My last case of the morning was a cat who was having “strange seizures.” However, a straightforward diagnosis took a dangerous turn when the caregiver decided against conventional treatment.
The patient, a sweet black cat named Tammie, looked slightly dazed as she stuck her head out of the basket and peeked around. She had been having hourly seizures for 3 days. Tammie had also been ravenous for months but had lost lots of weight.
If you have an elderly cat, the symptoms of a big appetite and weight loss may ring a bell as signs of hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid glands. When I examined Tammie, the clinical findings backed up this hunch.
Tammie was skinny, and her racing heart was pounding hard and bouncing against her ribs. She had retinal edema — fluid accumulation in the eye because of high blood pressure. Her liver was enlarged, another result of high blood pressure.
In my 28 years in practice, I found that she had the biggest thyroid gland I’ve felt. It was the size of an egg. And, of course, Tammie was having regular seizures caused by excessive levels of thyroid hormone and sky-high blood pressure.
I explained the signs to the Tammie’s caregiver, who agreed to blood tests. The diagnosis was confirmed — and, given that it was imperative to stop the seizures before Tammie had a stroke or went blind, I prescribed medication to lower the cat’s thyroid levels.
A simple enough case of diagnosis and treatment. There was no great mystery as to what was wrong or how to treat it. So why was this case so frustrating?
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A Phone Conversation
There was something about the cat’s person not seeking help earlier that made me uncomfortable. That same evening, I decided to call her and see how Tammie was doing.
“Ah,” she said into the phone. “I’m not happy about those pills you prescribed.”
She had been on the Internet and decided the tablets would do more harm than good.
Chatting for a bit, I discovered she’d mistaken the prescribed medication for a different type of therapy involving radiation. I reassured her that Tammie had not been prescribed a radioactive substance and that the tablets were essential.
But she was still unhappy about the risk of side effects. The conversation went along the lines of, “I’ve been speaking to my friend who is into homeopathy…” at which point I felt a sense of doom about where things were heading.
Not a Rant Against Homeopathy
Cards on the table: I’m not a fan of homeopathy. The reasons are numerous, but I feel this way mainly because it’s bad science.
You can liken it to putting a single drop of cola in the ocean on one side of the Atlantic and scooping out a cup of water on the other side and expecting it to taste of cola.
However, my point here is to urge you to have a sense of proportion, especially when your pet is seriously ill.
Let’s look at Tammie. Her seizures placed her at high risk of a stroke. She was a hair’s breadth from blindness — and a heart attack. Now is not the time to “give homeopathy a go,” which is the equivalent to doing nothing.
This cat has hyperthyroidism and was treated with traditional medicine:
A Seesaw Decision
The objection to conventional treatment was that drugs have side effects that could harm the pet.
Yes, all drugs have side effects. Incidentally, so does milk if you are lactose intolerant — nothing in life is risk-free. But this must be balanced against the benefits.
The risks listed on a drug data sheet can be relatively common (such as stomach upsets with certain antibiotics) or rare, but it is reassuring that those risks aren’t swept under the carpet so that you can weigh the pros and cons to make an informed decision.
Think of the decision as a seesaw, with benefits at one end and risks at the other. In Tammie’s case, she had Team Elephant sitting on the benefits end and a feather on the other.
Unfortunately, despite having the facts before her, Tammie’s caregiver was determined to go down the homeopathy route. That’s her decision to make. I couldn’t change her mind, but sadly Tammie will suffer as a result.
Please. When deciding what’s best for your pet, keep a sense of proportion. Don’t make your pet suffer unnecessarily by having misplaced good intentions fly in the face of science-backed evidence.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Sept. 25, 2015.