Friday, June 10, 2011

The importance of getting a second opinion

It's common when we talk about our own human medical issues that we discuss second opinions. 

If a doctor tells us we have a condition that requires surgery or talks about a risky treatment, it is quite normal for us to seek a second opinion from another doctor or we go to a specialist.

Unfortunately, I don't believe we do this enough for our dogs.

Anyone that is familiar with me personally knows that my pack is important to me. And quite frequently, I do put their needs before my own comfort. But, I'm not suggesting people do that. I'm simply wanting to encourage people to know they have options.

Right now, I am blessed with a 9-year old Newfoundland named Quincy. And, he is reason #1 that I strongly believe in getting second opinions.

When Quincy was about 7 months old, he'd limp off and on on his front legs. I could never really pinpoint which leg it was but knew he was uncomfortable.

My veterinarian at the time gave us some anti-inflammatories and told me to give Quincy some rest and come back in about a week. We did that and unfortunately, the pain did not go away.
When I came back, we discussed the possibility that Quincy had panosteitis, more commonly known in the word of giant breeds as pano. And, while the name sounds serious, it is simply a puppy condition where there is a wandering lameness caused by the rapid growth of their long bones. Some might call it growing pains.

To get a formal diagnosis, our veterinarian felt we needed to see a true orthopedic veterinarian at a local clinic to get a true diagnosis. I agreed to it and set an appointment as soon as possible.

At that appointment, Quincy had x-rays done and the orthopedist did see signs of pano. But, he also saw signs of retained cartilage cores in each leg. In the most basic of terms, it simply means that the puppy cartilage doesn't go away as they grow and it can cause the limbs to grow at an improper angle.

The orthopedist suggested I move Quincy to a low calcium diet and come back in 8 weeks and we'd do another set of x-rays to compare and see if the cartilage started to disappear. I was shocked, hurt and said OK.

8 weeks later, we came back and after another round of x-rays, the orthopedist came back with bad news. I personally found that shocking because I felt that Quincy had improved dramatically over the past few weeks. But, he said the cartilage cores were still there and quite visible. And, Quincy also had, in the orthopedist's opinion, the worse elbow dysplasia he had ever seen. He said that I had two options: 
  • Option number 1 was that I have surgery on each leg to cut the cords and provide room for the leg bones to grow longer. If I chose this option, I'd have to have surgery done on each front leg twice due to his young age. 
  • Option number 2 was to put him down now and skip the pain that was in his future.
I didn't say anything but as soon as i got out to the car with Quincy, I started crying. On the way home, I called the breeder I got Quincy from and she said that she'd help me in any way she could. She said that she'd start doing some research and was going to call her veterinarian.

I called my original veterinarian and he said very gently that I needed to pull myself together and he recommended that I take Quincy up to K-State Veterinary school and get a second opinion.

Long story short, we went up there and while Quincy did have pano at the time, he didn't have the retained cartilage cores nor did he have any sign of elbow dysplasia. No surgery was needed at all and the head of orthopedics there felt Quincy had good hips and elbows. He said that I should do x-rays again in a year, but that in his opinion, Quincy was happy, healthy and all was good.

A year later, I had Quincy x-rayed again and all was great. No signs of dysplasia and all bones were fine. Fast forward 8 years and I recently had Quincy's x-rays done again and still no signs of hip or elbow dysplasia. All is well.

When I've told people that story, they want to know who the orthopedist is so they can avoid him. And, I don't give that information out. Yes, he is still in practice locally. 

I'm not wanting people to avoid him. That's not the moral of the story here. I'm simply wanting people to know that you have the power to get second opinions for your dogs.

We, as humans, tend to give our veterinarians a great deal of power. At times, we give them more power than we give our own doctors. If our own doctor told us we needed surgery, we'd go get a second opinion.

Quite often, when our veterinarian give our dogs a diagnosis, we don't question them. If they say our dog needs surgery, we simply do it.

When I've tried to encourage people  to do that, I've gotten mixed messages. Some people say "I can do that? I didn't know I could do that." And, I've had others say they feel uncomfortable doing it for fear of hurting their veterinarian's feelings.

When that orthopedist told me that if would be more humane to put Quincy down at 9 months old, I would have missed the past 9 years of a wonderful relationship.

Remember, you have the power because you pay the bills. You can get a second opinion for your dog.