Pets Also Vulnerable In Flu Season

Cold and flu season is here, and though humans suffer through this time of year, the same can be said for our little critters.

At what point do you bring your pet in to see a veterinarian? An occasional cough, mild lethargy or poor appetite in and of themselves are not very serious, but put them all together and it can be life-threatening. The real challenge is that our furry, feathered and scaly friends cannot tell us how they’re feeling.

This was the case with Casey and her pet rat Wilbur.

“Doc, I’m really worried about Wilbur.” Casey protectively held the carrier in which Wilbur was transported. “He just isn’t himself. He eats, but not as enthusiastically as before, and he seems to be struggling to breathe.”

Peering into Wilbur’s cage, I noticed him breathing heavily and occasionally using both paws to clean his nose. I don’t like it when a sick rat paws at its nose. It usually means … yup, there it was. As I looked closer, tiny spots of fresh blood speckled the torn tissue that was used for bedding.

“How long has Wilbur been coughing up blood?” I asked.

Casey’s quizzical expression told me that it must have been just recently.

“OK,” I continued, “so we’re going to start Wilbur on two medications that work well together, and hope for the best.”

With that said, I took a deep breath, “My duty is to not hide the facts from you. Wilbur’s prognosis is not good. When my rat patients start coughing up blood, they usually only have a couple of months, and that’s only if they respond to the medication.”

Casey understood. Her tears told me so.

A few days later, I received a message that Wilbur was getting worse. The meds did not seem to be helping. Casey rushed back to our hospital with

Wilbur and, sure enough, there were more blood splotches sprinkled throughout the bedding.

“Wilbur’s no longer eating, Doc,” lamented Casey. “Is there anything else that we can do?”

“There is something, but it will be a little costly.” I replied. “You will need to purchase a nebulizer from a local pharmacy and nebulize Wilbur with a medication three times a day. Because he is so small, you have to create a chamber and put Wilbur in it while you nebulize him. ”

A week later, Casey called to say that Wilbur was doing much better. She purchased a small aquarium and would place Wilbur in it during the treatment. The mist from the nebulized medication would completely fill the aquarium and obscure Wilbur from view. To make sure that he wasn’t too stressed by the medicated fog, Casey put Wilbur’s favorite stuffed animal in the chamber with him.

For six months Casey diligently performed the treatments three times per day. On the day Wilbur died, Casey called me and told me that she felt as though she did all that she could for him. I reassured her that, without her help, Wilbur would have died months before. Admittedly, the nebulization chamber was not the only thing that was misty that day.

Dr. John Kaya is the director of the Windward Community College veterinary technician program and associate veterinarian for VCA University Animal Hospital.