We took our 6-year old GoldenDoodle in for an exam because she was lethargic and had stopped eating. After running a blood test and looking at her gums, the vet said, “You have a very sick dog. I would recommend immediate hospitalization. Her red blood cells are dangerously low. She needs treatment that I cannot perform.”
Cathy and I went into shock. We knew something was wrong, but this was frightening!
We drove to the 24 hour Pet Hospital and they took her in for more tests. Two hours later they called with ominous results. They thought she had IMHA, a dangerous autoimmune condition that turns the immune system on itself. It is closely related to AIDS. They could not tell us what caused it, when it started or if treatment would be successful. The spelled out a massive protocol that would take several days or even weeks to work and the costs would start at $7800. And we must start today!
We hung up, begging for some time to absorb what was happening to our precious, young, GoofyDoodle that was the absolute center of our lives. In the meantime we authorized a blood transfusion as the critical starting point to save her life…
We went to the internet to study IMHA, the condition the doggie doctors thought was the most likely culprit. How could this situation happen so quickly? What causes this disease?
Genetics, disease-carrying ticks, sulfa antibiotic medications and vaccine reactions are among identified culprits that can trigger autoimmune disease in dogs. Veterinarians do not know why, but breeds like Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds, Poodles, Collies, Beagles, Irish Setters, Afghan Hounds, Doberman Pinschers and Old English Sheepdogs are most at risk.
Abby was a combination Mini Poodle, Cocker Spaniel, German Shepherd and Golden Retriever. Uh oh!
“Autoimmune diseases are more common than people realize and can be difficult to identify and challenging to treat,” says Robert Runde, VMD, a veterinary internal medicine specialist. “And often a dog with one autoimmune disease may have multiple other immune-mediated conditions.”
Unfortunately, most people can’t write a check for the $20,000 it costs for weeks in the hospital, multiple blood transfusions, and a series of X rays , MRIs and Ultrasound “treatments.” It can be an excruciating psychological battle deciding what to do for your loved one. In our case, as much as we loved Abby, and we are crazy about her, we simply don’t have the financial resources to roll the dice on using every possible means to treat her condition, especially when our vet couldn’t give us an 80/20 or 20/80% prediction on the outcome. She admitted, it is a crapshoot at best.
We spent nearly $3,000 before we had to stop the money train. We chose to spend the next few days with Abby, at home, with constant love and attention, and hope the transfusion, the steroids and other pills would work.
It was not, in the end, successful.
At least Abby knew we were there, 24/7, giving her every measure of our love and devotion, sleeping with her, holding her, and crying out loud (as I am at this moment), as she gallantly battled to survive.
Maybe it is because of our advancing age, and how we shared every moment of joy, or anguish, with our furry little angel, and how each time she boosted us with her effervescence, lying her head in my lap or begging to play hide and seek.
Losing Abby, in this horrifying manner, was the hardest and most devastating experience we can remember.
Rick Elkin is a longtime Escondido resident. He is an artist, author, media commentator and public speaker. You can follow him at RickElkin.com