Sunday, December 8, 2013

Old Dog Blues

After going through a ton of veterinary appointments, surgeries, medications, time, and money over the past couple of years for my two old dogs, I thought things had finally settled out and we were all going to get some rest.  But then I received a card in the mail claiming that Midge was due for her rabies vaccination.  I nearly flipped.  Why hadn't the vet just given it to her when he saw her a few weeks ago???

I know why.  It's because my vet requires a $150 wellness exam every time you bring your dog in the door.  It doesn't matter if the dog was just examined two weeks before.  That's how they make their money.  They want you to come in as many times as possible.  Our vets back in Nevada would do one wellness exam per year.  If you brought your dog in for anything else and an exam was not necessary, they didn't charge you for it.  Sometimes they'd do the exam just to be safe, but they wouldn't charge the dog owner for more than one exam per year.  I loved those vets.  They were in it for the animals -- not the money.

So, I called the vet's office and said, "Look.  I want to know how many more vaccinations all of my dogs are due for and when, and I want to consolidate them into one appointment, because -- no offense -- but I don't want to spend the rest of my life living in your office and paying rent to be there.  I'm not able to take care of my own health problems, because I don't have the time or money, and I have to be able to get a job to pay for all of this at some point here, which I can't do if I'm always sitting in a vet's office."

So, the lady informed me that Scrappy will be due for his rabies vaccination in January, while Midge was due in November, so we could do them both in December.  I agreed to that.  Then I got the dogs into the office and was told that they will also be due for the parvo-distemper vaccine in January.  I sighed in exasperation.  Why the hell didn't the receptionist mention THAT when I was setting up the appointment?  I guess she thought I'd be happy to either pay for that on the same day too or come back in January and pay for that plus another wellness exam.  I agreed to pay for the additional vaccine now, and then they mentioned that they will be due for rattlesnake vaccines in February.  Add it in.  Just keep adding all this shit in now, because I'm not coming back unless someone is in pain or dying.

I have no idea how the dogs got all these vaccines spread out so that I had to bring them in every month throughout the year.  All I can figure is that the vets did it intentionally to force all these extra wellness exams.  I have never had a vet in the past who was that inconsiderate of the pet owner's time and money.  It's shameful.  But at least they came clean this year and we were able to consolidate at least everything for the next three months into one appointment.

The other thing we straightened out was that my dogs always got the 3-year vaccines in the past, but the doctor would only give them the 1-year vaccines because he wanted me to bring them in sooner for more wellness exams.  He said I needed proof that they've had 3-year vaccines before, so this time I brought in their past paperwork and showed it to the tech.  She said, "Oh, we don't need this.  We probably have it on file from your old vet."

Huh?  They wouldn't know who my old vets were, because I was taking the dogs to multiple vets and I never gave out their names.  The tech said she was just planning on giving the dogs 3-year vaccines, so I guess the doctor was just trying to fleece us like I suspected.

My blood was boiling and I was biting my tongue so hard to keep from blurting out my thoughts and feelings on the way they run their practice.  Then the heartworm discussion came up.  I've told them a million times I do not want my dogs on a heartworm prevention program, yet they bring it up every friggin' time they see me.  It's just another racket to make money.  My husband jumped in with a resounding no that shut her up, and I was able to breathe again.

Then the doctor came in and guess what?  She found all kinds of things wrong with my dogs -- things that need medications, lab work and more doctor visits...  I wanted to jump up and scream, "Let these dogs just live out the last few years of their lives peacefully, will ya?  Let them die when God decides."

I mean, the business of extending our pets' lives is almost bigger business than extending human lives.  I can't tell you how many times I was in terrible pain with a chronic condition and my doctors just told me to live with it.  Then here are my dogs, they aren't even in pain, they are perfectly happy, and I'm receiving all this doom and gloom news about their health.  Well, they're old.  That's the way it works when we get old.

I'm not going to do cataract surgery on my dogs if my own optometrist won't do cataract surgery on me.  I need to be able to see to continue with my work as a photographer.  The dogs just sleep around the house.  Why is it more important that they be able to see?  Their keen sense of smell makes up for anything they can't see.

I'm also not going to do dental surgery on an old dog when my own son is in pain and needs to have his wisdom teeth removed and his jaw cut back.  The problem with vets is that they advertise a dental cleaning "special" for $199 and then once the dog is under anesthesia they pull out most of its teeth and next thing your know that $199 special is costing you $2,000 and your dog has no teeth left to eat with.  The vet tried convincing me that this one tooth was causing Midge pain, but she eats just fine.  I don't see any evidence of pain from her in our day to day lives.  Give her a hard bone and she'll chew on it.

Then the vet discovered that one of Scrappy's knees is slightly out of alignment with the other, and so she wanted to put him on another pill to help his bones.  Seriously?  As is, my time is restricted by the number of pills, shots and ointments I have to give my dogs every day.  I guess they think one more won't hurt.  I reminded the doctor that my dogs do not take pills.  I have to shove them down their throats, and they bite me every time.  It's a huge hassle, so unless the pills come in a liquid form, I'm not giving the dogs anymore pills.

Then she heard the heart murmur.  I've been getting the feeling the Scrappy is on his last leg.  We got him as a very old dog and I love him more than life itself, but quite frankly, I'm surprised and fortunate to have had him around as long as I have.  He's been sleeping more than usual and sometimes I have to carry him outside to do his business, because he just doesn't want to get up.  A heart murmur would explain that.

The doctor wanted to do x-rays and sonograms and put him on more medications.  We said no.  I'm not against medical intervention -- just unnecessary and risky medical intervention.  I mean, she heard the heart murmur, so why does she need to look inside him to be sure he has one?  What's the next step?  Open heart surgery on a 14 year old dog?  That's ridiculous.  The surgery itself would kill him.

The other thing I can't stand is when a vet pressures me into agreeing to surgery, and then whips out all this paperwork informing me how dangerous the surgery is and makes me sign that I will not hold anyone liable should my pet die.  They never bring up the risks verbally.  They act like any good pet owner would opt for the surgery because it is much better than whatever condition they have, and then they let the paperwork deliver the bad news.

Then she said that she wanted to run some test to make sure he doesn't have heartworm.  We were back to THAT.  They've been upselling us on the heartworm program for years and now the doctor was trying to link it to the heart murmur.  I know it is a fatal disease, but we make choices based on risks and our lifestyle.  Our dogs are indoor dogs.  We only take them outside on leashes to do their business for a few minutes in increments throughout the day.  Our mosquito problem is minimal because we are in the dry desert and not around standing water.  Now that we've blocked off our property, our dogs don't come into contact with other dogs or their feces.  We don't let them eat coyote scat.  We don't step in dog or coyote poop and track it in our house.  We do give them rattlesnake vaccines because we have run into rattlesnakes on our property when walking outside several times.  They definitely are at risk of getting bit, in that case.  I'm sure that this heart murmur is due to old age and not heartworm.

The vets have been pressuring us to put both dogs on diets so that they will lose weight.  We did that, and now that Scrappy has lost weight on purpose, the doctor thinks it could be due to heartworms.  Sigh.  Other symptoms of heartworms are loss of appetite and a persistent cough, which he doesn't have.  He just sleeps more, which I can't really call fatigue.  If he ran around and then pooped out, I would recognize that as fatigue, but he's just getting older and sleeping more.  When he does run around and get the fits, it's like he's a puppy again and you can't stop him.

I may be wrong, but I have to follow my gut and my gut is telling me not to trust the vet, that the dogs are just getting old, and that we have more pressing matters to tend to and cannot afford to allow another series of medical procedures to disrupt our lives.  This has been going on for two years straight, and we need a break from it.  My dogs always come home from the vets' office sicker than they were when they went in, and they are usually happy and healthy before we take them in for routine vaccinations.  I, for one, am backing away from this trend toward extensive medical care in animals.  I hope that when my dogs do pass away, it will be peacefully in their sleep without pain or stress, and we can have a nice, quiet burial ceremony among family.

I like to take a middle-of-the-road approach to healthcare.  As soon as the preventative stuff starts getting too stressful or risky, it's time to take stock of the patient's quality of life.  My experience is that the dogs don't exhibit any signs of pain, any loss of appetite, or any serious disease when they are at home.  It's only when we go into the vet's office for a routine vaccination that all hell breaks loose.  Lesson learned:  Stay out of the vet's office.

I also made the mistake of paying the vet's office to trim Scrappy's toenails.  They did it once before during his dental surgery and cut them nice and short.  This time, however, they left them long.  I pointed out the longest nail and said, "I think you missed that one for sure."  The tech argued with me and said they couldn't cut them shorter because his toenails are black and they can't tell where the quick is.  But some of the nails weren't cut at all and I could tell.  Still they charged me $30!  The tech said I would either have to bring him in every 3 weeks for a nail trim (that's $10 a week for them), or I have to bring him in for more dental surgery so they can trim his nails while he's under anesthesia.  That almost made me laugh out loud.  He just had dental surgery this year and barely has any teeth left.

(By the way, nail trims were complimentary at my old vet's office.)

I just saw a documentary in which they interviewed a man who was a retired vet, and he admitted that small animal veterinarians make big bucks through unnecessary dental surgeries and heartworm prevention.  He said it's a racket and pet owners need to protect their pocketbooks by making sure there is really good reason for opting in for either treatments.  What drives me nuts about my current vet office is that they just won't leave me alone.  They push and push and push.  Before I even walk in the front door, they've got a sign on the sidewalk advertising dental cleanings and heartworm prevention.

It's like going onto a used car sales lot.  If you won't buy in after the salesperson or vet tech pressures you, they bring in the big guns, meaning the manager or the doctor, and you have to listen to the whole spiel again from them.  They tell you that all these terrible things are going to happen to your pet if you don't buy this service.  If you stick to your guns and say no, they push paperwork on you to "educate" you, and they make you sign papers saying that if your pet dies, it's not their fault because you declined the treatment they recommended.  It's ridiculous.

The vets I used back in my old neighborhood were always trying to spare my pets from stress and the pain of any unnecessary medical intervention, and save me money.  In fact, I had one vet who was constantly discouraging me from doing dental cleanings and rigorous medication programs.  If my dogs showed any sign of discomfort with a treatment, this vet would find an alternative solution.  I loved that guy.  I guess these younger vets nowadays get a lot of business training in addition to medical training, and the size of their bank accounts outweighs any other factors in their lives.  That's too bad.  For everyone.


Cheryl Ann said...

I completely understand your frustration. It cost us $500 to have one of our shepherds put to sleep when his hip problems got so bad he couldn't walk. After that, I now REFUSE to go to a regular vet. Our dogs get their shots 1x year at the Animal Samaritans clinic. I did have to take Lady, the 6 year old German Shepherd, who I inherited from a friend, to a vet for an ear exam and $200 later, I came out with some stuff that I now buy on Amazon. Yes, they are $$$$$$$....I'm like you...I'm FED UP!

redhorse said...

You've got to read these two articles before you go to another vet apt.

strivingforsavvy said...

I think I would shop around for another vet. I have been to vets like you are describing, but they are not all like that. In fact, I think most are not. I have three dogs and two vets that I go to depending on what is needed. They are very careful to give me my options, but let me decide what is best for us and they respect my decisions. I hope you can resolve this, because it sounds like it is causing you and your dogs stress.

Becky Maggart said...

We moved from a small town at the beginning of the year. I had to take my horse in for a few small things, and had them clean his sheath while he was already "drunk".

On top of that, I got handed my sister-in-law's bill that she hasn't paid (joy.). But looking over her charges... and mine for these routine things....

It is worth the gas money to drive the 3 hours back to our old town, and the 3 hours back. The diffrence in routine charges was a LOT. It may even be worth hauling the horse back there if I had a lot to be done on him at once! (I do vaccinations and many things myself)

It's such a business. Which I guess I can't blame them, I mean, I'd like to make a bunch of money too. But it kinda stinks for pet owners who arn't going to throw tons on money at their animals.

As a culture we put far too much weight on animals lives (and not their quality of life). It's not a human, it's a animal. And if they are suffering, why force them through anything more? I see so many people who are selfishly putting their animals through treatments or just waiting far to long to put the poor thing down, because the human is emotionally attached to the animal.

Anyways, that's my rant for the day!

Laura Lee said...

I am totally with you on this. I just can't believe how much they charge and make you feel guilty and like an awful person who doesn't care about animals if you don't follow their recommendations.

My dogs don't have exposure to other dogs or wild animals and I haven't taken them to the vet in a couple years with no issues. They don't get their teeth scaled and cleaned either---they get rawhide and crunchy food which keeps them pretty clean. I will also be vaccinating my own horses this spring. This year, for the horses, vaccinations, wellness exam (which like your vet, mine required) farm call and 1 float cost $848. It's CRAZY.

Venom said...

You summed it up here:
"we make choices based on risks and our lifestyle"
and here:
"As soon as the preventative stuff starts getting too stressful or risky, it's time to take stock of the patient's quality of life."

I buy vaccines, syringes, & sharps (for my horses, cats & dogs) online @ Jeffers and administer them myself (simple subcutaneous or muscular shots).

For rabies shots & floating teeth, etc., my horse vet does everything for every critter at once and I pay for ONE farm call. I reason that my horse vet studied small animals in school, just as the small animal vets studied large animals, only some prefer to specialize their practices.

I really think that you have hit upon a disgraceful profiteer at your current clinic - why not ask your horse vet if he recommends a particular small animal vet?

Sam said...

It really is time for a different vet. We don't get pressured at East Mesa Animal Hospital on Gilbert Rd. It's a bit of a drive, the vet is grumpy, but she tells you exactly how it is and if something is a waste of money. She's cut back on her vaccine schedules and we only go about once a year if the pups are healthy. I don't get harassed about heartworm, etc.

Try them - just remember the vet isn't grumpy at you! LOL!

Brenda said...

I'm sorry you're having so many problems with your vet. My mom takes her dogs to one that's not far from out house and sometimes they try to squeeze every cent out of her while other times they don't. When her one dog tested positive for Valley Fever we started treating for that. Then her liver enzymes came back really high so he told us to stop the VF drugs since that might have been the cause and the VF titer had greatly reduced. Well, then the titer wet back up but the liver returned to normal so he put her back on the VF meds. Then she got a tumor that was cancerous. For the low price of $4,000 the tumor could be removed but until they did the surgery they wouldn't know how far it had spread so there was no guarantee the surgery would even help. So my mom decided against the surgery, stopped giving her the VF meds and tried to make her remaining time as comfortable as possible. The vets didn't criticize our decisions and were very supportive when we had to bring her in the final time about two months later. Sometimes you just have to weigh costs with what's in your pet's best interest and when she went as quickly as she did we knew the surgery would have been pointless.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Thanks, everyone, for all that information. I know I've been saying for a while that I'm going to take the dogs to a new vet, and I have done my research, but it does seem that all the good ones are a long drive. I can't stand driving on freeways with dogs bouncing around in the backseat. If I put them in a cage, some idiot always cuts me off and I have to slam on my brakes, and the dogs and cage bite the dust. But I may have to just deal with the drive, because there are no good alternatives close by.

Each time something else comes up, I tell myself I'll just get this appointment over with at the usual vet clinic, and I always end up regretting it. They have this way of sucking me in, like refusing to refill Midge's insulin unless I drop her off for the day to have her blood sugar levels tested despite me having my own test kit.

Interesting articles, redhorse.

Cindy D. said...

I hate your vet and I don't even know who it is. It should not be that way.

I think we got pretty lucky this time around with ours. He is close to our house and he seems to be genuinely concerned about what is best for all of us...not just his pocket book.

When we took Butch in for the bloodwork to see if my suspicions of lupus were correct, he wrote up an estimate a head of time, and then gave us all of our options. When we took him back for the follow up work and he discovered that Butch's liver enzymes were off the charts, he again, gave us all of our options, pointing out that some were very pricey and that he would understand completely if we chose not to go that route. He gave us less expensive options, and did not try to make us feel guilty for choosing that cheaper option. I did make it clear to him that my goal since bringing him home was to make his last years enjoyable, not keep him alive for as long as humanly possible, only as long as is humanely possible. I do believe there is a big difference.

2 weeks later when it was time to refill the medications, he did not insist on more blood work, even though he had suggested it before. He accepted that we were giving him the smallest dose possible and still keep the lupus at bay and watched him carefully for any signs of liver damage. Then he refilled our script and sent us on our way.

My vet is Ironwood Animal Hospital, you just go straight out ironwood to Combs road, and it is right there in the Frys shopping center.

Cut-N-Jump said...

I agree with Cindy. Your vet just plain sucks. You might try Dr Cromer at Tri City vet on Greenfield and Broadway. Always liked his honesty and sincerity caring for the animals.