Category Archives: Preparedness

Lessons Learned from a Health Scare

Penny A. Watkins-Zdrojewski

© March 2014

Winter’s harsh grip is easing up some in our slice of the Midwest.  Even though cold, snow and ice keep coming back, we’ve been treated to hints that spring will eventually arrive.  Along with promise has also come the harshness of transition.  Bad winds and rains on top of feet of melting snow brought flash flooding and threats of tornadoes.  This year’s transition seems to be harsher than normal for the ailing, seniors, and our pets.  In the past 3 weeks, several people I know have had challenges and heartbreaks with their pets, facing serious health crises, receiving a terminal prognosis, or watching a beloved friend cross the rainbow bridge.

We had our own scare two weeks ago, when our dog Buddy developed a life-threatening emergency.  In short, he exhibited extreme distress in the middle of the night Sunday, with a distended abdomen, labored breathing, and indications of pain. A trip to the emergency room showed a mass that was bleeding into the abdominal cavity.  He had surgery Tuesday morning to remove the mass and a large part of his liver, and was able to come home late Wednesday.  Thankfully, biopsy results showed that everything is benign.  Buddy is making a full and rapid recovery, and we plan to have him with us for several more years.

Through all of the ups and downs, I’ve learned new lessons and been reminded of others.  In the hope that our experience with Buddy may help you, your pet, or that of someone you know, here are 12 Lessons I Learned from Buddy’s Health Scare.

Lesson 1:  Know What’s Normal
Know what is normal so you can tell when something isn’t.  Check each of the following details when your pet is fine, and keep a record on hand.

  • Energy level
  • Temperament
  • Tolerance for pain
  • Body temperature, heart rate, lung sounds (or normal breathing pattern) and blood pressure
  • Body shape and any growths on or just below the skin
  • Normal pliability (feel) of the body, especially the abdomen

Lesson 2: Be Prepared
Be prepared.  Have tools and supplies readily available so that you can check your pet if something seems wrong.  Know how to use the tools you have on hand.  I highly recommend taking a class in Pet First aid.  If you cannot, most care providers will be willing to teach you how to use basic tools.  At a minimum,  you should keep these in your emergency kit:

  • Thermometer, probe covers, and lubricant
  • Stethoscope
  • Disposable gloves and/or disinfecting soap
  • Harness and Leash, so that you can encourage your pet to remain still while you thoroughly check him
  • Blanket, which can be used to keep a pet warm if they are going into shock and can be used as to carry them if needed
  • Contact information for your veterinarian and local emergency clinic

Lesson 3: Time
Time can be critical.  If you think there may be a real problem, act.  Call your veterinarian or emergency clinic, go in, follow up.  It’s better to spend money and lose a little time than to wait and risk losing your pet.

Lesson 4:  Be an Advocate
Be your pet’s advocate.  He (or she) is unable to speak for himself, so you will have to speak for him.  Your care provider knows more about your pet’s health condition.  You know more about your pet — his normal activity and habits and how those may (or may not) be restricted, what he will and won’t handle well, his home environment, his likes, his overall quality of life.  Take a little time to think about what your pet would choose, and factor that into all of your decisions.

Lesson 5:  Learn About It
Learn everything you can about what is going on.  Ask a lot of questions.  Listen carefully to the answers, write things down, and ask follow-up questions.

Lesson 6:  Explore Options
Explore options.  Consider all factors and choose what is best for you, your family, and your pet.

  • If a major procedure, such as surgery, is recommended, what are the risks, likely benefits, and possible outcomes?
  • Are there alternatives?  If so, are they reasonable, and you and your pet likely to be happy with the outcome?
  • Is there a better provider or facility for the procedure?  Price is a consideration, but also consider experience, expertise, and follow-up care.

Lesson 7:  Good Health Starts Early
Support your pet’s health from an early age so that he can maintain optimal health for years.

  • Start with regular veterinarian exams and continue with wellness exams at least once a year.  If possible, choose a holistic veterinarian.
  • Provide a high-quality, species-appropriate diet.
  • Use supplements, including Probiotics, antioxidants, joint support, vitamins and minerals as needed with each life stage.
  • If you have questions about diet or supplements, contact an animal nutrition counselor.
  • Provide ample clean water, preferably filtered.
  • Use only steel or ceramic bowls; plastic and aluminum carry health risks.  Clean bowls daily or after each meal.
  • Learn about the merits and dangers of vaccinations and choose wisely.
  • Be aware of any chemicals you use, either directly on your pet or around the house.  These include items you may automatically think of as harmful, but also everyday cleaners, disinfectants, air fresheners, and fabric softeners.

Lesson 8:  Can I Visit?
Ask to visit your pet while he is hospitalized and understand if the answer is no. There are times when a visit is helpful for you and your pet.  We were even able to take our other dog, Murphy, to visit Buddy before surgery.  At other times, your pet needs to rest and recuperate.  The added excitement of seeing you may be too much.  The doctors and support staff need to be able to give your pet the medical support he requires.

Lesson 9:  Alternative and Integrative Practices
If you know an alternative practitioner or are one, draw on that skill and expertise from the onset of symptoms through recovery.  Do not rely solely on alternative practices, because they are not a substitute for veterinary care when it is needed.

  • Because I am an animal wellness counselor, I was able to help Buddy from the time that we first noticed symptoms to the time he was taken for tests.  One very valuable technique was Tellington TTouch® Ear Slides, which helped with his anxiety and pain, and helped regulate his blood pressure.  They may have also helped to save his life.  In the emergency department, his blood pressure was recorded at 90 systolic when it should have been around 120.  Ear Slides are known to help blood pressure, especially during emergencies.
  • I am also helping to speed Buddy’s recovery.  Along with several TTouch® techniques, I am also using an appropriate combination of homeopathic remedies, Bach Flower Essences, and energy work.
  • I am drawing on the expertise of fellow alternative practitioners, who can be more objective with my pet than I can.  One of my mentors and dear friends is a Healing Touch for Animals(r) practitioner.  She had a distance session with Buddy, after which he had a great deal more energy, improved comfort level, and improvement in many post-operative symptoms.
  • Buddy is getting recommended follow-up visits with our holistic veterinarian.  At the first visit, she was able to run blood tests to determine that everything was rapidly returning to normal.  Only a veterinarian would be able perform tests to confirm that he was recovering from anemia.  Buddy also received a prescription medication for liver support, which only a veterinarian could provide.

Lesson 10: Pet Insurance
Pet Insurance is worth it.  While it may seem like an added financial burden when your pet is young, a single emergency will make you glad to have it.  We did not insure either of our pets.  As they have aged, expenses have mounted.  Buddy’s crisis this week will cost several thousand dollars.  While we are quite willing to find a way to pay this to have our companion with us, insurance would have greatly eased the financial stress.

Lesson 11:  Other Pets in the Household
If you have more than one pet, remember to give the others the care and understanding they need.  It’s likely that they are confused, concerned for their companion, and may be afraid or grieving.  Talk with them as if they can understand what you are saying and explain what is happening; it will likely help them more than you expect.

Lesson 12:  Support is Important
Have a support system in place.  You need someone who can listen to and support what you are going through.  It’s best to have one or more supporters who are not part of your household.  The rest of your family is dealing with their own feelings and can’t be objective.  If you don’t already have a support system, find at least one person as quickly as you can.  Ask your veterinarian if there are support groups or help lines.


I’m very grateful to all of the wonderful people who taught me various skills over the years, as well as my dogs, who are great teachers.  Without some knowledge and preparedness, it’s very possible that Buddy would no longer be with us.  I hope that you never need to use these tips, and hope that they help you if you should.