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.

Ten…

IMG_0305.jpgWalk up to the average bulldog owner and tell them that you’re thinking about adding one to your pack. I’d be willing to bet that 4 out of every five of them will warn you off the breed. They’re sickly – prone to a list of illnesses as long as your leg. They’re rife with potential genetic abnormalities – their airways are too small, their joints are prone to problems, their skin, God help you, will demand seeming around the clock attention. The most common dog foods are apt to trigger a host of potential allergies for them. Bulldogs, despite their popularity, are a troubled breed and not for the faint of heart or thin of wallet.

Having a bulldog means spending a ridiculous amount of time tending to their needs – with medicated baths, lotions, ointments, sprays, and a cabinet full of medication in addition to their basic care and feeding needs. You will develop a closer relationship to your veterinarian and their staff than you ever imagined possible. If the dog itself is an outsized expense, your medical bills for his care are going to spiral quickly into the five figure range and easily keep climbing from there.

My bulldog turns ten today. He’s been my near constant companion for almost every day of those ten years and he’s been a burning hot mess for almost the entire time. I’d hate to calculate the dollar cost of our time together or the number of trips to the vet for everything from noshing an Atavair inhaler weeping skin sores that erupted overnight without warning to months long recuperation from leg surgery.

I know though, that Fortress Jeff wouldn’t be what it is without Winston’s inquisitive eyes, slobbering IMG_0304.jpgjowls, smiling under bite, and undiluted obstinacy. Reaching his tenth birthday today, I’m acutely aware that I’ve got far fewer days left with him than I’ve had with him already. It’s one of life’s great inequities that the time we get with these animals is so incredibly short.

Any conversation I have about bulldogs invariably starts with “I love Winston more than nearly any living creature on the planet, but there will never be another bulldog…” The truth is, I’d be hard pressed to think of what this house would be like without a bulldog in it. The thought itself feels unnatural. There may well be other bulldogs in the future, but Winston will always be my first and the yardstick against which any other would be measured.

Today, of course, isn’t a day to ponder the costs or the future. It’s a day to give him a few extra ear rubs and chin scratches and marvel at the fact I’ve had so long to enjoy the companionship of this incredible dog.

Sickness, health, and the curious mind…

I’d mostly made my peace with always having one healthy dog and one sick one. Eternal sickness of one kind or another is just what you sign up for when you take on a bulldog. It’s as much part of the territory as their snoring and gas problems. The never ending care and attention was somewhat offset by the fact that the other was perennially healthy – generally only seeing the vet for a yearly checkup and vaccinations. It wasn’t an ideal arrangement of course, but it was manageable. It was manageable right up to the point that it wasn’t. And that’s where I’ve started getting twitchy.

I’ve gotten disturbingly accustomed to hearing my own doctor’s warnings of doom and gloom. Getting a “this could be an issue” from the vet, though, now that sends me into a completely unreasonable level of panic. Tonight we’re sitting just on the wrong side of a veil of ignorance. By this time tomorrow I expect to know a little more than I do now, but probably not yet enough to make anything approaching informed decisions. There’s a lot of white space between “unusual pigmentation” and “cancer,” but my brain obviously races off in the direction of all possible worst case scenarios. For the record, don’t let anyone ever tell you that living in my head is easy. It’s bloody well exhausting more days than its not.

I’m giving it my level best effort not to dwell on those things I can’t do a damned thing about. It’s one of those times having a curious mind is a damned nuisance.

Pack Leader (Part 2)

When it comes to leadership, the first lesson is almost always that your most important job is taking care of people. The same is true when you’re the pack leader. Unfortunately, I didn’t bother going to school to become a veterinarian, so that means for anything other than minor issues, I’m stuck relying on the expertise of others about how best to provide medical care. Now with most dogs, as long as they’re getting quality food, regular baths, and the requisite amount of attention, they’re mostly good until the end of their days. Unfortunately, half of my pack consists of an English Bulldog which guarantees that the vet and I are going to become very close.

Lovable as they are, the bulldog is a walking medical disaster. Eyes, nose, joints, food and skin allergies, and a plethora of other genetic issues plague the breed from beginning to end. I knew that going into the experience as a bulldog owner. I almost feel sorry for the people who see a bulldog pup in the window and take him home without knowing what they’re in for. Winston is a fairly healthy bulldog and in four years his medical bills have run somewhere around $5,000. Trust me when I say that bulldogs are not for the faint of heart. The little buggers will bleed you dry. But they’re cute in their own pug-nosed drool covered sort of way… and hopelessly loyal… and stubborn as the day is long. That’s their charm. And why we tolerate the madding expense of keeping them around.

Dog days…

After a ridiculous amount of time in and out of the vet’s office, tests, retests, and the some more tests, the results are somewhat less conclusive than I would have hoped. The bottom line is this: Despite higher than normal protein levels in her urine, there doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with Maggie. She’s behaving normally and has no ill effects in terms of kidney, liver, or heart function. The phrase the vet used this morning was that it seemed likely that Maggie just has “an unusually high baseline on these tests.” I’m pretty sure that’s veterinary medicine’s way of saying the numbers aren’t right, but we have no idea why, but I let the nice vet off the hook without asking too many questions. As long as my pup is in good health and not from something causing long term damage, I’m content to leave well enough alone.

For now, I’m going to do some tinkering what her food and retry all these tests in six months to see if anything has changed. It’s not exactly the clean bill of health I usually look for from the vet, but at this point, but it seems like as good a negotiated settlement as I’m likely to get this time around. I’m mostly just pleased that we were able to rule out most of the worst case scenarios. Even so, this last week has been a bothersome reminder that I’m the single parent to two middle-aged children now. Neither one of them are pups anymore, regardless of how I still think of them in my own head. I’m not sure I like that at all.

One sick pup…

I’ve said it before, but this seems like the perfect opportunity to reiterate that I love both my dogs beyond any sense of reason or logic. That’s the only reason I can think of that would have had me at the emergency vet at 1:00 in the morning on a Sunday with a Bulldog that wouldn’t stop throwing up even when there were no cookies left to hurl. I’m not a fancy big city vet, but I do know that no well animal blows chunks nine times in three hours. I’m enough of a diagnostician to know that gums are supposed to be pink and not gray. And of course being paranoid as I am, that let to an early morning visit to the closest emergency vet clinic. I’ll say up front that I’m glad they were open and I didn’t have to wait until Monday to have him seen by someone.

The good news is that after a metric crapload of scans, samples, and IV meds, my boy seems to be holding his own and I should be able to bring him home tonight. The down side, of course, is that the estimated bill for treatment and an overnight stay is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1500. Seriously. $1500. If that’s what it costs to fix him up, fine, but in the back of my head I can’t quite shake the thought that I’ve just spent 3/4 the cost of a new bulldog… or put another way, as much as it would have cost to adopt ten dogs from the pound. You can’t exactly put a price on the love and loyalty of a good dog, but we’re definitely getting into the neighborhood where one might start having second thoughts.

So yeah, consider this official notice that Christmas is cancelled this year. Gift money has been sent directly to VCA Animal Hospital. I won’t feel nearly as bad about dropping the cash when he’s back here snoring in the living room, but at the moment it’s feeling like a kick in the gut. In case anyone is wondering, when the vet called with an update at 9:00 this morning, the diagnosis was “yeah, we think he ate something that disagreed with his system.” I’m glad it wasn’t the intestinal blockage I was worried about, but still that’s a damned pricy upset stomach. Better safe than sorry. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.