Help me find the best vet in Southeastern VA!
May 31, 2009 4:51 PM   Subscribe

My cat is very sick. We went to the vet and were incredibly unsatisfied. Please recommend an awesome vet in the South Hampton Roads (preferably Norfolk or Virginia Beach) area. (Also, if you have ANY idea what's wrong with my cat, please give me an idea, because I'm sick to my stomach with worry.)

This is a long story, but if you're a cat lover, please bear with me because I desperately need help.

At the end of March, my fiance and I adopted a cat from the Virginia Beach SPCA. Her name is Fiona. She is 4 years old, spayed, up to dates on shots/wormers/flea treatments, and in good health. Well, she was at the time of adoption, anyway.

About three weeks after we got her, we noticed her getting symmetrical bald patches on her shoulders. We weren't too concerned, because she wasn't showing any other symptoms, and we got her an appointment at Pet Care Veterinary Hospital for May 1st. Between the time we made the appointment and May 1st (about 1 week), the bald patches on her shoulders started to bleed and crack. I was putting antibiotic ointment on the open wounds every day, but she did not seem to be in any pain, and we never saw her licking or scratching at them.

Finally, May 1st rolls around, and with it, the most upsetting, disappointing vet visit of my life. The vet I saw was Dr. Partlow, and I believe the vet assistant was named Nicole (I'm not positive about that part). When we got into the examination room, we let Fiona out of her carrier, and she walked around, acting totally normal. At this point her only symptom was the wounds on her shoulders. The vet assistant picked her up, put her on the exam table, took her rectal temperature, all that stuff. When she was done, Fiona jumped back on the floor, and at this point, had a very pronounced limp on one of her rear legs. She did not have the limp when we got to the vet's office.

Dr. Partlow came in and immediately noticed Fiona's limp. We told her she had not had the limp before we got there, and the vet assistant confirmed that when she first got out of her carrier, she was walking around like normal. Dr. Partlow palpated her limb and said she didn't feel anything wrong, but we could "pay for x-rays" if we felt like it. We deferred to her expertise and said no, it was probably nothing. She kept assuring us Fiona had probably just landed wrong when she jumped off the table and it was no big deal. She then examined Fiona's wounds. She shaved the hair around them, so she could look at them better, and she remarked that they looked like burns. They really do look as if she got burned, but we have no idea how she COULD have been burned, and symmetrically on both shoulders? Plus the fact that we saw the hair fall out and normal bald spots first, and then the open wounds formed later. The doctor then told us that maybe it was allergies to food, or perhaps to pollen, or maybe she was licking herself due to stress. She tested Fiona for mites and yeast and both tests came back negative.

Dr. Partlow then left the room, and the vet assistant kept pressuring us to buy a product called Aler-G 3, without actually answering any of our questions about what it does. (I researched when I got home, and it turns out it is basically just fish oil...) It was a very high pressure sales environment and left both my fiance and me very uncomfortable. When Dr. Partlow returned, she prescribed metacam (to ease the pain she surmised Fiona was feeling due to her limp), silver sulfadiazene cream (an antibiotic cream specifically used to treat burns), and an oral antibiotic (I no longer have the name of, unfortunately). She asked that we return in a week.

We got home, and Fiona's limp was worse than ever. I felt her foot myself, and could clearly feel a bone chip or something grinding. My fiance and I were both incredibly angry that the vet could have dismissed this without a second thought. All in all, the trip was very frustrating. None of our questions were answered and we were just given medications to treat the symptoms instead of whatever the underlying problems were. We did change her food (the vet recommended Purina One, so that's what we have changed it to), and for what it's worth, she has not developed any more bald patches or wounds.

As the days creeped towards her next appointment the following week, Fiona's limp got better and better, and my fiance and I decided we did not want to give any more of our money to the clinic we were so dissatisfied with before, so we cancelled the appointment the day beforehand. She seemed to be improving day by day.

At this point, her limp is totally gone (although that leg seems to have a permanent knot in it now), and the wounds on her shoulders have almost fully healed. However, over the past week or so, she has become more and more lethargic. She just lays in the kitchen all of the time, unless she's eating, drinking, or using the litterbox. We can't get her to play or even acknowledge us when we pet her. She is still eating and drinking like normal. I started to get very nervous at her extreme lethargy. My fiance told me she drooled for a short time about three nights ago (less than a minute). Today, one of her eyes is swollen almost totally shut.

I don't understand what could be going on. I want to take her to the absolute best vet in the area, who will work hard to find out what is causing her problems, not just throw medication at the symptoms and let new problems crop up. We have been very very wary to take her to another vet after the poor experience we had last time, but now that I see her swollen eye, I won't wait another day. Today is Sunday and she needs to see somebody tomorrow, Tuesday at the latest. Please, mefi, please tell me who the best vet I can take her to is, and if you have any idea what is wrong, please let me know. I know this post was really long, so I will summarize the symptoms and timeline again:

- 5 weeks ago, bald patches appear on shoulders
- 4 weeks ago, patches start bleeding, breaks toe(?) at vet
- 3 weeks ago, limp heals but leg has a knot
- 1 week ago, scabs fall off shoulders, she starts acting extremely lethargic
- 3 days ago, drools briefly (maybe unrelated to anything else?) after waking up from a nap
- today, still extremely lethargic, one eye swollen

Thank you so much in advance for any help you can offer. Fiona thanks you too.
posted by srrh to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Quick addendum: I just wanted to clarify that she is probably not having a reaction to any medications. She was only on the metacam for 3 days, the oral antibiotics for 7 days, and the cream for 14 days. She has not had any medications whatsoever in a further 14 days.
posted by srrh at 4:55 PM on May 31, 2009

My cat was prescribed metacam once at an emergency vet, but then our regular vet said that it's really not good for cats at all because it can mess up their liver, fairly badly. No idea if these effects would linger after that long, but honestly, if I were in your position, I'd be calling the closest emergency vet and trying to get someone see her immediately. Can you clarify what you mean by a knot on her leg? Could it be an abscess or something like that?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:08 PM on May 31, 2009

Best answer: When we lived in Virginia Beach, we only used Owl Creek Veterinary Hospital. They were awesome for the 10 years we had our pets seen by them. It appears that Dr. Rowan has retired. However, Dr. Ann Ayre was there and saw us through our cat's cancer and the birth of our son and his introduction to our pets. I loved working with her!

Good luck and speedy recovery for your cat.
posted by onhazier at 5:15 PM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

First of all, I'm sorry for your pet woes. My dog got seriously ill not too long ago, and I was a wreck (he's better now), so I sympathize.

The symmetrical burns could be from a car's manifold. They get extremely hot when a car runs and stay that way for a half-hour to forty-five minutes afterword. They also have fins or ribs molded into them to dissipate heat, and I have seen cats and other smaller outside pets get burned on them in a pattern like you describe. It's possible Fiona ran under a car (assuming she's an outside cat.) She wouldn't even have had to be underneath for very long to get a serious burn. Also, when I had cats, one of them was hit by a car. He had been acting much the way you describe, and we would never have known unless we had taken him to a good vet. He was a bit tender on one side and had some matted fur. Cats seem to hide injuries really well. The car incident temporarily changed his eating and playing habits, but he eventually got back to normal. Now on to the vet recommendation.

It's a fairly good drive for you (I know, since I used to commute to Norfolk every day) but Pasquotank Animal Hospital in Elizabeth City, NC is phenomenal. They took great care of our dog—at three AM no less—and are very knowledgeable, kind and not salespeople. I have friends in Norfolk who may be able to recommend someone closer to you. Feel free to PM me if you like, and good luck with your cat.
posted by littlerobothead at 5:16 PM on May 31, 2009

I don't have any personal knowledge of vets in your area, but this site allows you to see how other people rated vets in the city of your choice.

2nding trying to get immediate care, if you can. I'm so sorry that you went through this and that your dear Fiona is sick.
posted by corey flood at 5:17 PM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the quick response. I cannot get her to an emergency vet right now because I work overnight (I am at work) at a position where I am the only person on call, and I won't be home again until 7am EST, when I fully intend to take her to see someone. Her eye was NOT swollen this morning, so I was not as worried, but when I was about to leave for work, it was... leaving me here and in a panic. ):

Regarding the knot on her leg, I am 90% sure it's not an abscess. There is no "give" to it at all, if you know what I mean. It's very very hard, like when you bang your head and get a knot in it. However, I'm now afraid that maybe it IS an abscess and she's suffering from blood poisoning or something...

Thanks again for your quick response and I'll try my best to clarify any questions anyone has.
posted by srrh at 5:18 PM on May 31, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, in the time I typed that, two more responses appeared. Littlerobothead, that is an awesome theory, and something I never would have thought of, but she is a 100% indoor cat. Thank you for the suggestion though, and Elizabeth City is definitely not too far of a drive for excellent care.

Corey, that website is amazing, thank you as well.
posted by srrh at 5:23 PM on May 31, 2009

Abscesses can be surprisingly firm. The swollen eye (this time of year) could be a spider or insect bite.

Can't help with the rest, sorry. Sounds like time for bloodwork. Good luck with your new vet - it sounds like it won't be hard AT ALL to find a clinic better than the one you described!
posted by Lou Stuells at 5:49 PM on May 31, 2009

I can't help diagnose your pets but when I lived in Williamsburg, I took my cat and my dog to Godspeed Animal Care and was very pleased.
posted by proj at 5:54 PM on May 31, 2009

I do not have intel on a vet in your area, but I do just want to say, please, do not hesitate to tell the next vet you call that you had a bad experience and describe why you are are concerned. You don't have to give them the whole spiel (that's for in the office) but enough to explain why this is urgent. We had a very, very similar situation with our boy five years ago, and we are still going to the vet that we called to follow up on the awful vet's stupid, irresponsible work. Good vets will do what they can to fit you in as soon as possible. Good luck. I hope Fiona is better soon.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:57 PM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

We live in Virginia Beach and have been very happy with the treatment our cats have received at Great Neck Veterinary Clinic. Dr. Thomas has been with the practice for the 14 or so years that we've been with them, and she is fantastic. I believe she may have scaled back her hours, but Dr. Jones & Dr. McHugh have also been wonderful when we've had appointments with them.
posted by gimli at 7:42 PM on May 31, 2009

Go see Dave Brinker on Todds Lane in Hampton. He is wonderful and well worth the trip across the river.
posted by 4ster at 7:46 PM on May 31, 2009

Please let us know how your cat is!
posted by nunoidia at 12:35 PM on June 1, 2009

Response by poster: Hello all, and sorry for such a late response, but I have spent literally all day at the vet's. (I haven't even slept since my night shift!)

I decided to go with Owl Creek Veterinary Hospital, which onhazier recommended above. I was able to get an appointment with Dr. Ayre at 1020, so we went, and I am so glad we did. All the mysteries have been solved, but unfortunately, Fiona has myriad problems. My fiance and I are committed to helping her through each of them -- we are not giving up on our kitty!

Dr. Ayre quickly determined that the scars on Fiona's shoulders were healed abscesses, and surmised that Fiona's eye was swollen due to another one. Her theory was that Fiona had been in a cat fight before we got her, and abscesses were forming from the puncture wounds of the other cat's claws. She said the shoulder scars are of no concern -- they are healed and are not causing Fiona discomfort, so there's nothing to do but wait for the fur to grow back. As for the abscess above her eye, she had surgery today to drain it and remove the dead tissue (it was very deep, below the fascia) as well as install a drain. She looks like a freak now, haha. She had a bad reaction to the ketamine they gave her during anesthesia and began to hallucinate and throw herself against the walls, so they kept her at the office after the surgery for four hours or so, at which point I took her home.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Fiona has some other problems too. While checking out Fiona's eyes, Dr. Ayre also informed me that Fiona has very strong vision problems (explaining why she is so clumsy! and also why she landed poorly when she jumped off the table at the first vet's visit..). When you shine a light into her eyes, they aren't translucent at all, but instead there is a thick haze over each eye, and they are irregular. We are getting a referral to a feline ophthalmologist. We now know that we need to keep Fiona safe from heights at all times, and to keep her locked in a room where she can't jump high when we're not at home.

Finally, the foot. Dr. Ayre took x-rays and Fiona's foot has broken bones in two separate places. It was really shocking to see on the x-ray just how mangled her foot is. As I mentioned in my original post, her limp is totally gone. Dr. Ayre said a bone specialist will look at the x-rays on Thursday and advise us as to whether we can leave her foot as it is, since she has no pain, or if it could cause further problems down the line and we need to treat it.

Tomorrow, I need to go back to have her drain cleaned and see how long they want to keep the drain in. This whole situation is pretty scary, and a big financial drain, but we are willing to do whatever it takes to bring Fiona back to health, and perhaps even restore her sight! If there is any interest, I'll keep updating this thread as we return to the vet and visit the ophthalmologist. Thank you so much to everyone who replied. All of your suggestions were great and were seriously considered. A special thanks to onhazier, who may have even saved Fiona's life. (:
posted by srrh at 1:34 PM on June 1, 2009

Oh my gosh, your poor kitty. Please update us, I hope she feels better soon!
posted by agregoli at 6:37 PM on June 1, 2009

Response by poster: We just got back from seeing Dr. Ayre again, and Fiona's drain is not, well, draining correctly, so we are going to have to go back every day for the foreseeable future. Today she had to pop a blood clot which was one of the GROSSEST things! Haha.

Fiona has adapted well to life with the drain. We never even had to put the e-collar on her because she has not scratched at it or shown any interest in it at all. I'll update as we find out anything new.
posted by srrh at 12:31 PM on June 2, 2009

poor Fiona, I'm glad that she has such great new parents though. Fingers crossed for you
posted by nunoidia at 12:17 PM on June 5, 2009

Wow. I'm teary-eyed here.

I'm so sorry to learn of Fiona's challenges. However, I'm thrilled that Dr. Ayre is such a good match for you and Fiona's care!! She's a special person who always treated our pets with great care.
posted by onhazier at 8:37 AM on June 11, 2009

Response by poster: Hi all,

It's been about a month since this thread, and I wanted to give everyone an update on Miss Fiona.

The drain was removed from her head after about a week, and at this point her head has totally healed. She has two tiny white scars at the exit points for the drain, but they are almost unnoticeable. Most of her fur has grown back where she had the abscesses, so she looks almost like a normal cat now (haha).

We did not have to rebreak and reset her broken foot, or have pins put in it. Dr. Ayre had an emergency with her horse on Fiona's final visit, so we saw Dr. Hauer, who told us that considering the lack of pain and her total ease of walking on it, that the best course of action would be to leave it alone.

We haven't yet gotten to the feline ophthalmologist; Fiona should be seen around the middle of this month. Now that her semi-blindness has been pointed out to us, it is incredibly obvious. She only plays with toys if they are very close to her face, or touching her, she tends to walk along the walls with her whiskers touching them, she does bump into things if they're not where she expects. Now that we know, however, it's become much easier to care for her, and I think she's happier than she has ever been. She has become a major lapcat, who likes nothing better than to curl up in me or Jon's laps and snooze her days away -- that is, when she's not viciously attacking a feather on a string.

We are going on a vacation on the 5th (yes, Fiona included!), so we've spent the last month getting her leash and harness trained. She is totally calm, and in fact really seems to enjoy car rides, and she absolutely loves laying out in the sun and grass. She had never been outside before while in our care until she got her harness, and I think she really really likes it... although at first, she did act like it weighed 1000 or more pounds (not Fiona, but a hilarious picture and a great approximation of her initial reaction).

Thank you again, MeFi... I truly appreciate everyone who offered advice in this thread, and, of course, a special shoutout to onhazier. I can never thank you enough for recommending us a professional, intelligent, thorough, and compassionate veterinarian. The same goes for every person we met on their staff. Even by our second visit, the front desk staff knew our names when we got there, and asked us about Fiona's progress every time we came in. The pricing was VERY reasonable, and -- even though we had a total of 6 followup visits -- we were never charged after the initial visit. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, onhazier, and Fiona thanks you too. :3
posted by srrh at 4:35 AM on July 1, 2009

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