The darkness behind closed eyes

A note before I start. This is a topic that can upset some people.

I’m going to talk about how negligence towards your pet can harm your pet, even potentially lead to its death. I also discuss two cases that I’ve encountered, where the negligence on the owner’s end did a significant amount of harm to the patient’s health.

If this is something you feel will upset you and affect your mental health adversely, I would advice you to not read on. If you choose to not read on, I will leave you with the message that I’m trying to convey through this post

Don’t be negligent towards your pet’s health, and don’t ignore what your vet says – regardless of everything else, your vet does want the best for your pet’s health. Stick through the whole course of the treatment, and don’t expect instant results. Listen to your vet – you and your vet are a team, whose main goal is to ensure that your pet is as healthy as possible. Our pets will leave us one day, but let that not be because we didn’t do the things we could have when we should have.

Those of you who choose to read on, I elaborate on what negligence can look like – what it most commonly looks like, from my perspective as a vetso that if you ever find yourself in that situation, you know what to do, and what not to do.

Thank you for reading this note. Now, onto the post.

Stock photo by Pixels

Losing patients is hard, on so many different levels. It’s the loss of a very beautiful life; it’s the accumulation of painful memories towards the end of the life of a beautiful and endearing creature. It hurts everyone involved in the team – the owners and the veterinarians – to make life better for the pet. People who can quantify pain will say one person in this team feels pain more than the other, but I would say that the pain felt by the owner and the vet are very, very different.

As a vet, I do form bonds with my patients – especially in difficult cases or ones with long, drawn-out treatments. Along with doing my duty as a doctor, I do root for my patients, and hope they get better. But sometimes the prognosis is grave, and a better quality of life isn’t a part of the animal’s future.

Cutting one’s losses early can be done, but only if the owner is able to envision what kind of future their pet is looking at within the next day, or next week, or even as far as the next month. It’s not easy for anyone to stop fighting for their pet, or hoping that there is a possibility for them to get better. But reality hits hard, and it’s a lot harder when the animal you’re trying to save has quietly accepted their fate, and doesn’t want to fight anymore.

As a vet, however, a different kind of sadness hits me when I realise that the animal could have been saved, and his or her life could have been prolonged, only if the owner had decided to listen to the medical advice initially, and reacted a lot quicker than when they actually did.

Starting the treatment a couple of days later may not seem like it would do too much harm, but I’ve lost patients because the owners reacted days, weeks, even months late.

I usually choose to avoid details, but I decided that it will be a lot more helpful to have incidents to hang onto, to remember. I have two stories I want to share here, with you.

Stock photo by Pixels

The first story is of a very young dog I lost to a treatable and curable disease. This was, in part, because the owner sat on my diagnosis and treatment protocol for two weeks, and did not go ahead with the treatment as soon as I gave it to them.

I was out of town for two weeks, and had too much going on to remember to follow up with them. There were no calls or messages updating me on their pet’s status, and they did not get any other vet to take a look at their pet for the two weeks I wasn’t available, even though he was visibly ill, and was just getting worse.

When I did visit them and was able to give their pet a look-over, I asked them if they’d started treatment. They said they tried giving the antibiotics for two days, but their pet didn’t like it, so they discontinued it.

Honestly, I was flabbergasted. I asked them if they’d given any of the supplementary medication I’d prescribed. They gave me the exact same reason. Finally, when I asked them why they didn’t take their pet to another vet, or get some tests done, they said that their pet gets scared of other animals, so they thought they’d wait for me to come take a look. By the time I was able to visit, a little less than a three week course of the antibiotics would have been completed, and the pet would have been on their way to recovery. By not giving the full course of treatment, they let the pathogen stay in the body long enough to wreak havoc in all organ systems in the body – which reflected in the symptoms he had developed over the weeks, and the blood test that I was able to do that day.

The pet didn’t get better – he kept getting worse, until there was no chance of recovery through any treatment. Finally, he had a massive haemorrhage, went into shock, and was beyond any point of return. In the end, he had to be euthanised.

Rest in peace, you darling ball of energy. You are dearly missed.

Stock photo by Pixels

The second story is of a very old dog I’d diagnosed with stage two renal failure, which was an incidental finding during a routine check up. I’d told them that they had to start treatment, and to let me know after a month of treatment so that we could run tests again and see if there was improvement. In the same fashion as the owner of the previous case – the owners didn’t follow up, and the case got buried in the back of my mind, as I was occupied with different aspects of my life.

They contacted me months later, asking for a check up for a condition I had treated previously. Over the course of the next week, a lot of things went wrong, one after the other.

First, I was informed that the last treatment I had prescribed for their pet, for the same condition, had been half completed, as they hadn’t found the medicines in the pet shop closest to them, and they hadn’t contacted me to find out where they could get it. This time around, I told them where they could find it, and left.

A few days later, they contacted me saying their pet was throwing up. Since I wasn’t available that day, I informed them which oral medicines they should give, and that, if she threw up after being given the tablet, she should be taken to a hospital. They didn’t get back to me until the next day, asking me for a consultation for the exact same problem. When I asked them if they had done what I had told them to, they said they hadn’t. This meant that she had not received the medical attention she needed immediately.

I went for the consultation, administered the medicines, and casually checked the infected area I had been called to treat a few days back. It didn’t look much better, so I asked them if they had done the treatment for that day. That’s when they informed me that they were going to get the medicines that day, and were yet to start.

Given the age of the dog (and the casual approach the owners seemed to be taking to everything), I decided to run a blood test to rule out the possibility of organ damage. And that’s when I realised that the patient’s stage 2 renal failure had advanced way past stage 4, beyond any point of return.

I informed the owner of the grave prognosis, as well as the treatment regimen we would follow, and all supplementary medications they would have to administer to help out the body. I hoped that the marginal fighting chance would get them to stop taking the treatment protocol so casually. Once I started treatment, however, nothing had changed – they would get the medicines I prescribed much later than when I’d asked them to start, they wouldn’t give the medicines they did have according to the schedule – and I realised whatever minimal chances I thought this dog had in the beginning were also snuffed out.

I’ve seen 13 – 15 year old dogs which had been run over by vehicles, with fractured limbs and broken jaws, who had owners who refused to euthanise them because ‘It was wrong to kill an animal before its time’. These dogs fought, tooth and nail, to live every day the best they could, through their unbearable pain, and some of them lived long enough for their fractures to heal, albeit by malunion. My patient, however, had given up since day two of the treatment – the look she gave me was enough for me to know. And when your patient gives up, at that point, they’re just living for the sake of their owners and their vets – the treatment is the only thing keeping them alive.

The owners realised that there was no way she was going to get better, and I agreed. So, on a unusually gloomy morning in the middle of summer, we said our goodbyes, and put her to sleep.

Stock photo by Pixels

I shared these cases with you, in brief, in order to show you what negligence can look like. Even though we blame the pathogen or the disease it is suffering from for the death of our beloved pets, we fail to add negligence to the column labelled ’cause of death’.

Negligence is failing to get your pet treatment even after it’s obviously ill. Negligence is not doing anything to solve a problem, even after being advised on what to do about the problem.

Having shared this with you, this is my honest plea to all pet parents –

  • Don’t ignore your pet’s health, and don’t ignore your vet’s advice.
  • You’re not going to see results in one or two days, which is why no vet will give you a two-day treatment regimen for any problem. Do follow through with the entire course of treatment.
  • If you’re not finding a particular medicine, follow up with your vet – there are alternatives present for most drugs in the market, and your vet will be able to help you with that.
  • Follow up with your vet when they ask you to – there is usually a concrete reason for why they’ve asked to inform them at that specific time.
  • You’re going to have to push through the entire regimen, for your pet’s sake – you have to get them to eat those tablets and drink those syrups, even though it becomes a war-zone to get your pet to take their medicines.
  • Before starting a new medication or stopping previous medication, especially antibiotics, consult with your vet and take their advice. It makes a lot of difference between cure and a drug-resistant reinfection.

It is for their best interest and ultimately, as a pet-parent, for yours, as well.

The pain of a pet-parent is incomparable and indescribable, and I won’t try to put it in words here. As a vet, I not only mourn the loss of a beautiful life, but live with the knowledge that a lot of the ‘if-only’s could have been true. The frustration of knowing that things would have gone very differently, ‘if only’… If only.

I decided to write this post to cherish the memory of the two dogs I’ve mentioned here, who I had the chance to help. To those two beautiful souls, I hope you’re in a much happier, pain-free place now, frolicking around like the darlings you are. I will always remember you two, and the joy you brought to my life.

Rest in peace, you darling creatures. I will dearly miss you two.

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