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Pets Don't Give Up!
Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.
Race Foster, DVM
Clinic Cases
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Click here for a pdf version of this article. 
Golden RetrieverMany owners try to equate their pet's illness or injury with what a human would feel in a similar situation. In cases of physical injury, an animal may have an immediate pain response, but in a few minutes or hours will be oblivious to it. And animals also do not have the same mental awareness of injury as humans do. They do not have the capacity to go into psychological shock or to give up. If an animal is in shock, it is usually due to physical reasons and not psychological ones. This story is a good example of what we mean:

We were finishing up at the clinic one night when one of our regular clients, John, called from 40 miles away. He frantically asked if we could wait a few minutes for him and hung up before we could ask about his situation. John was not the type to overreact, so we made a pot of coffee and waited.

About 35 minutes later he arrived walking next to one of our favorite patients, a 6-year-old Golden Retriever named Max. Max was not a pretty sight and we asked what happened. It turned out that the client, John, and his wife, Mary were picking wild raspberries, which is a favorite midsummer pastime in Northern Wisconsin. As they filled their buckets, John felt something brushing against his leg and looked down to see a black bear cub picking berries off the same bush! Although bears are wonderful animals, it is not a good idea to come between a mother and her cub, so John and his wife retreated to their car. Unfortunately, as they reached their auto, the mother bear charged at them, only to be waylaid by a protective Max. They drove into the berry patch, honking and screaming, frightened the bear off and retrieved a torn-up Max.

When he arrived at the clinic, Maxs' bear-attack injuries made him a sorry sight. Both right front leg bones were broken, above and below the elbow; four teeth were missing from the right side of his jaw; the skin was pulled off of the entire right side of his head and hung down across his chest. He had a nasty laceration that extended from behind the right side of his head halfway down his hip and a portion of his lung was hanging out between two broken ribs. The skin and muscles of his abdomen were completely ripped through and Mary was holding his intestines up with a towel.

Yet Max actually walked, under his own power, into one of the examination rooms where he typically came every two weeks for a nail trim and stared at the treat jar!

With similar injuries, we could just about guarantee that any human being would be in shock.

We quickly assessed the situation and put him on intravenous fluids loaded with broad-spectrum antibiotics. Within minutes we had him in surgery, removed the exposed part of his lung, repaired the severely damaged intestines, tacked the skin back over his face and closed the majority of lacerations. By the next day he had recovered enough for us to repair the broken bones and permanently mend the lacerations. Two days later Max walked out of the clinic well on his way to a good recovery.

We want to stress that the point of this story is not that we did such a fine job at fixing this pet, but that, given the chance, any pet could overcome horrendous physiological injuries.

If something life threatening should happen to your pet, try to remember not to put yourself in his place. Given similar injuries, your pet will always recover faster than you would. There is an old saying in veterinary medicine: 'The dog didn't know how badly he was hurt so he just got better!'

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