Bringing Your Pets to Ecuador

We had a close call the other day, and we may not be completely out of the woods yet. We woke up Thursday to find my wife’s 11-year old Corgi, Joey, who is usually in the bedroom before sunrise, huffing and puffing for someone to get up and feed him, lying on the floor in the dining room. He was not moving much, and at first, my wife thought he was dead. She saw he was breathing though, massaged him for a while, talking to him, and eventually he got up and moved enough to get under one of our bar stools.

After a while, we were able to get him to make it outside to use the bathroom, but he wanted to come right back in. He plopped down again, showing no interest in food or water. He never closed his eyes, just started into the distance. Once and a while, he would start breathing hard, then just lay there.

He eventually drank some water, but continued to show no interest in food or moving. I offered him some chicken at one point, which he barely sniffed at. If you knew this dog, you would know turning down meat is just as telling as a screaming vital signs monitor.

We tried getting him to go out twice more over the day and evening, but both times we had to carry him out, and he would not walk around or use the bathroom. We went to bed last night (well, I was in bed, Rita stayed on the couch by Joey) ready to take him out again if he needed it, but also braced to find him dead this morning.

Today, however, he is up and moving around a bit. He is drinking a LOT of water, and is eating normally again. We just returned from his second walk of the day, and while he is far from perky, he at least did his business and did not need to be carried. He appears to be on the mend, but will need watching for a few days at least.

I know people reading this in the States or Canada are thinking to themselves “Take the damn dog to the vet!”

Well, in Ecuador, that is not always useful, or even a good thing. Truth be told, we’ve had him to the vet several times over the past week for some sort of ear problem and a blocked tear duct. Did the prednisone recommended for his immune system cause a heart event overnight? Did he have a stroke? We don’t know, and there’s little use in asking the vet.

The problem is something you should be aware of if you are thinking of retiring to Ecuador and bringing your pets. At the heart of the issue is a simple cultural difference. In the States, people treat their pets like members of the family, even as their children. Most think nothing of spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year on vets, diagnostics, medications and treatments. I once worked with a man who let his daughter’s house go into foreclosure, saying he could not commit any of his retirement money – but a month later, he gladly paid a veterinary surgeon over $6,000 for a procedure that might or might not aid his dog’s stomach problem.

In Ecuador, pets are not treated this way. For the most part, they are just animals who sometimes get sick or die, and then you get another if you need it. I’m not saying one way is better than the other, just pointing out that there is a difference in attitude. Here in Ecuador, some dog owners will let their pets out during the day, to roam and fend for themselves, letting them back in the yard in the evenings to watch the house while they sleep. This is not because Ecuadorians are cold hearted – they are some of the sweetest people in the world. It mostly is economic reality.

Let’s face it, pets are a luxury of people with money. Most people in Ecuador barely make enough money to feed themselves and their children. If they can’t afford preventative medicines or doctors visits for their family, why would they spend the money on a dog or cat?

So vets for the most part, are not in high demand. Many of them work other jobs to support themselves. There are exceptions of course in the larger cities (where there is a group of Ecuadorians wealthy enough to concern themselves over pets), but usually your vet’s office does not have much in the way of diagnostic equipment, medications, or supplies. When Joey might have needed an x-ray about his tear duct problem, we were going to be sent to a clinic in Muey, where a friend of the doctor would use the “people equipment” to do the scan. Some vets do not even have stethoscopes in their office, and about the most they can do is draw blood and send it off for testing.

While there are some shops that sell medicines for dogs and cats, it is not uncommon to have the vet prescribe something from the plain ol’ farmacia on the corner, telling you to break the pill in half, or in quarters. There is just not enough demand to economically justify a pet-only pharmacopia.

While we could have called the vet yesterday, or even had him make a house call, what would be the point? All he could do would be to look at him, feel his body for lumps or hard places, maybe offer to do a blood test and wait three days for the results. Instead, we decided to keep Joey comfortable, stop the prednisone, and wait and see.

This is not the first time we have had a problem like this. We came to Ecuador with a cat as well. Sammy never adapted to Ecuador, even though he was a house cat and was never directly exposed to the outdoors. He became listless, stopped eating, and gradually wasted away. We spent weeks taking him back and forth between different vets, trying various treatments that, in hindsight, were mostly guesswork. And in the end, all we could do was make him comfortable until there was no hope left.

I know I will hear that this person or that person brought a whole flock of animals to Ecuador, and they never had any problems. I will here “well you SHOULD have done this, or you SHOULD have gone to this guy”. It’s always easy to second-guess, but that is not my point.

I only want you to know that if you are considering moving to Ecuador, or any other country, with a pet, you should make sure you check out the animal’s health care resources as thoroughly as your own. Remember also that your pet has grown up around one set of bacteria and diseases, and you may be transporting them to a whole new set they will need to adapt to. Ask people who are already there, visit a vet office or two if you can, and then ask yourself – is taking Fido with me in Fido’s best interest, or something I’m doing for myself?

Hard questions, but not as hard as watching a beloved pet die.

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  • Kathleen Janzen says:

    We are so sorry to hear of Joey’s condition…we recently had an issue with Izzy that two local vets did not know what to do about. l finally took Iz to her cardiologist in Guayaquil and she diagnosed Izs problem immediately and treated her successfully…let me know if you want her contact info as she sees dogs for issues other than cardiac. Sending positive thoughts for a speedy recovery for Joey.

  • Barbara Scott says:

    My dog is almost 11 … heavy coated … needs a carefully regulated diet … and big … a Northern Canadian dog. After discussing it with a great many people in Ecuador we finally made the hard decision to re-home her here in Canada rather than taking her to the coast when we move.. A good friend who has known her as long as I have called one day and said she and her husband would like Kenya to join their family. I saw her a couple of days ago … and she has adapted to her new home with a couple of grandkids, another dog she loves, and three adults who all love her so well that I felt abandoned when she hopped in the car and left perfectly happily with my friend after her grooming appointment! I made the decision based on her needs, not my own … and I am glad I did.

  • Heidi says:

    Good insight. We brought our little dog Keeper with us to Ecuador. She was 10. We first moved to Bahia. It was hot and humid. She survived the earthquake. She survived the heat (no air-conditioning because no power) but not without consequences. We moved to Cuenca 10 days after the quake. I thought she’d be happy – it was going to be cooler…but it was also HIGHER. It never crossed my mind the high altitude would become her final problem. A week after moving to Cuenca she acted very much like your dog did except she also wheezed a lot. We took her to a vet many times within a week. The high altitude had placed her congestive heart failure into high speed (we didn’t know she even had congestive heart failure but looking back over the last 6 months the signs were there.) We took a week vacation back to the coast to see if we could get our Keeper back…to see if her rapidly declining health would improve. It did not. She was suffering terribly. We set her free there on the coast. I was beyond heart broken. And I remember thinking “oh Keeper…what have we done to you? I’m so sorry!” I wanted her with me when we made the move to Ecuador – but was it really the best thing for her?? The million dollar question.

    My husband also writes a blog. You can read about Keeper’so struggle here:

  • greg says:

    Wow Jim, quite an ordeal. I hope he is ok. Been there with you friend, had 2 small dogs that were treated like family depart within a year of each other, and my first wife shortly after. Loved them dearly, but made the tough decision not to have others (pets that is:))…married a sweetheart of a filipina girl that will come with me to Ecuador, as long as we are near the beach…see you soon in Salinas!!!

  • Jean McCord says:

    Thanks, Jim, for this report, and Heidi, thanks for your comment. About a month ago I left my two dogs back in Washington state with a friend who loves dogs and has a 37-acre farm. The dogs love her and had loved our visits to the farm. Riley is large and has epilepsy and I didn’t think he’d do well on the trip or here in Cuenca. And he’s totally attached to Brodie; I don’t think he could live without his little buddy. So I’m missing them terribly and I suspect they’re missing me, although I know they’re adapting well. My solution will be–as soon as I can move to my rental house here and get my container–to adopt two street dogs here. They’ll already be adapted to the altitude and weather and I’ll make sure they’re spayed or neutered and will be loved and cared for.

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