When You KNOW Something’s Wrong

Old Yeller Alert 

It’s funny (funny strange, not funny ha-ha) to see the different extremes in how we react to some abnormality in our pet’s behavior or condition.  Some folks will be in a for a comprehensive exam if Fluffy so much as passes gas in front of company.  Others don’t see a problem until there is blood on the floor.  The situation that struck me today is different from both of those extremes, but fraught with subtle ramifications. 

When you have had a pet for a long time, they become a big part of your life, part of your family.  We know that a pet is not going to live as long as we do, but we put that out of our minds until the day when we have to face it.  There are some things that we attribute to "just getting old" as the animal becomes a little less active, a little less playful, sleeps a little more and so forth.  When other signs of disease creep in, we may choose to accept it as "just getting old".  That’s often incorrect, but it’s an easy trap to fall into.  Then there are folks who see something wrong and just refuse to admit that it is wrong.  I once had a patient who had been terribly overweight for years.  Frequent attempts at reducing diets had never produced results.  When his weight began to rapidly approach normal, they just decided that the diet had finally "decided to work".  Bad decision.

Today was a similar and sad case.  These extremely nice folks from Michigan had traveled to our area to visit relatives and brought their cat along.  When they arrived at our hospital today, they told us that Tiger had been having difficulty breathing ever since they left home two days ago.  "He was fine Friday night before we left."  Well, that’s a drag — you leave for a vacation and the pet gets sick while you’re out of town.  Very unhandy.  I can relate, as my son developed an earache the first night out of town on a family vacation.  We spent the next morning looking for a doctor.

On examination, Tiger was not only breathing really hard, he was also pretty dehydrated.  "Well, he hasn’t been eating or drinking much since we left."  He was also really thin.  "He weighs nine pounds.  What does he usually weigh?"  "Twelve pounds."  "Have you noticed him losing weight?" Yeah, we have, I guess.  "How long would you say he’s been losing weight?"  "The last six months." So, he’s eleven years old, losing weight for six months, has lost 25% of his body weight.  How do you ignore that?  You ignore it because you don’t want to think about losing your buddy.  Hey, he’s still eating and playing.  Maybe he’s just getting older.

When I listened to Tiger’s chest, I didn’t hear much air moving, despite the dramatic movement of his chest wall.  X-rays showed his lungs compressed into about one fourth their usual space in the chest.  The rest of the chest was full of something besides lungs.  It could have been fluid, tumor, some of both.  I’ll never know for sure because his owners could not undertake heroic measures in the face of a poor prognosis, and I couldn’t offer them much reassurance under the circumstances.  So we sent Tiger off to find a new body somewhere else where he can be a kitten and run and play again.

Could Tiger have had another nine lives if his strange weight loss had been addressed months ago?  Hard to say.  If his people had been able to confront losing him, would they have saved him? Hard to say.  I can say this, though: when you know something is wrong, the only way out is the way through.  You can’t fix it if you won’t face it.

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