Why am I not surprised that Phoebe’s candle feast led to another trip to the vet? First of all, we are talking about Phoebe. Second, she is Phoebe. Third, well, she is Phoebe the queen of digestive issues.

Common sense dictated that I keep an eye on things, her bowel movements in particular. The first day after eating the candles, she was fine. I chalked that up to what I call lag-a-day. Her first bowel movement was a “leftover” from her pre-candle days. After that, things started to get weird.

Phoebe started passing the candle wax, but over the course of a few days her stool got harder, the amount smaller, and the energy to expel was increased. Just to clarify, I clean up the yard using the scoop bags versus a shovel, so it is pretty easy to tell the general consistency of what I am picking up.

When I noticed she was having difficulty going to the bathroom, I made a vet appointment for the same afternoon. It was a good thing I did, because as the day went on, Phoebe’s discomfort increased. She started whining as she walked around the house, and in retrospect she stopped urinating.

When we got to the vet, the Vet gave Phoebe a cursory exam and noted that Phoebe was a bit tender in her belly area. During the day, I had checked Phoebe’s belly and it did not feel hard or bloated and she did not seem to be in pain. That is where the Vet gave me a lesson. She explained that sometimes when a dog’s tummy hurts they will not necessarily whine or yelp in pain; some dogs simply tense up.

The next step was an x-ray. It revealed a large, impacted chunk in her lower colon, about 3-4” of gas and then another impacted chunk. Phoebe’s bladder was enlarged, since the impacted area reduced her ability to urinate and her spleen was slightly inflamed from the toxins building up. It was a very wise choice to take her to the vet, because her last bowel movement at home would have been the last one until the impaction was cleared.

The vet felt that an enema was in order (better than surgery). We left Phoebe with her for an hour or so and then picked her up. I was very relieved to see that Phoebe was no worse for the wear. Once we got home and settled in, I started to wonder how anyone would know that something is wrong before it reaches a state or medical urgency.

I am lucky, because I work from home and can hear Phoebe when she whines. I can see her sleeping more than usual and sit in the sun and noticed if she is straining while going to the bathroom. I pick up the yard daily and can tell if her stool indicates something odd. How would all the people who work and are not privy to seeing the stuff I can see ever tell what is going on until it is a medical emergency?

I suppose there are those like my doggie mentor who can tell that something is wrong purely by their doggie aura. Then there are people like me who spend more time second guessing what my gut is telling me than taking action. Of course, there are the alarmists who think everything is an emergency and those who are blind to every symptom. All in all I believe most educated owners take action when they see the symptoms. The problem is that in some cases (like this one) it is real hard to see the symptoms until things are out of control.

As owners of the lovely little creatures, I believe the best we can do is to educate ourselves on the basics and learn what the little red flags are so we can raise our radar. Speaking only about constipation and compaction only, here a few red flags:

Take note if your pooch starts whining for seemingly no reason – at that point it is time to start body, poop, drinking and eating watch.

  • Obviously, they won’t have diarrhea
  • Start picking up poop daily, even if you aren’t a daily poop picker-upper
  • Understand the difference between constipation and impaction:
    • Constipation is straining while taking a bowel movement with little results. So if you are picking up poop every day and find that it is small and hard, raise the radar a bit more
    • Impaction is trying to go to the bathroom with no result – now that you are on poop patrol, if you notice that there is no poop to pick up, it is time to be vigilant about activities and symptoms.
  • Is your dog bloated? Not sure? If you are a picture freak like me, look at the last picture you took of him or her and see if there is a difference. There Web is full of information about bloating, which is an emergency.
  • Is there vomiting? If they are vomiting, yet you find no poop or diarrhea then it is time for a serious doggie-watch.
  • Most of all, do what do your instincts tell you.

A vet appointment is about $50 in the US. To me, that is worth it. If it turns out that nothing is wrong, then it is a great opportunity to ask questions and educate yourself. Before I leave the vet’s office, I always summarize /paraphrase what they told me, and I always ask about what would require a return visit. Heck, I even take notes. Not because I am psycho, it is just a learned behavior from taking children to the doctor, going to the doctor myself, caring for a sick turtle and my desire to educate myself on animal health.

Phoebe is doing alright at the moment and I hope it stays that way. This candle eating / impaction issue is a reminder to never be lackadaisical when leaving a dog home alone, no matter how well and how long they have behaved when you are gone.