My last series of posts got me to thinking about how difficult it is for we veterinarians to truly practice our craft holistically. As previous posts indicated, a pet’s environment can have as much impact on their health as their diet, their care and their medical treatments.
We can’t live with our patients, so to truly understand how they live we must rely on the owner’s account. Most often they fail to recognize the importance of environment, or if they do are unable to adequately describe their pet’s circumstances. As past experience has taught me, there are environmental conditions that even pet owners are unaware of.
The Vomiting Persian Cats
When I owned my cat-only veterinary hospital, I had this wonderful client that loved her two Persian cats. She was an unmarried business woman and these littermates were her entire universe away from work. They were great patients and she was a great, well-informed, cooperative owner, so I always enjoyed her annual veterinary visits.
One morning she rushed into the office because her “kids” were vomiting violently. They were severely dehydrated, so I hospitalized them, hooked them up to IV fluid therapy and proceeded with blood and urine analysis as well as X-rays to diagnose their problem. Everything was normal. In fact, under our care the vomiting stopped within 8-hours without need of medication intervention. She asked me to keep them an extra day to make sure everything was all right. They both ate well without any vomiting and were back to their perky selves.
The owner picked up the cats after work on the second day of hospitalization and was relieved that they were normal. Within days she was back at the hospital with the cats. They were showing the same symptoms as before. I hospitalized them again and repeated my diagnostic tests and fluid therapy. All was still normal. The cats even recovered more quickly than the previous visit. When the owner picked-up the cats this time, she was a bit more agitated and demanded an explanation. I told her I suspected that the answer to the problem may be in her apartment.
She worked with her landlord who shampooed her carpets and made sure that the pest control company did not spray near her apartment. She went through her cupboards and removed anything that I had mentioned might cause vomiting in cats.
You guessed it. It was not a week later she met me as I arrived at my office and screamed that her cats were sick again. I invited her into the exam room and explained that this case was very strange and the best option was to seek the opinion of a specialty hospital. She asked me to re-hydrate the cats for the day while she made those arrangements. When she picked-up the cats she was very combative and complained about all the money she had spent on the cats.
I did not see her for almost a year when she came in for routine annual exams and vaccines for her cats. I told her I was surprised to see her after her dissatisfaction on the last visit. She said she needed to apologize for calling me an incompetent vet. Then she explained why.
It turned out the specialist were of no greater help than I was. But shortly after her visit to the specialists, the apartment next to her was raided by police. They found that the apartment was being used as a methamphetamine lab. The inhabitants were arrested and the apartment was cleaned and returned to normal. Within days after that her cats returned to normal and had no further vomiting episodes.
Although she was not affected and could not smell the fumes of the cooking meth, her cats were very sensitive and responded with vomiting. The client and I had a new appreciation of the role of environment in the health of pets and how difficult it can sometimes be to discover the environmental cause for illness.
Dr. Ken Tudor