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Benign Neglect

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

I consider myself to be a good pet parent. However, when Earl Gray, my cat of 19 years started missing the litter box, I chalked it up to old age. I thought it was his time, and that he wasn’t going to be around a lot longer.

I waited two weeks before I took him to our veterinarian. It turns out Earl had a thyroid problem—an overactive one that caused poor litter box manners. Thankfully, he is back to his old wonderful self. He truly is a great cat, and thanks to meds and a special diet, he even has those kitten-like bouts of running around the house every so often.

My not taking him to the vet immediately had to do with just thinking it was his time. I also have to admit that I don’t visit the doctor when I’m ill. Both decisions are mistakes.

Not going to the vet right away got me thinking about other pet parents who wait. Most of you (I took an informal online poll and asked around) take your pet to the vet almost immediately if the symptoms are serious. Others admitted to waiting a few days—even a week or two.

The late Sadie. She was a beautiful dog.

Peter L. Massaro, owner of Identicollar, a safe, reflective ID collar for cats and dogs, regrets waiting. “I live in northern San Diego County—farm country—and I saw my Springer Spaniel, Sadie, eat a mouse out of one of our traps. Having seen her eat one once before without anything happening, I assumed she would be okay.”

“Well, I was wrong. Three days later I found her lifeless on the floor and rushed her to the vet. She died right on the table in front of me. I will never forgive myself for not taking her in sooner. If one suspects there is something wrong with his or her pet, financial reasons should never be the reason to delay a visit to the veterinarian.”

I’m sorry for Peter’s loss, and I know how sorry he is, yet, I don’t think that makes him a bad pet parent. I may have waited too—especially if Sadie ate a mouse before and nothing bad happened.

Then I asked Thomas F. Dock, Certified Veterinarian Journalist (CVJ) and managing editor of Veterinary News Network (VNN), a wonderful source for all things pet health and vet related. “Veterinarians across the country are seeing pets with illnesses or injuries at much later times and that is leading to higher costs for pet owners as well as increased suffering for the pets,” he says. “The recent National Council on Veterinary Economic Issues (NCVEI) study with Bayer came to the same conclusions. Although the economy has played a big role in this for the last three years or so, there has always been a reluctance from many pet owners to take pets in immediately (‘oh, she just sprained her leg…she’ll be fine in a day or two.’ ‘It’s just a little vomiting, nothing to worry about’). I think the biggest proof of this is seen in online pet related forums; people asking others about the course of action they should take when their pet is limping/vomiting/experiencing bloody diarrhea, etc.”

“Most veterinarians recommend a physical examination every six months for most dogs and cats. Since our pets can’t talk and they are so good at hiding signs of illness, this bi-annual exam can catch a lot of little problems before they turn into big issues. Puppies and kittens should be seen on a regular basis (every 3 to 4 weeks until they are about 16 weeks old) and some veterinarians will even recommend 2 to 4 annual visits for senior pets.”

Procrastination Equals More Money Spent
Thanks to VNN, I heard from Dr. Arnold Goldman of Canton Animal Hospital in Canton, CT. “One example is sitting in a cage in my office right now,” he says. “A male cat with lower urinary tract obstruction, a common condition, was seen today for collapse, vomiting, and not eating. Medical care administered later revealed the cat must have been completely obstructed for 24 hours or more. Detailed history revealed that the owner noted frequent trips to the litter box in recent days. Had the cat been seen when those trips had begun, obstruction may not have occurred prior to being seen. The difference in cost of care for outpatient feline lower urinary tract disease and inpatient when obstruction finally occurs, approaches $1000.”

Dr. Mitsie Vargas, a VNN member in Orchid Springs Florida and a certified veterinary acupuncturist, tells the story of a dog named Bear. “When I saw him, Bear was very ill, anemic, platelets super low, and recumbent,” she explains. “He was tick infested. The owners had stopped using the monthly Frontline and the dog almost died of rickettsial disease. Luckily, after intensive treatment and $1,200 later he did recover. The monthly dose of Frontline would’ve been a big savings.”

How long do you wait to take your pets to the vet?

46 comments to Benign Neglect

  • Mona Towns

    We loved Sadie, as we love her owner, and our hearts to out to him for his loss. I feel compelled to add the story of another unnecessary loss in the hopes that someone will be spared losing their beloved pets in order to protect their gardens. Our friends’ 3 year old Newfounland was found lifeless after eating snail pellets, which were put up high outdoors but he somehow managed to get them. I don’t think any garden is worth losing any innocent, beloved pet. Please spread the word. In his case, it was too late to rush to a vet. Very sad…

  • Thank you for commenting Mona! And I’m so sorry about Sadie and about your friend’s Newfoundland.–Michele

  • Hari

    We always take our pets to the vet at the first sign of distress. Good article.

  • Hi Michele – I recall the same feeling – but for me when my Brandy showed signs of aging, to myself I didn’t want to admit something could be wrong. I always act immediately and call the vet, but I know that pang is there and I worry.

  • DC

    One of my neighbors was lamenting spending $300 at the vet for a work up for “nothing”. I reminded her that she found out there is nothing to worry about and when you can buy peace of mind, it’s usually worth it.

  • Micah

    Thanks Michele. So glad you are back blogging. I missed you. Great post, and it is very relevant. I think the economy plays a big role and that even parents wait a bit to see if their children are healthy too. It’s not just pet parents.

  • Michelle

    I totally agree that a lot of us don’t actually say we put this off, but many of us do. It’s very true, and even though we love our animals, we sometimes think they will get better.

  • Cheryl

    Great post, Michele.

  • Glad to be back Micah! I needed the break. I am going to try to post 2x a week. thanks for reading–Michele

  • Kathy

    Can anyone explain how a dog eating a mouse would kill them? Serioiusly, cats have been catching and eating mice since the beginning of time. Just look at Tom and Jerry! I don’t get it….was the mouse rabid by any chance? I’m curious because I wasn’t aware of the dangers of this….. feral cats eat mice all the time and many dog breeds are “ratters” (Terrier breeds in particular) and they used to eat rats and mice all the time. Maybe Michele knows the answer to this?

  • My Pugsley wasn’t acting himself and we thought we’d wait until the next day to see if he improved. Then (thank goodness!) we noticed he was straining in the box. Off to the emergency vet we went at 10 p.m. It was a blocked urethra, potentially fatal. He might have died if we waited until the next day. Sigh. Now I go at the first sign of trouble, especially if it’s during office hours!

    GREAT post.

  • Cara

    Thanks Michele! I take my two dogs to the vet once a year for their annual checkups, and if there is a problem, we go immediately.

  • Nadine

    Great advice, and you touched on something extremely important: with all of these online “medical” advice sites and forums, people are asking other nonprofessionals for advice, which can be harmful. A vet or doctor has to see the patient–not go on a description online. Thanks for this very important post!

  • Jackie

    My heart sank when reading about Sadie. It is so important to take your pet for regular checkups–even if nothing is wrong.

  • Brandon

    This is a very important post Michele. I’m studying to be a veterinarian, and I know so many vets that don’t like these online advice sites. Every dog and cat are different, and you have to bring him in so the doctor can see the patient. Thank you for this. I am going to share it with my network at school.

  • Thanks Caroline! And I’m glad Pugsley is well.–Michele

  • Hi Kathy, Some mice carry parasites. Maybe the mouse ingested some form of poison, which can easily be transferred to the dog. It isn’t the norm, but it can happen. That is why it is important to take your pet to the vet.–Michele

  • Marshall

    Thanks Tom for answering Kathy’s question. I was curious about that too. And I take my two dogs to the vet yearly. If there is a problem, I also call my vet immediately.
    I think pet owners have a different relationship with their vets than with their doctors. Vets are so personable, and they have our furkids’ interest at hand. It’s a good relationship.

  • Michele…thank you so much for allowing a few of our VNN members to share their thoughts in your blog. Hopefully, the examples that Drs. Vargas and Goldman shared, along with what I am reading in the comments, will be enough impetus for people to take their pets in for an examination when problems are first noted.

    Kathy…depending on the size of the dog, he could have eaten a mouse that had consumed rat/mouse poison and that could be problematic. Also, without knowing more of the dog’s history, it would be impossible to hazard a guess as to the cause of death.

    Your comment is a great example of why there is so much frustration among veterinarians and many pet lovers about online forums/discussion sites, etc. As Brandon and Nadine have commented, a veterinarian needs to see the pet in order to give a diagnosis. Unintentionally, people will leave out important information about their pet when typing in the problem and that info could be what the veterinarian needs to resolve the issue.

    There is certainly a place for such sites, to help provide medical information and even make recommendations on when it’s time to see a veterinarian, but they should never be used in lieu of a pet being seen by a veterinarian. Online breed specific forums or rescue groups are great places to talk about pets, but unless the person providing medical “advice” is a veterinarian, I would not take that information to heart (unless your veterinarian verifies it). I can share countless stories from my days in practice and the last three years as an administration of an online Ask A Vet site, of people attempting to solve pet medical problems “at home” following Internet advice and the outcomes were not good!

    Great article and discussion!!

  • Mary

    What I love about your site Michele, in addition to the articles, are the back and forth discussion that you have going on here. This is quite helpful and informative. And I always take my two cats in for their annual checkups and if there is a problem, I call the vet immediately.

  • Dr Arnold L. Goldman

    For Kathy: Mice are not uncommonly exposed to rodenticides and may build up a tolerance to them, all while accumulating the rodenticide in their bodies. Also, if a mouse had ingested rodenticide just recently, and was perhaps in the process of dying, so was slower and more easily caught by a dog, that dog would be exposed to the toxin as well. A trapped mouse eaten by a dog may have also had toxin before being trapped. I suspect this as the reason Mr. Massaro’s poor dog died.

  • Kathy

    Wow – I never either thought of the poison/pesticide factor. I was just thinking about how often cats and dogs have eaten other animals….thinking about the food chain and all. But of course, there are the other environmental issues to consider too – as in hazardous environmental issues that are creating by humans. This is why pesticides are so dangerous to use; whether it be on grass/lawns to contain weeds or to keep varmint at bay. Humans have a responsibility to utilize non toxic, animal friendly products – there are plenty of other ways to get rid of rodents other than poison bait. As we know, this can have severe consequences to our family members….including our pets!

    Thanks go all who enlightened me on this topic. I greatly appreciate the information!!

  • I’m going through this dilemma right now with my dog who was hit in the eye with a tennis ball and is now squinting. Even though I could “wait it out,” I am taking this afternoon off work to take her to the vet — better safe than sorry!

    On the rodenticide discussion chain, this past summer our pets found rat poison in the wall of our newly rented apartment. There was bright blue material on the floor, and we thought one of the dogs had just chewed up a toy. We found part of the soft bait packaging and got our two dogs and cat to the vet right away. Turns out only one dog ingested it, and it was caught soon enough that she could be treated. But it was a close call. If you ever find a bright blue or green substance in your home or in your pet’s mouth, get them to the vet right away!

    Clearly, we spend a lot on vet care, but they’re worth it…

  • Thanks Alison, And so glad to hear that your pets were okay. I hope your dog with the squinting eye recovers quickly.–Michele

  • Matthew Harmon

    We take our dogs to the vet at the first sign of trouble. Thanks for this great post!

  • Russ

    I’m glad that Earl Gray is feeling better. While I do visit online chat rooms for advice, I always go to the vet at the first sign of an ailment.

  • Tabitha

    Our 23 pound min pin (we lovingly called him a max pin) ingested 2 miniscule sprinkle-looking pieces of mouse poison. Luckily, I saw it happens and rushed him to the vet. They induced vomiting and disaster was averted, but they said that 2-4 pieces of what he ate could have killed him. So glad I took him in. Sadly, he died 2 years later in a house fire, but that incident taught me a very valuable lesson; don’t wait. Just go. Money be danged.

  • Helen Vassos

    I don’t wait, being a new parent.. I like to consult the vet quickly.

  • Very good question, Michele.

    Several times I’ve taken one of my cats to the Vet because they were sleeping more then usual (hard to tell with a cat), and their eyes were at half mast; not as active as usual. With multiple cats I have to be alert all the time.

    As it turns out another cat’s claw can penetrate their skin and the hole is so small that it can’t heal, causing an infection under the skin that you can’t see. Although there will be a lump, you may only notice if you happen to pat them in that particular area.

    If I didn’t take them in at the first sign of something wrong it would have been too late, because by the time I noticed something out of the ordinary they were well into a serious infection.

  • Solomon

    Great site and always an interesting read! We take our dog and two cats to the vet every year. If something seems wrong, we go immediately.

  • Hi Tabitha, Sorry to hear about losing Min Pin in a house fire. Glad you are okay. Michele

  • Valerie

    Yesterday morning at 6am I rushed my 6 year old male cat Jake to the emergency vet’s office. He had been straining to urinate the day before and he had a total blockage of his urinary tract. At first I thought it would pass but he became listless and vomited so I could see he was getting worse. The total vet bill could be as high as $3000. I don’t know if this could have been prevented by having a routine check up. I understand the need to have my pets looked at by a vet regularly but honestly the cost keeps me from going in. I’m sure more people would bring their animals to a vet if the prices weren’t so high. I live in New York State. I don’t know about other areas but here, like the cost of living, is very expensive. He’s doing well but now I’m worrying how I will pay his bill.

  • Linda Parella

    My cat Daisy who is 15 years old was urinating all over the place even in her kitty bed she sleeps in.
    Also she was drinking alot of water. I watched this for 2 weeks and then took her to the Vet. Daisy would never urinate anywhere but the litter box.
    My vet diagnosed her with Diabetes. I now give her two injections of insulin a day and she is doing very well.
    I thought too it was just old age. She has been on this insulin for 2 years now. Don’t wait it might be too late.

  • Hi Valerie,
    I totally hear you! When we found Earl Gray with a badly broken leg, the fee was $2,000. That was 15 years ago! It’s still a lot of money today. We spoke with the vet and did a payment plan. I’m glad Jake is okay.–Michele

  • Hi Valerie…I too am glad to hear that Jake is doing better.

    Your comment is one similar to ones I see every day in my job and heard quite often when I was working in veterinary hospitals as well. I certainly agree that when you are working hard every day just to make ends meet and put food on the table, etc, any extra cost is a burden and has to be weighed carefully. And, I think that your comment illustrates one of the reasons Michele started this blog…to see if costs prevent regular and routine care.

    When you look at prices for veterinary care and compare them with a similar procedure/office visit, etc in the human side of things, veterinary medicine is actually a bargain. Take me for example…without insurance, my most recent doctor visit (simple exam so that I could get a refill of my high blood pressure meds) would have cost me about $125. Since I have insurance, I only needed to pay the co-pay of $20. So, when we compare veterinary exam costs ($25-60, depending on your location), an exam for your pet is about 1/6 to 1/2 the cost of an exam for yourself.

    Again, I can completely relate to juggling costs during these economic times, but, like Michele has pointed out, along with the docs in the article, in many cases, a little bit of money spent on regular or preventive care can help minimize or even eliminate a huge bill for an emergency situation or serious illness.

  • Valerie

    Thanks Michelle. There is no price we can put on our pet’s value to us but I hate to feel exploited for that. When you look at the charges on the vet bills it just seems like they are taking advantage of a bad situation. I like the vets I see and unless it is their practice I understand they are not in control of what is charged. For people with animals some sort of advocate for fair fees would be great. Do you have any ideas about this?

  • Hi Valerie, I really feel your pain. We love our pets and want to do everything we can to help them. Some options include health insurance, which I have mixed feelings about. If you purchase an insurance plan–make sure you read the entire plan, shop around because not all plans are equal (even plans within the same company differ greatly), and you may want to consider something like Pet Assure. I am not advocating for this company. i wrote an insurance story about them for insurancequotes.com. Pet Assure is not insurance. It is like a medical discount plan. You pay a small fee, sign up with the vets in the program (so you have to live near the vet), and you pay 75% of the bill.

    Tom Dock, who is quoted in this article suggests: “Consider a pet health savings plan, dedicated credit card or pet insurance as a means of protection against unfortunate emergencies or illnesses. And if a situation does occur and you can’t afford the treatment plan for your pet, there are options. Personal financing companies like Care Credit, MedChoice Financial and Chase Health Advance can often help. There are two things to remember though…first, make sure your veterinarian accepts one of these as payment and second, pay off the balance in the allotted time. If the balance is not paid, the interest rates can be in excess of 25 -28%.”

    Valerie, I don’t know these companies and am not personally recommending them. It’s just an option that was pointed out to me.

    Tom also suggested: “Grant organizations exist to help folks experiencing financial hardship. The American Animal Hospital Association Helping Pets Fund is one example. If the veterinarian is accredited through AAHA, he or she can apply for a grant on the pet owner’s behalf. In Memory of Magic is another grant organization. People should understand that these organizations also rely on donations from corporations and individuals in order to help and these should not be used for routine or preventable issues.”

    Again, I don’t know a lot about these organizations. It is something worth looking into.

  • Valerie

    Yes if you compare humans to animal medical care the cost might be lower in some cases. I don’t have insurance for myself or my animals so I pay full price for all services. Unfortunately our pets don’t have jobs where they make money to contribute to their care so it is up to us as their people to pay for them. I know the financial commitment going in to adopting a pet but I also think that is why many people give them up or don’t get them in the first place. If the vet care was more affordable I think more people would do it. Maybe see 50 people at $20 a visit instead of 10 at $100?

  • Valerie

    Thank you Michele. It’s good to know that other people deal with these issues and thank you for the information. I will look into what you suggested.

  • Hi Valerie, My husband, Steven, always looks at Earl Gray, and says “get a job!” But in reality, it is expensive. I don’t have pet insurance either. I do give away prescription drug discount cards for pets and for people. If you want, I can send one or two your way. They are free. If your pet is on meds, you get a subscription from your vet and take that with the card to your local pharmacy. The card gives you up to a 55% discount on generics and up to a 15% discount on brand name drugs. I would be happy to mail you one. Just ask. That is only for meds though.

  • Mary Lou

    Hi! You mentioned you have Earl on meds and a special diet for the hyper-thyroid??

    My cat is on the transdermal gel for hyper-t, and my vet does NOT recommend the y/d food. She agrees with Dr. Peterson:

    “Hill’s y/d will not provide adequate protein to meet the needs of the older cat or the cat with hyperthyroidism for the reasons outlined below:

    Hill’s y/d is a low-protein diet, providing only 27-28% of its calories or metabolizable energy as protein.
    Feeding y/d will provide only 50-75% of the protein needed for older cats or cats with hyperthyroidism.
    Even euthyroid cats fed this low-protein diet for prolonged periods will likely continue to lose muscle mass and develop complications associated with “sarcopenia of aging.”
    If the cat’s appetite ever diminishes to the point that they no longer eat the recommended amounts to be fed (remember that older cats tend to eat less as they age), their endogenous protein catabolism would be accelerated; these senior cats could rapidly become severely protein malnourished.

    Hyperthyroid cat with severe muscle wasting
    With hyperthyroidism, and all older cats prone to sarcopenia of aging, I’d like to hope that practicing veterinarians will use some common sense and remember that our goal is to always treat the whole cat, and not concentrate on a single aspect of their disease.

    Certainly lowering the serum T4 concentration in cats with hyperthyroidism is important, but can y/d diet really ever be recommended or touted as the “treatment of choice” when progressive loss of lean body mass and muscle wasting can virtually be guaranteed?”


    I’m curious – are you being compensated by Hill’s to recommend their y/d diet?

  • Hi Mary Lou,
    I am not being compensated. I’m a journalist first, and would disclose getting payment–if I were. Unfortunately, no money! Earl is doing well on y/d, and our vet who I totally trust and adore recommended it. He has been our family vet for almost 19 years. So, I trust him. Plus, Earl is doing well on the diet. The only drawback is the cost. It is expensive.
    Seeing is believing, and Earl is really doing well for a 19 year old cat! I know about a handful of people who have their cats on y/d and are happy with it.

  • Helen Vassos

    Just wanted to add that Vet bills here in Australia, are high too. The rates were much cheaper in Greece, maybe because households pets there are fewer. In order to bring Sophi my persian out from Greece to Australia, I had to take quite a few times to the vet for shots and other necessary procedures, but the vet bills were not too bad. But the quarantine costs in Australia was around 1200 dollars for a month. Here in Australia hovever, the vet cost is much higher. Meanwhile In order to keep Sophi as healthy as possible, I am trying to give the very best cat food there is to make sure that she gets top nutrients. Also being an indoors cat, (I do take her out on a leash) she is quite protected. I can’t bear to think of her getting ill. I envy you that Earl of Grey is 19years old: they have told me that for pure bred persians like mine, that they do not generally live more than 10 years. Anyway I count myself extremely fortunate to have my furry child,, she is a treasure and gives everyone such joy(particularly me elderly parents) and she is worth every cent.

  • Hi Helen, I love hearing about life in other parts of the world. Sophi is quite lucky, and I’m glad I know you too!–Michele

  • I think cats are trickier than dogs because they hide their maladies well (as a defonal emergency vet visits each time), so I always carefully evaluated him before vet visits to make sure it wasn’t a false alarm. (There’s a mobile vet in the area, but I’m not comfortable with him, yet.) Rocky also had abandonment issues so vet trips were mentally traumatic as well. For these reasons, he didn’t get his teeth cleaned as often as he should have, but he lived to be nearly 20 years old, and was in good health until the week he died (which I think was from the trauma of a vet visit).

    The other two cats don’t have the same vet issues (Skeezix has a whole wall of one of the examining rooms devoted to pictures of him), but I don’t always get them in every year for a full exam and dental cleaning. (We do brush their teeth a few times a week and frequently examine the gums and teeth.)

    In the last two years, money for us has been an issue (combination of medical bills for cancer surgery/treatment and unemployment), so although we would dig deep to do whatever it took to make my cats well, some of the preventative stuff is getting done less often because every vet trip with two or three cats ends up being close to a 4-figure expense. Because of the cats’ ages and pre-existing conditions, insurance isn’t a viable option.

    It’s interesting to discuss whether advancements in veterinary science technology — esp. with respect to diagnosis — are good or bad for pets in the long run. It’s good if the pet parents can afford it, but how many pets are being euthanized because their guardians can’t afford it? Our first trip with Skeezix to the emergency vet cost $750. He’d been on antibiotics and had become constipated. He needed an enema. Yet, the vet put him through a full bloodwork panel, ultrasound, xrays, etc. to come to the conclusion that, yes, he needed an enema. (My regular old-school vet would have come to the same conclusion without all the tests.)

    As for y/d — I would love to have had it when Rocky was alive. The transdermal gel didn’t do the trick and it took about six months of fighting with him to be able to pill him peaceably. We couldn’t have sent him away for radiation because of the stress it would have caused him. He would have been a great candidate for y/d.

    OK, sorry for my circuitous ramblings.

  • Thanks for commenting Karen! I know you take great care of your cats. When I think of cat lover, I do think of you! I completely understand how hard it is, and yes some vets do unnecessary tests–many are costly. I wish there was a good solution. so many of us are struggling. And as for y/d it seems to be working for Earl. It’s still new in our house. He does drink a lot more water since it’s dry food. –Michele