DEAR DR. FOX: I have two 11-year-old Labrador-mix dogs. One is diabetic and requires insulin shots twice daily. The other recently broke his ankle. The vet took X-rays and referred me to a surgeon, telling me that my dog may have bone cancer. After more X-rays, the surgeon told us that cancer in that area is extremely rare, and he put in a metal plate to hold his ankle together, which cost $3,500. The surgeon told me the only way to keep him out of pain was to amputate his leg for another $2,200.
Two other vets I have since taken him to have told me that the surgeon should have put a boot on him and waited for the prognosis. I called the surgeon and asked that he do the right thing and either refund me for the surgery or do the amputation for free -- he refused.
Is there a medical board for vets that oversees their ethics (or lack of them)? Is there anything else I can do? I only work part time since I lost my full-time job two years ago. -- P.J., Virginia Beach, Virginia
DEAR P.J.: Every state has a Board of Veterinary Examiners that licenses veterinarians and ostensibly deals with alleged cases of malpractice, just as medical doctors are monitored. The same goes for conflicts of interest where doctors (human and animal) may put vested interests before those of their patients by using some new drug or medical procedure.
I find it astounding that you were clearly "gouged" by the surgeon, who does not have a proverbial leg to stand on. Filing a complaint with your state veterinary licensing and regulatory board and regional Better Business Bureau might help future pet owners and their animal companions. We all make mistakes, but documentation by people filing complaints against service providers is the best way forward for all involved to prevent repetition.
DEAR DR. FOX: When I read the letter from M.M. in Kansas City, I was reminded of my oldest cat, “Oliver.” Oliver appeared in the neighborhood in August one year, but it was November before I realized he didn’t have a home. He would wander through, disappear then come back. I took Oliver into the house and got him to a veterinarian within a couple of days. He had blood work done, a parasite check, a physical and started his shots. The vet determined that Oliver was about 9 months old.
Oliver ate and ate and ate; he gained 3 pounds the first three months I had him. I realized I had to watch the quantity of food I gave him, and he had to be fed in a room away from my other two cats so he wouldn’t eat their food, too. His weight evened out, and he was on a restricted quantity of food until January, when he developed what we decided was intolerance for certain foods. He lost weight during this spell, but is back to his normal weight now, and is 15 years old.
I’ve taken in stray cats before. They always seem to be constantly hungry and usually gain weight the first three months I have them. Then they seem to realize that food comes on a regular basis, and their eating (or wanting to eat) settles down. Oliver was different: He had on a collar when I took him in so I assume someone had him, but then turned him out for whatever reason. I think some cats are like some people -- when they are deprived of food, they can’t seem to get enough. Other cats adjust to regular feedings and don’t seem to have this constant urge to eat. -- K.M., Springfield, Virginia
DEAR K.M.: Your observations and conclusions will interest other cat owners and those veterinarians and others involved in feline nutrition, eating, appetite behavior and addressing the obesity epidemic in cats.
There are many factors involved to account for individual differences, as with two of our rescued feral cats, one of whom, after leveling to a normal weight continued to gain weight and live to eat; the other just enjoyed four small meals a day, never cried for food or put on excess weight. Similarly, some cats given free access to a food dispenser all day will self-regulate, while others eat more than they need and become overweight.
Most cats do best when fed four small meals a day, many eating too quickly and often vomiting their food when fed larger meals twice a day. Think mouse-sized portions of food for a small cat.
I certainly believe there is a strong emotional component to food addiction in cats -- and other animals -- associated with early deprivation of food and overall security. Eating provides a sense of security. Other oral cravings may develop, including pica (eating non-food materials) and nursing behaviors, where the cat sucks on a tail, blanket or the owner's arm or ear. This is especially evident in kittens weaned too soon.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)