Itís that time of year again: Tax season has reached its stressful end. American citizens have filled out their paperwork and paid their dues to Uncle Sam. This year I found myself, like many other fellow Americans, rushing to get my tax forms in by the deadline. Every year I promise myself that Iím going to be on top of things the next go around. Why do I put it off? Do I enjoy the adrenaline rush? Am I too busy? Am I too lazy? Am I too focused on other tasks at hand? Perhaps I donít have enough healthy fear of the US government and the IRS. Iím not sure what the answer to the question is, itís likely some combination of the above.
Your petís health care can be a lot like doing taxes. If you procrastinate too long to address your petís health care needs, it adds unneeded stress to the situation and increases the likelihood of serious consequences. Putting off trips to the veterinarian may mean that your pet will pay the price.
For example, letís say you own a big silly Labrador Retriever. You love your canine friend dearly, and he is a constant companion. You go on walks in the sunshine together. You both enjoy staying at the campground during the summer months. He is a carefree buddy that makes you smile and hasnít met a person he doesnít like.
You find yourself too busy with work and trips to the grocery store, and with life in general, to find a time when you can work in a trip to the veterinarian. Heís had his ďpuppy shots.Ē Heís been neutered. He gets his Frontline when you can remember it. He eats well and seems happy enough.
Then one autumn day, you hear your doggy buddy cough. Thatís unlike him. You chalk it up to colder weather and seasonal allergies. He starts coughing with more regularity over the next few months. You really consider taking him to the veterinarian but you still canít find the time. Several months later heís lost a noticeable amount of weight and lacks his old spunk ó but heís still wagging his tail.
You finally make time to get him checked out. Your veterinarian examines your friend from nose to tail and spends extra time listening to his heart. She mentions a heart murmur. A simple blood test is recommended. A quick in-house test reveals that your dog has heartworm disease.
Heartworm is a very serious, potentially deadly, disease. Itís the cause of your lovable Labís cough, weight loss and lethargy. Heartworms are actually just that ó worms (parasites) that live and grow within the heart and the vessels supplying the lungs. The larvae or immature worms are transmitted to dogs by the bite of an infected mosquito. So the more time your canine friend stays outside to play, the higher the likelihood of him getting the infection, especially in ďmosquito season.Ē
This disease is especially heartbreaking because it is preventable. Monthly medicine is available from your veterinarian either as a pill, treat or topical and is not available over-the-counter. Alternatively, your veterinarian may administer an injection that replaces the monthly pill and is good for six months.
It is important to remember that you should have your pet tested before starting prevention. Even missing a few months of medicine may expose your dog to infection. A dog that is ďheartworm positiveĒ that receives a monthly preventative may become extremely ill or die. This is part of the reason that heartworm preventatives are only available through your veterinarian.
Treatment for heartworm disease is possible, but it is costly and requires a great deal of care and attention on the ownerís part. Treatment involves hospitalization and multiple injections from your veterinarian to kill the worms. It is far easier to avoid the problem all together by keeping your pets up to date on monthly prevention and yearly testing.
This is a cautionary tale about procrastinating when it comes to your petís health. It ends with a potentially deadly outcome for manís best friend. Consider all of the other things that your veterinarian may catch at a yearly visit. Fleas, heart problems, organ failure, diabetes, dental disease, ear infections, tumors, arthritis, endocrine issues are just some of the things that I, as a veterinarian, think of and address with every physical exam and annual wellness visit.
Even if you have to make Tax Day your petís annual veterinary visit deadline ó please do so. I would hate to see our pets suffer from our own procrastination.
Dr. Marisa Tong is an associate at Delphos Animal Hospital and graduated from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2010.