A Deadly Shunt

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“How old did you say Jinx was again?” I asked Sue as I examined the thin pup on the table.

“She is six months old at the end of this month,” Sue said. “That is why I am interested in getting her spayed as soon as possible. I have had trouble putting enough money aside to have the surgery. But I think I have just enough now.”

“Has she always been this thin?” I asked. Jinx was skin and bones, had a potbelly, and was undersized for a six-month-old Doberman.

“She looked a little smaller than her littermates,” Sue said. “And she has never been able to put on weight. Jinx does some vomiting at times and has a lot of diarrhea. Once in a while, she will have a bit of seizure activity. Most of the time, those seizures are pretty mild.”

“With that history and with her poor growth and poor body condition, we should do some blood work before we schedule any surgery,” I said. “I know that probably shoots your budget in the foot, but I think Jinx is a good candidate for a portal-systemic shunt. That is a defect in her liver that shunts blood around her liver rather than through it.”

“That sounds serious,” Sue said. “Is there anything that can be done for it?”

“Depending on how severe the shunt happens to be, sometimes we can buy these pups some time with medical management and a special diet,” I said. “Fixing the shunt is generally a long shot, and that is way above my head. We would have to find a university to do that work.”

“If I can’t afford the blood work, going to a university for treatment is out of the question,” Sue said. “I think that I would just like to get her spayed and see how things go.”

“There is probably at least a fifty percent chance that she would die under anesthesia,” I said. “My guess is that the odds are worse than that.”

“It sounds to me that you don’t want to do the surgery,” Sue said.

“If we want to give her the best chance of survival, I think we should not do the surgery,” I said. “You could put the money for the spay into medication and a special diet, and we can see if she is manageable at all.”

“If anesthesia is so risky for her, a pregnancy would be just as bad,” Sue said.

“That’s probably correct, but with some careful monitoring, we can prevent a pregnancy the old-fashioned way,” I said.

“You know that doesn’t work very well. I think I would like to risk the surgery.”

“I’m sorry, Sue,” I said. “I can’t do this surgery without some blood testing first. And to be honest with you, I believe that those tests will show that Jinx has significant liver disease. We could try some medication and a special diet in place of the testing. Just to see if that improves her condition and appearance. That would be my lessor option to accommodate your budget.”

“I think I will just have to find a veterinarian who will do the surgery,” Sue said.

“That’s fine. Just be fair with whoever does the surgery if things don’t go well,” I said.


Sue left with Jinx. She was unhappy with me, but that was better than taking home a dead dog. I had learned that clients seldom remember the entire conversation after the dog dies.

I was told later that Sue found a veterinarian who would do the surgery on Jinx. The veterinarian was a mobile veterinarian who used a Eugene veterinary clinic to do her surgeries.

Sue met the veterinarian in Eugene, and the veterinarian apparently had no concerns about Jinx’s appearance on the exam table. That is if there was an exam. Many years later, the Veterinary Examining Board formalized rules that required a veterinarian to do a complete exam on the initial visit of a patient and at least annually after that.

Jinx went to surgery. I am sure the surgery was a success, but the patient did not recover from anesthesia.

It was sad news to receive. Jinx was dead. She must have been allergic to the anesthesia. That was often the story given by veterinarians who either did not know the truth or were afraid to admit the truth to the client.

The fact was, Jinx had a limited life expectancy with her problems. But her life was cut short when it did not need to be.

Photo by Jordon Whitt on Unsplash

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

One thought on “A Deadly Shunt

  1. Oh noes – why do people get female dogs and then are not prepared to do the hard work of keeping an eye on her while she is in heat? And who in his right mind would even want to risk the life of a pup by declining proper blood work when the doc to urgently recommends it and gives a pretty good reason why? I mean you did reason – you told her what symptoms you saw and why that made you want those tests. It is not as if Jinx was healthy looking.

    I hate it when people do not want to listen to their vets.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: