Pets’ remarkable ability to adapt

ALTHOUGH it’s our job to relieve pain and hopefully heal the sick on a daily basis, it’s lovely, and surprising, to get a thank-you card and present, especially when the patient has been rendered disabled by its treatment.

The patient in question is the most adorable English bull terrier who developed a very painful eye condition which didn’t respond to medication. She became more withdrawn and even though she was usually the happiest dog when at the vets that I have ever seen, it was obvious that she certainly wasn’t herself.

After discussing all the options, the owners asked if it was possible to remove her eye. This sort of procedure is usually done as a last resort and not entered into lightly. After much agonising on both the owners’ and my part, the surgery went ahead.

At the routine wound-check a few days later, one would expect the owners to say that the patient was doing reasonably well, perhaps more subdued than usual and still reliant on pain-killers, but in this case I was greeted by the waggiest tail imaginable and smiles all round.

Although now one-eyed, the bull terrier was already back to her normal self, totally unperturbed by the loss of her eye. In her world the painful bit had gone (I think we all underestimated the degree of pain she was in) and she could get on with enjoying life.

It is wonderful seeing how our patients just accept the loss of a body part without any of the psychological baggage that we humans experience.

We share our house with a three-legged lurcher of 12 years standing (and walking, running and playing) and have recently lost our one-eyed cat, not to her disability, but her 20 years of life just ran out. She was an expert at walking along fence tops, despite her supposed lack of 3D vision.

I have known a three-legged working sheep dog, many one-eyed patients, lots of pets with missing ear flaps and a very brave dog that had half his jaw removed because of cancer, but would still eat his owners out of house and home.

Often the most difficult part is not dealing with the patient, but helping the owner come to terms with what is about to happen and the appearance of their pet after the operation. We all tend to endow our pets with human attributes and this can stand in the way of treating them at times, but they are so adaptable and perhaps we should learn from them.

I think my bull terrier’s housemate regrets her having the surgery as his peace has been shattered and he’s getting hen-pecked again. So here’s to you my treasure – cheers!


Director and Senior Vet