Thursday, June 12, 2008

Not quite what we expected

Nearly 3 years ago, my husband and I brought home the most adorable little dog on the planet

His name was Lucky, christened such by our breeder's son. He was named that because he was the last pup of the litter and had to be revived, just like the dog in the movie 101 Dalmations. We thought it was so fitting, so we kept the name.

Lucky is a Portuguese Water Dog. They're an ancient, seafaring breed, a highly intelligent working dog with stamina to work a full day in and out of the water. As an aquaintance described them:
You know how herding dogs are ridiculously smart and energetic because...well...they have to be?

You know how incredibly tiring swimming in the ocean is?

Now imagine a creature that was bred to herd fish.
That should give you an idea of how much time and effort an owner needs to put in to their dog. They're smarter, more determined, more energetic, more clever than any other breed I've met. I love it - it's exactly what we wanted.

We had researched the breed for months, reading books, websites, etc. Like any other breed of dog, they do have their health issues - hip dysplasia, cardio, cancer, allergies, etc. One of the big ones is Addison's Disease, or hypoadrenocorticism. Every line of PWDs is affected in some way. The mode of inheritance is not known. We knew about this going in.

So we brought Lucky home at 9 weeks of age and started life as puppy owners. He was, in almost all respects, a dream dog. He slept thru the night from day one. He was giving reliable cues to go outside at 12 weeks. He picked up the basic commands - sit, down, come, stay - faster than any other dog I've trained. We went took classes in Basic Manners, CGC, Agility - he picked up everything like a sponge.

At home he was sweet, demanding, clever, affectionate, playful. Everything you want in a dog. He'd get the zoomies, woo-woo at the doorbell, play fetch, go for hikes and walks. He loves all other dogs, he loves all other people. He's brave - not storm or sound phobic at all - and brash and amazing. He's the best dog I've ever known.

On May 26, 2008, Lucky looked at his breakfast, picked at it a bit, looked at me, and went to curl up on the couch. This isn't unusual for him when the weather turns warm and it had jumped from 50º to 80º in a day, so I didn't think much of it. However, as the week wore on and he continued to snub food with more regularity, we became concerned. I set up a vet appointment for that Friday. I got home at 3pm and found he hadn't eaten his morning cookie for the first time all week. We went to the vet. Nothing came up on the physical exam. He had been drinking and peeing normally. Temp was normal. Everything FELT fine. So our vet drew blood for some labs and took a stool sample. The results would be in the next morning. She sent us home with some sucralfate (basically something to soothe his stomach) and some bland canned food.

Saturday morning the labs came back. Our vet called and said "I am concerned with his blood work. His BUN is high, and his electrolytes are off. I want to get him in this morning to test for Addison's Disease."

There was much cursing as I hung up the phone. I rushed him over to the vet for the ACTH response test, which would take 2 hours to complete. After the test was over and they'd collected the blood samples they needed, they gave him a steroid injection and some subcutaneous fluids. Basically, they treated him as an Addisonian dog just in case. As the vet said "I don't want him going into a crisis over the weekend and this won't hurt him." The lab would would be back on Monday. He started to improve over the weekend, eating food again and being a bit more active.

Monday morning the vet called back and 3 little words changed everything: "He has Addison's." Even though I had been steeling myself for this diagnosis since Saturday morning, the blow was still crushing. My dog was sick with a chronic disease. He would be on medication for the rest of his life. She asked if we could get him in that day for his first injection. Of course we could.

The medication he's on is a daily prednisone pill, to basically give him the cortisol his adrenal glands don't produce, and also an injection given every 3-4 weeks (depending on the dog), to help replace the aldosterone that is missing. These aren't cheap! The bottle of DOCP is $120 and lasts perhaps 2-3 injections, depending on the dosage. The prednisone costs about $22 for 100 pills. So, every month, we will be spending $50-$70 on medication that keeps our dog alive.

On top of the medication, we have to do our best to keep him out of "stressful" situations. We have to watch his behavior and take any one of the vague signs that could signify an impending problem - depression, lethargy or weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and/or a lack of interest in food - incredibly seriously. It means a lifestyle change for all of us.

Not quite what we expected when we brought that bundle of fluff home.

But, Lucky is still living up to his name. He was lucky to be born. Now he is lucky that we caught the disease before he became really sick or went into a crisis. He's lucky we can afford the medication....with a few budget cuts here and there. We're all lucky to have a great support network in our friends, veterinarian, breeder (who has handled his diagnosis with admirable aplomb), and the extended PWD community.

And, even though this isn't quite what we expected, we're lucky to have him in our lives.

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