Outside the box

Four decades in the pet industry means a lot of shared experience, and for someone with a vacuum cleaner for a brain, sucking up that knowledge base can be a huge help when someone comes in with a problem they just can’t seem to solve.

I almost feel like I could write a book, or teach a course, with some of the outside the box solutions that we have come up with for our clients. For me, the old adage “If you hear hoofbeats, thinks horses not Zebras” means sometimes, it’s a Zebra.

Here are a few examples. A customer came in whose dog had slowly gone off its food. He tried everything, all different flavours and different brands, and yet the dog would grudgingly eat a little, barely enough to survive. It normally had a great appetite, but slowly seemed to get pickier.

Since the flavour and types of food had been exhausted, I asked about whether the dog had suffered any trauma recently. Yes, there had been some upset in the social dynamic, some changing of faces, and of course, COVID changes. These can sometimes put a pet off their food (more usually these lead to outbreaks of bad behaviour like chewing or marking), but that wasn’t really what I was worried about in this instance.

My question was more meant about physical trauma. Had there been an accident or something that might have affected the dog’s spine or neck. Apparently, earlier in the summer, the dog had taken a tumble, came up a bit sore, but seemed OK.

I suggested he raise the dish off the floor. Sometimes, a pet is hurting, but we don’t know it. Neck pain can make it difficult to bend even a few inches to get food. I had a Dachshund that went off her food, would not eat it out of the bowl, but wolfed down anything you hand fed her. So we raised the dishes on some phone books and she dove right into the food. I suggested this to the customer, and sure enough, problem resolved, and the dog went back to eating his normal food.

Another common example of a few extra questions resulting in a resolution of an issue tends to happen with diet. Commonly, a pet is suspected of having allergies. In this particular case, it was being fed a prescription diet, and getting meds for the allergy. But the pet was still having issues, so she is wondering if there is another option, a more natural treatment.

We go over all the usual suspects, the food, the environment, is anyone sneaking the dog something they aren’t supposed to eat, is it getting into the cat food, are there any opportunities for it to eat things in the yard, or on walks. Other than the prescription diet, is it getting any treats, like commercial dental bones or cookies. She answers “No commercial treats, just homemade liver treats”.

Now, maybe this question was asked, and the questioner assumed these were dehydrated liver, or just cooked pieces of liver, because she just mentioned the word liver. I then ask the next question, “Are these just liver”? to which I get the surprising response, “No. They are meal with corn meal, and other things”. Corn. A notorious allergen with dogs, one of the biggest along with wheat and soy. She is surprised, saying she doesn’t feed him a lot of them, but we all know, allergies aren’t about quantity, but rather the mere presence. This was just recently, so I don’t know the outcome yet, but I think we may have found the problem.

Other times, it is “Oh, sometimes the baby spills its cereal that the dog grabs before I can stop it”, or we find that Grandpa is sneaking the dog a pizza crust while watching the Bomber’s away game. Allergies can be triggered by one elbow macaroni falling off an art project, or the fact that the dog’s bed is washed with a certain detergent or softener. I often comment we nee to go “Hard Core” when dealing with allergies.

It is hard sometimes to get this deep into the situation with veterinary professionals, especially in the contactless world of COVID that they are operating in. We get that, and know they are doing their best. And sometimes, there is no other answer but special foods and med. But sometimes, a few extra questions and a little outside the box thinking can save so much pain and suffering for our pets.