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A Guide to Handling Pet Illness

Share This article - To many Americans, including me, pets are part of the family. We welcome them into our homes and lives with open hearts. We love and care for them with the same devotion as anyone else living under our roof. Pets are our loyal four-legged friends. They are always there for us, ready to boost our spirits with a special sort of fun, especially when we need them most. One friend of mine puts it this way, “When we’re dragging, they’re wagging.”
My husband and I bought a purebred Maltese dog about five years ago. At that time, Coconut, as we named him, was a tiny 6-week-old snowball. He’s an adorable dog with a sweet disposition. Maltese are known to be highly intelligent and full of spunk.

Don’t ask me how Coconut knows the difference between weekends and weekdays. He must keep a secret calendar marked for Saturdays and Sundays. On weekends, he wakes us up ready for fun. He throws his leash up in the air and dances to go to the park. Every day Coconut finds new ways to entertain and surprise us. We love him intensely.

I often say Coconut is as adorable as a teddy bear. There’s only one major difference—teddy bears don’t eat; dogs do. Coconut ate some of the tainted food on the Menu Foods pet food recall list before I heard the news.

About two weeks ago, I fed him four packets of the recalled wet dog food mixed with his dry food morsels. He lapped up the special dinner, labeled “Colorado Cookout,” with gratitude. Then he rolled playfully on the living room floor to show his appreciation for the savory treat. Little did I know I’d just poisoned my sweet dog.

Many other families across the United States can relate to my story. We’ve fed our beloved friends recalled food that is leading to serious illness and death. In the meantime, we’re racking up hundreds (or thousands) of dollars in vet bills. All of this, not including the emotional toll of guilt, worry, loss, and grief.

Encouragement for Pet-Related Stress

Here are a few suggestions that might encourage you, your family member, or a friend who is facing pet-related stress today:

  • Trust in God. The Lord created animals and He knows every bird in the mountains (see and ). Remember that if there is a problem that concerns you, it concerns your heavenly Father. God cares for you and He’ll be there to help bring you through this difficult time. The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter (see ). Should your pet not be fortunate enough to pull through, you can call upon the Comforter today for relief. He will help you recover from the loss and grief (see and ).
  • Know the symptoms. Visit the Federal Drug Administration’s Web site and familiarize yourself with what to look for. Monitor your pet and be aware of these signs: If your pet has loss of appetite, lethargy and/or vomiting, you should consult with your veterinarian immediately.
  • Tell a friend. Find a fellow pet lover and share your concerns with them. They’ll have genuine compassion and be there to help you through. No one understands your pain like someone else who has a beloved cat or dog. Chances are your friend has been worried too. You can be there to comfort one another, strengthening your friendship in Christ, as you persevere through this difficult period of time.

It’s Not Just a Pet, It’s Your Companion—A Dear Friend

I knew something was wrong when Coconut vomited twice in twelve hours. I responded quickly, arranging for time off work to take him to the vet.

My vet ran two rounds of blood work on Coconut. The first day didn’t look so good. Coconut had traces of the toxic food in his system. I took him home that evening with prescription dog food that’s gentle on the kidneys. The vet gave Coconut a shot for his nausea and told me to be sure that he had plenty of water to drink.

On the second day, the vet pulled more blood. I waited anxiously for the results. If the numbers were higher, Coconut would have to go on an IV to flush his kidneys. To my great joy, the undesirable traces of toxin in his system were decreasing. Thankfully, I’d only given him a small amount of the tainted food. Coconut was going to be OK!

Relief flooded my heart as I left the clinic, dropped Coconut off at home, and headed into the office. Later that afternoon, as I poured a cup of coffee in the break room, I shared my ordeal with an office friend. That’s when I found out one of our coworkers wasn’t as fortunate as Coconut and I. Our coworker’s dog, Lady, is a 6-year-old Boston Terrier.

Amazing the timing, when that particular friend just happened to walk into the break room while I was there talking about my dog. (Was her entry at that precise moment by chance? I don’t think so. I believe the Lord orders our steps. He knows just the people each of us need to meet and the conversations we need to have today.)

“I heard you talking about dogs as I was walking down the hallway.” She twisted a tissue as she spoke. Tears pooled in her eyes and streamed down her cheeks.

She continued in a soft, broken voice. “I didn’t know about the pet food recall. I fed Lady the bad food and she’s dying. I have to put her to sleep tomorrow morning at ten o’clock.”

I reached out and hugged her. She cried in my arms. I cried with her.

That could’ve been Coconut! I felt like I had dodged a bullet—the same bullet that hit Lady and my office friend. “I’m so sorry,” I said. I felt guilty that she was facing what my worst nightmare would have been. My heart ached for her.

“Can I take you out to lunch?” I asked. “We can talk more, pray, and cry if you need to. I want to be here for you.” She nodded yes and seemed embarrassed for being so upset. Her voice crackled, as she turned to walk away. “I keep telling myself it’s just a dog.”

I smiled, still trying to help. “It’s all right to cry. It’s not just a dog. It’s your companion, a dear friend.”

God Cares for You and Your Pet

It’s a painful time for pet owners all across America. The pet food recall that began in the middle of March and continues as we head into April is distressing. Many of us are wondering: How many more pets will get sick? How many will die?

The implications of this tragic family life issue are troubling. Yet as horrible as this whole thing is, it presents an opportunity for us to love one another with the same compassion the Lord Jesus extends to us.

We must never doubt the sovereignty of God, even when hard questions arise, such as the life or death of our beloved pets. These promises from God’s Word are especially for you:

  • "I have loved you with an everlasting love…” ( a, NIV).
  • “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God” ( a, NKJV).

God has established a magnificent truth that is strong as granite. This truth is forever engraved in the chronicles of time past, present, and future: The Lord is faithful to take that which is sorrowful and turn it around for you today. Not a single tear you cry (for any reason) escapes His loving eyes. The Psalms encourage, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” ( , NLT).

God’s word commends that “a righteous man regards the life of his animal” ( ). Please know deep in your heart that both you, and your pet, are cherished by the Lord today.

Copyright © 2007, Jacqueline Overpeck. Used by permission. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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About The Author


Jacqueline Overpeck is a freelance writer. She and her husband, Arnold, are both CLASS (Christian Leaders, Authors, and Speakers Services) graduates. They enjoy the outdoors, and traveling in their spare time with their Maltese dog, Coconut.