What Would You do if the Vet Had Bad News?

You're waiting in the vets office, your dog is sick and you don't know what's wrong or whether it is serious. How do you handle it?

Kate O'Brien  |  May 7th 2015

As pet owners, we all know that regular visits to the vet are important, and depending on the age and health of your pets, your vet may even be one of your best friends! If you’ve had animals in your life for any length of time, you have probably experienced a “health scare” — an event where one of your pets is suspected of having or maybe has been diagnosed with something really serious. It’s happened at least once or twice with each of our pets and it’s always frightening.

I remember our first ‘scare’ with our dog Sally. We got Sally as an 8 week old pup and she was a little bundle of chocolate lab goodness. She was our first dog as a couple and was our “Sweet Sally Brown”. We went to a vet close to our home in Los Feliz, CA. We had frequent (we were new parents after all), but typical puppy vet visits – vaccinations, a bee sting, diarrhea, nothing too serious or scary. Then, one day when she was about 6 months old, she developed a slight cough and seemed a little off her game, tired & sluggish, not her normal bouncy puppy self. We got her right in to the vet for an exam. The vet looked her over and suggested a chest X-ray. We agreed.

After what seemed like much too long, the vet returned looking grim. She asked us if Sally had been given her heart worm medicine. Our reaction was huh? We admitted that no, we had never been told she needed it. Although we were both from the east coast where heart worm is prevalent and had each had dogs before, it had never been brought to our attention here in California, so we didn’t think much about it. It’s carried by mosquitoes and there’s no mosquitoes here, so how could she get it?

“I think she may have heart worm” the vet says. My heart sank, tears welled up in my eyes – I knew that heart worm was a very serious illness, especially in a dog so young. We just got her, we couldn’t lose her! We’re a little frantic, and to be honest a little pissed off that the vets never warned us that she needed heart worm medicine.

At the time, a heart worm diagnosis was made through a blood test that had to be sent to the lab, so we had to wait 24+ hours for our results. It was the most agonizing 24 hour period of my life. We were both so in love with our sweet Sally, we couldn’t imagine our life without her.

Luckily, the test came back negative, she didn’t have heart worm…but she never missed another heart worm dose. I also lost faith in that vet and changed vets shortly after that. I learned a few valuable lessons from this experience – first and foremost, I made sure our dogs have their heart worm medicine. And secondly, I learned that just as with your own health or the health of loved ones, YOU have to be their advocate, you can’t rely on the doctors to do what’s right, or to tell you everything you need to know. You must educate yourself in order to care properly for the pets in your life, and that means reading, asking questions and making sure you are comfortable with the answers. (Using Google to diagnose is not a good idea…but that’s a whole separate article).

Over the years, we’ve lost 3 pets (including Sally) to old age. We nursed them through many and varied illnesses ranging from orthopedic surgeries to glaucoma to simple vomiting & diarrhea to the worst – bone cancer. It never gets easier and I don’t think you are ever really prepared to handle bad news. I find that armed with credible information about alternatives helps calm the anxiety, but it’s still a frightening event.

How about you? Do you have ‘health scare’ story to share? Tell us how you handled it. What did you learn from it? What can the rest of us learn from it?

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