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Concerns over paraplegic dog's treatment

Dr. Michael Fox

Dear Dr. Fox: I was dismayed at the recent letter in your column regarding a paraplegic dog. While I am grateful there are people who will take care of a compromised animal, there is a limit. I was disturbed when the owner wrote that the dog, Chuckie, screamed in pain for four weeks with a slipped cervical disc.

Tommy, our beloved 8-year-old border collie mix, was diagnosed by MRI with an inoperable tumor on his spinal cord. We had difficulty diagnosing what appeared to be a weak leg, and he began to cry out occasionally as he climbed stairs. We escalated, and our vet referred us to an MRI immediately.

After the diagnosis, the vet specialist said that Tommy was quite stoic because he did not cry out more often, given the location of the tumor. We knew he was not himself, but what we did not know was the level of pain that he lived with that last month of his life.

I question the motivation of these people: How on Earth (in their own words) "during four weeks of screaming in pain" did they not decide that perhaps it was time to let Chuckie go? Who knows what pain he endures now? I was saddened to see that their own motivations have overtaken their empathy for what might be in the best interest of Chuckie.—M.J., Manchester, Mo.

Dear Dr. Fox: I was dismayed by the excessive treatment the letter-writer has gotten and is getting for a paraplegic dog. I love animals, have taken good care of my pets and have volunteered and donated to the Missouri Humane Society, so it isn't that I'm anti-animal, but I think what the writer has done for this one dog is too much.

Just think of the hundreds and hundreds of dogs in shelters and the care some of the healthier ones could get if the writer stopped at sensible treatment for that one dog. Actually, that dog is getting better and more extensive care than some children. Enough is enough in trying to help a pet.—R.B., Kirkwood, Mo.

Dear M.J. and R.B.: The money that caring people sometimes put out for their beloved animal companions, especially with advances in cancer treatments and stem cell therapies, can be very considerable. Are they being selfish? What then of their love and concern?

Some do choose instead to opt for euthanasia, especially when there is a low chance of recovery, and give a large donation in their animal's name to their local animal shelter or rescue organization.

We cannot compare the quality of medical care and what might be spent on a child in a poor village with a toy poodle in New York City suffering from comparable conditions, nor their chances of recovery. Such situational ethics are confounded by other social and family priorities, availability of services and where there is choice, just how much one feels like spending and can afford in the hope that the loved one will recover. It is a tragedy of the times that here in America, families can be bankrupted by the medical bills of one member under cancer treatment.

Just as we see with people, dogs do vary greatly in their pain tolerance; some are more stoic than others, who may border on hysteria because of fear as well as pain. This is where the experienced clinical eye of the veterinarian is invaluable to determine the best course of treatment and the animal patient's quality of life and chances of total or partial recovery.

Regardless of costs and affordability and the fact that some animal caregivers may seek to extend an animal's life for various personal reasons rather than for the animal's own sake, all involved have a duty to make the animal patient as comfortable as possible and give the animal a chance where there is a strong will to live.

Being nursed at home or setting up in-home palliative care with a visiting veterinarian may be preferable to long-term hospitalization where recovery may be protracted or arrested by separation anxiety and loss of the will to live.

Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox's website at www.drfoxvet.net.

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