I often post about a topic when I get multiple questions and comments pushing me in that direction. Over the past two months I have had two friends reach out with frustrating and unacceptable stories of misdiagnosis with their beloved pets. I honestly do not want to come off as too negative, whiny or finger pointing, but sometimes it is warranted! People who know me can attest that I have always tried to have a balanced approach for all of my pets’ health care decisions. Further, as my Dad has always instilled in me…Just be REASONABLE in every situation and try to see both sides before you make a decision or rush to judgement.
Unfortunately, I had my awful experience of a ”missed” diagnosis that almost cost my beloved Coonhound, Gus, his life. Back in 2008, we had been hiking in Shenandoah National Park, VA, and Gus picked up some unwelcome deer ticks. Upon our return home to New York we discovered and confirmed with our vet office (through Erie County) that the ticks were indeed the type that carry Lyme Disease and other horrible bacterial infections. Within a month of the tick detection, Gus started acting “off” to me. He was acting much more tired than he should be. His appetite was less than usual and he began an alternating limping of his two front legs…Uh oh
Off we went to our vet to discuss my concerns that Lyme could be at the root of all of Gus’ recent symptoms. After all, we did have the tick identified in their office four weeks earlier, so we knew there was possible exposure to Lyme or other tick born illnesses. Gus also had several vials of blood drawn to test for the presence of Lyme Disease, in addition to a general blood screen. The Lyme test results were negative, although that is very common with Lyme Disease.
Another month went by and Gus’ symptoms continued to get worse, so I took him to our vet to revisit the possibility of Lyme Disease. We tested for Lyme Disease and a couple other tick borne diseases for the second time. I even had Gus tested for Leptospirosis even though it was highly improbable that he had it as there were no real symptoms or indications of same. More general blood work was done that continued to show moderate anemia…something Gus had never had prior to the tick exposures. This was the defining moment... I asked my vet…“Since Gus had several symptoms of Lyme Disease and was continuing to get worse and he also had confirmed exposure to Lyme carrying ticks…Couldn’t we just give him the recommended course of antibiotics, Doxycycline, in the event he had Lyme, but it was showing a false negative?” I’m not going to debate why, but my vet felt that based on the negative Lyme test she didn’t want to arbitrarily give Gus antibiotics. I honestly didn’t agree and mentioned Gus had only been on an antibiotic twice in his eight year life and what was the real danger in giving him antibiotics in case it was a false negative?!
Fast forward two weeks and Gus almost died… his platelets fell so low that he almost bled out… he had a fever of 102.5…he had a very enlarged spleen, and had extremely painful joints where he could barely move…all symptoms of Lyme Disease. And, he was tested for the third time for Lyme Disease and finally the test result came back…POSITIVE! Thankfully, my other two vets in the practice saved Gus’ life, but not without tremendous suffering for Gus and lots of stress on all of us. Prior to getting the Lyme test results back my vets were not sure whether Gus was suffering from Lyme Disease or Auto Immune Hemolytic Anemia which share many common symptoms, but their treatments are polar opposites… AIHA requires high doses of steroids to suppress the immune system from attacking itself. Whereas Lyme Disease requires a lengthy course of strong antibiotics to kill the bacterial infection, along with other measure to boost the immune system response to fight the infection.
To add insult to injury… I had spent more than $2,000 over 10 weeks on many tests and the three days of emergency care Gus required. Money well spent, of course, but could have been prevented had we just proceeded with the antibiotic treatment…URGH!
More recently, a frustrating and unacceptable misdiagnosis involved a friend’s beloved GSD dog who suddenly came up lame in her hind end. The incredibly devoted pet parent took her dog out of town for an MRI of the spine which came back as herniated discs of the lower spine. Incredibly, the MRI was then read by another canine orthopedic surgeon who concurred with the herniated discs diagnosis and recommend surgery to fix the problem.
Based on the MRI results, my friend decided to try more gentle and holistic approaches like acupuncture, chiropractic, and physical and water therapy over three months to try to improve the herniated discs before proceeding with surgery. I have recently dealt with cervical herniated discs and agree that it’s a good idea to exhaust all less invasive options before having any major surgery done on the spine…
Unfortunately, the dog continued to get worse since having her MRI. The decision was made to take the dog to an Animal Neurologist in Michigan. The neurologist read the MRI and said she did not have a disc problem, rather a cyst on her spinal cord! OMG!!! The scary news was that if they would have known the real issue was a cyst and not a herniated disc three months prior she probably would have been able to walk by now. The neurologist said if they did nothing the dog would continue to deteriorate due the increasing pressure on her spinal cord from the cyst. If they did do surgery to drain the cyst she would have a good chance of not getting any worse and a less than 50/50 chance of showing improvement.
My friend and her husband decided to go ahead with the surgery for their dog (over three hours) in hopes that she would at least not get any worse and prayed that she would get some mobility back in her legs. If they did nothing she would just continue to worsen, lose all feeling in her back end, bladder, etc. Did I mention that they had to travel out of state…all the way to Michigan for the surgery and again for follow up appointments.
I am happy to report that this incredible dog got through the surgery and has begun to walk without her “cart” which is amazing. She still has a long road of physical therapy and will hopefully regain some of her movements back over time.
I must go back to the original MRI that was done. The incorrect report followed by another failure to catch the error when reviewing the MRI by a second expert opinion resulted in this family wasting precious time, lots of money and the awful fact that this poor dog had to suffer for so long. It’s heart breaking really.
I wanted to share these experiences because as humans we are not perfect and we do make mistakes and we also have the ability to forgive. However, I guess it is up to us (pet) parents to look out for our pets and not worry about egos or hurting someone’s feelings when you just don’t feel right about a diagnosis or a plan of action. As my friend and I both found, if something just doesn’t seem right or your gut instinct is telling you to get another opinion (or a third opinion)… PLEASE LISTEN and do it… I have found all too often that your paternal instincts are usually correct. Thanks for listening.