Thursday, December 21, 2017

Don't Let This Happen to Your Dog, Too (Part 1 of 2)

Originally posted at

My heart is breaking as I write this post, but I very much want to help other dog-parents avoid the pain my family and I experienced over this Thanksgiving holiday weekend. If our situation can help someone avoid this same agony, then perhaps some good can come from our tragedy.

[Please note that I am not a vet, nor am I any kind of medical professional. I am just a dog-mom who greatly loved and now greatly misses a furbaby who might have been saved if I'd just had the information I needed when I needed it. My hope is that our story will help some other dog-family to figure out and save the health of their beloved companion so that Snickers' difficult demise was not completely in vain.]

Our story begins about two years ago when my Snickers, a healthy, 8 year-old, rat terrier, got sprayed by a skunk in our back yard. At the time, we had a wireless fence to keep Snickers in the yard but a wireless fence does not keep out any critters. So Snickers got a snout full of skunk spray when he heard a noise on the far side of our house and ran to investigate it.

NOTE: The skunk spray is NOT the cause of the trouble to follow. However, looking back, I believe the skunk's presence in my yard was something that could have helped me to figure out the actual problem.

I should mention here that I am not a country girl. I am a suburbian. Every now and again, I have lived within the city limits of a small city but mostly I have lived in the suburbs of large ones. I know nothing about wild animals except to stay away from them, but I have a friend who was raised in the country and she directed me to the "shampoo" recipe for de-skunking my dog.
Snickers insisted upon sitting "in" our laps

Shortly after the skunk incident, Snickers' appetite suddenly decreased. A healthy dog, he was normally somewhat of a canine vacuum cleaner. It was very unlike him to stop eating his food, so I was quite worried and sought the help of a local veterinarian.

NOTE: Decreased appetite was my dog's ONLY noticeable symptom until the very end.

At the time, Snickers had visited a pet clinic a couple of times and the doctors there were good but I did not feel he had his own vet. So I called my local animal shelter and asked for the name of their veterinarian. When I called, I was happy to be able to get Snickers in to see him right away and my opinion of this new vet went up a notch before I even met him.

Blood work was done, symptoms were asked, temperature was taken and the diagnosis was a bacterial infection. The vet began Snickers' antibiotics with a shot and then I continued with oral medication at home. Three days later, there was no change in eating behavior so I called the vet again. We decided to try a different antibiotic and I picked it up that morning. The vet said it would be okay to give Snickers his first dose of the second medicine right away even though I had already dosed him with his original medicine, so that is what I did and he started to eat better that very afternoon.

I breathed a sigh of relief that he had begun eating more normally but my relief did not last because Snickers' appetite declined again the next morning. By the second day on the new medicine, his appetite was still awful so I called the vet back to ask if I could maybe give Snickers both medicines together. I was given the go ahead and that is what I did but it did not help the situation. His appetite did not return. At his follow-up veterinary visit, though, Snickers' bacterial infection was gone and the vet dismissed his loss of appetite to advancing age. (Remember that Snickers was 8. Life expectancy for his breed is between 16-19 years so 8 is really just middle age.)

Completely perplexed as to why my dog was not eating, I called to talk about him to the smartest people I know -- my parents. (Side note: It is really nice to be able to consult a rocket scientist whenever I have a problem I can't solve on my own.) After some discussion, we decided to get Snickers' teeth cleaned. My dad paid for the procedure with the condition that the vet was to remove NO teeth. My new vet agreed to that condition and I took Snickers in for the cleaning.

NOTE: I now know from research during Snickers' final days that regularly giving my dog raw bones to chew would have helped to keep his teeth naturally clean. I also know that adding a few drops of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to his water dish would have helped to both clean tartar off of his teeth and introduce beneficial enzymes into his gut. If I had known to do those two small things, my dog's teeth would likely have never needed a veterinary cleaning and he would not have lost many of them. If he had clean teeth, dental disease would never have been considered a potential diagnosis of the problem.

He was normally somewhat of
a canine vacuum cleaner.
I picked Snickers up from his dental cleaning on a Friday and that same weekend was when I got one of my biggest clues as to what was causing him to not eat. Unfortunately, I did not understand the clue.

This was back when I was learning a little about herbal medicines (for humans) and I had determined to try to like eating raw garlic. I was sitting in the living room, eating pieces of french bread smeared with raw garlic butter (made with softened real butter and freshly chopped raw garlic), when it occurred to me to ask if Snickers might like to taste. He DID want to taste and he ate quite a few bits of my snack. The next day, Sunday, he was still not eating his dog food but he ate more raw garlic-butter on bread.

On Monday morning, I was delighted when my boy ate some of his dog food. I was sure he was on the mend and I attributed his healing to the dental cleaning.

Still, I called and went to see the vet about the unapproved tooth extraction. Before I left, I asked about Snickers' appetite still not being as good as it should be. The vet dismissed my dog's continued, sole symptom. He told me that older dogs often have diminished appetites and he was not concerned by Snickers not eating as much as was usual.

That same night, very late, I heard Snickers wake up, come downstairs and walk around the kitchen as if he wanted to go out. So I got up and came down to open the door to the back yard for him. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I slipped in something and fell on my kitchen floor, almost knocking over my ironing board and bringing the iron crashing down right by my head. (Lesson learned: I now always put away my ironing board immediately after I am done using it and let my iron cool down in my kitchen sink.)

When I turned on my kitchen light to see what I had slipped in and clean it up, I saw loose  stools mixed with quite a bit of blood. Snickers and I went back to bed after that and I called the vet in the morning. The vet told me that he was unconcerned by a single incident of bloody stools.

Despite the vet's unconcern, I had been thinking about it and thought maybe eating raw garlic was the cause. Snickers had been eating quite a bit of it and I thought it might have irritated his stomach lining.

[NOTE to the wise: Raw garlic is antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal, so I really do WISH I had looked up the correct amount of it to feed him as a natural remedy because it might have saved his life.]

Again, I asked about Snickers' decreased appetite and the vet told me that he was satisfied that nothing more was wrong with my dog but if I wanted to pursue the matter, I could take him to a veterinary internal medicine specialist. The nearest specialist, he told me, was about 100 miles away.

Snickers loved his sister.
Because of the expense involved with driving 200 miles for each internal medicine visit, because the vet said he was comfortable there was not a medical problem and because Snickers' appetite seemed to be getting better, I did not seek out the help of the veterinary specialist. I feel in retrospect that this was one of my biggest failures. However, it was not my biggest failure.

Over the next year and a half, I tried all sorts of different foods with Snickers and he would eat for a few days, but then stop eating until I gave him a different food. His appetite would decrease and then it would get better again for no apparent reason. He did still lick our dishes after meals and we thought he was just being stubborn about wanting more dietary variety and wanting to eat human food. I did notice that his appetite picked up a little during my yogurt-eating phase, but I did not think much of it. As we needed to coax him to eat, often needed to spoon-feed him and he displayed no other symptoms, we really did think he was just acting spoiled.

Right before Thanksgiving this year, Snickers was eating about 1/3 can of dog food at dinner every night. He would wait to eat until we had finished our meals, lick our plates and then eat his own food. He generally ate table scraps for lunch... in the living room and on a people plate, of course, and sometimes also ate some canned dog food out of his dog bowl. It was not optimal eating behavior for a dog but I decided I could live with needing to spoil my stubborn pet to get him to eat.

Money is very tight for me so on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, when I came across a brand of canned dog food at my local dollar store that would have helped me cut my dog food costs almost in half, I felt hopeful. I picked up one can and tried it out on Snickers that evening. I was not alarmed when he turned his nose up at the new food. I was disappointed. Remember, I thought he was being picky because he was spoiled. (Not the case at all, it turns out.)

On Wednesday night, the first night of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend (when all my local vet offices were closed), Snickers also turned up his nose at his favorite flavor of his normal brand of dog food. This concerned me but I was not yet truly alarmed because of the eating habits he had been displaying over the past year and a half.

My daughter and I did as we normally did when he stopped eating and proceeded to offer him multiple different kinds of people foods to get him to start eating again. We tried all sorts of foods with very little success. He would eat just one or two bites of whatever he tasted and would then stop. I think the most he ate all weekend was a serving of stuffing from when I accidentally dropped my Thanksgiving plate on the kitchen floor. (Arthritis can be a real bummer!)

Snickers loved his big brother.
We were very worried by the end of the long weekend. After 5 days of eating almost nothing, Snickers had lost so much weight that he was having trouble walking down the stairs. The first thing I did on Monday morning was call the veterinary clinic I had originally ditched in favor of a local vet. I got an appointment right away and took Snickers in. Snickers weighed in at 22.8 pounds. He had lost 1/5 of his body weight! (His normal weight was just shy of 28 pounds.)

We saw Dr. Kurtis Hallgren and I have to say that I am well impressed with him. He was very patient with me, answered my questions, fed me information and gave me guidance on what to do to try to help my dog. He diagnosed Snickers with stage 1 kidney failure and slightly less prominent Pancreatitis (still not the original cause of the appetite loss). Faced with the expense of the proposed treatment plan, many low-income people like me would have chosen to put their dogs to sleep, but we could not bear the thought of that. We began a treatment plan right then and the vet even gave me a recipe for homemade dog food that is both kidney safe and pancreas friendly.

The vet's dog food recipe was the same recipe that I already used for my homemade dog food except that it gave me some variation options. So even though Snickers would not longer eat my normal homemade food, I made up a modified new batch for him to try out. He refused to even taste it. I looked online for dog food recipes and found a book on Amazon called Neutrogenics that I determined to buy and try out IF we could get Snickers on the road to recovery.

This is a long post but I have gone into this much detail to show our confusion and frustration, the distress and failed attempts to diagnose the original cause of the appetite loss that eventually caused the loss of our 4-legged family member.

Please come back tomorrow to read the conclusion of this story and learn what you can do to protect your own pet from the primary problem I have come to believe Snickers really suffered.


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    1. Thank you, Robert, for your positive comment! It is well appreciated.