Why Pets Are Not Cars (and Other Basic Rules of Veterinary Medicine)
Monday, 4:00 PM. After an emergency-laden, pre-storm day in my Miami hospital, Hook walks in the door with his mom. Hook is a five-month-old boxer pup who can’t keep his mouth off foreign objects. A week ago he chewed up the rug lining his crate. Ever since, he’s been feeling poorly. According to his mom he hasn’t eaten anything in four days. It’s the afternoon before a [potentially major] storm. Please tell me you’re kidding.
Hook’s belly is extremely painful—I can’t touch it without eliciting a squeal of pain. X-rays show lots of gas in his intestines. All signs point towards a bowel obstruction.
Why did they wait so long? His parents, a young couple with two kids, have very little money. They decided, instead, to take matters into their own hands. They fed him a quart of oil—as in, Mazola.
Apparently, this is some ancient Cuban secret even I do not know about (my family is Cuban, too). Oil is supposed to lubricate and allow the foreign body to pass. Yet I had never seen anyone actually do this to an animal that was not a horse.
Poor pup. He was feeling mighty crappy. He had a fever. He resented everybody’s touch. We had to do something immediately.
A lowball estimate for bare-bones care was rejected by his parents. They wanted to save him but had no cash or credit to do it with. Finally, they agreed to pay half now and $100 every week for the next four weeks. Done deal.
Opening him up, I found loops of bright pink intestines scrunched into a tight ball. Blood vessels thick as your pinky finger snaked at the base of this mass of guts. Gently extracting them from their location, the loops unraveled and began to blanch to a more normal pink within minutes. His intestines had twisted upon themselves at their mutual attachment site: the mesentery. Untwisting them restored their proper blood supply. But there were other problems.
Close to the stomach, I could feel a firm area in the small intestine immediately adjacent to the pancreas. Cutting into the intestine revealed a nylon band and a gooey, oily liquid. Unfortunately, the band was so long I could not extract it without cutting two more times into different sites in the small intestine. Controlling the goo was the hardest part. Finally, the thing was out: a nylon leash, stained with oil and bile and smelling mighty nasty.
I closed up my sites and made my way back out, washing out the abdomen with an antibiotic solution as my parting shot at the crisis. Lots of pain meds completed the job.
Now that it’s the day after and he’s feeling so much better I can reflect on the entire situation more objectively. And the thing I keep coming back to is the oil. Who the hell feeds a dog a quart of oil as if it were a car? Mazola does not keep doggie engines running, I assure you. In this case it served only to keep me changing my surgical gloves every five minutes—as well as increasing the opportunity for infection to set in.
Hook will be fine, it seems, but the diarrhea he’ll suffer for days to come will bear testament to his inappropriately oily meal. Hopefully his auto-inspired owners will be the ones cleaning up this mess. I’ve already done my best with yesterday’s disaster.