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Thoughty Thursday: When A Vet Hurts Your Pet

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The death of a pet takes a bit of your heart with them. We know when they come into our life that chances are we will outlive our special cat or dog. And then when life happens and injury or illness appears, caring owners do all that they can given the circumstances to keep that special fur-kid happy, pain-free, and by our side (or on your lap) as long as possible.

Modern veterinary medicine makes that possible. At no time in the past have there been such wonders of diagnostics, drugs, surgeries and treatments available! The whole book of Pet Care in the New Century describes the advantages and opportunities out there. And today more than ever society accepts the idea of spending funds on pets, too.

But what happens when you choose to go that extra mile, get your special pet that beyond-the-basics care…or heck, even BASIC care…and something awful goes wrong? In human medicine there’s such a thing as malpractice for such cases, right? What about for pets?
Seren On Stairs
Today’s Ask Amy is brand new. I spent most of yesterday recording 20 episodes answering questions–but this one is so different than the others. The question is heartbreaking because I don’t have good answers. I’m shocked and heartbroken over this pet owner’s experience, especially since I write about TPLO surgeries in my book.

Please share your ideas, experiences, suggestions with readers. What would you do? I really don’t know what I’d do should such a thing happen with Seren-kitty or Magical-dawg. What I do know, though, is that veterinarians are in the business of helping–not hurting–our animal companions. And that bad stuff happens to good pets.

I pray you and your pets never have to go through such an experience.

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

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About amyshojai

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant, award winning author, and spokesperson to the pet industry.

20 responses »

  1. carolyn carlquist

    I’ve owned cats for forty years and have yet to meet a veterinarian who approached “practice” in a manner that suggested thinking (or even suggestions for care) beyond standard laboratory test results and the standard book diagnosis. And unfortunately, for my cats, those laboratory test results were not the answer. Veterinarians are in a sweet position to hustle through the days appointments for volume (ie. $$$), because the patients don’t complain, and more than likely, the owner of said patient has no medical training … not enough to judge the diagnosis from the expert. Sweet. I had a 17 year-old cat who was diagnosed with a tumor and while in the clinic room, the veterinarian gave him his yearly shots, and my cat died within three days. Vet #2 (who I’d heard could cure anything) couldn’t save my cat, and asked why on earth this cat was given his yearly shots, because his liver certainly couldn’t handle them. Duh. My conclusion was “for the $$$.” My cat could have lived another year or two with that tumor. This was 20 years ago and I’m still angry about it. And this is only one example. I’ve got many more.
    Love your blog.
    CCC

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Carolyn. I think we all have experiences where hindsight makes us think “duh” — and I know vets do, too. Since I worked with bunches of them while a vet tech I’ve got to say I worked with wonderful practitioners and a few less than wonderful *s* but that none intentionally were out to gouge or do harm.

      You make a very good point, though. Today it’s really much more likely for owners to do research in advance and know better questions to ask. Nope, a book or Internet won’t diagnose or treat your cat or dog but it can give you some background info–even if it’s wrong that creates a starting point for discussion with your vet.

      Reply
      • carolyn carlquist

        Yes, Amy, I am totally “researched” nowadays. I learned my lessons the hard way at the expense of my cats. I am no longer under the mistaken notion that the doctor knows best. Another point in case: one of my next cats developed diabetes at age 12 and required two shots of insulin a day. He took his injections like a trooper and also allowed me to measure his glucose (pricking the vein that runs along the edge of the ear, whew! not an easy task) every week. But I could never get his blood sugar stabilized per the vet’s instructions and scare scenarios. This cat blew through insulin like it was a fun drug. He lived another two years on this $$$$ regimen before he died. Then his housemate, age 16, developed diabetes. I did NOT treat her. She lived another 5 happy years as an untreated sugar cat and died at age 21. I have more Vet Vitriol stories, but I think this is enough.

        Reply
  2. I guess I’m confused by this post. According to what I believe I heard, it was not a failure of the veterinary surgery, but a failure of the implant device itself, so I’m unclear on how the veterinarian “hurt” the dog in question.

    The dog owner may wish to try and find other dog owners who have had negative experiences with the same implant that was used on her dog. Perhaps if several are located, they can find an attorney who may to handle a class-action suit against the manufacturer of the device.

    Reply
    • Yes, Vicky, you’re write that in this case the question suggested that the surgical appliance was defective. Perhaps a more accurate title would have been “when a vet PROCEDURE hurts your pet” but there are only so many words to fit in a title. Sorry for the confusion. But the wider question remains because most owners would place their trust in the veterinarian doing the surgery. *shrug*

      That’s a good suggestion regarding finding other owners. Thanks for visiting the blog and posting.

      Reply
  3. We’ve been fortunate through the years where competent care was given. And kindness and grieving along with us when the loss of our furry family member had to leave. (Our daughter’s vet in Florida even sent them a sympathy card at the loss of their dog.) I don’t know what I’d do either if faced with malpractice.
    I think Magic-dawg should hit the modeling runway with his ever ready “beautiful pose!” Then there’s Seren- what is she up to with that laxed pose? She’s not fooling me! I have a cat too!

    Reply
    • I got sympathy cards from our vet, too. And when working as a vet tech, more often than not the whole staff grieved along with the owner when we lost a patient.

      A colleague also commented with concerns that the cost of vet care could skyrocket should “veterinary malpractice” legal accusations reach the same level as human medical issues. Dunno the right answer. Certainly we need to be proactive and care for our pets and…if something bad happens…alert and protect others from potential grief.

      Reply
  4. The mere thought of anyone hurting my babies makes me ill….but, that said, I have to trust my vet. Luckily, we’ve found a Dr. that we do trust with our family…

    Reply
    • Tiffany, “trust” is the operative word there. And it’s a partnership, too. Owners should work with their pet’s medical team and be part of the decision making and understand the pros/cons and potential “what ifs” inherent in such things.

      Reply
  5. Well, I commented this morning, but it went away.?? Among other things, I said I wouldn’t know what to do either if faced with malpractice of one of my babies. Always been fortunate to have good vets and sympathetic too.
    Shooting PUPPIES!! I would become a bad a– neighbor if someone did that to my puppies!!!

    Reply
    • Hi Lois, I read your first comment…I think it’s still there but with a different name eidlinnea06 does that make sense? *s* Maybe you signed in with a different id?

      Reply
  6. Devastating story! My brother and his wife recently lost their dog in a very similar situation. They recently moved to a remote area of Canada and when their dog got sick, they were left to the hands of the only vet in town. They feel that their dog was given inadequate care and was neglected. which ultimately led to his early death. They were devasted and felt they had little room for recourse given the subjectiveness of everything.
    When my dog went for her surgery just 9 weeks ago, I felt confident in my vets ability. She’s been my dog’s vet for 10 years and I knew the vet had a long track record of doing the procedure with much success. But going in, we knew the risks. At least we felt confident that if anything happened, it would never have been from neglect or from using inadequate products. I don’t know what I’d do if I felt someone purposely hurt my baby by neglect or using less-than proper products. My heart breaks for Deb – sending her lots of hugs!

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting, Natalie. I am so very sorry for your brother and his wife’s loss. When we lived in Eastern Kentucky the “been there forever” vet was the only game in town, too, and not particularly up on the most current stuff. I hoped that wasn’t so much a case anymore with Internet and such. *sigh*

      Having a long and positive relationship with your pets’ caretakers sure does offer a comfort zone. Glad your dog is doing well.

      Reply
  7. My heart goes out to Deb and her loss!!!!!

    If she feels she needs to pursue this in litigation, I would ask (check the phone book or friends) if there is an attorney who takes medical device cases on contingency. I would also be sure that an FDA complaint was filed on this specific case of her poor dear loved one to be certain they are aware of this device’s defect. If they are not already aware then it will continue to happen with this device until some pet owner lets them know and thus they are able to help save future victims.

    I also would check the FDA recalls and see if this was already a recalled device. It is called taking a case for a contingency fee when a lawyer takes the case and is ONLY paid IF he wins it. This is the reason for the big wins one hears about in other fields. The media fails to tell you that the lawyer gets a portion of the total amount and with that he pays for the many hours of work on that case and that that makes up for many other cases he doesn’t make any money all because they lost. Only the EXTREMELY wealthy can afford to file lawsuits on any other basis.

    If the vet did the best he could AND did not have any way to know of the defective device then I would just look at it as a sad occasion insofar as the vet is concerned. If it was already a recalled device then he did not do the best he could if it had already been recalled at the time of the operation. I would look into suing the manufacturer as life has shown us that some companies (and people) only learn if they are sued and thus publicly embarrassed. We only got the food safety we have thanks to Upton Sinclair and his must-read novel, “The Jungle.” When he was interviewed about the novel he said that the man who fell into the machinery and went out as “pure lard” was a real, actual case. He did intensive research on the issue as you may recall if you have read his autobiography.

    I know that pet food recalls are listed by the FDA and you can read historical recalls online easily too. I recommend everyone sign up for the recall list on many topics as you would not believe how many fans and coffee makers catch fire, how many blood recalls and other recalls happen.

    Any time you know of something that needs to be recalled you definitely need to report it to the FDA so they can save the next person or pet as the case may be.

    Reply
  8. We’ve had good and bad with our vets, but the one we’ve been using for Simba and Anubis now, we definitely have faith in.

    First vet I remember out this way wasn’t BAD necessarily, just knew more about dogs I think. I seem to remember my mom saying she thinks had he diagnosed her properly, one of our barn cats wouldn’t have died so young. But that, to me, wasn’t the worst of it… see, my uncle ended up getting rid of one of his cats at one point, and gave her to us. She was declawed. Mom’s cat she had already brought inside wasn’t. Not having dealt with this sort of situation before, since they had never had a cat declawed, they were afraid the existing cat would hurt the new one. So they took him to the vet to have him declawed too, not realizing what it actually entailed. And apparently their vet at the time didn’t see fit to inform them. So they had no warning that he would come home with his feet completely bandaged up… that he would be hurting and walk on his knees for at least a week after… needless to say they weren’t happy and have NEVER done that again… and I do believe that was about the time they switched vets.

    The vet we use now, though… everyone in his office is wonderful. He goes to conferences to make sure he’s keeping up with new research (and puts up with my questions to drill him for info on if they’ve made any headway on more curative treatments for interstitial cystitis – so far the answer has been that the best route is still her Diazepam, because the most recent study involves a treatment that sounds worse than the disease and he didn’t seem to keen on it). He does his best to save us money – actually recommended a simple over the counter allergy remedy that’s safe for cats (though he did warn they will do everything in their power to spit it out and boy is he not kidding). The other vet in his office impressed James by actually LISTENING for one, and handling our part-bobcat terror without making his nerves any worse. And when we bring in a cat for an illness, they are more than willing to listen to the full range of circumstances leading up to it, will tell you if they think you’re right or wrong, and WHY. We like these guys so much that even when me move, we’re planning on making the haul of a drive to still see them.

    Reply
    • Wow Karyl, sounds like you’ve found a GEM of a vet practice. I’ve had trouble finding someone able to handle Seren-kitty…my 7-pound-holy-terror kitty. But the current vet is the first one able to get his hands on her so yes, it’s priceless when you find a great match.

      Reply
      • I will say, though, we had a hilarious handling “fail” moment… but with Simba, not Anubis. She may be a fat kitty but she’s got a lot of fight when she wants to. She lets meplay with her paws and claws, but as soon as those clippers come out (even though she’s never been cut with them) she goes NUTS. Finally we decided to just pay for the vet’s office to do it. It took me, James, and three vet techs to finish the job. One on each foot, and one to work the clippers. LOL NOBODY was expecting her to be that tough to handle. And I’ve known them to handle some tough cases. Simba turns into Superkitty when she’s trying to escape a nail trim.

        Reply
  9. Hi Amy,
    Awww…. thanks so much for addressing this topic… Yes, I was in touch with others whose dogs had developed osteosarcoma post TPLO surgeries. The non-medical grade metal (Slocum Implants) used in the TPLO was linked to osteosarcoma and was published in the NOV. 15, 2005 JAVMA. My dogs (yes… DOGS) tplo surgeon was shocked when two of his patients (customers) developed osteosarcoma. He had assured me when my second dog was diagnosed correctly that they quit using the Slocum implants when they found out they were associated with osteosarcoma. Trouble was my shep/husky…. he had been misdiagnosed… the regular veterinarian didn’t know how to read x-rays and told me that Trouble did NOT have cancer as I had suspected, but that his lameness was due to arthritis. As Trouble’s caretaker, I knew better….. and took him to the specialist who did his TPLOs (he had two of them done). The doctor could see the tumor on the original x-ray and could feel it as well. This is when Trouble needed to have his leg amputated… to alleviate pain and prevent his leg from fracturing. The original protocol for the TPLO had required removal of the implant once the bone had healed….. but not many doctors did this. My beloved Trouble had a reaction to the implant from his first TPLO procedure, so when the bone had healed, the doctor did another surgery to remove the implant….. however, the implant in his left leg was not removed….and that’s where the osteosarcoma developed. I have all three implants (2 from Trouble and one from Fly… they are corroded and look identical to the photos in the JAVMA article. I had a pathologist tell me that the plate related cancers are much more aggressive than other types. I found this to be true. Trouble’s cancer had metastasized to the vertebrae in his spine. No drugs at this point could help him. I was forced to let him go. A few months later Fly, my shep/malamute, who also had the Slocum implant in her from her TPLO, had very similar symptoms to Trouble. I KNEW she had osteosarcoma! Vet after vet said “NO Deb, it’s arthritis.” Finally Dr. Number 5 looks at the x-ray and sees the osteosarcoma tumor…. already in her spine!!!! Yes, these plate related cancers are extremely aggressive! I had done holistic treatments for Trouble as I feared chemo would shorten his life. Trouble lived four months to the day after his amputation. I feared Fly would only live four months if I did holistic medicine with her, so I listened to the specialists, who told me that chemo and radiation would give her 4-6 months, 8 if we were lucky. Fly did NOT get the time the specialists “sold” me for thousands of dollars….. the fact is she died 35 days into treatment. I lost Trouble and Fly within 12 months of each other…. and a third canine child in between them due to old age and degenerative myelopathy.
    The lawyers who said they could take the case on a contingency basis were not able to pursue it because after investigating, they said collecting the money from Slocum would have been a long, expensive process. The animal rights attorneys I had contacted with would only help if I paid them. I’ll be paying the rest of my life for the TPLOs and cancer care… I can’t afford an attorney.
    I’m sure there are some good vets out there…. but it’s a business…. buyer beware. Oh, my first shepherd was killed when I had boarded her with a veterinarian who had indoor boarding kennels 20 years ago. The vet let her get hit by car….. didn’t try to save her life until the day after she was hit….(broken rib, punctured lung, ruptured bladder, and more). When she finally did what she referred to as “life-saving surgery” my little girl had 3 cardiac arrests coming out of the anesthesia…. and died. She was 13 months old. The vet lied at the heaings….. she denied leaving messages on the answering machine tape about my dog’s critical condition…. I had the tape at the hearing for the magistrate to listen to. She didn’t want to hear it. Apparently she was friends with the vet. I learned a lot about unethical lying veterinarians and lawyers during that period of my life…. and I’m still learning. (My own attorney kept insisting that I sign some papers….I was reluctant to do so because I had a complaint filed with the state licensing bureau.) She assured me that one had nothing to do with the other….. so naively, I signed the papers (I was in my 20’s…. very ignorant and too trusting back then). When the medical investigator came to my home, he told me they had enough to discipline the veterinarian….. but those papers my attorney had me sign…… she had me sign MY RIGHTS AWAY!!!! The papers said the vet and staff were not responsible for the pain, suffering and death of my dog. So if I pursued it, the vet could countersue ME! I wonder how much my attorney was paid off to get me to sign those papers to save the vet’s @$$ and I wonder today how she sleeps at night.
    Thanks again Amy…. I really appreciate this.
    Debbie

    Reply
    • Wow–thanks for the further details. Yes, there are “bad apples” (or even POISONOUS apples!) in any given group. You are way overdue some good help from caring vets and I hope you find that soon. *hugs* amy

      Reply

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