One of the most frequently reported illnesses in our canine and feline patients is vomiting accompanied by lethargy, and the list of possible causes is endless. Max, a two-year-old Sheltie, presented to Bothell Pet Hospital with just that – inappetance, a couple of vomiting episodes and not being himself.
When Dr. Hsu first saw Max, x-rays were taken, revealing some evidence of gastritis (upset stomach) and a colon full of material that turned out to be bird seed and peanuts. It was assumed that Max had gotten into the squirrel food and was sent home on medication to help with the gastritis. His owners, Bill and Judi, were instructed to bring him back if he wasn’t better. Max returned a couple of days later.
This time, Max was more uncomfortable in his abdomen, he had diarrhea, and there were two new findings — he coughed a few times, and by the end of the day he was bleeding a little from his gums. Blood work and urinalysis were relatively normal with changes suggestive of stress. Max was kept overnight for observation.
The next day, Max was still bleeding from his mouth, his venipucture site was significantly bruised and he was coughing more with somewhat labored breathing. Immediately, Dr. Hsu suspected rodenticide toxicity. Many rodenticides (rat poison) will cause blood clotting abnormalities, which causes the animal that ingests it to bleed to death. Bill and Judi were asked about the possibility of rodenticide exposure, and sure enough, Max had gotten out and wandered around a bit unsupervised a few days before. Unbeknownst to them, Max must have eaten some.
X-rays confirmed that Max had fluid in his chest, presumed to be blood, and Dr. Hsu started him on vitamin K, the antidote. Max received a blood transfusion later that day and was transferred for intensive overnight care at a 24-hour hospital in Kirkland. Fortunately, Max was treated in time; he did great, and was discharged with vitamin K to be given for the next four weeks.
With a thorough inquiry of history combined with physical exam findings, lab work and x-rays, we are typically able to determine the cause of such non-specific signs like vomiting and lethargy. Although in truth, some dogs recover uneventfully without ever determining the cause, Max’s story is a good reminder that it is always wise to have your pet examined without taking a “wait-and-see” approach. This is especially important since you can’t always be 100% sure they haven’t gotten into something.