To Visit or Not… A Vet’s View on Doing What’s Best for Your Hospitalized Pet

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My sister’s dog recently spent almost two weeks hospitalized at the University of California’s vet school after suffering a severe case of an uncommon disease known as salmon poisoning. (Thank God she keeps a pet health insurance policy for him!)

Maddie’s a tough guy and he finally made it through, but it was touch and go for much longer than anyone expected. In fact, when he was first installed there, my sister was advised by the vet professionals there to judge wisely before visiting.

Given his delicate state and terrible appearance, they suggested her presence might prove more of a hindrance and a heartache than a source of comfort to him and relief for her own personal suffering.

It can be a tough call, to be sure, but to visit a hospitalized pet or not is a highly personal decision that doesn’t have to include taxing mental gymnastics or an emotional game of chess. Above all else, it involves knowing your pet well, being realistic about your expectations, and working carefully within the framework of individual hospital policy.

Think Before You Visit

To that end, here are some considerations I heartily recommend to anyone faced with an unenviable experience like my sister’s:

1. Pet personality. This is the single biggest factor when it comes to the visit/no visit decision. That’s largely because some pets suffer from severe forms of separation anxiety that can make visitation seem like a behavioral roller coaster from the vet professional’s POV. Which is probably very stressful for the patient. And we all know stress isn’t good for recovery. The truth, however, is that most pets do not fall into this category.

A less common form of separation anxiety can also apply. This can be the case for pets who have a way of losing hope when they’re separated from their owners. In my experience, cats are more likely to suffer from this form of stress. For these pets, a periodic visit can be a good thing.

2. Degree of alertness. How alert is your hospitalized pet? This is important because if your pet is recumbent and not very responsive, you don’t have the luxury of concerning yourself with separation anxiety. You do, however, have to prepare yourself emotionally for the sight of an unconscious loved one.

3. Your personality. Be honest: Are you likely to fall to pieces when you’re in your sick pet’s company? Personally speaking, I don’t exactly crumble, yet I’m aware that I can make very poor decisions when I’m emotionally taxed. That’s why I try to keep my distance when my own pets are in the hospital (usually at the specialist’s place). Brief visits only.

4. Hospital policy. The vagaries of hospital policy means that not every owner gets a chance to see their hospitalized pet in the manner they’d prefer. Respect your hospital’s policy, but don’t be a doormat either. If you feel strongly that you need to visit, don’t settle for a blanket statement. Make sure there’s a good reason for every closed door.

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