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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Should You Call the Vet?

“It’s a lousy hamster.”

“It’s just a rat.”

“It’s just a parakeet.”

“I only paid twelve bucks for it.”

That’s what I’ve heard so many times from clients at the animal hospital who balked at leaving a deposit to have their little, inexpensive, sick pet treated. Often, this was after we’d already started to save its life. If the animal died ten minutes after arrival, while the doctors and technicians were working on it, the client naturally didn’t want to pay a dime. This used to make me so mad. Even more frustrating was that, most times, an animal was brought in on death’s door which made everyone extra tense.

Here’s the thing. When you have a pet like a dog or cat, you have many years to get attached and grow your human/pet relationship. These pets are considered “more worthy” of the expense of seeing a vet. With the smaller animals, a pet owner may not interact as much as they would with a more sophisticated pet or they’ve had it for only a few months and feel it’s too early to encounter any kind of illness. Maybe they bought it for their kid and didn’t expect any health problems in the first place.

I’m playing devil’s advocate here because the very frugal part of me understands these situations. I don’t like spending money at the vet either and I try not to, but I also can’t watch an animal suffer. The best thing to do is provide the best care in the first place, but even with love, attention and proper care, animals do get sick. Here are just a few tips for trying to determine if your pet needs to see the vet.

With caged animals it’s hard to recognize when the pet is sick. The advice I offer most often to new pet owners is to check your pet every day, at least in the morning and evening. Once you know a pet’s normal behavior, you’ll know better when things aren’t normal or seem out of place. If you suspect your guinea pig is scratching more than usual, he probably is. When he starts to develop a bald spot, that’s further proof and a good reason to call the vet.

Anytime a guinea pig, rabbit or rodent stops eating, it’s serious. Guinea pigs and rabbits have the type of digestion system that works continually. If there’s a stoppage, often called G.I. stasis, medication and syringe feedings may be prescribed. When rats or mice stop eating it’s highly unusual. This is pretty much what they seem to live for so there’s usually an underlying cause.

Birds will sometimes crouch in the bottom of their cage if they’re sick or sit on the perch puffed up. Sometimes, this means nothing, but if it continues for more than half a day, then there’s likely something going on. Small birds are tricky because they can go from just a little sick to dying in a matter of hours. Keep a close watch on a bird that’s acting lethargic and start looking for a vet that sees birds in case you have to take him there in the next 24 hours.

Reptiles, on the other hand, can be sick for weeks without showing any outward signs. You might notice their mouth or eyes looking different or ragged. They might show one eye stuck shut or you might notice less droppings in the enclosure. Iguanas that aren’t getting the proper nutrition in their diet can develop a noticeably crooked spine. The disease process, by this point, has usually progressed too far, but the iguana can still get back on track and continue to live with an improved diet.

I’ve only touched on a few illnesses here, but the point I want to make is that many of these things are treatable when the pet is in the care of a competent exotic veterinarian. Whether you want to spend the money or not is going to be a personal decision.  I try to weigh how veterinary treatment is going to extend my pet’s life. Will it give her a few more months? Is the pet young enough to benefit from treatment?

For instance, I recently had my two and a half year-old rat treated for mites knowing that rats only live three years. This particular rat, named Carrie, didn’t have any other problems, which is unusual for a rat that age. Usually, a rat can have at least one growth or the beginnings of a respiratory condition by then. These are the two things from which they generally die. I went ahead with mite treatment because the other younger rat had to be treated anyway and because I wanted to get Carrie as close to her three year lifespan as I could. It’s kind of a mission of mine. The other thing I had to ask myself was whether I could watch her continue to lose fur and scratch herself so maniacally. I couldn’t. So for my own peace of mind I had to bite the bullet and pay for a vet visit. It was worth it to me.

What will it take for you?

This is our rat, Sugar. While our other rat, Carrie, was showing hair loss and scratching like crazy, only Sugar tested positive for mites. Still, both pets had to be treated along with a thorough cleaning and de-miting of the cages.

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