The following are true stories. *Names have been changed to protect the furry and innocent.
The past few months have brought up a few emotional challenges as a veterinarian. But none more difficult than those cases and patients whose problems could have been avoided. On more than one occasion, technicians that I work with and myself have surrounded a patient as we said goodbye and more than a few tears were shed. It’s not only the situation that was disheartening, but also the circumstances of how we got there.
Maggie* was middle to older aged shepherd cross who was brought in to the clinic for vaginal discharge. The next question is always the crucial one…is she spayed? In her case, the answer was “no” and the diagnosis became much more suspicious for a pyometra (uterine infection). She was an otherwise healthy dog. The blood tests further heightened my suspicion and this is where we ran into problems. Financial costs were a concern for Maggie’s family. Further diagnostics were not an option, but more importantly, neither was treatment. Treatment which would have involved surgery including hospitalization, IV fluids, antibiotics, and pain medications can be quite expensive. Every attempt was made to find a financial solution that would work. Even a payment plan was offered of which the terms of could not be met by her family. Re-homing her was not desired by her family and sadly, euthanasia was elected.
Gertie* was another patient who presented with vaginal discharge that looked like pus. She was a middle aged English Bulldog who had previously had a C-section. She was not feeling well for a few days prior to her examination and her family had to decide what to do for her as well as figure out finances. They agreed to go to surgery where I came across a most unusual finding….a gigantic ovary. The ovary was closely attached to the kidney on that side of the body and had extremely enlarged blood vessels. I was able to remove it, explore the rest of her abdomen, and finish the surgery.
Gertie took an incredibly long time to wake up, much longer than it normally takes. We began to worry and started looking into causes to explain what was happening. Ultimately, we went back into surgery only to discover an abdomen full of blood & blood clots. Calmly checking everything, my colleague & I noted that all 6 ligatures were intact and in place and we could not find the cause of the bleeding. Given the appearance of the ovary earlier, we were suspicious of a malignant tumor which may have weakened tissues or spread to other organs. With the constant flow of blood and no way to stop it, in addition to her poor recovery thus far, her family made the decision to let her go. I felt a sickness and surge of emotion as her heart stopped and the monitors went silent.
Two dogs and two different situations. In both cases, pets’ lives ended and the bond with their family broken prematurely. And patients like Maggie and Gertie are not the only ones; this happens almost daily within the veterinary profession and with cats as well. Myself and the rest of the veterinary team hate this part of our jobs. The knowledge that we can save lives and help animals, but in some circumstances fail to achieve that goal, is gut wrenching. A simple ovariohysterectomy (spay) surgery years earlier could have avoided both of these incidents. Month after month, we end up euthanizing patients for potentially preventable issues. I understand that costs can be an issue but many areas have programs or clinics that can help. Alternatively, I strongly recommend either looking into pet insurance or make a savings account for your pet. Every time you get paid, just put away a little bit for Fluffy or Rover in case of those larger expenses or unexpected emergencies. Talk with your veterinarian if you have concerns and maybe get a plan in place. So if you are reading this, please listen to your veterinarian when it comes to preventative care. It can save your pet and allow the bond you have to remain strong for as many years as it should rather than be ending too soon.
Disclaimer: All blog posts may contain opinions which are my own and may not reflect those of any current or former employers.
An alternate version of this post was published on Dr. Andy Roark’s site to more directly address the veterinary teams working with your pets. You can check it out here. Thanks for reading and don’t forget you can subscribe on the right side to get new posts directly to your email! And I’m now on Instagram @drryanllera and as always on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!