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How Much Is Too Much?
M’s Editor-in-Chief shares her experience dealing with a sick pet and a difficult decision.


May 2017

Last December, just days before the holidays, my husband and I sat next to our nearly unconscious 14-month-old golden retriever, Finley, and watched his belly slowly rise and fall, wondering when — and if — he’d snap out of his spell.

Let me back up a bit. That morning, I woke up to Finley throwing up a sock. This wasn’t unusual for him; he had ingested three other socks prior to this one. I cleaned up the mess, fed him breakfast, and got ready for the day. My husband left for work, and just as I was about to do the same, I noticed a pile of kibble on the living room rug. Finley had vomited again. I sopped it up, gave Finley another cup of food, and hurried off to work.

Later that day I came home to mess number three. This time, Finley had defecated all over the basement. The food in his bowl was untouched, and he immediately spit up any water he tried to consume. My husband arrived home just after I did, and together we cleaned up the basement. As our concern for Finley’s condition mounted, we decided to call a friend’s sister, who is a vet tech. Since his two main symptoms — not eating or drinking and extreme lethargy — suggested something was seriously wrong, she recommended we take Finley to the emergency room. 

Our experience at the ER wasn’t pleasant. We waited without answers for hours and were then given inconclusive results: Finley’s X-rays showed there was a foreign body in his abdomen, and that exploratory surgery was the logical next step. The vet recommended they keep Finley overnight to monitor him and administer fluids and then move forward with surgery in the morning. Cha-ching, cha-ching. At this point, the financial estimate for the X-rays, medications, overnight stay and surgery was upward of $5,000.

The vet then gave us time to privately discuss how to proceed. While doing so, and as the only two patrons in the waiting room lobby, two men arrived at the clinic door. A vet tech rushed past us with a gurney and returned moments later with a deceased dog covered in a crisp, white sheet. She asked the men if they’d like to say goodbye to the dog before she took him away, and one man — presumably the dog’s owner — began to weep. My husband and I looked at each other and silently agreed we’d do whatever possible to make Finley healthy again, even if that meant dipping into our savings.

When the vet returned, we asked her if it was possible to take Finley home and then meet with our regular vet in the morning. She suggested giving him a soluble fluid pack and anti-pain and anti-nausea medications   before we left, and briefed us on what symptoms to expect. 

I suppose we just weren’t prepared for what was to come, which brings me back to the early morning hours spent hovered over our sick dog. The drugs had induced a deep state of dysphoria, leaving Finley glassy-eyed, unresponsive and immobile. We set our alarms to wake up and check on him every hour, and then we tried to get some sleep. I called our vet clinic the next morning, and the tech urged us to bring Finley in as soon as possible.

When we arrived, the vet said she had reviewed the X-rays sent over from the ER and, with very little hesitation, stated that she’d like to perform surgery on Finley that afternoon to extract the foreign body. I remember her asking if we had pet insurance, which we didn’t (and admittedly still don’t), and then letting us know the procedure would cost around $3,000. She suggested taking one more round of X-rays before surgery, so we waited in the exam room as Finley was scanned.

The vet returned minutes later with the developed scans, Finley, and good news: The X-rays were clear. The foreign body had vanished. She recommended they keep Finley for the afternoon to monitor him, administer an IV of fluids, and reintroduce food into his diet. We left the clinic and called back a few hours later to check in. Turns out, the stool sample we brought in from earlier that day contained the foreign body: a generously sized splinter of bone that had been lodged in Finley’s gastrointestinal tract for an indeterminable amount of time. Since he had successfully passed the splinter, surgery was no longer needed, and what followed instead was a rigorous, 10-day course of antibiotics, prebiotics and probiotics to repair his intestinal lining. He recovered quickly, and is back to his usual antics.

It’s worth mentioning that at no point was Finley given a terminal diagnosis. He’s young and otherwise healthy, and we were ready and willing to make certain sacrifices to ensure the financial investment we were about to make was both responsible and feasible.

The vets I spoke to while working on this issue unanimously agreed that determining how much to spend on a sick pet’s health care — and how much is too much — is an entirely personal decision. I’m grateful surgery was even an option for us, but I realize not every pet owner can say the same.

And evidently, the age-old saying “Never give a dog a bone” is worth listening to.


This story ran in the May 2017 issue of: