Cold Steele Gahagan
02/09/2012 – 12/12/2012
It started simply. The family spent the day out. Both dogs seemed fine when we got home. The next day one of Hag’s testicles seemed a little swollen, but he was moving fine. Then it was larger and he was walking a bit stiffly. He cooperated when I checked him out but he was in obvious discomfort. I took him to the vet and they did their inspection. No outward signs of injury, the consensus was a testicular torsion so an emergency neuter was performed. It was a Wednesday. He came through the surgery fine. They told us a small abscess had started to develop where the cord was injured so they wanted to put him on antibiotics as a precautionary measure. I took him home and the pain killers kept him wobbly but he was in good spirits. I gave him his antibiotics according to schedule, setting alarms to make sure he got them. The day after the surgery he was a bit tired, but that seemed reasonable. That evening he got up and started drinking water. General anesthesia can be dehydrating. By Saturday morning it was obvious that something was wrong. Even though he was urinating frequently he was retaining a great deal of fluid in his abdomen and was drinking more than a gallon of water per day inside the house and who knows how much from the water dish under the dripping tap in the yard. He hadn’t eaten anything the day before and his urine turned an orangey brown that morning.
Two people asked me if he was pregnant while we were waiting in the lobby.
I took him to the veterinarian right away. They took one look at him and kept him for the afternoon. They did blood work and hooked him up to their ECG because Dobermans are prone to dilated cardiomyopathy and a distended abdomen is a classic sign that the right side of the heart is effected. His ECG said his heart was strong and healthy, but the blood test showed that his white blood cell count was elevated and his liver enzymes were “messed up six ways to Sunday.” He was having a reaction to the antibiotics and they had fried his liver. He was immediately taken off of the antibiotics and we took him home where he could be more comfortable while he detoxed. They wanted to allow his body time to clear the antibiotics from his system and didn’t want to overtax his liver by adding another to the mixture so we carefully monitored him for signs of infection. I brought him back Monday morning for more blood work. His liver enzymes were still bad and his white cell count was still elevated but 24 hours after he was taken off the antibiotics he started perking up. His appetite returned, although he remembered being hand fed as a baby when he was sick and insisted on being hand fed this time around too. I objected but after a few hours we worked out a compromise. I’d feed him the first few bites and then he’d take over and eat the rest on his own. I’m glad I gave in and coddled him.
I left my blankets in my chair while I took the bowl to the kitchen and this is what I found upon my return. Hag insisted that the blankets were making a run for it and he valiantly threw himself on them to make sure they didn’t get away.
His blood work continued to stay the same. His white cell count stayed slightly elevated but that was expected because of the liver damage. The veterinarian said that the body generally takes about two weeks to start showing improvement with liver damage, and his belly would probably get bigger before it got better. His incision from the neutering was healing, there was no signs of infection in the area or in his prostate, which they examined every morning for signs of infection, much to his dismay. The last time they checked it he tried to hide himself under my chair when our vet put on his gloves. The poor boy could only stuff his front half under there, leaving his butt up in the air, but it made it easier for the vet and I chuckled at how his strategy backfired. He also decided that every time he went to the vet that he was to be weighed and even when he was at his sickest he would politely walk to the scale and stand on the pad regardless of how many times they tried to redirect him. Silly boy.
Tuesday morning, just after he emerged from under my chair, he’s asking ”Why does he keep doing that?”
He wasn’t getting enough calories. The fluid didn’t leave much room for food and he started dropping weight. I switched him from kibble to the venison and pork scraps that I can as dog food. He was more willing to eat it and it had more nutrition with less bulk. Getting an entire quart jar of food into him was an accomplishment but I managed it by feeding him every two hours. Sleep is for sissies. It was enough calories to maintain an adult dog but not enough for a growing boy with a fast metabolism and he continued to get thinner. We discussed trying to drain some of the fluid. They felt it might help him but there was concern that in his weakened state the procedure might be invite more problems, particularly since the x-rays showed that the fluid was diffused and draining it would require an incision. We decided that as long as I could keep him eating and drinking that it would be best to wait and re-evaluate later.
His liver enzymes started to show improvement and they had me start adding eggs and oil to his food to boost the fat and calorie content because they felt his liver could handle it. His white blood cell count looked better too. By the evening of the tenth he was trotting around the yard a bit, playing with Roxy a little, and barking at the raccoons scurrying about in our storm drain while I was slug hunting. Normally I don’t allow the dogs to carry on but it was so good to see him acting more normal that I indulged myself for a moment before quieting him. His belly had decreased a bit, enough to improve his appetite, he ate almost 3/4 of a jar in one sitting on his last night. Over the course of the evening he started getting restless, laying here then there, unable to settle.
Cave let him out when he got up Wednesday morning but when the dogs were called back in Roxy was the only one that came. Cave walked around the yard with a flashlight, searching for Hag. Silly E and I got dressed and took up our flashlights too. Silly E finally found him curled up under a large bush in the front yard. My son went in after him and Hag followed him out. I noticed he had a slight wheeze, so I made the mental note to mention it to the vet at our morning visit. We loaded him up into the car and headed off to school. I checked on him at 7 just before I pulled out of the parking lot. He was laying down in the back seat, not something he was wont to do, but his breathing appeared normal and he lifted his head and wagged his nubby at me when I said his name. We headed to the veterinarian. He moved a little and for a brief second he scratched the back of my seat like he was stretching, then he settled and was quiet. Roxy tried to jump into the front seat but I ordered her back, they aren’t allowed to move around when the car is in motion and she knows better. We arrived at the vets office at 7:12 am and Hag was not breathing, his heart was not beating, he was gone.
I confirmed that he had no vital signs. He really was gone. I took a moment to call Cave and then had a good cry while I stood there patting him and thanking him. I truly believe that he kept himself alive until the kid was gone. Had we been at home it would have been different, he would have passed in our arms with his ears full of loving words and his coat wet with our tears, but in the parking lot at school…thank you, my sweet boy. When the vet unlocked their doors I gathered myself together and went to let them know what had happened. They brought Hag’s body in on a stretcher and took him to the back. The vet took some blood and ran a last set of blood work, and then ran it again to double check, his white blood cell count had nearly tripled since the previous morning. They asked permission to perform a necropsy, which I gave, and then Cave walked in. He had left work to come take care of me.
That afternoon and we went in to hear the results of the necropsy, and the other vet in the practice called this morning with more details. It did give us some answers. He heart was healthy, he did have liver damage, however the fluid in his abdomen had become infected and became peritonitis. In comparing his last set of x-rays against what they saw during the necropsy and with the drastic and sudden change in his WBC it leads them to believe that the bacteria was a very fast moving one. The sudden overload on his system caused him to develop acute disseminated intravascular coagulation. Basically his blood started forming tiny clots that began blocking every capillary and clogging his organs. Once that started there was very little that could have been done for him, even if he had been in the vets office when it happened. They weren’t even sure that they had enough supplies on hand to treat an acute case of DIC in a dog of his size because of the sheer volume of blood products that such a case can require, and even then the percentage of acute cases that they can pull through it are low. I have read about DIC in humans and even a slow moving case for us is critical and not easy to treat.
The necropsy also provided another insight into his health. They found numerous tiny nodules all over inside his abdomen. Under the microscope they turned out to be pre-cancerous. The nodules were not there when he had his intussusception surgery earlier this year. We will never know for sure how quickly he would have developed cancer, but the speed with which they appeared is an indication that it would likely have been sooner than later, and if his immune system was already compromised by it than it’s likely that’s why he had such an immediate and sever reaction to the antibiotic, it may even be why he reacted to it at all, and it’s also likely that is why the bacteria moved so quickly through his system. He was simply overwhelmed. It was, we have been assured, painless other than the discomfort he felt from his distended belly.
We called his breeder to let him know what happened and to give him the results of the necropsy. Hag had been bred from European lines with an eye for performance and protection so he was taller and more robust than modern American show lines, but his conformation turned heads and his temperament, intelligence and trainability were top notch. He was a stellar individual, but was just average for this particular litter. There were three or four who had already been reserved by several experienced people who compete in Schutzhund when we chose him, and the breeder had offers from latecomers to buy him out from under us. So far none of his siblings have had so much as a broken claw, so hopefully they have escaped the cloud that Hag was born under.
My sweet boy. You are loved.
You are missed.