Dealing with a difficult medical diagnosis
Each of us dreads the day when our dog will receive a frightening medical diagnosis. Here are some suggestions for dealing with this difficult time from a veterinarian who has been guiding clients for over 20 years.
If the situation is urgent (a sudden seizure, a complete loss of balance, an extremely rapid heartbeat or breathing), you don’t have the luxury of taking the time to sort things out. Contact your veterinarian immediately and discuss what you should do.
During your visit to the veterinarian, note what he says: when we are in a stressful situation, we often forget important details. Having it written down can save you the extra stress of trying to remember everything you’re supposed to do or what to expect.
If your dog has a condition that requires a veterinary specialist, ask your veterinarian for a referral or contact your nearest specialized center. I will talk about veterinary specialists in a future column.
If you decide to use holistic care for your dog, remember that in addition to the many legitimate practitioners, there are scam artists in these areas who recognize your vulnerability and promise anything. Often these “miracle” products do nothing to help your pet and can even be dangerous.
Thanks to the Internet, we have access to health-related information that would have seemed impossible twenty years ago. Unfortunately, much of what we find may be misleading or outright wrong, sending us down weird and unhelpful rabbit holes. Choose your sources of information from reputable sites like the American Veterinary Medical Association, ASPCA and Humane Society, Pet Health Network or Pet MD. If you join a group forum, remember that just because someone says their dog reacted a certain way to a certain treatment or product doesn’t mean your dog will do the same. Always consult your veterinarian before acting or buying anything.
Unfortunately, we live in the real world where money is often a problem and no one has access to a crystal ball. Deciding whether the benefits of treatment outweigh the costs or whether you can even afford the treatment is extremely stressful. There’s also the fact that even the best-trained professional can’t always predict with certainty whether a given treatment will help your dog. This is the time to have a frank discussion with your family and your veterinarian about options and resources.
If your vet recommends a drastic procedure like amputation or eye removal, try removing yourself from the equation. Unlike humans who often struggle emotionally and physically with such conditions, dogs tend to adapt very quickly to things like the loss of a leg or an eye. I volunteer with a local rescue organization and can say from experience that dogs who only have three legs or one eye have an excellent quality of life despite their disability.
Finally, if you are given a terminal prognosis, do your best to focus on the positive and the possible. Take your puppy to his favorite places or visit beloved people.
Allow your dog to do whatever he is capable of, such as walking, swimming in a lake, or playing with other dogs. If your dog’s time is limited, you could spend those last few hours or days letting him enjoy some of his most special treats or things that were on the “forbidden” list, like a fast food burger. .
Overall, remember that your relationship with your dog is based on love, not guilt. Make the best decisions possible with the information you have and trust yourself.
Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her golden retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the respectful spirit of her beloved golden retriever Casey, in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at [email protected] And if you’re looking for a golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.