Sunday, March 20, 2011

It's Hard To Be A Teenage Mom: Bella's Story

Meet our newest rescue, Bella. She's our most recent (because we get them all the time) poster child for reasons to spay/neuter your pets. Bella is 11 months old, a baby herself, and was pregnant. Whether her owners tried to breed her or not was a little unclear, but they had not done any of the required preparations to get themselves and Bella ready for the new arrivals. What many people don't realize is that breeding dogs and having puppies is not always easy and is rarely a good way to make money, etc. Reputable breeders select mates for their dogs based on a slew of veterinary exams and tests, making sure to decrease the likelyhood of passing on negative traits (like hip dysplasia) while doing what they can to improve on the genetics of the parents (by selecting a mate with traits the other dog lacks, etc). Even after choosing the right dog, it's important to take the pregnant momma dog into the veterinarian regularly to make sure that everything is going normally. By the time she is ready to whelp (or give birth), owners should have a sense of how many puppies are inside and how they are doing. In Bella's case, none of this had been done. She had arrived on a Wednesday night an emergency hospital after being transferred from a local hospital that was concerned about the delivery.

When Bella arrived, she had two live puppies and was trying to have more. Her owners didn't have any money, but applied for and received some CareCredit, a loan for veterinary services. Since they didn't have much, the veterinarians tried to save money and do just the bare necessities. Since Bella was tired from pushing and not getting puppies out, they treated her with oxytocin and calcium to help her get things moving. She finally got one more live puppy out and started feeding her little ones. Since the owners didn't have the money for an x-ray or ultrasound, the veterinarians couldn't tell if she was finished whelping or not. Since she seemed to be doing better, they sent her home.

Twenty-four hours later, Bella was back. The local vet that she had visited on Wednesday afternoon called on Thursday evening to ask how the puppies were doing, and when they were told that poor Bella was still in labor, they insisted the owners take her back to the emergency room. By the time that Bella got there, she was looking pretty worse for wear. Clearly, a puppy was stuck, and it wasn't getting out without surgery. That puppy was clearly dead (having been stuck in the birth canal for likely 24 hours) but the veterinarians were still able to hear fetal heartbeats, very fast and faint, indicating that the puppies remaining inside were dying from all the stress. To make things worse, Bella was showing signs of being septic, which means that the infection in her uterus (caused by the prolonged delivery) had probably ruptured and gone into her abdomen, making her very sick and getting worse. Things were not looking good for Bella or her puppies. Dogs in dystocia (the term for difficult births) for this long have a very poor prognosis, and every minute counts as the infection moves through her body and makes her sicker and sicker. Unfortunately, Bella's owners couldn't get more CareCredit, and they couldn't come up with the money to save her (at least $1000 and probably more at this point). The veterinarian gave them the option to euthanize her or to sign her over to the hospital, saying they would try to find a rescue group to take her, do the surgery, and save her life. In the meantime, they called us to ask if we would be willing to take her, recognizing that at 9pm on a weeknight it may not be easy to find someone willing to do the surgery immediately, which she definitely needed.

Before she was officially signed over, we went into action. Because every minute counts in a case like this, we wanted to be ready in case the owners decided to turn her over to our group. Our veterinarian was called and returned to her veterinary clinic to do the emergency surgery, getting everything set up in the clinic. Some of our volunteers were called, since we would need people to stimulate the puppies when they came out, just in case any of them could be saved. Two of us went to the emergency hospital to wait, so that if Bella was signed over, we could immediately take her and run out the door, getting her to surgery ASAP. The decision wasn't easy for Bella's owners; while they didn't want her to die, they also couldn't understand someone else being willing to try to save their dog and not give her back. It was frustrating for everyone involved as the veterinarian tried not to rush the owners unfairly, but all the while knowing that the puppies and Bella were dying. Finally, Bella's owners signed the paperwork, and we rushed out the door with her. They had not decided what they were doing with the three puppies, so we left them in the hospital, hoping we could come back to pick them up so that they could be raised by their mother.

Within a half hour, Bella was in surgery. She did pretty well, but it was quickly obvious that things were as bad as we had suspected. When we opened her up we found that her uterus had ruptured and her entire abdomen was septic (infected). We pulled out the puppies one by one (there were four still inside), and tried to save the two that looked the healthiest. Despite our best efforts, these two little ones never took a breath and never had a heartbeat. Bella was a trooper through surgery and woke up (after being administered lots of pain medication, fluids, and antibiotics) a little while later, only to cuddle with us for the next hour as we made sure that she was stable enough to leave in the hospital.

Bella's owners opted to take home the three live puppies, to try to bottle raise them at home. The nurses at the emergency room taught them how to feed the puppies, how to stimulate them to go to the bathroom, and explained how hard and often they would have to be doing it. The owners were optimistic, so we're hopeful that these three little ones will survive, and that their owners will have learned a very sad lesson, and take care to spay and neuter them so this doesn't happen again.

Bella is recovering well; after spending a night in the hospital, she went into foster care where she's slowly recovering from her surgery. After two days, she's likely out of the woods and only needs a little time to feel herself... Stay tuned for updates!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

When Broken Dogs Get A Second Chance: Fernando's Story

Being friends with veterinarians at the SPCA is always fun - they call us about anything and everything in the hopes that we can "get it out" (meaning take the animal into our care). Many of these sad, broken creatures of Philly need more care than the underfunded, understaffed, overcrowded shelters can provide. Sometimes we can't help, as our rescue is always full to the brim, but other times we're thrilled to be able to say yes.

This time it was a call about a Pomeranian with a broken pelvis (hip), presumably from being hit by a car. Before we went to meet him we had them send us his radiographs, which you can see here. Basically his pelvis is broken in multiple places, but our friends at the SPCA tell us he can walk, urinate, and defecate, although he's in a lot of pain. Having a general practitioner veterinarian sometimes isn't enough, sometimes we need a specialist's opinion. Basically pelvic fractures come in 3 varieties - 1. the dog will likely die from internal injuries (obviously not the case here since he was doing ok), 2. the dog will heal with STRICT cage rest (no running or jumping, the dog lives 100% in a cage except for 5 minute potty runs on leash) for at least 6 weeks, or 3. the dog will need extensive surgery and pins/plates/wires to put everything back together. The difficult thing about pelvis fractures is that to the untrained (or even less trained) eye, it can be very difficult to tell what kind of fracture you are looking at. So we asked our good friend Joe (names are changed to protect the innocent :) ) who is an board certified (and excellent) surgeon if he would be willing to do an email consult for us and look at the radiographs. He told us that the Pom had a pretty good chance of healing with cage rest, and we should consider going for it. Since we were lucky enough to have an open medical foster home, we agreed to go meet the dog.

Our adventure with this pup continued at 10pm when we showed up way too late at the SPCA to actually pick him up. Thankfully the extremely kind overnight staff recognized our desire to save him and helped us out. Our behavior evaluation couldn't have been better. He was a sweet, but scared and painful, young dog about 9-10 months old. The staff obviously had a soft spot for him, and after receiving a few days of pain medication we were on our way.

The car trip was our favorite part of the story - after being warned repeatedly that he will bite if you touch his broken back end we were a little wary of our new acquisition. Since he was doing beautifully being held we decided he had earned a lap ride home rather than a cage, where he'd be bounced around. After sitting down he started squirming, rolling around and flailing, so we were convinced that one of us was about to lose a finger, arm or face to the tiny monster. Much to our surprise, he was simply expressing his gratitude for taking him away - he was giving kisses and delighted to be with us! We arrived home without any further incidents, he's now relaxing in his own room in his crate with food and water, he's doing well as of day 1. Stay tuned for future updates on...Fernando!

Monday, March 14, 2011

When Behavior Problems Aren't So Simple: Raja's Story

Five years ago, Raja was found as a stray, a beautiful giant running through West Philadelphia. At 16" tall and 90 lbs he was a stocky little monster. Raja was lucky enough to avoid cars, other dogs, people who wanted to hurt him, and all the other perils of the city streets, AND was lucky enough to be found by good Samaritans who pulled him off the streets and, not knowing what else to do, dropped him off at a local veterinary emergency room. As "those vet students who run a rescue", we were the first to be called. He didn't have a microchip, ID tag or any means to find his owner. We called the local SPCAs and shelters, and we posted fliers, but no one was looking for poor Raj.

This sweet dog, who never met a person or animal he didn't like, wasn't in foster care long until a young couple applied and were approved to adopt him. He settled in quickly and was happy addition to their family. He had a great 5 years there (making him about 7 now), before we received a disturbing email. Raja had started urinating in their house shortly after they adopted a kitten (a few months ago). They were at their wits end; they had tried babygating him away from the kitten, crating him, taking him outside more frequently, in short, everything they could think of, and yet poor Raja kept peeing in their house, ruining their carpets and floors. The sad, frustrated email stated that they just didn't know what else to do and wanted to return him to us so that we could find him a home where he would be happier.

To our surprise, when we arrived to retrieve Raja, he seemed much the same as when we left him: happy, wagging and giving kisses. They reported that he and the kitten seemed friendly, there was no fighting, chasing or other issues between them, just the urination, every day, in the house. Since they were sure that Raja's new behavior wasn't medical (he seemed normal to them in every other way, and they were sure he was just upset about the kitten), he had not seen a veterinarian since the problem started. To make sure we had a complete history, we started asking the medical questions that they might not have thought of. It turns out that Raja had lost some weight recently and also seemed to be hungry all the time, both of which they didn't think much about until we started asking (they had put him on a diet and attributed the weight loss and hunger to this).

In order to think about placing a dog as old as Raja in another home, we needed to do a complete medical work-up for him first. Since old dogs take a long time to place, we didn't feel like it would be fair to ask him to adjust to a new foster home and then a new adoptive home if there was something medically wrong with him. There are lots of serious diseases that are associated with frequent urination and weight loss, including kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, cancer, and more. We wanted to rule all of these things out right away. We took Raja to our vet office for some routine testing on the way home, doing a urinalysis (to rule out diabetes and look for kidney disease) and x-rays first, then planning to do bloodwork to look for systemic problems like kidney or liver disease. To our dismay, Raja had a very large tumor growing in his abdomen, potentially associated with one of his kidneys, liver or spleen, and it had already spread to the lymph nodes in that area, meaning it was virtually impossible to cure. Based on his prognosis and the fact that he was already showing severe signs of kidney disease, we elected to euthanize Raja rather than allow him to suffer any longer.

We didn't want Raja to have died in vain, so we thought we could share his story in the hopes that his story will help other pet owners to recognize early signs of disease that may be easily mistaken for other things. A lot of the time, especially in older dogs, acute behavioral changes can be associated with sickness. And a lot of the time, it's easy to attribute these behavioral changes with the changes that happen in every day life; the new pet, the new baby, moving, etc, and to convince ourselves that what we're seeing is due to anxiety, spite, jealousy, or fear. Raja's poor owners went through weeks of trying to help him feel more comfortable in his home, getting more frustrated as each attempt failed. The first step to working through behavior problems should ALWAYS be a medical exam, especially in older animals. Routine vet care (including screening tests like wellness blood work) can go a long way to early detection of problems like Raja's, hopefully to identify medical problems BEFORE owners are at their wit's end and the animal is too sick to be treated. If Raja's owners had taken him to the veterinarian when he started urinating in the house, could they have saved him? We'll never know; it very well may have been that it was already too late. But at the very least, they wouldn't have watched their relationship with the dog they loved deteriorate until they had no recourse left but to ask us to come pick him up.

Raja is still luckier than many dogs that die on the streets every day; he had owners that loved him dearly, and rescuers that held him while he took his last breathe. He will not be forgotten...