This blog post has been in the works for a long time now, pretty much since Christmas, but for reasons you will discover if you stick around though this very lengthy post, it has taken me a lot longer to get to than I wanted to. You will also discover why I have declared 2015, even though it is only April, as the year of the dog.
I had planned on this post being about pet insurance, and why IMO it is a good idea to have, but in a matter of a few seconds that changed, and it has lead me to change my planned post into this epic missive, sort of in two parts.
Those that have followed me for any time either on this blog, my photoblog or on any of my social media outlets, know that we have a 6.5 year old German Shepherd / Chow cross dog. We adopted her as a puppy from the Pima County Animal Control back in 2008. She quickly became a central part of our family and when she was 6 months old she broke one of her hind legs. You can actually read a re-post compilation of blogs posts from that ordeal here on this blog. After 6 weeks, that actually felt like 6 months, she was completely healed and until this past Christmas she hadn’t needed to go to the vet for anything other than an occasional checkup and her annual shots.
About a week or so before Christmas we noticed that her abdomen had swollen some, and while it was very similar to the symptoms that lead to us losing our 14 year old Poodle Budro earlier in 2014, it wasn’t nearly as severe and the swelling went away after about 24 hours. We didn’t really think too much about it, we assumed it was something that she might have eaten and reacted badly to.
We made our regular Christmas trip to spend the holiday with our family in Idaho. The day after we got home, the swelling came back, but this time it was much worse so we took her out to our vet, South Bay Veterinary Hospital, for a checkup. Blood was drawn and sent to the lab and x-rays were taken. The only thing that was immediately obvious on the x-rays were some large bladder stones, and while it was possible that they might have punctured her bladder and it was urine that was filling her abdomen, a sample of the fluid was taken and that possibility was quickly ruled out.
Over a period of about 2 weeks, a lot of tests were ran and things quickly moved towards her heart. Basically it wasn’t pumping strong enough to keep the blood flowing in the correct direction, which in turn lead to the build up of fluid in both her abdomen as well as in her chest cavity. An ultrasound finally revealed that the pericardium, or the sack that the heart sits in, was swollen and damaged. This damage to the pericardium was what was preventing her heart from doing its job. During this run of tests, she had to visit the vet every 24 to 48 hours to have the abdominal fluid drained to reduce the pressure and allow her to breath.
While we knew that the damaged pericardium was what was causing the fluid buildup, we didn’t know what had caused the damage to the pericardium and the blood tests that we had done up to this point weren’t showing any indicators of things like cancer.
At this point you might be thinking that the fact that her pericardium was so damaged that it was preventing her heart from doing its job would be a death sentence for her. I had that very thought, until we found out that surgery to remove all or a portion of the pericardium was an option, and at her age was a very viable option. We also found out that there is a surgeon in Oregon, who makes regular surgical visits to Olympia, who not only had done this procedure many times, but also teaches other vets how to do it. Surgery was scheduled and samples would be taken, sent to a couple different labs, and hopefully a true diagnosis would be revealed.
On the morning of the surgery we took Ursa to the Olympia Veterinary Cancer Center here in Olympia where the surgery was to be performed. She was there for 3 days and the surgery was a success. Samples of her pericardium were collected and sent out for evaluation. Thanks to the expertise of the excellent staff at OVCC, specialized tests were done and we found out that Ursa was suffering from “valley fever” which is a fungal infection common in the desert southwest.
As I said, Ursa’s surgery was a success, and the fluid buildup in her abdomen stopped almost immediately, but the fluid buildup in her chest did not, part of this was because of the surgery itself, the fungus still doing what the fungus does as well as a chest tube that was inserted so that those fluids could be drained regularly. Even though we were post surgery at this point, she still had to visit the vet once every 24 to 48 hours to have her chest cavity drained. Fortunately that was a much less stressful procedure for her since there was a tube in place just for that.
Aside from the uncertainty of the diagnosis and then the surgery itself, the only real scare came one night about a week or so after we brought her home from OVCC. We were watching TV and all of a sudden she jumped up and you could hear air sucking into her chest through the tube. This caused her to have a very difficult time breathing. We wasted no time at all and rushed her to the 24 hour emergency animal hospital here in Olympia. During the 15 minute drive to the hospital, I am not ashamed to say that I exceeded the speed limit more than once, she was going into what I can only describe as a panic. She couldn’t breath, she wanted desperately to get out of the car, and we weren’t entirely sure that we would get her there in time. Fortunately we did, they rushed her into a room immediately and determined that the chest tube hardware had come apart which allowed air into her chest. The tube hardware was replaced, the air was evacuated and she came home with us that very night.
During this period of time she was started on meds for the fungal infection and between the meds and normal recovery, the fluid buildup in her chest ceased and the chest drain tube was removed. The meds for the fungal infection are a long term treatment, a minimum of 6 months, and possibly longer.
It has now been over 2 months since her heart surgery and other than the hair growing back where she was shaved for the procedure you would never know that she had not only been sick, but had nearly died from that illness. Her energy and activity level has returned to where it was 2 years ago. We are thrilled to say that she has made a full recovery and the prognosis is that from here on out she will live a very normal life with a very normal lifespan.
If you scroll back a few pages on this blog, or simply click here, you will see a short post I made introducing a new member of our family, our miniature Australian Shepherd puppy Oly.
At the very end of Ursa’s ordeal the final vet visit was to have some staples removed, these staples where in place so that the opening where her chest tube was placed could heal. We had these staples removed and really thought that it would be somewhat smooth sailing, we had gotten through a very stressful start of the year, spent a lot more money than we actually had, but we had 2 healthy dogs.
That was until almost exactly 24 hours after Ursa came home from having those staples removed. Oly decided that she needed to climb the cat tree and try to get to the cat food that was there. She did manage to climb up, but soon gravity took over and she fell. On her way down she got her right front leg caught between one of the shelves of the cat tree and the wall. Her own weight continued to pull her down and she broke radius and ulna bones.
We rushed her out to Southbay, it was about an hour before they were to close for the evening, but the gracious staff got us in and Oly headed in for x-rays and splinting.
The x-rays showed a complete break and while she was splinted, the bone was not set the way that it would need to be in order to heal correctly. The best viable option was to schedule surgery and have a plate places to fixate the bone together and allow everything to heal.
The accident was on a Thursday night, we were able to get her in for surgery the following Monday. The surgery was successful and the plate was placed on her radius.
For those that have stuck with me this far, you will remember from earlier in this post we had gone through a dog having a broken leg, and it wasn’t a great experience. Over a 6 week period we didn’t get much sleep and by the end of the healing process we were pretty much exhausted. The prospect of going through that all over again, especially right after having gone through Ursa’s illness and surgery, almost seemed like it was more than we could take on, but they are members of the family, what can you do?
Oly’s recovery period was going to be a minimum of 8 weeks. During the recovery period we knew that we were going to be in for 2 major challenges. The first was going to be keeping a very active young puppy calm for 2 months, the other was getting her used to sleep in her crate, up until this period she slept at the foot of our bed. Armed with the lessons we learned when Ursa had her broken leg as a puppy, we were actually quite successful with one, not so much with the other, but more on that in a bit.
Given everything that we had been through with the dogs since the first of the year, I had a gut feeling that there would be some sort of complication during Oly’s recovery, and the universe did not let me down. Fortunately the complication was relatively minor. After her surgery they replaced the splint and bandaged her leg to keep it immobile. Even though there was a good deal of padding her elbow rubbed against the splint and caused an open sore that required a couple stitches. All things considered it was a fairly minor problem, but it was a problem none the less.
I mentioned that we foresaw 2 major challenges during Oly’s recovery, keeping her calm and getting her to sleep in her crate. We were actually quite successful at the first. Thanks to the use of a medium sized x-pen she was given just enough room to be able to move around and not feel as if she were imprisoned, but was restrictive enough that she couldn’t do anything more than walk. I still feel bad that she has spent 7 weeks in that x-pen so far, unless of course we have her out on a leash, but she can see the world around her and seems to have accepted the confinement.
The 2nd challenge, and one that we actually failed at, was getting her to sleep in her crate, even though she has already been crate trained, and for the first week or trying we didn’t get a whole lot of sleep, even with the use of sedatives. You will read a very similar story if you read the Ursa post. Having learned lessons during Ursa’s broken bone as a puppy, we know that if we were going to stay sane though Oly’s recovery the ability to get a good night’s sleep each night was going to be critical, so we got creative. I rigged up a leash to the headboard of our king sized bed. This allowed her to sleep on the bed as she was already accustomed to, but more importantly allowed us to sleep each night. It really was the best thing we did through her recovery.
Oly was scheduled for x-rays at the 6 week mark. The x-rays looked really good as far as the bone healing, but her bone density was pretty low, which is to be expected after 6 weeks of not being able to move her leg. In addition to the reduced bone density, her muscle strength was also greatly reduced in that leg, also completely normal and to be expected. The good news at the 6 week mark was that she no longer had to have the bandage on and that she could start getting some exercise, even if still on a leash and in a controlled environment. Thinks if this as the dog equivalent of physical therapy, with the goal of building up bone density and muscle mass.
This took us to the 8 week mark, and what ended up being the final set of x-rays. The bone density was much better and she was building strength back up in her muscles. This also marked the first time in 2 months that she was able to be off leash both inside and outside the house. It also marked the first time since Christmas that both dogs could play with each other, something that they had really missed up till this point.
I said at the beginning of this already too long blog post that I was initially going to talk about pet insurance, and while it turned into something much more detailed, I still want to address that.
We didn’t have pet insurance for Ursa. We spent just over $8,000 since Christmas on her treatment that we really didn’t have, but fortunately could get due to having good credit. This is money that will take us a number of years to pay back. As with many challenges we have faced over the last number of years it is another thing that has set our lifestyle back some, but in this case it is something that I would gladly do again.
As a comparison though, we did sign Oly up for pet insurance right after we got her. We spend about $30 a month for the insurance premium and after the first $500, they pay 80% of everything that we spend for illness or accident visits to the vet. The treatment for the broken leg has been right at $2500. After the $500 deductible and the 20% that we pay, we have gotten back $1800 of that $2500. I can honestly say that pet insurance was one of the best decisions that we have made in quite awhile and if you have pets, I would strongly recommend that you look into it. We went with Embrace as our provider, there are certainly other options out there, some of which might be better, but I can say that I have nothing but good things to say about Embrace and am glad that we chose them. I will leave it at that.