Thursday, April 4, 2013

What Is The Right Level Of Paranoia When It Comes To Your Dog's Symptoms?

When it comes to your dog's symptoms, how do you know when you're too paranoid and when you're not paranoid enough? That is a question I'm still trying to figure out.

I myself am extremely paranoid as soon as there is anything different about my dog.

Everybody tells me I'm too paranoid. The sad truth is, that it typically turns out that I was paranoid for a reason.

Just recently I had the feeling things weren't right. It was nothing one could put their finger on, just little things that were off. I myself started believing that I was seeing ghosts and convinced myself to take the wait and see approach.

For a whole week I was struggling with it until I finally couldn't take it any more and decided to proceed with testing. As it turned out, Jasmine had a UTI. She had none of the typical signs and the symptoms that were there could have been written off as possible effects of her recent steroid treatment.

Signs of a problem can be very subtle and when your dog is on meds, such as the steroids, how does one tell what is a real problem and what are expected side effects of the treatment?

A dear friend of mine, Roxanne of Champion of My Heart, shares her story in a great article Signs Your Pet May Have an Infection.

It is an extreme example, perhaps, but it illustrates the point really well.

About a year go, Roxanne's Border Collie, Lilly suffered a severe reaction to a rabies vaccination. You can find the full story on Champion of My Heart. To treat the resulting meningoencephalomyelitis and to keep her alive, Lilly was started on a chemo drug protocol last year.

Lilly's breath and urine suddenly started smelling really bad.

It felt like a reasonable assumption that these new signs were an effect from the new treatment. The rest of Lilly's symptoms were just a different shade of those she already had. It wasn't until five months later, when Lilly suddenly suffered a seizure and began peeing blood when she was diagnosed with a life-threatening bladder infection. All that in spite of frequent veterinary visits.

So how does one know when to worry?

Particularly with a dog who is having all kinds of issues and is on all kinds of treatment, how does one tell things apart?

When Jasmine's appetite declined again, I talk to the vet about it. He thought that perhaps she developed sensitivity to one of her supplements, recommended stripping her diet to bare bones and see where that goes. When I asked how much I should worry about it, he said I had other things to worry about, as presently we're dealing with muscle issues.

Well, I still felt it was something to worry about too.

Then it seemed the appetite changes might have been related to dental problems; there were other signs to support that theory. We scheduled a check-up and potential dental work. While there were some issues with the teeth, they didn't seem major enough to account for what's been happening.

So we're still might be looking at possibility of something more sinister going on, even if just with the mouth.

For no other reason than just because we're going in anyway, I had Jasmine's urine examined again. Well, ok, I had a bit more reason than that. Her last urinalysis, which confirmed that her initial UTI has cleared, had specific gravity that was quite ok but not where it normally is. So again, it was just a gut feeling more than anything.

As it turns out, Jasmine's UTI is back with a vengeance.

No typical signs this time around either.

So what is the right level of paranoid when it comes to your dog's symptoms?

As far as I'm concerned, I came to conclusion that one can never be paranoid enough. My regular reports to her vet always include everything and anything out of the ordinary I observe in Jasmine. We then discuss what could be the reason. Then we start by considering any treatment reactions and flare-ups of existing ongoing issues. But sometimes that doesn't explain things to me well enough.

It's important not to allow a new problem masquerade as an old one.

The problem is that many symptoms one can see in their dog can either be very subtle, or very generic. Most symptoms come with a long list of potential causes, which might include health issues you know your dog already has. If that's the case, it is not the symptoms itself, but the change that is the red flag.

My rule is to KNOW exactly what any change is about.

What do you think? How paranoid should one be?


Related articles:
Signs Your Pet May Have an Infection
Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement And Denial
I Always Thought That A UTI Would Scream It's Presence


  1. Now that Lilly has had back-to-back UTIs (totally different bacteria each time), I suspect our level of paranoia will be regular urine tests, even without symptoms. But your point is well taken. When there is SO much going on medically and SO many medications and supplements being used, it's very easy to assume that any change has to do with that. Thanks for the mention. You girls hang in there.

    1. I hear you, Roxanne. Makes perfect sense. What would have happened if I didn't have Jasmine's urine analyzed just on gut feeling when she went for the dental? Vet says it was the only good thing that happened on Tuesday - having a look at the urine. *sigh

      Got some cultured and waiting for lab results on antibiotic sensitivity. Not taking any chances since this is a repeat also and she's already been on antibiotics. Hoping no superbugs ...

      Yes, I think regular urine checks are a good plan with Lilly, and as it seems with Jasmine also. Vet says once they get an UTI it is that much easier to get it again. He did quick ultrasound to see whether he could see any reason for the quick return but hasn't seen anything there.

      Quite interesting that it's a different bacteria each time; does your vet have any theories on that?

  2. I've always erred on the side of paranoia. I would rather be safe then sorry. I don't believe in the 'wait and see' attitude with my dogs (do it with myself though). But your dogs can't talk, they can't TELL you that it's just a little stomach ache and not something more sinister. We are their guardians, we have to guard.

    1. That is a very good approach. Gets harder when you're already at the vets at least every week and already spending around $1500 monthly on vet care without anything additional thrown into it.

      Eventually you start feeling crazy having all kinds of testing done all the time and also pocket gets deeper and one has to prioritize.

  3. I've been so lucky that my dogs have been mostly healthy the last two years. (Koly puked twice and the Felix grew a wart, but that's about it) Back when Felix was an allergic mess, we were at the vet every week and with all the meds he was on, everything little change was a reason to worry, so I tend to err on the side of caution. Besides, the one time I didn't, I caused Koly permanent lung damage. Never again. Never ever again. Hi Ms. Vet - please take all my money!

    1. So glad your guys have been doing well past two years. Nothing like it!

      Would you care to share your story about Koly's lung damage?

  4. I'm pretty paranoid. How many people would take their dog to the vet because she doesn't want to eat breakfast? ME!! I just feel like I know when something is wrong - I think I know my dog well enough to understand when something if really off. Of course, you do too. Cali has had several UTI's too - I wonder if the steroids contribute in some way? I hope you get everything cleared up!

    1. Yeah, not many people take their dog to the vet because one missed breakfast :-) But I too feel that one can never be paranoid enough.

      Steroids suppress the immune system, so yeah, I'm sure they played their role. In over 9.5 years Jasmine never had a UTI until after she's been on steroids.

      I always avoided them like the plague; with the neck situation, though, there was no argument they were needed.

  5. That's a tough one. And unfortunately, like you said, money does come in to play. Still, I err on the side of slight paranoia and now with my new pup Rocco, I have insurance for the first time. So hopefully that will make the paranoia and vet bills easier to deal with.

    1. I felt like a fool wanting to run urinalysis based on a gut feeling that something is off and no evidence at all. And yet my gut feeling was right.

      I am very paranoid and I like to have everything checked out. Sooner or later, though, one has to start thinking how are the money better spent. That's when it gets really tough - when you have to pick and choose what you will do and what you won't.

      The insurance should help. Though no insurance covers everything fully. Which one do you have?

  6. We recently purchased a pup who had all kinds of health vet was stumped...prescribed meds did zero. We even had a blood chem panel done...stool checked. Within 2 days I took pup to another younger vet...same practice...she knew immediately what to do. By end of the week we had a totally different pup. Persistently paranoid...I then decided pup was drinking too much water. And not peeing enough. Urine sample showed crystals by boatload...xray was required to be sure no bladder stones.. we got lucky on that...none -- plus no UtI...just pup now on presciption food to dissolve crystals. First month he dropped 2/3 of the crystals...hoping to get rid of balance this month. If I hadnt been so tuned in to his behavior this poor baby would have continued being and acting crazy! We were told he was in perfect health when we bought him! Bladder issues are not always overt...this kid will be on an annual urinalysis plus Tinkle Tonic forever.

    1. Getting answers get be sometimes frustrating. What was the problem the first time around?

      Glad you're on top of it, he's a lucky pup.

  7. Sounds like you have good reason to be paranoid. Sometimes, people become paranoid for reasons that they can't put their finger on like you mention. Those kinds of cases need work-ups sometimes. It's frustrating when people want answers, but aren't willing to put forth the money required to find the answers with tests.

    1. Yeah, sadly, I have lots of reasons to be paranoid. And because I typically talk with people who's dogs do have health problems it seems that all dogs are terribly sick all the time.

      I'm sure it's not like that but it certainly seems that way.

      It's even more frustrating when you want answers, do dish out for the work-ups, and get no answers anyway.

  8. Mom knows us super well and she can usually tell right away when something is amiss. Depending on the problem we might end up at the vet, but it is important to know your pets so you notice even the little things.

    1. You very lucky to have such great mom. Yes, knowing our dogs is the key. Knowing what is not quite right can be life-saving.

  9. He was chasing his butt constantly, face rubbing, running all over burying his head in anything nobody could even touch his ears...AND he had a little BALD rat tail tipped tail. He was one messed up little guy at 11 months of age, which was his age when we purchased him. We got him on a Sunday....observed him Sunday night, I put him on Benedryl that night to help with allergies I suspected (face rubbing)...Went to Vet#1 on Monday. He kept Pup on benedryl and added Otomax. Nothing improved. Went to Vet#2 on Wednesday. She him on 1/2 zyrtec, emptied his anal glands and removed the otomax. By Friday he was like a new dog. Meanwhile,I added Grizley's Salmon Oil to all my dogs diet (instead of fish oil capsules)...within 2 weeks, Pup had a fully furred beautiful tail. Vet#2 said that bald tipped tail was about environmental allergies. After the craziness was under control, I took a urine sample in to see if he had a UTI since he was drinking so much water. Vet #2 said he may have been born with those crystals as they had been there for months. We are their advocates....this poor pup was screaming for help when I brought him in our door -- he spoke via body language/behavior. I shudder to think what his life was the 11 months before we purchased him. His reputable breeder last took him to a vet when he was 4 months. He had one round of puppy shots at that visit. The Breeder DID point out his rat tipped tail which would have been hard to miss! This has cost us $500 after paying $1400 for the dog... I consider this a very expensive rescue. Pup is a joy....loving personality and oh sooooo happy now he is in a good home. It was very disappointing that Vet #1 (the practice owner) had very little to offer me. Returning him was not an option -- he would be back in that bad situation. I help rescue my heart would not allow me to ask for a refund/return the dog. Particularly since he has such a fabulous personality. In the end, it is the Owner/Guardian/Mom/Dad who must watch and observe our furkids....

    1. Poor guy! Glad it got resolved so quickly. He's so lucky to have found you!

  10. Hey Jana. I definitely don't think you can ever be too paranoid about your pet's health. They say a mom has the ability to detect if something is wrong with her human child. I honestly believe that a mom can also detect if something is wrong her her fur child. We are currently very bonded with our pets and can instinctively tell if something is up. I mean only a few days ago, I was riddled with emergency calls and when I came home at 1ish a.m., I just knew something was wrong with my foster dog Lucy. She just wore a miserable expression and that' the only red flag I needed to take action. I discovered she was suffering from a bout of gastro.
    Generally speaking, I always take owners seriously when they say something is wrong with their pet even if they can't pin it down. I start asking them all the relevant questions and if we don't get anywhere with that and my examination comes back empty handed, I still proceed with further workup. More often than that, the owners turn out to be right and their pet has some underlying medical condition. It is definitely a very tricky process since our patients don't contribute much information to their owners or vets.
    I firmly believe it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you think your pet is unwell, then get your vet to check him/her out and try to determine what is going on before it escalates.
    I hope Jasmine's fully recovered now. Make sure to drop in a urine sample few days after her last course of antibiotics are finished for a full urinalysis and to ensure she gets the all clear. It won't hurt to repeat her urine test in a month's time after that as well.