pet

Here we are once again in the world of my day job as a small animal veterinarian. After nearly 19 years of taking care of my furry four-legged patients, I can honestly say I have seen just about everything. Does that mean I am not still surprised or shocked by the behavior of some "pet guardians?" Far from it! I don't think there is a day that goes by that I'm not bewildered by someone's lack of knowledge when it comes to the medical care their pet needs, but what has to get under my skin more often than not, is the willingness for some to believe any advice given to them by anyone who is not a veterinarian. You should hear the reasons that come up to defend why these people haven't brought their pet in for a routine check up before the animal becomes deathly ill.

I've heard it all. 

"My breeder told me not to get any vaccinations until Spot was six months old." Vaccinations start around 8 weeks of age and are given every month until they are 4-41/2 months old. This schedule is done in order to get past the mother's antibodies that could still be circulating in their system. There is no set time that these antibodies can still be present, but usually by the time they are 4 months old, they are gone. At that point, that last booster will be able to protect the pet for a year.  Only one booster is not enough for most of them. These vaccines need at least a series of two in order to boost the immune system properly.  Waiting until six months old is just putting your pet at risk for coming in contact with a disease they cannot fight off.

"You took an oath. You have to take care of my pet at no charge." I did take an oath and here is what I pledged.

"Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine,
I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills
for the benefit of society
through the protection of animal health,
the relief of animal suffering,
the conservation of livestock resources,
the promotion of public health
and the advancement of medical knowledge.

I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity
and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.

I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement
of my professional knowledge and competence."

No where in there does it say I have to give away my services for free. Yes, there are circumstances where I do euthanize an animal who is in a lot of pain whether or not the owner has the money to pay for it.  The bottom line is that it's the pet owner's responsibility to do the best they can to take care of their pet's needs. Sometimes we are able to do some services at a greatly reduced rate due to the generosity of other clients and community programs. Unfortunately, these funds do run out quickly and have strict rules about how the money gets distributed.

"All you vets care about is money."
So not true! We got into this profession because we love animals and want to help keep them happy and healthy. All we have is our knowledge. That office call/exam charge covers the physical exam, discussion of our findings and our recommendations as well as answering any questions you may have. For new puppies and kittens, this first exam can be a long one especially for new pet owners. We want to make the experience of owning and caring for a pet enjoyable for the whole family.

We call owners back with results of their pet's blood work usually the following day. How many of you can say the same for your own physician? Not only do we put in 10-12 hour days at least 4 days a week seeing patients, we perform surgery, review blood work, review x-rays, perform in house testing such as cytology of ear swabs to diagnose infection, skin scrapings to look for mites. We council our clients through all stages of their pet's lives from females giving birth to their first litters, to helping the children understand the loss of their 'best friend" to cancer.  Physicians do some of that during their day, but not all of it. I would like to see them do all of it and with more than one species! Oh, for less than 1/4 the salary to boot!

"I can't afford to vaccinate this new puppy. I spent my rent money to get her in the first place. When she starts having pups then I'll get her the shots."
If you don't vaccinate her when she is a puppy, she will be at risk of catching life threatening diseases. If she is lucky enough to make it to breeding age without vaccines, then her pups will not be protected when they are born. So if they are exposed to parvo for example, not only could you lose the entire litter, you could lose the breeding dog you got in the first place. No dog. No pups. No money.

"Yeah, three days ago after I saw my dogs eating the D-con I called that poison control hotline. They told me to bring them in right away to a vet, but I didn't do it. They seemed fine then, but now they are really weak and don't look so good."
This actually happened not too long ago. This case broke our hearts. If the owner would have taken the advice right in the beginning, we could have saved both of his dogs. Instead, the poison worked it's way into their systems, interfered with their body's ability to clot and both young dogs were bleeding to death.  The owner brought them in too late.

"What do you mean, my dog has diabetes? That's a human disease!"
Animals can get diabetes, epilepsy, cancers of all kinds, autoimmune diseases, allergies, allergic reactions, poisoned by foods and medications that are technically safe for humans, severe arthritis, cognitive disorder (similar to Alzheimer's disease), liver failure, kidney failure and heart failure. That's just the short list!

"Can't you just call up Hawaii and put a rush on the paperwork? I am moving next week and want to take my dog with me and don't have the time to go through all the testing they require."
Sorry, no we can't. Other countries around the world make up their own rules for entry. Hawaii does the same. These areas are considered free of Rabies and they want to keep it that way. No amount of begging on anyone's part is going to change their rules. If you want to travel to Hawaii, or out of the United States in general, do your research! Call the embassy of the country in question and ask them their latest regulations. DO NOT go by what the airlines tell you!  They haven't got a clue what the countries require and could care less if your pet is rejected at the borders.

Yes folks, people actually say things like that to me and other veterinarians. It gets worse. There are breeders out there that put in their contracts to not trust veterinarians because we "just want to give them vaccines they don't need. Everyone knows that there hasn't been a case of distemper in years."  Oh really?  Don't know what rock these people live under, but diseases like distemper and parvo are still around, very contagious, and deadly.

"Dogs in the wild eat bones so it's just fine to give raw or cooked bones to your pets at anytime."  
No, it's not. Most dogs do not chew these up properly at all and pieces become stuck trying to pass. These are medical emergencies!

It's not cheap to treat these very ill animals. You can't "just give them a shot" and make it all better. They need fluids, antibiotics, anti-nausea medications, sometimes blood or plasma transfusions in the case of some poisons, dialysis as in the case of antifreeze ingestion, and even surgery to remove pieces of bones that have become lodged in the intestines. We don't think of these things when looking at that cute puppy or kitten up for adoption, but maybe we should. 

That free kitten you got outside of the grocery store is adorable, but now you have another 12-18 years to care for it. First there are vaccinations, dewormings, flea control, heartworm prevention and neutering all by the time the animal is six months old. There are annual exams and some vaccinations, food, bedding, litter and litter boxes, and grooming if the cat has long hair.  If you live in a small studio apartment, one kitten/cat is fine, but don't try to squeeze in 3 or more. You need to provide them with one litter box per cat plus one additional one in order to keep the peace even if you allow your cats to go outdoors. If you don't, you will create a situation where the cats are crowded, stressed and urinating all over the place to show their displeasure besides the inevitable fights between them, or  god forbid them attacking you.

Your veterinarian wants you and your pets to have long and healthy lives together. They want to work with you to accomplish this. It's not one size fits all. You need to find a veterinarian you feel comfortable with and who you feel will help you offer the best care for your furry friend. Get out and interview veterinarians to find the best fit for you. Tour the hospitals and clinics in your area. Find out where the emergency clinics are if the local veterinarians do not have emergency hours.  If you invest the time and effort, you will have a veterinarian and nursing staff that you can trust.

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