“Dog Ain’t Right”

Over the years I have developed a friendship with our local small animal veterinarian. He has seen us through joys and sorrows with our cats and dogs and we have shared dinners and some family outings.

Inevitably, we have often ended up talking shop. Medicine is very much the same, whether your patients are adults, children or beagles. We have found that we do very much the same things for the same conditions, but we have a running competition about who has the toughest job.

Calvin C. Carruthers, DVM, C-3 for short, is a highly energetic and charismatic man. He insists his job is tougher than mine because pet owners in this part of the country tend to be less than forthcoming with medical history and useful information when their animals are ill. Calvin’s favorite patient complaint is “Dog Ain’t Right”. He tells me those three words are sometimes the only help he will get from an owner when diagnosing a sick dog. He doesn’t believe me when I tell him some of my patients don’t offer any more details than “I just don’t feel right, Doc”.

Calvin’s job is easier than mine in that he has developed a habit of often taking three and four day weekends and “signing out” to a vet in the next town over, about 20 miles away. He does the same thing when he goes on one or two longer vacations every year. We have accepted these inconveniences, because he is an excellent veterinary surgeon and a good friend. As of this fall, there will also be another veterinarian joining him, which will make his practice independent of call-sharing.

About two months ago our youngest beagle, thirteen-year-old Snickers, developed some swelling of her nose. We were concerned she might have a tooth abscess as Calvin had wanted to do a “dental” on her for some time. That was the week of the North American Lindy Hop festival, and Calvin and his wife were off somewhere in their spectator shoes, grooving to 1940’s music. His office answering machine directed us to the covering veterinarian, who after a fairly quick examination concluded that this seemed more allergic than infectious. We were relieved, but still wondered if this was the correct diagnosis.  

Snickers nose seemed to get better, but two weeks ago she acted a little lethargic and stopped eating. This time, Calvin was in Chicago at a veterinary convention and the young assistant veterinarian of the practice in the next town was the one on duty. He seemed baffled, and speculated Snickers might have had a stroke. He offered to do some bloodwork, but couldn’t get blood from her little legs. At that point we decided to bring the dog to the Emergency Veterinary Clinic in Capitol City.

The Emergency Clinic vet was sure she had a severe tooth infection with early sepsis, or blood poisoning. We agreed to start intravenous antibiotics and after the weekend we saw Calvin, who did the dental surgery last Tuesday morning.

Snickers’ recovery has been slow, but today we see a healthy appetite and a fair amount of tail wagging. She is still weak from her ordeal, but she is on the mend. We regret our delay in getting her teeth done in the first place and for wanting so much to believe the covering veterinarian, who thought Snickers’ swelling was harmless and would go away by itself.

Our seventeen-year-old, otherwise extremely youthful male beagle has started to act strange in recent months. He is drinking a lot of water, pants when we take him for a walk, and is showing a bit of a potbelly even though he has lost some weight. We took him to Calvin for an exam and some bloodwork. Stormy’s blood sugar and thyroid tests were normal and Calvin didn’t think there was any heart failure. Some of the liver tests were a little elevated, which could be transient or the beginning of something serious, so we didn’t have a diagnosis yet.

The other night I was reading from the book I got for my birthday, Harvey Cushing’s biography of Osler. My wife started talking about what might be the matter with Stormy. I closed my book and as we talked about the dog, my right hand came to rest as if I were pointing to the name Cushing on the cover. Suddenly she stopped talking and put her index finger near mine on the book.

“That’s it! Stormy might have Cushing’s! He’s panting, he’s got heat intolerance, increased thirst, potbelly and an elevated alkaline phosphatase. And remember he didn’t shed out this spring. Those are all symptoms of Cushing’s disease.”

My Nurse Practitioner wife may have figured it out first; I just knew the dog wasn’t right.

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