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When the News Is Bad for Your Dog

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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You may have noticed small changes occurring for some time now, or perhaps it came quickly – in an instant, an illness or trauma. As you wait anxiously in your veterinarian's hospital, you have just been given the news that your beloved pet is very ill. What do you do when the news is bad? What questions do you ask your veterinarian, and how do you make the right decision regarding the care and treatment of your pet? Here are a few guidelines to help you understand your pet's illness and what issues you should address with the doctor if this difficult time comes.

Your Medical Education

No matter what the diagnosis may be, your veterinarian's first job is teaching you some advanced medical science. This is a big job for your vet as it is his responsibility to explain in clear and simple terms what can be some pretty complicated problems. It may be a short course on diabetes, kidney or heart disease. When you hear an illness explained for the first time, the medical language can be confusing. It is difficult to remember technical information under emotional circumstances. You may spend an hour discussing every aspect of a problem only to forget everything when you get home. This is normal and expected. Ask your veterinarian for any printed information he may have regarding your pet's illness that you can review at home and share with friends or family. Schedule a consult appointment time. Leave your pet at home so you can concentrate on what the doctor is telling you. The distraction of your pet during this time can hinder your understanding.

Now What Happens?

Now that you've had a little time to comprehend the news, it's time to ask the down-to-earth questions of what it will be to deal with your pet's illness. You should not be shy in asking your vet these questions, as you and your family will be the ones responsible for care and monitoring once your pet returns home.

  • Ask for a prognosis. Your pet's illness may compromise his health and quality of life and may do so in less time than you think. Ask the doctor if the illness will cause a quick decline or can be managed for a time and if so, for how long. Your veterinarian can only give you answers based on what is average for the diagnosis. Each pet will respond differently, some better than expected, some not as well. If the illness requires surgery, ask about this as well.

  • How will this change my lifestyle? The medical conditions of your pet may ask you to alter your daily routine. For example, pet's that are diagnosed with diabetes often require insulin injections twice a day at regularly scheduled times. You may need to adjust your schedule to be at home to deliver injections and make sure your pet is eating to keep the diabetes under control. Find out if any aspect of your pet's problem will cause a conflict in the way your daily routine is carried out. That way you can begin to think about adjustments and alternatives that can be made.

  • How will this change my pet's lifestyle? Your pet's lifestyle may change too. Depending on the diagnosis, some pets may need confinement or greatly reduced activity. For example, a diagnosis of degenerative joint disease or intervertebral disc disease may mean your dog has to eliminate Frisbee catching from his list of activities. Pets who are not easy to medicate may now have to receive several doses of medicine a day. It is not unusual for your veterinarian to prescribe a diet change. If your pet is a picky eater, this can become a challenge. Ask your vet what significant changes an illness may mean to your pet's overall routine,

  • Is my pet now a patient? Some diseases or disorders require frequent visits to the doctor to check on the progress, adjust medications and address any complications or concerns. If your pet required only a once a year wellness check, an illness that is being managed long-term may mean veterinary visits 3 to 4 times a year or more. Ask your veterinarian to anticipate what level of ongoing care your pet will require.

  • Cost. Please don't be shy about addressing this issue openly with your doctor. Veterinary medicine is largely an out-of -pocket expense. Pet insurance may not cover a preexisting illness, so unless you had a policy in place before the diagnosis, it is likely that any costs incurred will be your responsibility. Ask your veterinarian about the cost for initial treatment. Many pets require a hospital stay to treat and stabilize medical problems. Ask for an estimate for any medications, supplies or special diets needed when the pet goes home. Ask what the doctor anticipates ongoing medical care will cost. Your doctor is used to addressing these questions, everyone has them.

  • Will I be referred? Veterinary medicine is specializing just as human medicine has. Your pet's illness may require treatments, medications or surgery beyond the scope of your regular veterinary hospital. This may require travel and additional costs. Ask your doctor if your pet's treatment will be done "in-house" or if you will be referred to a specialty practice or veterinary teaching hospital.

    Understanding

    I Just Don't Understand How This Happened. He Was Fine When I Left.

    This is often the toughest aspect to understand. How is it that your pet was fine this morning when you left for work only to return home to find him very sick? Your veterinarian will help you weed through possible causes but it is important to remember that many diseases that have been coming on slowly over time can look as if they just happened. The body is capable of coping with many diseases for a long time until it can no longer keep up. Your pet probably gave you no indications he was ill, and probably didn't feel bad until the moment he was no longer able to compensate for the level of disease. It does not indicate ANY neglect on your part.

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