Wow! We couldn’t believe what we were hearing: “It’s either cancer or, less likely, Irritable Bowel Disease.”
For 10 years Gumpers had no health issues, but then the problems began. He was always a healthy dog, or so we thought. We only had to go to the vet for his yearly shots and check-ups, and always with a clean bill of health. But then at 10 he started having continence problems. The vet gave him medicine, but the problem didn’t go away…then, a couple of weeks later, a stroke.
He couldn’t walk, his back legs collapsed. He shivered and shook all over, and my husband quickly rushed him to the vet. He was given more medicine and sent home – the vet didn’t expect him to make it through the night. The poor boy lay there, unable to get up, vomiting and leaking for hours. We sat with him, stroking his head and speaking softly until we fell asleep from exhaustion. In the morning, we were relieved to find that he was still alive, but extremely weak.
So back to the vet’s we went, where he was diagnosed with an enlarged heart. He was actually a bit better, and he attempted to stand. We carried him outside so he could do his business, because the leakage and vomiting had stopped for the most part. The vet suggested that we take him to a heart specialist. The problem was that the nearest canine cardiologist was more than two hours away and had a three week waiting list.
In the meantime, I read everything I could find on heart disease in dogs – not encouraging. You may know what it’s like to mentally prepare yourself to say goodbye which is what we did as the days ticked by. Amazingly Gumpers lived to see the appointment three weeks later in Towson, Maryland.
When we got there, one of us had to wait in the hot car until Gumpers’ turn was announced. He was weak, and we knew that a waiting room full of dogs would be too stressful for him.
Finally we were half walking, half carrying Gumpers down a long hall toward the cardiologist’s office. An attendant ushered us inside, and before long, Gumpers was up on a table, and the doctor was examining his heart using an ultrasound device.
“Your dog has a perfectly healthy heart for his size and age,” the doctor said calmly.
What a shock it was. We just stared at him and each other. Obviously there was some problem, but not his heart. The cardiologist suggested that we make an appointment with one of his colleagues. All we could think was that Gumpers would not make it another three weeks, but fortunately, we were able to set it for the following day. So it was back home then back to Towson again the next morning.
The colleague, a woman specialist in animal digestive systems, was nice, but the worried expression never left her face as she examined Gumpers. We spoke briefly, and then she told us to leave him for a few hours for tests. The time dragged by. And the news was not good:
“It’s either cancer or, less likely, Irritable Bowel Disease.”
She needed to do a biopsy to determine which. She prescribed metronidazole, an antibiotic, and prednisone, a steroid. In addition, we were to give Gumpers half a Pepcid tablet twice a day.
Feeling a bit more encouraged but still worried, we brought our tired and stressed out dog home and waited two weeks for the biopsy. There was a lot to read about both possible diseases, none of which was very positive. Rather than sit in the waiting room, we went to the local public library to read and try to take our minds off what was going on, still trying to convince each other that things would be okay.
The doctor called my cell phone early in the afternoon to tell us that she was pretty sure Gumpers had cancer, “the inflammation is the worst I have ever seen… I can’t imagine that it could be anything other than cancer given the intensity.”
I guess we had begun to convince ourselves of a positive outcome, because we were stunned.
When the appointed hour came, we picked up Gumpers and headed home to wait for the actual results to be available in about 2 days. Waiting was hard on our whole family, and when the news came two evenings later – “it’s IBD, not cancer” – we were elated. The disease would be treated aggressively, and the prognosis was very guarded. But it wasn’t cancer!
As we later learned, IBD is a protein wasting disease. Since the animal can’t process protein, eventually blood protein and albumin drop to lethal levels. And Gumpers’ albumen level was dangerously low.
Despite our joy, we weren’t out of the woods. A few days later, Gumpers became very weak and ill. Of course it happened at night, so we raced off to the emergency clinic. The clinic gave him a blood transfusion overnight – actually two whole packs. We picked him up in the wee hours of the morning. He was still extremely weak and listless. The family gathered around Gumpers, as he lay on his bed looking as though he was on his last breath. We stroked and petted him and told him that we loved him.
It was a nice day, so my husband took him outside in the sunshine. At that point he said, “Well, pup, we’ve done what we can; now it’s up to you.”
With that, he really seemed to perk up and make a conscious decision to fight back.
For a period, we were in almost constant communication with his doctors and made weekly, sometimes daily, visits to the vet for treatments. He even had to return to Towson to have fluid drained from his abdomen because the prednisone made him retain a dangerous amount of water. Gumpers suffered through all of this like a trouper. And in time, he got better.
Then the time for vacation came. He usually stayed home with the house sitter and his buddy, our cat, but we knew we couldn’t leave him. The vacation home we rented did not allow pets. Fortunately, the rental manager was sympathetic, and with some extra cash, she convinced the owner to permit us to bring him along to the beach.
Gumpers loved being away. He didn’t want to go in the water, but the new sounds and smells fascinated him. He was always eager to go for a walk, and even opted to climb the high, steep stairs. We were concerned given his weakened condition, but he bounded up them like a puppy. There were definite changes going on.
When we got back home, his energy levels were surprisingly good and continued to improve. He started gaining a little weight, and his protein levels began to rise. In a few months, to our vet’s amazement, his albumen and protein levels were approaching normal.
Stories about how near-death experiences change people are fairly commonplace, but we never expected Gumpers to change like he did. We got him from a shelter at four months. While he was loving and affectionate with us, he was wary of strangers and terrified of other dogs, so bad that we couldn’t take him for walks for fear that we would meet another dog. If that happened, Gumpers would either snap and growl or shriek in terror like something was trying to kill him.
Now he was more active, more interested in playing, and much less fearful. Eventually, he would be able to walk calmly with us even with other dogs around. He was truly not the dog he had been. Looking back, we can’t help but wonder if he didn’t feel better after his treatment than at any time in his life. We also marvel at the range of care that he received and the fact that such treatment is available for dogs and cats.
Gumpers lived a fill six years after his initial diagnosis. He ate a special diet and took medication for the rest of his life. We learned just how important diet is. We had always fed him a premium, vet recommended dog food but learned that they are not always as good as they say. We have since been very careful with foods for both our cat and new dog.
Some people laughed and said we could have had a dozen dogs for what Gumpers’ care cost us. But we never questioned whether to go on or not. As long as he was willing to fight, we were too. And it made us feel good that the lessons learned in his care helped other dogs who were diagnosed with IBD. He was a trouper. He was our Miracle Dog.