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Pets Large & Small

Cocoa and Puff

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM
Walkersville Vet Clinic

(3/2017) Back when I was in high school I had a boss who told me "Don't just do something, stand there." At first I thought he had mixed up the saying but with time I realized that his version was much better than the original. Throughout my veterinary career I have seen numerous situations where things have been made worse by well meaning owners who acted quickly rather than thinking about what they were doing and acting appropriately. The majority of the time the owner was in a panic as their pet was injured and they gave medication without thinking about the consequences.

There are two particular cases that come to mind of well meaning owners inadvertently contributing to the death of their pet through good intentions. The first case was while I was working the ICU shift in vet school. Puff was a cat that belonged to one of the undergrad students at Virginia Tech. The student lived a short distance away from campus in a pet friendly apartment. She'd gotten Puff before she left for college and Puff had been her "study buddy" for her senior year of high school and first two years of college. Puff liked to sit on her books and computer while she did class work as well as on the bookcase.

One afternoon, Puff's owner came home from class and found that the bookcase had fallen over and landed on Puff. Puff's owner was relieved to find that Puff had managed to be in between the shelves of the bookcase when it fell so he wasn't crushed. She pulled him out from the book case and while he looked a little sore, she didn't think he had any serious injuries. However, as she was concerned that he was in pain she gave Puff of a tylenol tablet to help. Puff's owner then went out again and didn't return for several hours. When she came back Puff was lethargic, his face was swollen, and he was having trouble breathing. She thought that perhaps that bookcase had injured Puff worse than she thought and immediately took Puff to the vet school's hospital.

Puff's clinical signs were actually caused by the Tylenol and not the bookcase. Unfortunately Puff's owner didn't realize that Tylenol is extremely toxic to cats. Puff was immediately started on IV fluids, oxygen, and a variety of medications to help with toxicity. Unfortunately Puff did not survive.

Cocoa's case is very similar to Puff's. Cocoa was a small fluffy pony. He was a super easy keeper and lived out in a field with hay, water, and a run-in-shed. He preferred having the freedom to come and go out of his run-in-shed over the forced confinement of the stall. As Cocoa and his young owner got older, Cocoa was retired and got to live out full time. On one particularly windy day, Cocoa was seeking shelter in his run-in-shed when the wind blew it over and it landed on him. His owner's mother found him stuck laying underneath the shed. She had fed him breakfast only a few hours before so she knew he couldn't have been like this for long.

She immediately got some neighbors to come over to help lift the shed off of Cocoa and gave the small pony an entire tube of banamine paste to help with his discomfort. In her hysteria she hadn't read the instructions that were written on the tube of banamine and rather than giving Cocoa a 400 pound pony dose, she gave him a 3,000 pound horse dose. A dose that high could cause a myriad of side effects from stomach ulcers to kidney failure. As it was upon getting the shed off of Cocoa and getting him to his feet she realized that he was badly injured. I arrived at the farm and told his owner that Cocoa had broken his femur and that it had significantly displaced. As he had a very poor chance of recovery from the fracture, euthanasia was elected before Cocoa developed any side effects from the banamine overdose.

One of the saddest things I see as a veterinarian is when a well meaning owner inadvertently harms their pet. People frequently slam dogs' tails in doors and crush paws underneath chairs. While accidents like that happen, it is important to pause and think before you rush to give your pet a medication trying to make them feel better. Certain medications are toxic to pets. Cats are very sensitive to Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve. Dogs can get perforating stomach ulcers from Aleve, Advil, and some types of Motrin. Even if you know that a medication is safe to give to your pet, verify the dosage. Nothing is more heartbreaking then having to tell an owner that, while they had good intentions, they inadvertently poisoned their pet.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw