The original version of this blog post was published on larakretler.com in December 2008.
I recently blogged about how social media helped bring home our beloved lost pup Dani when she got spooked and ran away on a sunny August morning. Writing up that story reminded me of another time social media saved my dog’s life – only it was a different dog in another lifetime.
You see, once upon a time before we had a human kiddo, we had a very special dog named Jack who got very sick out of the blue. We returned home from a happy trip to California only to find our boy gravely ill at the boarding kennel. What a shock it was to see Jack, our robust and tough 8-year old mixed breed, acting weak, stiff and unresponsive.
The kennel staff said he had been fine up until the day before, when he started exhibiting “quirky drinking habits” and foaming at the mouth. We wasted no time in rushing him to the emergency vet clinic and spent the rest of the day with him there.
Alas, after many tests, x-rays and too many zeroes after the dollar sign, we had no real answers. Their best guess was that he may have a neuromuscular condition, possibly myasthenia gravis. They offered to keep him overnight and transfer him to their internal medicine specialists in the morning, but we decided to take him home. The vets didn’t seem to offer much hope that he would make it, so we wanted him to spend the night at home with us.
We seriously thought about euthanasia to put Jack out of his suffering, but we wanted to wait until morning and give him a little more time.
When we got home that evening, we tried to offer him food and treats, but he just wanted to sleep and cuddle with us. When we offered him water, he showed interest but he couldn’t lap it like normal – he could only bite at the water. The more I watched him, the more perplexed I was – he didn’t seem able to get any water into him, but why?
Suddenly, a lightbulb went off over my head and I realized his problem was that he couldn’t swallow. At that point, E engineered a watering device which allowed us to drip water into Jack’s throat. At first the dog resisted, but then he felt the first few drops of water in his mouth and became eager for more.
That Sunday evening and all through the night, we took turns staying up with Jack and dripping water slowly down his throat to rehydrate him. It was like feeding a baby bird. By morning he could lift his head up and was showing some signs of life, although still very weak and refusing all food. We drove him to our family vet as soon as they opened, begging them to take a look at his throat and sharing our experiences with the water tube and his inability to swallow on his own.
After more x-rays and further tests, on Monday 12/1 our vet diagnosed Jack with definitive megaesophagus (ME) and possible myasthenia gravis (MG). The news was devastating, to say the least, as there is no cure and not much treatment for this illness. Our vet did not have any experience with ME but she did tell us that we would need to manage his condition by elevating Jack’s food and water bowls, and giving him an acid control pill daily. She didn’t seem to hold out much hope.
Despite the water we had given him, Jack was ill, dehydrated and weak – by this time he had not eaten anything in three days. Again, we thought about euthanasia as an option. We even discussed it with the vet and she said it’s an individual decision.
That night, fighting back tears, I began to research megaesophagus and found some incredible resources written by families of ME dogs – most notably a wonderful brochure called There is Hope. I joined the ME dogs Yahoogroup (a primitive, yet still wonderful form of social media!) and began to read countless stories via the email list, blogs and even Twitter about vertical feeding and what a difference it makes.
We learned that veterinarians are not taught proper ME management in vet school; rather, the best therapeutic practices are those shared by word of mouth from one ME dog parent to another. These caretakers spend days and nights looking after their dogs, trying different methods, and documenting and sharing everything online via the email list. They are the true ME experts.
Following the advice we read online that night, and encouraged by emails of support from the ME community, we rolled up some raw ground beef into meatballs, held Jack up in a vertical position (spine 90 degrees to the floor), and dropped the food down his throat, relying on gravity to take it the rest of the way to his stomach.
He fought us weakly at first, but again soon realized what we were doing and asked for more. That’s the night our miracle started. It’s amazing what a little food and water will do for a poor, sick, dehydrated and malnourished dog!
Within just over a week, and still within the confines of his ME diagnosis, Jack had completely recovered from his near-death experience. He was a happy, healthy ME dog who ran and played and got into mischief. He showed no MG signs whatsoever, and he handled his ME like a champ. He ate like a king – meatballs made of ground beef and fresh or canned dog food, fed by hand in the vertical hold position.
We managed his condition as well as we possibly could, and kept the “worst case scenario” thinking at bay, thanks to a ton of advice and support from the ME dogs community. As a way of giving back to the megaesophagus dogs community, I created a Ning group to help facilitate relationships and information sharing, particularly photo and video sharing, among caretakers of ME dogs.
I had been a fan and proponent of social media for years, but I never dreamed that one day it would actually save my dog’s life. I’m happy to say the new ME dogs online community site is thriving, just like that wonderful special needs dog of ours did for many years after his diagnosis.
And if you want to hear another story about the inimitable Jack, here’s the one about how much he loved his baby sister Zoe. Perhaps no other dog has left as lasting a legacy in our hearts and lives as dear old, block-headed Jack – aka Dookie Boy.