Home diagnosis: always a train wreck for veterinarians

Home diagnosis: always a train wreck for veterinarians

Watch out for clients who think they know better than you.
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Mar 01, 2013

Mr. Mortis was in a state of sheer panic. "Something has gone terribly wrong, Doc! Riggy is curled up under the sofa. He won't move and his pupils are dilated. I'm afraid he may be dead!" Riggy Mortis had been discharged from my clinic just three hours earlier. Phone calls like this one are often just as upsetting for me as they are for the client.

"I don't know what may have gone wrong," I told the client. "Can you bring him right over to the clinic so I can see what happened?"

"No way, Doc. I tried to reach under there just now and he darn near took a piece out of my hand."


ILLUSTRATION BY RYAN OSTRANDER
Based on that, I was able to glean that Mr. Mortis was a bit premature in his determination that Riggy was dead. In fact, home diagnoses are wrong most of the time, and the home remedies that often follow are equally misguided. In Riggy's case, the next logical step would have been burial, which, to say the least, was inappropriate.

You see, strange things can happen when our clients try to diagnose on their own. Mrs. Downer is a great example. She was aghast concerning my postoperative instructions for her dog, Dozey.

"What? You aren't going to put him on pain medicine! That's outrageous! He just had real surgery with stitches and everything. When I had surgery I was on Narcoset for a month. Dozey is very sensitive. I think he needs pills."

I assured her that Dozey's one-stitch surgery did not call for analgesics and sent her home. Of course, she was back the next day.

"This dog was perfectly healthy when I brought him in here. Now all he does is mope around. My neighbor says that you should have known better than to use anesthesia on a sensitive dog like him. He's still groggy from your anesthesia. I ought to sue you!" (FYI, the surgery was done with local analgesia.)

I checked him out. Dozey seemed fine but acted groggy. Mrs. Downer's next words clued me in. "You don't think it could be the drugs, do you, Doctor? You see, you weren't going to give him anything for the pain, so I gave him a few aspirin when we got home. Then I remembered hearing somewhere that aspirin isn't good for dogs. So I gave him one of those Narcosets that I had left over from my surgery. I threw in a Somnium tablet to help him sleep also."