The Importance of Multiple Veterinary Opinions

The Importance of Multiple Veterinary Opinions

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I have recently had multiple health scares with my oldest dog, Skeeter, who is 11 years old. This has all piled on at once, and my husband and I are currently trying to work through all of the information we have received to give him the best treatment possible. We have been to multiple veterinarians to try to figure out what is going on with our sweet old man!

First Indications

About 6 weeks ago, I suddenly noticed Skeeter’s front legs severely shaking when he stood up after lying in the backyard for a little while. I saw it, registered it and thought it was strange, but thought that maybe it was a fluke or one-time thing. But it wasn’t. After I saw his legs shake the first time, I began to see his front legs either tremble, buckle or splay out about two to three times each day. Skeeter then proceeds to go on about his normal life like nothing has happened, and like he is feeling just fine. He has always been a stoic dog. The sudden onset of this has worried me and I thought there was probably something going on with him skeletally or neurologically. The front leg weakness seems to happen most often when he has been lying down and is in the process of getting up, but sometimes it happens when he’s just walking around the house. I made an appointment at Memphis Veterinary Specialists (or MVS) and got on Dr. Atwood’s schedule.

Visit with Dr. Atwood at Memphis Veterinary Specialists

During this first scheduled appointment, a veterinary technician took notes on what I had noticed with Skeeter’s legs and then he was taken into a back room away from me and given a physical exam by Dr. Atwood. In hindsight, I wish that I had asked to be present for Skeeter’s exam. Once the exam was finished, Dr. Atwood told me that he could not find any cause for Skeeter’s legs to buckle, splay or shake, but that he did find a lump in his gum and a small mass in his right anal sac. Dr. Atwood also ran bloodwork, which came back within normal limits. This is a good sign as far as possible malignancy for the two lumps found goes, but he recommended surgery to remove the mass in the anal sac immediately anyway. Dr. Atwood said that trying to biopsy the very small mass in a hard to get to place would be very likely to fail and could bring back false negative results. He seemed much less concerned about the mass in Skeeter’s mouth.

I found this news very upsetting, of course, and spoke to my husband about everything that night. We decided that a second opinion was in order for the leg trembling, since we did not have an answer for that yet. Dr. Atwood had reported that he did not get a pain response from Skeeter regarding his legs when he did the physical exam, but I was not present for this! I feel that I would definitely be able to read Skeeter better than someone who had just met him for the first time, even if he is a doctor. We thought that it wouldn’t hurt to ask another doctor about the two lumps found, either, and see if there were any recommendations besides immediate surgery, considering there are no other signs of cancer. 

We scheduled an appointment with Dr. Mitchener at Angel Care Cancer Clinic for Animals in Bartlett. Dr. Mitchener, besides being a veterinary oncologist, also performs acupuncture, rehab and physical therapy. She has a focus on Eastern medicine, which many people call “alternative medicine”, but there is definite scientific evidence to back it up. Read about the training Dr. Mitchener gave to Hollywood Feed employees here, and her second office location in East Memphis. Also offered at the Bartlett location, but under the name Shelby Center Hospital for Animals, are chiropractic treatments, which I thought may be helpful for Skeeter’s legs if the shaking is due to a skeletal issue.

Raw Goat's Milk Fast

While waiting for our appointment date, my husband and I started Skeeter on an Answers Raw Goat’s Milk fast. We began feeding him 5 cups of Answer’s Raw Goat’s Milk a day and nothing else, as recommended by Jacqueline with Answers Pet Food. Read more about the benefits of a raw milk fast here. We have also been monitoring his weight to make sure he does not start to lose any while on this fast, and he has been within a pound of his original weight of 56 lbs since the fast began. We decided to try the fast for a month to clean out his system. This means no kibble, no canned food, no treats, no rawhides, and no human food! It has been a little hard on Skeeter, but he seems to have gotten used to it. His fast lasted through the month of September.

The day before our appointment with Dr. Mitchener, she had a family emergency and had to leave town. This was completely understandable, but we had been so concerned about Skeeter at this point, that we didn’t want to wait and we weren’t sure when Dr. Mitchener would be back in town. We wanted Dr. Mitchener’s oncological opinion and couldn’t find another veterinary oncologist in Memphis (besides at MVS where we had already been), so that was too bad. However, at this time, Skeeter’s leg issue was really the more pressing problem for us, and we decided to focus on this. I called Shelby Center to see if Skeeter could get a chiropractic consultation, but they said it would be two weeks! These are the only veterinary chiropractic services available in Memphis.

Visit with Dr. Smith at Natchez Trace Veterinary Services

My husband googled other options and found Dr. Mark Smith with Natchez Trace Veterinary Services in Nashville. They were able to give us an appointment the very next day, so we cleared our schedules and made the trip to Nashville. What a wonderful clinic! We arrived an hour and a half early and they started our appointment right away. Dr. Smith took an x-ray, which was not done at MVS by Dr. Atwood. He suggested that Skeeter is having problems with his spine, although he did not see anything except a possible arthritic spot in his neck on the x-ray, and he also did not get a pain response from Skeeter during the physical exam he did right in front of me. I did see a few small twinges by Skeeter, but this could have just been due to the weirdness of the exam itself, so I was unsure.

Dr. Smith gave Skeeter a chiropractic adjustment and did an acupuncture treatment during our appointment. He also examined the two lumps that Dr. Atwood found and agreed that the one in the anal sac was too difficult to biopsy. He agreed that it should be surgically removed. Dr. Smith spent a lot of time with Skeeter, my husband and myself, and he answered all of our questions thoroughly.

When we left Nashville and started the drive back to Memphis, I had mixed feelings. I admit that I feel a little skeptical about both acupuncture and chiropracty, but I was willing to give them a shot if they may help my sweet Skeeter. To my delight, Skeeter did not display any of the symptoms I had seen with his front legs for several days after his appointment! But then he did slowly start to have the same shaking and splaying out occur, though with less frequency than before.

Visit with Dr. Mitchener at Angel Care

When Dr. Mitchener was back in town and able to see Skeeter a few days later, she looked at the x-rays from Dr. Smith with Natchez Trace and then took more of her own. She said that she definitely sees signs of arthritis in Skeeter’s neck and back, which is probably what is contributing to his leg issue. She also suspected that arthritis or inflammation in Skeeter’s back legs may be the cause of his front leg weakness and trembling due to overcompensation by the front legs. She said she did see a slight pain response from Skeeter, which felt right to me. Dr. Mitchener recommended continuing to treat Skeeter with acupuncture once a week. It felt good to have some kind of answer to Skeeter’s leg problem, and I was glad that it was not related to cancer or a neurological issue.

Dr. Mitchener also took a scraping from the lump in Skeeter’s mouth, and said there were no signs for alarm, though we will continue to get this rechecked over time. She examined the mass in his anal sac, which Skeeter was getting pretty tired of at this point. She agreed with the previous two doctors, that it would be too difficult to biopsy and it should be removed surgically.

Ongoing Treatment

According to Skeeter’s bloodwork, there is no reason to believe the mass in his anal sac is malignant at this point-and it could have been there for any number of years without changing in size. We wonder if there are any other options besides putting an 11-year-old dog through surgery for something we are not sure is even dangerous! This is a concern with which we are currently grappling. And two weeks ago when I took Skeeter in for his second acupuncture appointment-the first with Dr. Mitchener-the mass in his anal sac had not yet changed in size.

As far as Skeeter’s legs go, they are still having problems, though still not as frequently as before. We have begun weekly acupuncture appointments at this time. Dr. Mitchener says that Skeeter will probably need ongoing treatment for this arthritis affecting his legs and spine. She described it like taking a medication daily: when the effectiveness of the medication wears off, you have to take another pill. Acupuncture works the same way. I’m willing to continue this treatment as long as it continues to help.

Conclusions

I am very glad that I took Skeeter in to see Dr. Atwood at MVS, who did such a thorough physical exam that he found two masses of which I was previously unaware. Thank goodness! Now we know that we should be monitoring these things, having them checked to see if they have changed in size, and having bloodwork run regularly to see if there is any cause for concern about malignancy.

I am also very glad that I did not stop at seeing Dr. Atwood, and went on the see Dr. Smith and Dr. Mitchener, as well as consult with Jacqueline from Answers Pet Food. I feel like I have gained so much information from so many well-educated and intelligent professionals! More was learned with every veterinary visit Skeeter went to, and each doctor was able to build on the information that the previous doctor had found.

This is why multiple opinions, as well as doing our own research, is so very important for our pets-just like it is important for humans!

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