One of My Biggest Fears: Sick pets far from home!
Okay. There are a lot of things to be “afraid of” when on the road. Accidents. Breakdowns. Break-ins. Bears. Bugs. Robberies. Illness. Stinkbugs.
But one of my biggest fears before heading out on our first long RV trip last December was that one of our pets would get sick. What would we do? How would we find a vet? How would a pet’s illness affect our daily RV life and travel plans?
Take these questions and fears and multiply by four. Yes, we have three dogs and a cat. The dogs are Tucker, a handsome 95-pound Golden Retriever; Oliver, a friendly 9-pound Chihuahua; and Mitzi, an adorable and smart 16-pound mixed breed (Lhasa Apso and Silky Terrier). And then we have Cali, a beautiful, sweet 12-pound calico cat. The seniors are Cali (18) and Mitzi (11); Tucker is the baby (4), and Oliver holds his own middle-age ranking (7).
Just a few weeks into our trip, Oliver developed diarrhea. Bad diarrhea. Every 2-3 hours around the clock he needed to go out. He sleeps in the bed with us, and I was on the alert all night. When he would start trembling, I knew it was time. In the dark, in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain! We were in Jacksonville, and it poured for days. When the trembling started, I would put on my sweatshirt, raincoat, and rain boots; put a little coat on Oliver; grab my umbrella; and out we’d go. Fortunately, he didn’t take long to find a spot, relieve himself, and want to go back inside. Hang up wet attire, dry off, crawl back into bed, doze for 2 hours, repeat.
A few days later, Tucker started up with the same problem. He’s a big boy, but I’m glad to say that he always managed to do his business outside and never in the middle of the night.
When their problems didn’t clear up after several days on a bland diet, it was time to find a vet. I knew the dogs needed metronidazole, the common treatment for diarrhea. I called my vet’s office back home, but the inexperienced vet on duty said she didn’t think she could call in a prescription from out of state. She was wrong, but by the time she called me back we’d already taken the dogs to a local vet, who prescribed metronidazole and of course had to do physical exams and charge us for office visits. Vet #1.
The best resources for finding reputable veterinarians while traveling, as far as I know, are Google and Yelp. You can find reviews of veterinary clinics by googling “veterinarians near me” or similar searches. Yelp will also show reviews when you request veterinarians near your current location. (I checked out a few pet apps but none that I found were at all helpful.) You will almost always find naysayers, so you’ll have to look for overall trends. How many stars in the ratings? What are the reasons for each reviewer’s rating? Which vets in a clinic get the highest praise? Of course, even the best of vets can get a negative review once in a while. If it’s an emergency, or you’ll be in town for only a night or two, you’ll have to take your chances on wherever you can be seen. We saw several vets during our travels, and they were all kind as well as good. Consider writing a review of your local vet or any you use while traveling so as to help other pet owners find a good vet or avoid a bad one.
Anyway, back to the saga. After a course of metronidazole, Oliver was doing better, but for Tucker the diarrhea persisted. Another prescription of metro from another vet finally turned him around, though it took him a while to get his hearty appetite back. Vet #2.
While all this was going on with Tucker and Oliver, Mitzi was becoming lethargic and uninterested in her food. She didn’t have diarrhea, but she wasn’t well either. I took her to two vets in Fort Lauderdale for tests, follow up, acupuncture, and more tests. She took pain medication, anti-nausea medicine, metronidazole, and appetite stimulant. I hand-fed her whatever I could get her to eat. Thank God I could hide her meds in peanut butter, which she would willingly lick off my finger. Vets #3 and #4.
And Cali? She had one day of semi-diarrhea, but then stabilized. But we began to grapple with the fact that she hadn’t been vaccinated for rabies in a good number of years. Since she is a totally indoor, older cat, our vet had said it was unnecessary. So far, no campground had asked for proof of vaccination for any of our pets. But we were planning to camp at the Fort Wilderness campground in Disney World with our three young-adult kids. Not knowing if Disney is strict regarding pets’ vaccinations, and not wanting to throw a monkey wrench into our plans, we ended up taking Cali to a vet in Jacksonville for a rabies vaccine. Vet #5.
As it turns out, Disney World never asked for vaccination records for any of our pets! Neither did anyone else. We found most campgrounds to be very pet friendly, with some of them offering fenced-in “dog parks” of various sizes. One problem we encountered in several campgrounds was that, despite clear signs and rules, some folks let their dogs run off-leash. When someone would try to reassure us that their dog was friendly, I’d reply, mostly in my head, What if mine aren’t? Nothing bad has happened with off-leash dogs, but it certainly could.
Tucker and Oliver both eventually recovered from their diarrhea and did fine for the remainder of our trip. But it was a long and worrisome first month. We couldn’t identify the cause: a virus, the stress of traveling (but they are good, calm travelers), perhaps the changes in water? We’ll never know.
Mitzi is another story. She remained lethargic, her appetite was nonexistent, and she was obviously stiff and sore. A Lyme test came back negative. One morning I woke up to her panting heavily. She was thin and weak by then, and we really thought she was dying. It was pretty awful. With lots of TLC and hand feeding, she gradually improved. She still wasn’t eating much other than chicken jerky treats, but at least the sparkle was back in her eyes and she was able to go on short walks with us.
In our first month on the road, one of my biggest fears had come true! It was hard for me to enjoy our travels when I was always on the alert for how the dogs were feeling and what meds they needed when. It was stressful, as it would have been at home. The stress was increased by having to find and choose well-qualified and highly rated veterinarians on the road. In that department, I think we did well. One vet offered to help us locate a vet who did acupuncture in our next location, and another gave us her personal cellphone number to use if we had any concerns while her office was closed over the Christmas holiday.
I’m glad to report that all our pets are doing well, even Mitzi. She declined again after we arrived home, and our vet suspected lymphoma, but test results proved otherwise. We still don’t have a clear diagnosis, but we are guessing that for some unknown reason her body became terribly inflamed from two previous bouts of Lyme disease. Our local vet sent us to a specialist who put her on prednisone, and she’s now doing great. She appears happy and healthy, barks for her food, eats well, and can even do some of her tricks again. We know there are major risks with prednisone, but we’ve got her down to a very low dose, and we think it’s her best option, at least for now. Vet #6 and #7.
I survived one of my biggest fears, and all the pets survived, too. I don’t want to go through anything like that again, but it might happen. At least I know that we can probably find good vets—and our home vets are only a phone call away.
If you have any additional tips or experiences about dealing with a pet’s illness or injury while on the road, please leave them in a comment below. We’ll read and respond to each one.