Well, it seems our Riley is bound and determined to suffer from anything and everything medical that German Shepherds are susceptible to. Our guy just can’t seem to catch a break. His newest medical malady started with what appeared to be a couple of bumps inside his top lips (see photo). There were two of them, one on each side and in almost exactly the same place on each side. I know that sounds odd, how can a dog get twin bumps in his mouth? We figured were just that he’d poked himself with a bone or other sharp object with points on both sides and they were swollen and blamed the bumps on him beginning to refuse food because it’s the only thing that made sense to us. We figured they were uncomfortable maybe even painful and because they were so large that they may be getting in the way of eating and he could be biting the inside of his lips when he chewed so it was off to the vet. Yeah well, so much for a couple of bumps on the lips ….
So, the vet looks in his mouth and says “Hmmm, not sure what that is, very strange, I’ve never seen anything like it before.” When a vet looks at something on my dog and scratches his head in a “What the heck is this?” manner it causes instant nausea and panic in me and after I have a little time to gather myself together I flip the switch to “I’m damn well gonna find out!” mode. No one and nothing is going to stop me from finding answers and fixing my dogs. My own research mode is how I found out about Riley’s hypothyroidism and his SLO. In the first case, the vet poo-poo’d me because he wasn’t showing any physical symptoms too look at him but I learned the physical symptoms can come later, can be very severe and by then a dog is really sick. I hoped she missed the daggers I pitched at her with my eyes … I don’t care what the outward symptoms are, he had the not-so-obvious ones, so don’t tell me my dog doesn’t have something that you’re ignoring just because he doesn’t look like he’s got it! In the second case the same vet had never heard of SLO until I brought it to her attention.
Through a process of blood tests, trying this and that and eliminating things like giving him Rimadyl for inflammation (which didn’t make a pinch of difference in the size of the lumps) we worked our way up to X-rays and then three different ultra-sounds at two different vet clinics. To top it off, Riley had slowed down (first refusing all beef) and then stopped eating altogether in a matter of just two weeks and his weight loss was obvious! He was panting like crazy without having exerted himself, wouldn’t go upstairs and was soaking his pillows with drool. He’d get up and there was a lake of puppy slobber. He’s always been a Momma’s boy and likes being close to me but during this time he became a true Velcro dog, there was no question there was something wrong with my boy.
I tell ya, this waiting and testing things out gets to be frustrating, horribly scary and quite expensive! Both husband and I are ecstatic that a couple years ago I made the decision to get pet insurance for all three dogs which is paying off because now instead of heading for financial straights we’re left with a manageable dent in our wallets. Oh, we’d have taken the straights, we don’t let a lack of money get in our way when it comes to fixing our dogs, but lucky for us that’s not happening.
The results of the x-rays at our regular vet doubled me over in fear and tears. Riley’s spleen was at least 4-5 times the size it should be and the vet could see what he believed to be tumors in it. Then he tells me that in all the cases of an enlarged spleen that he’s dealt with only two dogs survived even a couple of months after removal, the others either died in surgery or didn’t even get those precious few months. His intestines were all out of place, his liver appeared to be very tiny and out of place and all his innards were being squished because of the enlarged spleen. At this point he says the spleen could rupture at any moment and Riley would bleed out and die within minutes. He sent us to a vet 30 miles away who has ultra-sound equipment to get a better picture.
The first ultra-sound was inconclusive because of his panting he was moving so much the vet said it was like “The spleen was there and then it was gone, then it was back and then it was gone again.” So, I had to take him back the next morning after fasting so they could put him into a twilight kind of sleep (not fully under) so he was relaxed enough to get a good picture.
The results? Three doctors agreed the spleen had to come out ASAP, there was no waiting. Our regular vet could not do it for almost a week so he suggested I take him to the eVet 30 miles in the other direction. I called them soon as I got home that Friday afternoon and they scheduled the surgery for 8:30 am on Monday and of course being an eVet they’re there 24×7 in case of emergency.
Without the option to stay home from work all weekend but not being willing to leave him home alone, my wonderful 17 year old Granddaughter (Riley’s second favorite person in the world!) came to stay with us for the weekend. My mind was eased somewhat knowing he was not alone and that she’d call me at any sign of something not being right.
I left work early and got him to the eVet by 8am on Monday morning. I just wanted him to be in a safe place in case the spleen ruptured so we got there early, I’d spent enough time on pins and needles all weekend. I left there at 9am and he was to go into surgery by lunch time. I get a call at 10:30 they’ve moved him to their E.R. and an internal medicine vet had taken over because his blood platelet count was dangerously low and they would not do the surgery until he was stabilized. They were going to re-do the tests and call me but until then he stays safely in the E.R.
At 1’ish and again at 3’ish he’s still in the E.R. pending lab results and I get told what a good boy he’s been and how everyone’s fallen in love with him. I was to the point of begging them to please just fix my boy. At 5:15 he’s stable and they’re heading into surgery by 5:30. Guess who didn’t get much sleep and had to work all night with all of this going on? About 7:30 they call to tell me he’s out of surgery and doing well. They’d removed the enlarged spleen (all TEN INCHES of it!) and biopsied just about every organ in his abdomen and the bumps on his lips.
I checked on him a couple times throughout the night and twice in the morning and they tell me he’s not eating. Hell, I knew that was going to happen. I’d sent food along but apparently they chose to feed him whatever they feed dogs in their care. I’d boiled up some boneless chicken breasts the day before, packed that up and headed to the eVet to try to get him to eat. By now it was noon’ish and amazingly my boy was up and walking but he wanted no part of the boiled chicken. To see him shaved 3/4 of the way up one side and about 1/2 way up the other was startling and (geez!) a bit on the excessive side, ya think? I asked if I could take him home and surprisingly the surgeon said yes. She knew he was not doing well away from home (he never does) and that’s where he needed to be to rest and start getting better. So, we went home and spent an anxious week waiting for all the biopsies and other results and eventually learned all were B E N I G N !!!
Nobody expected to hear this, everyone expected the worst from his symptoms, everything we’d been told and what I’d learned through research. Everything pointed to the probability that he had cancer and likely the most common kind which kills more than 50% of dogs who get it. Once again, cancer is one of the diseases that kills so many German Shepherds, they’re a breed that just doesn’t get too many health breaks. If you have a Shep or want one I warn you now, be prepared for having to deal with significant health problems. In our case we got really lucky and we’re ecstatic that we’d taken this beyond one doctor’s opinion of what was going on!
The test results showed he’s suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD for short. Ahhh, guess what? This is yet another Shepherd thing, another medical condition that German Shepherds are prone to, it’s likely genetic and possibly related to allergies as well. Some places I read it may also be another auto-immune disease.
Things started falling into place as to his recent change in eating habits. When he ate he wouldn’t touch any beef or other meat with any kind of fat content on it which was one of the things that tipped me off that something wasn’t quite right with him. He hadn’t missed a meal since we went raw but IBD didn’t make sense to me either either because he wasn’t experiencing vomiting (other than occasionally like any healthy dog) nor was he having diarrhea issues. Turns out a dog doesn’t have to have all the classic symptoms to have IBD, in Riley’s case he has have some of the less common ones. He’s probably had IBD his entire life and it’s simply getting worse as he gets older which explains his touchy tummy episodes prior to our switch to raw about 4 years ago. The vets never did figure out where the touchy tummy thing came from until now. IBD has been added to my growing list of things to check for Nissa, Gracie and any future dogs that come into our home should even little symptoms crop up.
We’ll be doctoring with this on some level for the rest of his life. But my boy is here with me where he belongs and it sure seems he’s still got a lot of life left to go, I’m still betting on another five years or so. He’s seeming to feel good, he’s got as much energy as he did before the surgery on July 21 in fact we just got home from a 50 minute walk. I’m learning more about IBD and we’re going through reintroducing him to his diet one protein at a time. So far he’s still refusing all beef but eating chicken, turkey and salmon. I’ll be consulting with our local meat market owner to see what other kinds of meat he can get for us. The market’s got quite a selection but Riley can’t live healthy strictly on poultry and fish so we may have to include some of the more “exotic” meats like bison, elk and whatnot.
Like any other type of insurance, I’m one of those people who doesn’t like paying monthly premiums for something “I can’t see.” In fact just before we stepped into the world of possible cancer and everything that followed I remember thinking how I really hated making the payments. But before I got the insurance I was being mentally nagged about how German Shepherds are susceptible to so many expensive medical conditions that I didn’t want us to wind up in the poorhouse. We’re the kind of people who don’t let a shortage of money get in the way of making sure our dogs get what they need medically. We just don’t do that, so I opted to get the insurance while they still all qualified for coverage.
I can’t tell you how happy and relieved we are at this point that we have pet insurance. Our total for Riley’s current medical problems right now is somewhere between $5,000 and $6,000 (I should have kept a log) and we’re not done yet. I upload an invoice and within a week or 10 days I get a check for 80% of the cost minus the office calls. Our out of pocket expenses have only been approximately $1,100 to $1,300. No that’s not cheap but it sure beats all the alternatives!
Currently we pay $133.00 monthly for all three dogs, an average of $44.00 a month per dog. In our case pet insurance has paid for itself in spades and we plan to never be without it again for any dog that lives with us. If you don’t have it, I urge you to get it. You never ever know when you may need it. If you can, get it when they’re puppies that way pre-existing conditions aren’t an obstacle to coverage. Do your research and pick a company that suits you the best you can. I wish I’d have done this before Riley was diagnosed with hip dysplasia because it would have saved us around $3,500-$4,000. Oh, and remember that not all pet insurance companies will cover genetic diseases such as hip dysplasia (ours does when their simple requirements are met) so make sure when you research thatyou know what your dog’s breed is susceptible to getting and take that into consideration in your insurance company choice.
Nobody seems to know but general consensus at this point is that they’re a reaction to or part of his auto-immune issues. Go figure, heh? They’re still there, but they do not seem to bother him. They’re lightly smaller than they were originally and turned the color of the skin inside his mouth.
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