The Do-It-Yourselfer

Filed Under: Pocket Pets, Ferrets

I have always had clients who would try to treat their animals before seeking assistance from a veterinarian. Most of these people would worm their pets with over-the-counter wormers, and sometimes a brave soul would venture out and purchase a vaccine from the local Co-op or Tractor Supply Company. Most of the wormers don’t do any harm, but they rarely do much good either. These wormers are lucky to kill a couple of roundworms and not much else. When your pet doesn’t have worms, why subject them to medication they don’t need or treat them with the wrong medication for what they do have? These "Do-it-yourselfers" do not understand that not every wormer will kill every type of parasite. Sometimes clients will have trouble with this concept but fortunately not very many.

At the clinic we also discourage the use of Co-op vaccines. Many of these vaccines are unusual brands, often ones I have never heard of, and we can not be assured that they were shipped and handled correctly. Most pet owners are also not prepared for vaccine reactions if and when they occur. Small breeds of dogs often suffer from vaccine reactions. Unfair as it seems, small dogs are subjected to the same dose of a vaccine at 5 pounds that a Great Dane would recieve at 95 pounds. Consequently, larger dogs tend to exhibit vaccine reactions less frequently.

I have always heard horror stories about the Large Animal Veterinarian who sees farmers with cows having difficult deliveries. The farmers may try to assist in the delivery only to make the situation worse and more complicated. These stories always end with the veterinarian making a stop at a farm only to inquire how long the farmer has been trying to deliver a calf. When the farmer’s answer is more than an hour the veterinarian just keeps on trucking, waves, and wishes them luck. Even the most well-intentioned owner can complicate a medical emergency.

Only a month ago I came across a life or death situation where the owner had taken great lengths to personally save his pet, nearly killing him in the process! I have heard of owners willing to do anything for their pet, but this was surgery!

Wiggles the ferret was approximately half as wide as he was long and looked like he was ready to pop. His belly was shaved and appeared to have a deep orange tint, especially near the hair line. The ferret was breathing, yet he appeared limp and only semi-conscious.

“What is going on here?” I inquired. The owner relayed his diagnosis. He was sure the ferret was obstructed, and from it's appearance it had been for quite some time. Since it was a holiday weekend his usual veterinary clinic was not open. He went on to say that he talked to the emergency clinic and they wanted him to have a certain amount of cash in hand for the examination and surgery, and he did not have that kind of money. He would be glad to pay us, he just didn’t have the cash on him over the weekend.

In desperation the owner had decided to sedate his ferret and do the surgery himself. He had used two partial tablets of human pain killers and had prepared a surgery table by covering a cutting board with aluminum foil. He had used tacks tt tie the feet of his hapless ferret to the board. Shaving his belly and using betadine from the drug store to sterilize the area, he had prepped poor Wiggles for surgery.

The reality of the situation must have set in, for he changed his mind and sought us out. Yes, the Animal Care Clinic was open and we would see his pet. Unfortunately we had no dosage information for the medications he had used for sedation. I was unsure if the little critter would ever wake up again. Wiggles would shake a little and still exhibited deep pain. Most importantly, the little guy was still breathing!

Since his belly was so large, I was afraid it would pop upon abdominal palpation. I took him straight into surgery. No need for an induction anesthetic, our patient was already knocked out. My technician placed a gas mask on Wiggles and we all took a deep breath hoping for the best.

I warned the owner before surgery that he might never wake up again. My team and I would do our best to find what was obstructing the abdomen and fix it, if possible. Yet the most important factor in most surgical settings is anesthesia. I had no control over the anesthesia for this surgery - at least not much. We can perform a perfect surgery where everything goes exactly right, yet the patient dies as a consequence of the anesthesia. In surgery it often does not depend on how great a surgeon you are, but rather how good an anesthetist you are that determines whether your patient lives or dies. In this case we had been pre-empted on the anesthesia so all bets were off.

Using primarily oxygen and very minimal levels of a gas anesthetic I soon found myself staring at the huge belly. The owner was positive Wiggles had an obstruction. Reaching for my scalpel, then incising down the center of the belly, I soon had my answer. The bladder was as large as the abdomen itself. I was not sure how one little bladder could stretch that far without rupturing. Wiggles had an obstruction all right, but it was not of the gastrointestinal tract like the "Do-it-yourselfer" had diagnosed. Wiggles had a bladder obstruction.

Quickly the bladder was expressed. No wonder Wiggles was miserable. His abdomen was full of urine. The bladder could not be emptied and was in turn shutting down Wiggle’s kidneys.

I could just visualize the owner trying to do surgery for an obstructed bladder. Even after 4 years of college and the first three years of veterinary school I wouldn’t have tried surgery on my own pets. Not until my fourth year of veterinary school would I have tackled such a surgery. Was there such desperation that someone would try surgery on their own pet? I find it hard that you could follow a do-it-yourself manual in surgery. In fact, I know of no such manual! What if Wiggles had suddenly woken up? I could think of at least a half dozen horror scenarios. Lucky for Wiggles we were his Guardian Angels that day.

It took Wiggles a full two days before he woke up after surgery. I was thankful that he woke up at all. Unfortunately, we still have to manually express his bladder. When stretched beyond capacity the bladder often takes a long period to regain control, if it ever does.

The owner was given strict instructions to never again attempt surgery and to bring in his buddy earlier next time before we get into such a dire situation.

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