Buying a Pet? Get the Paperwork.

I had a bit of a frustrating experience today.  It’s a situation that is not uncommon.  A client has purchased a new pet and brings it in for a check-up to get it off to a good start.  So far, so good.  They are excited about the new addition to the family (as who would not be?) and the last thing I want to do is bring them down.  On the other hand, when the new purchase has a significant medical problem, I wouldn’t be doing them much of a favor by ignoring it.

Today my client had purchased a beautiful German Shepherd from a lady who assured him that it had "had everything".  This phrase is the biggest red flag I can think of.  "And has your new puppy been vaccinated and dewormed?"  "The lady said he has had everything."  Everything sounds pretty good, right?  The problem is that some folks have a rather vague and hazy notion of complete care.  This means that they can say everything with a clear conscience, as it simply means everything that they know, which sometimes isn’t very much.

In today’s case, everything didn’t happen to include heartworm preventive medicine.  The dog is four years old, and lives in mosquito junction (a fifty-mile radius circle with Kennett as the center).  Since mosquitoes transmit heartworm disease, omitting heartworm preventive medicine is rather serious.  In our part of the country, an outside dog with no medicine will have some heartworms by the time he is one year old.  He will have enough worms to cause heart disease at half of his normal lifespan.  Not surprisingly, when we tested this dog’s blood, it was swarming with microfilariae (the microscopic baby heartworms), indicating the presence of foot-long adult worms in the heart.  This is certainly treatable, but the treatment costs in the $300 range, and requires several weeks of convalescence.  There can be side-effects and complications associated with the death of the heartworms.  It’s a pretty big deal.  Not exactly what you’re looking for as "added value" in your purchase.  In fact, they should be paying you to take the dog.

Last week a lady came in to my office with a puppy she wanted to sell.  She just stopped in to put a notice on our bulletin board.  Some other clients thought it was so cute, they were ready to buy it on the spot.  "Well, since you’re right here, why don’t I give it a quick check-up?"  It was a beautiful puppy, who just happened to have an inguinal hernia (meaning a gap in the belly muscle which allows your intestines to bulge through, leaving just skin between your guts and the outside world).  They were BOTH unhappy with me for finding this imperfection (which will require surgical correction).  However, they didn’t let me rain on their parade and the cuteness of the puppy carried the sale right on through without so much as a teensy little adjustment on the sale price. 

It’s really heartbreaking to have someone bring in a puppy who is dying with parvovirus.  They didn’t bring him in for a checkup because the breeder told them "he’s had everything", so he never received the booster vaccinations necessary to produce long-lasting immunity.  The strange belief here is that the ownership of a fertile female dog somehow confers medical knowledge on a person.  Sort of like, "I’m no expert, but I did sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night."  "I’m no veterinarian, but my dog did manage to get pregnant."

So what kind of paperwork am I asking you to get?  It certainly doesn’t have to be fancy.  A certificate that’s been notarized and signed in blood by two veterinarians would be nice, but it certainly isn’t necessary.  What I want to see is a list of what the puppy (or kitten, or horse, or whatever) has received in the way of care, and when it got done.  I want to see specific products, doses, and dates, and I want it in writing.  My experience has been that if people will go to the trouble to note these things down, it probably got done.  Computer printout or crayon scribbled on a half sheet of notebook paper — it doesn’t matter.  If they write down specific products, doses and dates, it probably got done.  I can just go on from there and plan the schedule of medical care for your new pet without unnecessary repetition, and without neglecting essential treatments. If the pet has "had everything", that means I’m starting over from scratch.  Get the paperwork.

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