By Christie Long
A situation recently unfolded at my clinic, and I thought sharing it might help others to make more thorough preparations for their pets the next time they leave them in the care of others.
A young, toy-breed dog was left in the care of a family member while its owners traveled on vacation outside of the United States. The dog unexpectedly jumped from the caregiver’s arms and fell to the ground and was seriously injured. He was completely paralyzed in his rear legs, exhibiting no ability to feel or voluntary movement. He was unable to urinate or defecate on his own, and he was in so much pain that he had not eaten or drank since the accident.
Unfortunately, the owners of the dog were unreachable and were not scheduled to return for several days when we saw the dog in our clinic.
Injuries such as this are often due to traumatic extrusion of a disc into the space occupied by the spinal cord, and many times surgery is necessary to relieve the pressure around the disc and restore function. We recommended immediate consultation with a neurologist for this patient, but the caregiver did not have the financial resources himself to do this, nor did he feel certain the owners would want this.
Because of this, we provided hospitalization with pain control for the dog and emptied his bladder as necessary. We treated him with anti-inflammatory medications to relieve what we suspected was swelling around the spinal cord and hoped for the best, all the while continuing to try to contact the owners.
When they returned from their vacation, they immediately took their dog for a neurologic consult and an MRI. Happily, the MRI showed the dog did not need surgery, and with several more days of supportive care, he was walking on his own.
Clearly, this situation was upsetting for everyone involved — the caregiver, my clinic staff and the owners. It could have been mostly avoided if the owners and the caregiver had engaged in some frank discussion. Always make sure the person you leave your pets with knows who their primary veterinarian is and how to contact them.
Additionally, make sure the caregiver knows what your wishes are should an emergency arise, including what emergency hospital they should take the pet to if the primary veterinarian’s office is not open, and how much money you are comfortable spending on care should you be unreachable. And make sure your caregiver knows whether they are entrusted with making medical decisions for your pet, and if not, who is. Then contact that person and let them know you have designated them as your pet’s emergency medical contact and what that entails.
Most boarding facilities as well as established pet-sitting businesses have procedures to establish all of these things, but when family members or friends are left in charge, the particulars of emergency care are typically not discussed. This is especially true of young animals with no health problems, but clearly accidents can and do happen.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted adviser to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.