The slightly abridged story of another sick dog…

Since I seem to be permanently destined to have at least one sick dog on the premises, I suppose it’s only fair that I throw out a little update on what we’ve been up to since late last Friday.

The short version is that over a span of about an hour on Friday night I watched my already sickly chocolate lab go from her normal self to drooling, vomiting, and blasting out unimaginably large quantities of liquefied, high pressure shit. I undertook the “40 minute” drive to the nearest emergency vet with great vigor and complete disregard for pesky details like traffic laws and personal safety. I was more or less convinced that by the time we got there, I’d be dropping her off for a necropsy rather than treatment. I never thought I’d be happy to hear a dog retching and hacking in the back seat. For Friday at least it was the sound of not being dead yet.

After 36 hours of treatment, blood tests, fists full of medication, an ultrasound, and round the clock monitoring, the official diagnosis is “we don’t really know.” The symptoms don’t really present as something directly related to her Cushing’s disease and the ultrasound didn’t show anything radically different than what we saw back in March. Inconclusive.

In the absence of a solid medical diagnosis, I’ve arrived at a speculative cause for all this last week’s problems. What I think happened is that sometime around 6:30 Friday night the dogs found something in the yard – perhaps a mushroom – and noshed on it. For Maggie, already compromised with Cushings and general old age, the result was sudden and violent illness.

The key to my speculation doesn’t actually involve Maggie at all, though. When I got home from the emergency vet around midnight Friday, Jorah’s crate floor was spotted with drops of something. At first I attributed those drops to a reversion to peeing in his crate, but a closer look showed that he too was drooling prodigiously. In Jorah’s case, though, it lasted just a few hours and dissipated. He never showed any signs of feeling badly otherwise, which I know from sitting up through the small hours of Saturday morning waiting to see if I needed to drag another dog in for heroic measures of treatment at weekend rates.

I talked to our regular vet last night and laid out the timeline of events, went over the details from the file, and presented my own observation of the events. Without being led there, his first opinion was that it sounded like they had both eaten something and promptly got sick in proportion to the strength of their respective systems. It’s not exactly a confirmation of my logic, but I was glad to see that his analysis of the available evidence mirrored my own. Unless something is proven otherwise, “ate something” is going to be the official story of what caused this week’s series of unpleasant events at Fortress Jeff.

With leaves coming down and the ground covered it’s going to be horribly difficult if not outright impossible to verify any of this. It’s going to be harder still to comb the area for anything that could further agitate the situation. Part of me knows we’ll be relying on some level of luck in avoiding future problems. It’s not optimal, but we’ve lived here a fairly long time now without something in the yard causing mayhem and chaos. One bad day out of 1200+ isn’t necessarily a cause for panic, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking at the compound with a new level of unease.

Four months later…

Jorah will be rolling over the 11 month mark this week (with his official birthday designated as October 26th). It feels like a good time to assess where we are now that he’s had four months of learning how to fit into the household.

I’d like to say that the whole process has been seamless, but anyone who follows along with the day to day saga on Facebook would immediately know that’s a bald faced lie. Since Jorah was about six months old when he picked us out, he’d had plenty of time to learn a lot of bad habits at the shelter. It also meant I missed out on the early training window when most dogs learn how to act in civilized society. I’d never say that an older dog can’t learn new tricks, but getting those new ways of doing things through their fuzzy little heads is just going to take longer and require a lot more effort. Jorah’s a smart little dog, but he’s no exception to this. Teaching him any new behavior has felt like it’s taking far, far longer than it should. My overall experience has been that young pups are far more receptive to basic training. Winston and Maggie had their share of training issues, but didn’t go through months where I was legitimately concerned that they were never going to “get it.”

So four months on, where are we? Jorah is a dog who happily goes to his crate – as long as there’s a treat involved. He’s gone weeks now without randomly peeing on the kitchen floor or sneaking off to the laundry room to go. He’s started to have some self-awareness and there are fairly noticeable signs that he’s ready to go outside – noticeable at least when you’re paying a degree of attention. He still doesn’t love road trips, but he’s learning to tolerate them – even willingly walking out to the garage instead of having to be carried the whole way. He’s caught on (mostly) to what should and shouldn’t be chewed to oblivion.

Since his overall bladder control has shown marked improvement, he’s now even getting to spend time in the living room. Mostly it’s limited to an hour or two in the evenings and he’s still a long, long way from being a trusted agent able to enjoy the space unaccompanied, but it’s progress. After spending ten weeks confined to my own kitchen any progress on this front is cause fo great joy and celebration. You don’t realize how much you miss regular access to the big television and comfy seating until you don’t have it.

Progress has been slow, but hasn’t been equal across all fronts. Jorah is still peeing in his crate at night once or twice a week. We’ve mostly ruled out medical causes, which leaves me casting around to sort it out as another problematic behavior issue. For now, it’s restricting water in the evenings and pushing back my own bed time to try giving him less time overnight to have a problem. It’s not ideal, but the alternative of scheduling a 2AM bathroom break is even less appealing.

Realistically, I know he’s come a long way from the scared-of-his-own-shadow little dog that came home with me over Memorial Day weekend. I don’t know if I can realistically say that the worst is over just yet, but at this pace, Jorah might just be a tolerably well integrated member of the family by the time Christmas rolls around.

Of testing and cautious optimism…

I took the morning off today, to take the youngest pup in for another round of testing. The blood tests and urinalysis done over the weekend pointed steadily at major problems with his kidneys, perhaps even towards renal dysplasia – basically a developmental anomaly that would all but guarantee kidney failure in fairly short order after the initial onset of symptoms. That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear, but I spent most of the night last night reading every article and journal entry I could get my hands on without a subscription. If that was, indeed, the worst case scenario, I wanted to know what we were up against. Nothing I read gave me a warm fuzzy.

This morning’s round of testing has given cause for a bit of cautious optimism. Jorah’s urine was concentrated, had appropriate color and smell, and its specific gravity was low, but still in the target range for normal. Those things wouldn’t likely be in the case if his kidneys were in the process of failing. He’s schedule for a trip through south eastern Pennsylvania on Friday to see a specialist and get an abdominal ultrasound. Barring an invasive biopsy, it’s the surest way to verify that his kidneys are correct in size and shape. Cautious optimism.

Since the mass consumption of water is something Jorah’s done since the day I brought him home and we’ve established that his kidneys are concentrating fluid and his blood isn’t showing any of the other likely issues, one of the remaining outliers could be that he’s just obsessed with drinking. The fact that it’s possible I gravitated, in a building full of dogs, to one that could have a touch of good old fashioned OCD probably shouldn’t be in any way surprising.

We’re still a ways off from having a truly definitive answer, but moving the one that’s effectively a short term death sentence more towards the unlikely column feels like a pretty good day’s work.

Emoting…

I’m not a towering example of modern, overly emotional masculinity. I’m good at anger and its derivatives. I can even pull of contented without much trouble. The various subtile shades separating those two poles, though, mostly fall into the category of things that must be jammed down and best left unobserved by the outside world.

I had Maggie and Jorah out during my lunch break this morning. They were mostly out lazing around the yard – occasionally ginning up enough interest to chase off an intrusive bird or butterfly. Mostly they were content to lay around. I just happened to be looking in the right direction when Jorah plopped his chin down on Maggie’s back as they laid there in the sun. For the briefest of moments, it wasn’t Jorah I was seeing, but my dear old Winston. They’d laid in the same position for hours in the yard, looking out the sliding door, or piled together on the living room floor. It was the kind fo thing I’d seen a thousand time over the last ten years – but not once in the last six months.

It took my breath away.

At least it did before some dust or grit happened to blow into my eye and I had to struggle mightily not to make a spectacle of myself to any of the retired neighbors who happened to be nosy enough to wonder what I was doing home on a Monday. Even so, there may have been a little bit of emoting.

Winston’s been gone now almost seven months. The days are busy. The herd demands my attention. But there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think of the snorting, shuffling bulldog who use to be with us. Most days now, it’s with a smile… though it turns out it can still be with big wet manly tears, too.

Optimal control…

We were back to the vet this past Friday with Maggie. She has to stick around with them for a few hours for a bit of follow-up testing for her Cushing’s. There’s no remission or recovering from it, but symptoms are treatable, so finding the best course of treatment for her is important to me.

This last test shows that we have the meds dialed in to the point of “optimal control” for her ACTH levels – meaning we’re able to hold her cortisol levels more or less where they need to be to reduce the laundry list of Cushing’s symptoms. Under the circumstances, it’s just about the best possible outcome available.

It was a long six months in getting here – with three or four visits to the regular vet for testing, schlepping across Pennsylvania for an ultrasound, and several variations on the medication of choice to get things under control. It hasn’t been an inexpensive proposition, though I refuse to do the math on either the amount of time or money expended. I know I’m incredibly fortunate that neither one of those factors drive the train when deciding what’s best for my sweet, lazy chocolate lab.

The fact is, Maggie is an old dog. She’s coming up on her 11th birthday in October. I’m under no delusions about how this ends – for her, for me, or for any of us. For now I’ll appreciate that I, through the marvel of modern veterinary medicine, was able to buy her some more quality time. Beyond that, everything else is background noise.

The almost two month report card…

So, Jorah has been part of the family now for a little shy of two months. Best estimates place him at just about eight months old. The shy, quiet little guy I met at the SPCA is now a ball of energy prepared to spring into a dead run at the first hint of an opportunity.

Blogs and Facebook posts are filled with tales of shelter dogs who fit seamlessly into the family – of the ones who seemed to have been there all along with the perfect manners and behavior. Jorah, isn’t one of those. He can be quite sweet when he wants to be. Lord knows he’s photogenic. But the fact remains, my new dog is kind of an asshole.

He enjoys laying on the cat and steamrolling over Maggie out in the yard. He likes to gnaw on any hand that gets close to his mouth. He’ll chew drawer pulls and insists on licking every single surface he can reach. About every third or fourth day he decides peeing in the house is just easier – which is why we are all still more or less living in two rooms with easily cleanable floors.

On good days, he’s a charmer and it’s really good. On bad days, I find myself frustrated that this is the first animal I’ve had who doesn’t just seem to naturally “get it” after a few months of persistence. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by a remarkably easy to get along with series of dogs in the past, but this one is putting me through my paces. It leaves me wondering if it’s just his nature, something about the six months before I got him, something I’ve changed, or if there’s another intangible at work.

We’ll get the job done. I have no doubt that I’m every bit and more stubborn than this little dog… but the envisioned quiet nights with two of them curled up snoozing in the living room feel as far off as they were on day one. And if I’m honest, that makes me just a little bit sad.

Something of a novelty…

After six days of waiting impatiently, I got a call back from the emergency vet Maggie visited last week. The good news is that the tests they ran confirmed the preliminary diagnosis of a urinary tract infection. After the long and growing list of canine ailments I’ve dealt with over the years, a run of the mill UTI was just about as good an outcome as I could hope to have.

Because in this household we can’t do anything entirely basic, Mag’s urine culture showed that the E. coli bacteria causing the infection wasn’t likely to be fully treated by the particular antibiotic originally given. It did, fortunately, help alleviate the worst of it. Since I’m looking for knock-down, drag-out eradication, though, I’m more than happy to spring for the second 10-day course of targeted antibiotics. It’ll be a small price to pay to get my girl to a place where she’s a) more comfortable, b) not as likely to pee all over the house in the dead of night, and c) can resume her duties as my 70 pound live action foot warmer.

A few weeks ago I laughingly posted on Facebook about a meme showing the average dog owner spends $1000 a year on care and feeding. That sounds awfully low to me, even for a bare minimum of food and medical care. As the science of human medicine marches forward, veterinary medicine marches along a few steps away… with the a corresponding increases in price for the kind of services that owners can now expect and demand.

I’m very thankful that this time around, we didn’t have to chase down anything too dramatic or crash into an aggressive treatment plan. You’ll forgive me, I hope. “Normal” illnesses are still something of novelty here.