PRAA and Annata’s story
PRAA and secondary ME, I remember those words echoing around in my head and trying to grasp what on earth they meant, clutching a 33 day old puppy at my vets. Little did I know this would be by far my biggest challenge ever, and if I knew then what I know now, I would have been TERRIFIED!
CLICK BELOW FOR FULL STORY
9 years ago this morning, I walked into an animal shelter in New Jersey to meet and check out dog #11610. I had,
"a hole in my heart" as someone told me. A hole that only a dog could fill.
Multiple building in a row, connected by short covered sidewalks. Pit bull after pit bull, Rottweilers, mutts and more pit bulls.
And finally, in the last cage of the last building...was dog #11610.
As I walk towards his "cell", he laid down and slit his paws under the door.
A volunteer led us to a small enclosed yard where we played for 15 minutes or so, to see "if I liked him". We wrestled and played on the ground, and I laughed the entire time. He was dirty, matted, and smelled of urine. But the reality was that, "he had me at hello"!
My eyes filled with tears as I said good bye and walked away. The last thing I wanted to do was leave MY Charlie there alone and afraid, as we both had to wait ten days for his owner to come claim him.
But. ..they never did.
I didn't know at the time that he was sick...but I'm sure his owners did. Who "looses" a Goldendoodle and never looks for him at the local shelter?! He was picked up as a stray wearing a collar but no tags. Most likely tossed aside and abandoned because he threw up a lot...even though he couldn't help it.
Ten days later, I returned to that shelter to bring my boy home!
He road in the back of my van, and still looked and smelled every bit as bad as he did the first time I laid eyes on him. He had been neutered, and couldn't be bathed for another 10 days.
I remember saying to him as we pulled away..." I'm your new dad! I've never had a dog before, and I'm a little nervous. I hope I'll do a good job."
So, here we are nine years later. We got divorced, lost my folks, made 65 trip to Penn Veterinary Hospital, met wonderful women who loved dating him more than they did me , thought we were gonna have to say "goodbye" on more than one occasion, but...
we've gotten through it all, together.
People often say nice things to me about saving Charlie's life. But I think it's he who should truly be getting the accolades...for saving mine.
Charlie, Chachi, C-dog, Chaz, Char-man, Charles, fuzz head, Charlie "chicken leg", muppet man...My boy!
Read about Charlie's Story in the Penn Vet Givings publication
Theseus’ Mega Oesophagus Story.
Theseus is a Great Swiss Mountain Dog. He was born on the 8th October 2014 in Ireland,
his breeder was Inta Jankovica.
When Theseus was 5 weeks old he was struggling to put weight on, unlike his two
brothers, and was bringing his mother milk up regularly. This increased in times when he
began to ween off mum. Inta took Theseus to the vets to be checked over and after Xrays
he was diagnosed with severe Mega Oesophagus, the vet recommended Euthanasia.
Click on the Theseus Link below for the FULL STORY!
I volunteer at an animal shelter, and mid February 2013, I saw a new dog who had been picked up as a stray. We all thought she may be around one year, she had all her adult teeth. She was extremely emaciated, 10 pounds, so I decided to foster her.
The shelter was calling her Angel but that name didn't fit her, so I started calling her "Foster dog".
I assumed she had been neglected and starved, so my plan was to feed her tiny handfuls of kibble every couple hours.
I noticed every time she ate her throat would make 'urping' noises and sometimes buldge out.
She held down about 30% of her meals.
We got to the vet a day later who quickly had the ME suspicion and confirmed this with X-rays.
I started elevated feedings 8 times a day. Foster starting gaining some weight, but she was still regurgitating. A week later, things got really bad:
I was trying kibble, meat balls, wet food, knox blocks- nothing was staying down. Reglan and antacids made no difference. I made Foster a bailey chair using a trash can and pillows.
She was regurgitating 5-8 times a day, and the smell was awful. It smelled like poop. I took her to a different vet who referred us to an internal medicine specialist. The specialist suspected PRAA, and said Foster's original x-rays pointed to this, also. We did an endoscope to confirm.
There was essentially a band wrapped around her esophagus and pinching it off. The food would travel as far as it could, then sit there until she would regurgitate. Her esophagus was stretched out and holding the food there, like a pocket, to sit and rot in.
I went home and did more research. I wanted to know everything I could about the long term outcome of surgery in dogs who were months-years old by time of surgery.
Almost everything I read about PRAA said if surgery is not performed early on (weeks vs months old), the outcome is not good.
I saw this same negative prognosis when researching ME, but saw all the successes on the Facebook group.
Eventually, I found a research article about a couple of older dogs (2-5 years) who had PRAA surgery and were doing much better after. Still though, consensus seemed to be if surgery not performed early on, it is not effective.
I contacted a specialist in San Antonio because they offered minimally invasive surgery (vs opening chest) for PRAA. I wanted her surgery to be as stress free as possible and her recovery time short.
Since it was a 5 hour drive, the surgeon and I talked several times on the phone before her surgery.
It was important to him that I have realistic expectations:
- This is not a cure.
- This may not help at all.
- She WILL need medication and a bailey chair her whole life.
- The damage to her esophagus will not be undone.
- We may have to open her up if the esophagus is 'in the way' of minimally invasive approach.
I appreciated that about the surgeon. We were on the same exact page.
- This may not help at all, but if surgery helps even a little bit, wouldn't it be worth it?
- If we can at least decrease the regurg a little, we can possibly decrease the risk for AP.
- She could hopefully get some much needed nutrition.
- It could prevent more damage and stretching to the esophagus.
Surgery was scheduled for March, and we also decided to place a temporary feeding tube (could decide later if want to be permanent), so her esophagus could rest after surgery.
Foster did well through her surgery. They did have to open her chest because her esophagus was so large. The morning after surgery, she was fed meatballs orally and fed through her tube, keeping it down. I got to pick her up and drive her home the next day. When they brought her to me she was wagging her whole body.
Her surgeon was amazed how well she was recovering and walking around on her own.
She was doing well. I was really stressed by everything but especially the idea of a feeding tube. My first couple attempts were rough, but Foster and I quickly got the hang of it.
I felt so lucky Foster was such an easy dog. Even though she had all these issues, she worked with me.
She adjusted to every new situation and was patient with me even though I would get frustrated.
On the third day home, Foster started to regurgitate again. If possible, she was worse than before surgery. She couldn't handle being fed by mouth, either. Only thought we could come up with was maybe the tube is pulling her stomach to the side? She had no energy at all. 7 days after her surgery I drove her back to San Antonio to have her feeding tube removed free of charge. By the time I got to San Antonio, my neck was sore because I was looking back every two minutes to make sure Foster was still breathing.
A few days after the tube was removed Foster stopped regurgitating.
She seemed to do best on a liquid diet, wet food mixed with Ensure and water.
After a few weeks, Foster didn't need to stay elevated for any period of time after eating.
Foster got so much energy and started to get a little taller and longer. Maybe she was younger than we thought, but had to be at least 5-6ish months based on having all adult teeth.
Within a few months after surgery Foster weighed in at 35 pounds. Our ideal goal weight was 26 pounds! I adopted her in June.
She is not on any medication and is fed a liquid diet three times a day in a vertical position. She drinks water normally.
She places her front paws up on my thigh, I feed her, and she hops down and walks right to the back door to go potty.
I was mentally prepared to continue multiple feedings a day, (hopefully no more than 5 though!), give medication, etc if needed.
Sometimes I tell people "I know she's not cured, but it's almost like she's cured!"
Foster has the occasional small regurg once or twice a month, but it's usually from being excited.
I do believe because of her medical issues she has a compromised immune system. Seems like if it’s out there, she will get it. Luckily, these are more easily treated and less expensive- like worms, Giardia, UTI.
Every ME dog is different, and what works for one may not work for another- but there are so many negative thoughts about ME in general out there. Think about how many people or vets have told you ME is a death sentence, or they recommend euthanasia. We know that isn't always true.
Once in a while, a member will have a newly diagnosed pup with ME caused by PRAA and ask for advice on surgery. When I see this I just want to scream, "do it!!"
I want to stress that just because your dog may not be 4-10 weeks old, doesn't always mean surgery is useless. And if your dog IS super young, even better!
Again- all dogs are different and what works for one may not for another. In my case, surgery helped Foster tremendously.
If you are looking for advice on whether or not your dog should have surgery for PRAA, I say do it!!
But have realistic expectations, and do not hesitate to reach out to this group for even the smallest thing.
(Acquired Myasthenia Gravis)
Kodi presented with acquired MG at the age of 8 years old. He is a mixed Husky breed.
He had recently received a Bordetella Booster and a DHLPP Booster. We had boarded
him at a kennel for a long weekend away. Shortly after he returned home from the kennel
we noticed that he would lift his leg to urinate and would continue to urinate as he
walked away. He did this for two weeks. One morning on our walk, the stream of urine
became heavier as if he no longer had control.
Within the next two days he began to have
difficulty going up the steps. His hind legs seemed to move in an uncoordinated fashion.
Kodi would attempt to jump up on the couch or bed but couldn’t complete the action. He would urinate and then immediately sit down, walk a few steps and suddenly have to sit again. He didn’t seem to be in any pain.
It was a Sunday night and our regular vet was closed. My husband suggested we take him
to the University of Pennsylvania, Matthew J. Ryan’s Veterinarian Hospital. It was an
hour and half drive from where we live but the ER is open 24/7. The first vet that
examined him felt it was an orthopedic problem and sent us home with pain killers with
instructions if it didn’t get better to bring him back. Within those 24 hours the symptoms
became more pronounced. Now he could barely walk at all.
On our second visit to the ER, a third year vet student began to ask us questions about
how he was eating. Had we noticed that he was choking or regurgitating his food? For
Kodi that answer was “no,” and we wondered what that had anything to do with not being
able to walk.
That’s when they told us they thought he had Myasthenia Gravis.
To our relief they explained it was treatable with medicine.
With our permission they drew blood for an Acetylcholine Receptor Antibody titer test. Since the blood test would take time for the results to come in, they asked to do a “Tensilon” test. The Tensilon test uses the drug Tensilon (generic name: Edrophonium) to diagnose Myasthenia Gravis. Tensilon prevents the breaking down of the chemical acetylcholine, which then helps stimulate the muscles. The drug is injected into the dog and if the muscles get stronger it is a good indicator that the dog is positive for acquired MG.
They also did x-rays on his chest to check for Megaesophagus, Aspiration Pneumonia and any signs of a Thymoma. These test were all negative. After Kodi was injected with Tensilon, we were told he trotted all around the room! Unfortunately, it only lasted a few minutes.
We were ecstatic that they found out what was wrong with our Kodi and it could be treated!
Kodi was then transferred up to Neurology to see a Neurologist DVM. He would stay
with them for three days while they started him on a low dose of Pyridostigmine Bromide
(brand name Mestinon). Kodi made improvements in his hind leg weakness and was
tentative diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis. We continued to administer 2 ml of
Pyridostigmine Bromide every 8 hours after we got him home. We were instructed to
contact the Neurologist every 2 days until a stable dose was reached. We were told to
look for signs of Megaesophagus, and if he started regurgitating or having trouble eating
to contact them immediately. Luckily, we did not see signs of ME.
To speed the process of recovery, the Neurologist suggested we begin immunosuppressive therapy. We began to slowly increase the Mestinon and started him on Prednisone. At this point, I was communicating by email with the Neurologist daily on his progress. I began keeping notes in a notebook on everything we observed and the times and amounts of drugs we were giving him. Initially, when we increased the Mestinon and started him on Prednisone, we noticed he seemed to slip backwards with increased weakness, groaning at night and restlessness.
There were many adjustments with meds the first 3 weeks. Within a months time he was walking several blocks without having to sit. After two months the urine dribbling we had noticed in the beginning subsided.
After 3 months, he appeared to be completely normal. Another AChR antibody titer test was taken and it was within normal range. We were instructed to decrease the Prednisone slowly for 4 weeks but keep the Mestinon the same. After 4 weeks, we were told to discontinue the Prednisone.
In the 5th month after initial diagnosis, Kodi began to dribble urine again. We’ve come to know this as his first sign of relapse.
The Neurologist ordered a urine analysis done to rule out a urinary tract infection. That test was negative. By the end of the 5th month, Kodi was showing signs of weakness in his hind legs and was admitted back into the hospital.
This time he was much worse. He had no movement in all 4 legs. A Tensilon test was ordered and he had no reaction to the Tensilon.
My husband and I were devastated. We thought we were going to lose him.
The only bright spot was he still did not contract Megaesophagus. He was eating normally and x-rays were given to confirm the absence of ME, AP andThymoma. After four days in the ER, and after increasing both Mestinon and corticosteroids, Kodi was still not responding. He was bright, alert and wagging his tail. He was army crawling but couldn’t support his weight. He couldn’t even sit up. We decided to bring him home and care for him there.
We had made a bed for him out of memory foam so that his poor sore elbows wouldn’t
get beat up anymore than they were. They had shaved his butt because he had an accident
while in the hospital. Defecating was nearly impossible for him. We had to lift his bottom
up and make a sling around his waist to support him since he could not hold a squat.
It took two of us to feed him.
One of us would have to hold him to a sitting position while the other one held the bowl. After not being able to support himself on all 4 limbs for 4 days in the hospital, miraculously when we brought him home he picked himself up and walked into the kitchen when I said “treat” then collapsed. We were thrilled at this little milestone achievement!
His AChR antibody titer test came back elevated at 5.25 (normal is <0.6)
A new drug was added to the regiment, Azathioprine. This drug was prescribed to help
him wean off of the Prednisone. We also started him on Denamarin (liver supplement)
He had to have his liver enzyme numbers checked periodically while on this medication.
Now, he was taking Mestinon, Prednisone and this new immunosuppressant.
Two weeks after we got him home he was back in the ER with an upset stomach. He couldn’t keep anything down and it looked as if he was beginning to regurgitate. He was up all night coughing and gagging on his own spit. My husband built him a Bailey Chair, and we began feeding him in it.
They x-rayed again to check for ME and Aspiration Pneumonia, and he was still negative.
We brought him home with Ondansetron for his upset stomach, and started him on Prilosec. Gradually he began to improve. We were also told at that time that the Pyridostigmine needed to be diluted with equal parts water.
The next several months, Kodi was moving very normally. No weakness at all. He did
however, shed excessively and his eyes were sunken in. He had the look of a dog with
Cushings disease. These symptoms subsided once he was off of the Prednisone. Nine
months into the disease, still on Azathioprine, he developed Colitis and an upset stomach
and was treated with Metronidazole (GI antibiotic), and Cerenia for his upset stomach.
Kodi had a watery diarrhea for two months. We ended up increasing his fiber in his food.
We switched to Wellness Core and added FortiFlora, a probiotic.
Ten months post diagnosis, another AChR antibody titer was taken and it still showed his
levels were still not normal at 1.19. He was slowly weaned from the Azathioprine by this
time. In his 11th month, he had a slight bout of Pancreatitis and was treated with Cerenia,
which cleared quickly.
We had made it through our first year, but we were not done with it yet. In his 13th month
post diagnosis, and three months after he was weaned off of Azathioprine, I contacted the
Neurologist and told him Kodi was excessively drooling. Maybe he was going into
remission and didn’t need as much Mestinon?
Unfortunately that was not the case. It was just the opposite. Upon examination, the Neurologist noticed Kodi’s lower lip was drooping and couldn’t hold in his saliva, hence the drool we were seeing. He also was not blinking and was not closing his eyes fully when sleeping.
They ran another titer test.
A week after I had him in to see the Neurologist, all the weakness in the hind legs and urine dribbling appeared again. We slowly increased the dose of Mestinon. This time we nearly
doubled what we were giving him before up to 4.0 ml 3 times a day.
We started him on Prednisone slowly this time and gradually increased and then slowly decreased the amount. I applied an eye ointment twice a day for dry eyes as well. The titer test came back at a whopping 9.3.
During his time of crisis, I sent the Neurologist periodically YouTube video’s of his progress.
This seemed to work well.
By his 15th month Kodi was back to almost normal. His eyes were still not closing all the
way when he slept but he was moving normally. I also started him on Cosequin (for
joints) fish oil, a vitamin for Sr. Dogs from GNC, and CoQ10.
On his 18th month post diagnosis, after he’d been off prednisone for a month, we ran
This time it was normal! (0.54)
It looked like we were in the clear.
We cut his Mestinon dose in half to 1.8 ml 3 times a day.
In his 23rd month post diagnosis, another titer was run, and it was elevated slightly at 0.68. He still has no signs of weakness. He just appears tired in the morning. We’ve left the
Mestinon dosage the same for now.
It’s been 2 years post diagnosis and we are so glad we persevered with this disease.
He brings us so much joy. I’m happy that I didn’t listen to people that told me to “just put him down.”
He has so much energy and looks so good right now. Just like a puppy! We are unclear whether he will ever go into long term sustaining remission from the disease, but
[...]we enjoy each and every day that he is here!
Update: Kodi went into full remission of acquired myasthenia gravis around the 18th month post diagnosis. He enjoyed a "symptom free" life after that! Unfortunately, Kodi passed away from mast cell cancer at the age of 12 1/2 after a valiant 2 year fight. Forever in our hearts.
Lillie is a solid black Mini Schnauzer. She was born in my home on March 8, 2012. It was a normal birth. She was the last pup born in a litter of 3 and the second largest pup of litter. She progressed and gained weight like her siblings.
On April 22, 2012, I told my vet that Lillie started throwing up every once in awhile after eating, then Lillie would eat it again and be fine. She checked Lillie over. She said it could be a food allergy. She said to try other puppy food that was chicken and grain free over the weekend and to call on Monday to let her know if it was better or not.
It’s funny to note that my vet Laura wrote “vomits intermittently so not PRAA” in Lillie’s file on 4/22/12 because she did not exhibit normal signs of PRAA.
She was a healthy weight and did not vomit all the time after eating.
On Monday April 30, 2012, I called my vet and told her the new food had not helped. Laura said to bring puppy in, and they will do x rays to see if there was some kind of a partial blockage. Lillie was seen by another vet, Brian, for the x rays. After I told him what was happening, he took Lillie in for a regular x ray.
He came back in and said there was something suspicious and that he wanted to do a Barium x ray.
When he came back after second X ray, [...]
he said she had Mega Esophagus caused by PRAA (Persistent Right Aortic Arch).
He started to tell me about a blood vessel coming from the heart that is causing a restriction at the bottom of the esophagus. He said it should have disappeared when she was born. At this point, my mind was only picking up on certain words, like, Starvation and Strangling.
I asked him, "What do I do? Do I have to her to put her to sleep?" Luckily, he said NO.
He told me there was a surgery that could be done. He said it would cost around $4,000, and that it may or may not help. He also said that if we opted for surgery, the younger the better but given her size (4 lbs.), there was a risk that she wouldn’t survive the surgery. I asked him to be honest, and that if it was his pup would he have the surgery. He said "No," that the risks were too high, and there is no guarantee it would work or help.
Once we decided not to have surgery, he started to tell me how to feed her upright, that gravity has to help pull the food into her stomach.
He told me about keeping her upright for 5 – 15 minutes after eating.
He told me about the Bailey Chair, the different consistencies of the food.
He said it was all trial and error to find what would work best for her.
He said there was quite a bit of information on the internet for ME.
Brian then told me about AP, Aspiration Pneumonia. He told me what it was and the symptoms to look for. He said most dogs with ME get AP, and it can be fatal if not caught early. He said it was best treated with 2 kinds of Antibiotics for 4 – 6 weeks. He said he was sending a bottle of Clavamox to have on hand in case she came down with AP. That way I could start treating her without delay and then bring her in for a second antibiotic.
Finding a good food that Lillie liked and tolerated was a bit of a battle, luckily her mom was very willing to continue nursing her, so it took a little bit of the worry away in making sure she was getting enough food and nutrition.
We started out feeding Lillie standing at a foot stool, then I would hold her. She was fed 5-6 times a day 1-2 ounces of food per meal. We increased the amount of food as she grew.
Because Lillie has ME caused by PRAA, we found that a thinner smooth food was the only food Lillie could eat.
Lillie also learned at a very young age to have her head up on a pillow or me during the night so saliva couldn't pool in her esophagus and cause her to wake up coughing.
By about a year old, Lillie was eating 7 - 8 ounces of food per meal, 3 times a day.
Lillie is spoon fed in a baby high chair then she sits upright for 20 minutes. She takes Prilosec in the AM and Pepcid in the P.M.
There are days when she has gotten into something. If this happens, I will start to feed her, but then have to let her out of the high chair so she can regurge. Once she’s done, she comes back to finish her meal. Luckily those days are few and far between.
Lillie was spayed April 30, 2013, on her one year anniversary of being diagnosed.
My vet made sure the table was tilted with her head up to cut the risk of aspirating.
My vet Laura took every precaution we could think of and Lillie came through it fine.
Laura couldn’t be happier with how well Lillie is doing. My vet’s have not seen a case of ME as young as Lillie, and has only seen one case of ME in a much older dog.
My vet is learning all she can about ME and said many times that she is the student and Lillie is her teacher. She takes many notes on Lillie during our visits.
I often look back to the day Lillie was diagnosed and wonder what I would have done if the vet Brian had said “Yes you should put her to sleep”. I honestly think I would have told him that I first wanted to talk to Laura before doing anything. It makes me
wonder how many other pups are not given the chance because owners were told to put them to sleep.
When I got home with Lillie the day she was diagnosed, I told my husband Rod what was wrong with her. What needed to be done for her.
He said “I don’t want another dog” (we had 5 already) so I said, “Then you take her in and have her put to sleep.” He watched her playing on the floor with her mom and siblings for a few minutes and then he said, “No I can’t do that. What do we have to do again?”
A few months later[,..]
Rod and I were in the kitchen and Lillie came running in being her goofy self, and Rod said, “You know, I can’t imagine our life without her.”
To say dealing with an ME dog can be difficult is an understatement.
Our way of life totally changed the day Lillie was diagnosed. Everything we do is based around Lillie and her eating schedule. While it can be hard and frustrating, it is also worthwhile. We have watched Lillie grow from a rambunctious puppy into a happy healthy dog who still loves to terrorize anything and everyone.
She is a normal happy dog who just happens to eat in a high chair.
When I got to his cage he literally climbed up the cage with all fours...like a monkey...hence his name 🙂
I quickly figured out that his symptoms seemed to match the information I'd found on Megaesophagus. I called my vet, he did the xrays , and it was confirmed.
Luckily, I found 2 online groups for owners of Mega E dogs.It was overwhelming and scary at first.
I ordered his neck hug (made in fabric with monkeys on it of course!), which solved the morning urps on my head when he woke up (a gross side effect of sleeping with his head flat).
[...]the experience and support from the other Mega E group members has been the most valuable. Without the other members and their stories and words of encouragement I would have felt so helpless and confused. My vet knew what meds to try but had never heard of a Bailey chair or other helpful gadgets for ME. It often seems we, the owners, end up teaching the vets a lot about how to manage ME...and that's the most important thing...it IS manageable.
It sounds like a lot of work...and technically it is...but once you get used to the routine it's really pretty easy...a bit time consuming, but not impossible. However, no matter how perfected the routine, an ME dog will still have a bad day here or there. We can go weeks and weeks with no urps and then all of a sudden have a bad day with lots of urps or a long night of hacking.
That's just life with an ME dog.
In my opinion, Monkey chose me. I think the word got out at the shelter that I'm one of those humans who will do anything and everything for my fur kids. I take my responsibilities as a dog mom very seriously.
When I adopt I agree to provide the best life possible no matter what...and that includes taking care of my little Monkey Man and his ME...urps and all.
I know lots and lots of dogs with ME are euthanized unnecessarily because there's a lack of information, misdiagnosis, and many people still believe it's not treatable. Well, Monkey and all the other ME dogs and their humans who belong to the online support groups will definitely say otherwise.
The MegaE owners I know have seen their ME dogs live long, happy, fulfilled lives.
Hopefully the information will continue to spread and more and more ME dogs will have the same chance as Monkey and the others.
As I sit here in front Marley, my 8 year Rhodesian Ridgeback friend, in his Bailey Chair, old egg timer ticking away 15 minutes, I think of the last 5 years.
You may say that old Marley has had it rough in the health department. You may also say that he has been very lucky.
When I met Marley he had a terrible skin allergy. He was missing a good quarter of his fur. He had such a violent urge to itch himself that he would chew holes in himself daily. He lived in a plastic cone and he took antihistamines daily. We would come home to blood stains all over the carpet. He had a very bad infection in his ears. The smell was awful. You could not pet him without having to wash your hands immediately afterward. He would perform yoga to get his foot into his cone and scratch his ears. He would bite himself until he yelped in pain. It was tough. Our vet recommended a pet allergist. With the warning, “It isn’t going to be cheap. his was not an option for us financially.
I heard from a friend about another dog that was going through something similar and that a vegetarian diet had helped this dog. We had tried every type animal based protein dog food under the sun, with no positive results. We said, “What the heck, let’s try the veggie food." Now, my wife had been a vegetarian for many years already so her mind was very open to this idea. We purchased a bag of Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Vegan Dog Food. This is where Marley first stroke of luck occurred. Within two weeks he stopped itching. His ears cleared up. His fur started growing back.
The cone came off and he got to be a normal dog. It was the best feeling in the world.
The food had the same protein levels as the meat based foods and despite a few naysayers, everything was positive. Some folks believed that ALL dogs must have animal protein in their diet. This is just not true. This diet saved Marley from a life of pain, torment and confusion. And it did so without the aid of modern veterinarian medicine.
This started our journey down the path that knowledge can come from anywhere. Not just the experts or the so called experts. You have to keep your mind and your ears open.
A few years went by and Marley munched away on his veggie kibble and thrived, gaining a few pounds along the way. We gave him baby carrot treats and had really no problems aside from having to remind some of the neighbors that he couldn’t have the beef jerky that they gave their dogs.
The one day while he was peeing, he was hit with what I can only describe as a jolt and the stream of pee stopped. It was kinda weird but I just didn’t realize that it was something significant. Then later in the day when it was time to pee again he would assume the position but nothing would come out. T his went on for a few hours with no flow. Time to go to the vet. Unfortunately, it was after hours, and we had to take him to the emergency animal hospital. Several scary hours and a few thousand dollars later, he was home with Struvite Crystals blocking his urethra and prescribed acidifying gel that contained animal protein, [and] a very expensive, special food, also containing meat.
The vets said his PH was too basic. The acidifier and the food would help break down the crystals, they said, and it did. It also fired up his long dormant allergies. Sacrifices had to made. If he went too long without peeing he could get kidney damage. So we did our best to give him the smallest amount of the gel necessary. It worked ok . Sometimes, he would get blocked up and a large dose of the gel would free him right up, followed by his whole body being covered in bumps and his ears getting funky.
Then I met a guy with two dogs he loved very much. This man had two houses. One was here in San Diego where we live. The other was few hours south. A lot of people in San Diego live part or full time in Mexico for various reasons. The main one I believe is that it is beautiful down there and some of the coastal communities have a much lower population than that of their American counterparts.
Well, one of the other differences between this gentleman’s two house was the water. His house in Mexico had a full water purification system. So while he would spend 3 months in San Diego his dogs would get the Struvite Crystals. Upon return to Mexico the crystals would go away. I think it was pretty easy to see the correlation. At that time Marley was being given water from the tap that was put through a Brita filter. The Brita is just that, a filter. So we started giving Marley the water that we drink. It comes from a water store, purified, double osmosis and all that. I don’t know why we hadn’t been doing that all along.
Prior to drinking the good water he couldn’t go more than 4 or 5 days without the gel and be clog free. Within a month or so he was now gel and clog free. He hasn’t used the gel in over a year and has had no issues with the crystals. I have always heard that San Diego has bad tap water. It is becoming harder and harder to trust anything that goes into our bodies that comes from large corporations or government agencies. Marley’s lucky break numero dos.
Marley was starting get on in his years. Big guys like him (120lbs) become seniors earlier than the little guys. With what we thought was the worst behind us I was sure Marley could sail into old age gracefully and have the retirement he so deserved.
Little did I know the scariest times lay ahead.
Marley would throw up every now and again. It was never a big deal, and we almost thought it was funny sometimes. Something to clean up and move on with the day. Then it became a bit more frequent. For about a year it was still just something that happened once and a while. Till it wasn’t anymore.
We started looking at/blaming the food he ate.
I started seeing undigested kibble swollen with fluid coming up.
The vet was also suspicious of his diet and wanted to put him on another type of “special” food that they convientley sold at 5 bucks a can! The vet also started treating him for acid reflux. I started doing my own research, and [...]
[...]but the vet said it was vomit, and that he had probably developed an allergy to his food. We opted against the vet’s advice to buy their food. We started making Marley’s food. Sweet potatoes and rice and lentils. Making sure to add the necessary digestive enzymes and vitamins. While he loved eating it, the regurge was getting more frequent and he was staring to lose weight. We started noticing that after he drank water the regurge was almost imminent. So, no water after eating. This helped a bit, but what I was positive was regurgitation was a daily occurence. We brought him in for an X ray to be sure he hadn’t eating something that was blocking his intestines, and the vet said it was time we went to specialists. This is what we had avoided the first time with the vet allergist.
I was sure he was regurgitating and not vomiting
This time we had no choice. Our best friend was withering away.
It was about this time my research had led me to Canine Megaesophagus. While it looked like possibility, I was still listening to our vet, who never mentioned it, not even once.
So, we took Marley the local specialty animal hospital. My wife took him actually and I went to work. I got a text from her saying, “It looks like Mega E, gonna do the X ray and then go home." Good news, I thought. A tough thing to deal with but at least we know what we are dealing with.
My mind started wandering to Bailey Chairs and what Marley’s life was going to be like in the future.
Then I got a call on the work phone. I never get personal calls on the work phone. It was a vet from the animal hospital whom I have never met. She told me that she was calling because my wife was too upset to talk. She said that Marley had Mega E and while they were giving him X rays he regurgitated and aspirated. He breathed fluid into his lungs. She said he probably wouldn’t live through this and we needed to make a decision. I spoke to my crying wife for moment a walked out of work.
I had about 10 miles of freeway between me and my poor dog. The traffic going in the opposite direction was stopped the whole way due to an accident. I thought about how frustrated I would have been if that had been on my side of the road. 90 mph per hour was not fast enough. When I arrived they already had my wife in a little room with a bill in her hand. The vet I spoke to on the phone came in and explained that while the had him on the X ray table he aspirated and was in pretty bad shape. He now had Pneumonia and on top the Mega E. She gave him a 25% chance. Gesturing toward the $6000 estimate in my wife’s hands, she thought euthanasia was a good option. An hour ago Marley walked in wagging his tail. I said, “Please bring me to my dog”.
Marley was on the floor of the ICU surrounded by vets and vet techs. He had tubes going up his nose that were stapled to his face to keep them in place. He wasn’t moving and he had blood coming out of his nose and his mouth. His eye were rolled back in his head. They were speaking about him being sedated and then being brought out of sedation and being sedated again. I bent down to tough touch my friend and he wagged his tail and tried to lick my face through his haze. The vets told me to back up. I ignored them and then some other lady put the bill in my face again and asked me to sign. Of all the times to discuss money. There were apologetic looks coming from everybody in the room. “No were are not going to kill my friend today, Yes I will pay you to give my dog the care he needs because of what ever happened while YOU had him out of our sight."
I know that were lots of factors at work here. I am not blaming them but we were obviously upset. We will never know exactly what happened that day. We had to move forward.
Marley was going to stay in the ICU. Antibiotics, Oxygen and a nebulizing. IV fluids and hoping for the best. We knew we could handle the Mega E. We just needed him to live through the night(s).
When we got home, we watched a youtube video from a gal associated with BaileyChairs4Dogs.com. We watched as her adorable dog Gremlin climbed into his chair on his own and happily ate sitting upright.
She spoke about the numerous vets that told her euthanize her dog. Imagine if, after seeing our family in such a bad state, we choose to put him down because we did not want him to suffer. And then we went home and watched that video.
Again I state, knowledge can come from other places than the big multi million dollar institutions that house numerous experts with countless years of training.
Follow your heart.
He stayed in the little metal and glass room in the ICU for 3 days. We were there as much as possible. The three of us sitting on the floor in 4 by 6 foot cage covered in bloody purple regurge. Wiping up, getting clean towels and just being there so that Marley knows we are not leaving him alone in this place. We brought in a pillow to elevate his head.
Apparently pillows are not part of INTENSIVE care. Every time we would come in, the pillow would be pushed off to the side. Marley likes to shift around a lot. I asked one of the nurses if they could try return the pillow to it’s proper place if they happened to see it was needed. S he argued with me that it was only necessary to elevate his neck and head when he was eating or drinking. Since they had no plans to give an already starving dog anything orally, it was not something she was worried about.
Anybody who knows anything about Mega E knows that elevation of the head and neck while resting is very important, due to the pooling of saliva in the esophagus.
It might be worth noting the price for the ICU was $1500 a day. I was starting to feel like I knew more about Marley’s condition than the most significant animal hospital in the sixth largest city in the country. I work in a hotel.
Knowing that we would be having to feed him in an upright position as soon as he was healthy enough to come home, we started checking out Baliey Chairs. This led us to the online(Facebook) Mega E community and Bailey Chairs 4 dogs. We reached out to Susan, the angel in charge at Bailey Chairs 4 dogs. She got right back to us with the requirements needed for constructing a Bailey Chair. We are pretty handy around the house and thought about making the chair ourselves, but Marley is big ( even though he was down 20 lbs.) and wiley. We wanted the chair to be made by someone with experience. That someone was Susan’s husband (angel #2).
They had already made over 100 chairs at this point and were in the habit of donating chairs to dogs in need.
While we were struggling financially with all the vet bills but we knew we had enough to pay for the materials for Marley’s new chair.
Susan and her husband take no profit for their life saving work.
We convinced the vet to let us take Marley outside so we could get his measurements Susan ASAP. While we were outside the animal hospital making Marley sit upright for proper measurements, all tubes and hoses were still attached to him. I could see some employees of the hospital through the window of a break room. They were looking at us like we were crazy, eating lunch in their scrubs.
Marley had been in the ICU for three days with only IV fluids. He had had a bad few days leading up to this so he was just starving at this point. We wanted to take him and get to work on the important job of keeping our dog alive. The vets wanted to keep him longer but weren’t really ready to feed him because he was still regurgitating so frequently. I told the vet my credit card was maxed out and she said in response, “Let me put together a discharge plan." The vet put together some info for us that we had already read from the internet. S he even gave us building plans for a Bailey Chair, also from the internet. She also said he may be on antibiotics for the rest of his life. She really wanted to help and felt bad about the whole situation. It was unfortunately pretty obvious that they didn’t have a lot experience with Mega E.
I know that this story is not saying a lot of nice things about our experience at the animal hospital. There were a few people that were kind and caring to my dog, and for that I am truly thankful. Like anything, there are infinite possibilities, and nothing is all good or all bad.
I just hope that knowledge can grow about this condition and the pros can continue looking to the community for info so that in the future, it can be the other way round.
So home we went with antibiotics and open minds. I took him out to the beach by our house, and first thing he did was do a big ol’ numero dos. After that, he did something that he only does once and a while after a particularly successful outing; he kicked up sand with his legs. He did it with such gusto, I knew he was happy to be home and I took it as a good sign. His urination was another story.
After the IV fluids made it through him, his pee was very dark and very sparse. He needed to stay hydrated if he was going to beat this Pneumonia. He was also going to have to keep down the 3 ½ giant Baytril pills and the 2 ½ large Amoxicillin pills, per day. Susan and co. was, and currently is, busy making tons of these chairs so we would have to wait.
[...] we still had a dog that needed to eat upright and fast.
So we saw a picture of a pretty Golden Doodle sitting happily in a big plastic garbage can filled with pillows and blankets.
We had tried holding Marley upright and he only tolerated this for short periods of time. We got the can and the pillows and gave it a try. He was too big to lift him up into the can so we took to laying the can on it’s side and scooting him in backward and then lifting the can upright. This worked well but was fairly taxing for my wife to do by herself as she weighs only a little more than Marley. Since we were feeding him four small meals a day the chair could not come soon enough. Marley was still pretty sick and was regurging still but the can was starting to work. We were still experimenting with food constistency and content. We also did not know how long he needed to be upright after eating.
Marley was so thirsty when he got home he was trying to drink the ocean water. If left to his own desires, he would invariably walk straight to the water.
I think that is the hardest part of Mega E. Knowing your family member is thirsty and hungry and not being able to just put a bowl of water out for him. Like you had for so many years.
We were trying giving him ice chips without much success. Fearing that the water we mixed into his food would not be enough, we started making the gelatin blocks. While Knox Blox does have nice ring to it, I do warn that the grocery store brand of gelatin is a few dollars cheaper per box. We have made gelatin with low sodium veggie broth and that works fine but we have settled on using coconut water instead, and now Marley is peeing multiple times per day, long and clear in color.
We are a bit concerned for the upcoming summer. Although the Coastal Southern California summer can be mild in comparison to other places it also means more time outside in the beautiful weather. We were trying a large gerbil type bottle hanging high on the wall under a step stool but it seems that any fluid does not want to stay down.
So now fruit is entering the picture. A cold, peeled apple cut into pieces given to him upright has been staying down and I think will wet his whistle after a long summer walk. Watermelon is the next thing we are going to try.
So we have the chair now, and Susan said he is the poster boy for her XL chairs. We are a month and a half out of the ICU [...]
[...] he gets in the chair by himself like some kind of TV trick dog.
We have a Pro Collar and a custom made Neck Hug from Wag Tail Farms. We are not sure which is better, they both work ok for when we are not around. When we are around, we prop him up with pillows which he is a l bit annoyed with but getting used to.
It is joy see him walk up to a pillow and rest his head on it without our help.
He knows it helps him even if it isn’t the most comfortable position. Those long body pillows work great.
We soak his food ( the same veggie food he has been eating for years) in water and then blend it up ( Ninja Blender). We add bee pollen (check it out), a digestive enzyme powder, honey, and some flax oil. We give a few cubes of the coconut jello. Then, he sits upright in his chair for 15 minutes. We burp him by patting his sides while he is in the chair. This also helps when he gets antsy or bored after ten minutes sitting with no food.
He still does the occasional EEAAARRPPP! Air coming out of the throat in loud manner but regurge is rare and usually associated with him lying flat when we aren’t looking. We are still giving him the amoxicillin, but the cough and phlegm he had weeks ago and his energy and demeanor is good. I still am taking it easy on the exercise.
So that is our story up until now.
I couldn’t be happier with the way things are today.
I know things could change and we have to stay vigilant, but his weight is coming back on and we all falling into a good routine.
If this helps one family that it was worth telling.
Feel free to contact us with any questions. Marley Ridgeback is his Facebook name.
Bully's Story ♥
When Bully got sick almost 2 years ago we were so scared and so very sad; he was 9.5 years old and weighed around 110 pounds.
He was the easiest going dog you ever saw.
Since he was a pup he always had terrible skin allergies that gave him so much trouble, but they didn’t seem to bother him because he just went on with his happy doggie life, he had such an incredible disposition.
One day in April 2012 he started reverse sneezing, a lot. We chalked it up to more allergies. A couple of days went by and he kept reverse sneezing, and also began to have what looked like slime just fall out of his mouth, again we thought more allergies.
Then on a Sunday morning, we woke up to our precious boy lying on his bed shivering and breathing shallow.
We rushed him into the vet where he acted like his old excited self and the vet diagnosed ALLERGIES. A few shots and some pills, and we were sent on our way.
We had only been home about an hour when I knew we had to go back.
Bully just wasn’t himself; he wasn’t breathing right.
I wanted an x-ray.
My gut just told me something was wrong, I know my dog.
We took him back and the vet agreed to do an x-ray. The findings were not what we expected.
The vet came in with a pile of papers he had printed out titled MEGAESOPHGUS. I glanced at the papers and he said, “well the great news is we know what it is, we did an x-ray and Bully has an enlarged esophagus which means he has megaesophagus and unfortunately he also has pneumonia."
To be honest...
ALL I could hear was pneumonia.
I must have asked 20 questions. Will he die? How did he get pneumonia? What do I do? Can he come home? Will he get better?
Then he briefly went over the megaesophagus diagnoses telling me that he had aspirated pneumonia from breathing in his regurgitation.
“Regurgitation, what the heck is that” I asked?
He explained that Bully’s esophagus was enlarged and had some big pockets in it: imagine a rubber band that has lost its elasticity; that was his esophagus and it could never go back to normal.
So now we had to get food and water to his stomach without a working esophagus to push it down.
He said simply use elevated feeding; put Bully’s food and water on a step and he will eat it, and being at an angle will allow the food to reach his stomach.
Honestly the whole time he was talking all I could hear was pneumonia. Pneumonia scared me, people die of pneumonia.
I had never heard of this disease megaesophagus, so I didn’t know to be scared of it.
I just had faith my vet knew what he was talking about.
So, we came home this time with antibiotics for the pneumonia. I put Bully’s dinner in a bowl and set it on the second step to our Jacuzzi; he stood on the ground and ate it, no problem. Great, I thought, this is going to be no big deal.
Then he regurgitated again.
So the next time we feed him we put his food on the top of a step ladder and he put his paws on the first step, the angle was much higher,so we were positive that would do the trick.
Five minutes later, regurg.
So I googled this megaesophagus and all the websites I read pretty much solidified what the vet had told me.
So why wasn’t this working for Bully?
The vet didn’t mention that I would need to keep him elevated for 15-30 minutes after the feeding so that gravity could pull down the food, but all these websites did.
So we tried that. Bully did not like that he would not stand there that long. So, then I tried to hold him, which was comical and sad all at the same time. He is a big boy, and knew he wasn’t supposed to be on the couch, so even though mom was holding him he didn’t feel right about it.
We went back to the drawing board, and more investigating lead to us discovering the bailey chair; a chair designed for a dog with megaesophagus to eat and sit in so the food could travel down the esophagus.
A few days later my husband brought home a chair the carpenters at work had built our boy.
Using the chair we saw a large improvement, but he was still regurging many many times a day. So I kept researching, and I had found the canine megaesophagus support group on facebook.
I spent hours reading people’s stories and suggestions. I learned more in 4 hours on that site than I had in a week.
I saw people feeding their dogs all different textures and kinds of food, some dogs drank water, some had no water and replaced it with knox blocks.
I started experimenting with Bully’s food and water. We kept a diary and wrote down everything that went in and everything that came out.I want to be very honest here and say I was incrediably discouraged, depressed, and frustrated.
Every single time Bully regurgitated I felt like I failed him.
Why could all these other people figure out how to make it work for their dogs but mine was still so sick? Bully’s lowest weight was 67 lbs, yep from 110 lbs.
I also learned that some dog’s megaesophgus is secondary to other diseases like myasthenia gravis, addisons disease, and thyroid. Bully was tested for all, and while his thyroid was a little low we found that his megaesophagus was idiopathic. No cause means no cure.
By June (roughly 2 months) I had figured out Bully needed to have a slurry type food spoon fed to him. We would soak high protein kibble (so he felt fuller longer) with canned puppy food (puppy food has more calories than dog food) and ensure (more calories) and water. Then we would blend it into a slurry and during feedings add nutrical (again calories) and Bully no longer drank any water.
Liquid was guaranteed to come right up so we replaced it with knox bloxs.
Basically, it is unflavored gelatin and we made it a variety of ways sometimes water, pedialyte, broth, and honey.
He ate every 6 hours so that he could be vertical and the food could flow down. All his meds we crushed and added to the food, the smallest chunk would also guarantee a regurg.
We also added in a pro collar. He wore it unless he was in his chair, and that really cut down the regurgitation. He normally was regurg free all day and was guaranteed to have a couple at night.
We never got the night under control; I just had to accept that was his way.
The next 2 years went by quickly when I look back.
He was happy, still very much himself.
He got sick but always bounced back fast.
Our lives changed a lot, scheduling feedings around the kid’s activities, missing a lot of social events, etc but for the most part everyone understood.
Bully was quite the celebrity at the vet’s office and on facebook.
He had a lot of people loving him.
I made some very close friends through the mega esophagus community that have helped me tremendously and I have gotten to give back and help new members as well.
Bully lost his battle with megaesophagus
April 1, 2014.
After nearly 2 years and 20 bouts of pneumonia, something had changed. He couldn’t keep his food down anymore. He wanted to, it just wasn’t working anymore.
I was so in tune with Bully that I knew we had met a new obstacle in our battle.
I requested an x-ray and the results were devastating. As fast as his diseases had come, it had become unmanageable.
His esophagus had grown from huge to enormous. It was pressing on his tracheal tube and heart making it difficult to breath. Comparing the two xrays there was no way out of the bad news.
There were no more tricks to learn, no new medicine, no other tips. We were at the end of the road.
And once again I will tell you the truth, I felt like I had failed.
Bully and I had fought SO hard for SO long I did not want this disease to win.
I know he has to end his time here at some point I just didn’t want it to be megaesophagus to take him. But, it was and man did it suck.
Letting Bully go was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do but I owed it to him.
He fought so hard and never complained or fought me.
He adapted to all the changes he had to make to live with this disease and did it with a wagging tail.
The least I could do was put him to rest while he was still happy and healthy enough to walk in on his own with a happy face and a wagging tail.
Bully’s exit was peaceful and heartbreaking. I miss him what feels like every minute of every day.
He was my “once in a lifetime dog” and while his last years were challenging, I would do it 100 times over.
I hope if you have a dog with this disease and you are reading this, you will find something in Bully’s story that will help your dog and you.
When tragedies occur all we can do is learn and then pass on our knowledge in hopes to make the next person’s journey a little smoother.
Zonja 's Story (A lil' bit!)
Danish Canine Freestyle Team (dogdancing)
Just a little outburst of pride, and a reminder that ME dogs can lead perfectly normal dog lives and even achieve great things:
Zonja and Kate have been offered, and accepted, a place on the Danish Canine Freestyle Team (dogdancing) at the World Championships in Finland (2014)! This will be their second time, the first was in Austria (2012).
Congratulations to Zonja and Kate! Good Luck!
Zoe and Betsy's Story
I’ve been a dog person my whole life.
In my 39 years, there have been about five years total when a dog hasn’t been in my home. I was always very close with my maternal grandmother, and her love of animals, especially dogs, was infectious.
In January 1998, I was 22 years old and bought my first house. A week before I closed on that house, I brought home the last two puppies from a litter born at my great-aunt & great-uncle’s farm outside Berryville, Arkansas, Cassie and Callie. I lost Cassie in January 2012 of cancer when she was 14, so it was just Callie and me for the next 14 months.
I grew up with two dogs who were quite the pair. I adopted Callie & Cassie together. Having two dogs seems to be optimal. During that year with just Callie, I thought a lot about what I’d do when I no longer had her. I couldn’t fathom a day without a dog in my home. But it wasn’t fair to her to bring a puppy into my home with a now 15 year old Callie. So I decided to wait.
Early in March 2013, I was in St. Louis when I received a text message from a co-worker. She knew I loved dogs and wondered if I knew anyone who’d be interested in adopting her mom’s white Lab, Betsy, who was 9 ½. I first asked my mom but after a couple of days’ thought, she decided it wasn’t the right time. I began thinking this may be the perfect solution for me since she was described as calm and she was older, so it would be a great mix with Callie. I asked a myriad of questions about Betsy: is she housebroken, does she get on furniture, has she been around smokers, is she healthy, etc. and every response was what I wanted to hear. Her owners were retired and going to start traveling and couldn’t keep her. She’d lived much of her life in a crate.
I decided to adopt her.
I brought Betsy home on Thursday night, March 14, 2013. She was so very sweet, but she was also very traumatized.
Betsy came to my home with her crate but I never locked her in it. Still, it took me three hours Friday morning to coax her out of her crate to go outside to potty. It was her safe haven; it was her comfort. Each time I got out the leash to take her for a walk, she quickly retreated to her crate and cowered in fear. The leash, I believe, indicated another scary move. The last time she was on a leash, her world was turned upside down.Gradually, Betsy became comfortable with her new home and today cannot contain her excitement when she knows we’re about to take a walk.
Unbeknownst to me, about the same time my co-worker told me about her mom’s dog, Betsy, another co-worker of mine, Blake, found a dog that was apparently dumped south of Nixa. He put her in his truck to save her from being hit by a car and took her home with him. He had an indoor senior Beagle and a two year old British Lab who spent her days in a small fenced in area on his property. The dog he rescued stayed outside during the day and inside at night with his Lab. Blake, his wife, and their son all tried to locate the owner of this dog, because it wasn’t clear if she’d been dumped or had run off. On March 16, her picture and information were posted to Leigh’s Lost & Found. There was some interest expressed, but nothing serious. In the four or five weeks this family cared for the stray dog, they adopted the opinion that she’d been dumped because she didn’t run away. When loose, she loved to run, and run fast, but she always stayed within view of their home.
On Thursday, one week after I adopted Betsy, I was in Blake’s office at work. I rarely meet with him in his office but we enjoyed a brief light-hearted conversation after the work-related topic I was there to discuss.
I noticed a child’s sketch of a dog leaning up against a framed photo of his daughter, who I knew held a very special place in his heart.
I asked about the dog drawing and he told me it was his daughter’s way of asking for a dog. Of course, it worked. He got her their British Lab, Dixie. He said he temporarily had a third dog
...he’d rescued from the side of the highway a couple of weeks earlier and was looking for a home for and “jokingly” asked if I wanted her. I laughed and said, “No thanks, I’ve got two at home.”
That very evening, one week to the hour after Betsy came into my home, on Thursday, March 21, 2013, Callie became paralyzed while walking in the snow in the back yard. She was terrified and Betsy showed concern. I took Callie to the emergency vet realizing this was likely the end of my time with her. As I drove home alone, I was greatly comforted by the fact that Betsy would be there waiting for me.
That night, instead of retreating to the comfort of her crate to sleep, Betsy followed me into my bedroom for the first time and slept in the floor on Callie’s bed.
The next night, Betsy slept in her crate for the very last time. She has slept in the floor of my bedroom every night since.
The next few days I paid close attention to Leigh’s Lost & Found thinking I might find just the right puppy or dog to bring into my home to join Betsy and me. I put thought into that. I considered just enjoying Betsy for a while and didn’t want to rush into anything. I made a couple of inquiries but both were too late; those puppies had found homes.
The dog Blake mentioned to me did come to mind but I didn’t consider it seriously. The week after Callie passed away, I received an instant message at work from another co-worker. She said she knew someone who was looking for a home for a sweet dog. I asked a few questions and come to find out, it was the dog Blake told me about. I figured I needed to learn more.
I spoke with Blake in greater detail about this dog. She seemed to be about a year old, had energy, was happy and playful, very smart but not well-trained (she jumped on people), and sensitive. He said she didn’t like to be scolded and ran hiding when that happened. He wondered if she’d been at all mistreated.
After much thought, I told him I’d probably bring her home but I did want to meet her first. I thought it would be best to on all tried to locate thebring her home on a Saturday morning so I could spend the weekend with her before leaving her at my home for a day.
So I followed Blake home from work one evening in early April and met the dog I’d decided to name Zoe.
The first thing I noticed was her size. She’s very lanky and tall, but her ribs were visible and she was much skinnier than I could tell from the one picture I’d seen (the one that had been posted on Leigh’s Lost & Found). Blake said she looked better than when he first rescued her. Blake’s wife mentioned that she had some “reflux” and would occasionally cough up mucous but Zantac each day seemed to keep that at bay.
I picked up Zoe on Saturday morning, April 6. It was a beautiful, sunny day. I sat in the grass under a tree in my backyard that day and both of my dogs laid side by side a little ways in front of me, seemingly totally at peace. I have pictures of that.
Later, we went for a walk. On the walk, Zoe threw up a watery, mucous-like mess. Weird.
I fed the girls that evening. Zoe drank water. Zoe’s food came up undigested, mixed with water. For hours after she’d eat, she’d cough a hacking cough, like there was a lot of congestion in her lungs. It would stop after she threw up clear fluid and undigested kibble a few times.
Monday morning I asked Blake if Zoe was throwing up multiple times a day with him. He was shocked. No, she wasn’t. I called the vet on Tuesday and they wanted me to bring her in right away, so I did. She was loaded with whipworms. That was likely upsetting her stomach. We gave her two back-to-back treatments to eradicate the worms and a few days’ worth of Cerenia for nausea, but she was still not keeping much down.
Dr. Heath Wiseman called me on Friday to check on her. Still no good. I made an appointment to drop her off with him on Monday, April 15, nine days after I first brought her home. He performed a barium study on her. He soaked dry nuggets (kibble) in barium and fed it to Zoe then took X-rays as it traveled down her esophagus and into her stomach. Except it wouldn’t go down.
It took hours for those nuggets to reach her stomach.
Lisa, one of the vet techs, held Zoe in a chair so her spine was perpendicular to the floor so gravity would move the nuggets to her stomach. They finally made their journey.
Dr. Heath called me at the end of the work day to tell me Zoe has Megaesophagus (ME). This tends to run in German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Labrador Retrievers (Zoe is a yellow Lab), but any dog can have it. Dr. Heath likened it to a deflated balloon.
Dr. Heath explained to me that this is a very manageable condition but will require patience and time. If I felt I wasn’t up for that, he could put Zoe down that day and no one there would judge me. But her life expectancy is a good 12+ years like any other Lab with proper management of her condition. He explained that several years ago, the owners and veterinarian of a dog named Bailey who had Megaesophagus invented a contraption, called a Bailey Chair, which holds these dogs in the correct position so gravity works to move food from mouth to stomach. He said I needed to find someone to make Zoe one ASAP. Until then, he suggested ways I could feed Zoe to keep her spine perpendicular to the floor.
Dr. Heath explained that Zoe would never again eat solid food. I needed to puree her food or make “meatballs” for her to swallow whole. He suggested I try the pureed route first. I needed to measure her water at each meal to make sure she received her daily requirement of water in her meals, because she can’t really keep water down either.
The biggest barrier to Zoe’s full life expectancy is Aspiration Pneumonia (AP). Since her esophagus doesn’t work and since anything that doesn’t reach her stomach comes back up, she’s at high risk of aspirating, which can quickly lead to pneumonia. That’s the number one killer of ME dogs. The airway to the lungs and the esophagus run parallel, and that can be a real challenge.
My head was spinning as he talked to me over the phone. He told me to pull up www.caninemegaesophagus.org while we were talking.
There was a link there to a photo of a Bailey chair, and there was a link into a support group on Yahoo for people with dogs with Megaesophagus to give advice and support to others since many vets are not experts with this condition.
It sounded daunting, but I’d had 9 days to bond with this sweetie and she was really so full of life. He said she has a full life expectancy, I told myself. I picked her up from his office after work and talked to him more. I immediately went to Bed, Bath & Beyond to buy myself a new blender; Zoe was the proud owner of my old one.
I had to give this a try.
That evening, I read a lot more about Megaesophagus and Bailey chairs. I watched some really cute and inspirational videos on YouTube of dogs eating from Bailey chairs.
I began to realize that I could do this.
I joined the Yahoo support group and gained valuable advice there, but I found the site cumbersome to use.
I tried to find someone to build a Bailey chair for Zoe. After seeing pictures and videos, I envisioned the one I wanted for her. It needed to be esthetically pleasing if it was going to sit in my house, but it needed to be comfortable to her and functional. I made mental notes of the features I liked and didn’t like in the ones I saw and thought of other features I wanted hers to include. But I couldn’t find anyone who was comfortable building one.
In the meantime, I’d feed Zoe twice a day. Two times a day was really the best I could do so her meals are a bit larger than I’d like. I experimented with different “recipes” and got my ideas from the Yahoo support group, my vet, and Alicia at All Pet Supplies. She helped me find a low fat, healthy food for Zoe. Fat [can be] more difficult to digest, so Zoe eats a food for seniors, which happens to be the same food Betsy gets, even though Zoe is still thin. She was 42 lbs when I brought her home, Dr. Heath guessed her ideal weight is 60 lbs, and she’s hovered right at 51 lbs since a couple months after I adopted her. Her ribs are no longer visible but she doesn’t have much fat to spare.
I’d feed Zoe in the garage (luckily it was spring so it wasn’t stifling in there yet). I have a “barricade” out there, like a little wooden fence, which my dad made for Callie & Cassie to keep them confined to one corner of the garage as they came and went through doggie doors to the backyard so they wouldn’t escape as I opened and closed the garage door in my comings and goings. She’d stand up with her front feet on that fence and I’d hold her bowl for her to eat. Then I’d sit on the steps and hold her between my legs so her spine was perpendicular to the floor. After five to 10 minutes, she was OVER that. She’d thrash, growl, snap, bite, etc. in an effort to be free. She hated the confinement. I couldn’t explain to her this was for her own good. I was bruised for weeks. My legs, arms, and face revealed visible battle wounds. We were lucky to make it close to 20 minutes. She was still regurgitating a lot.
I learned about Thick-It, sold at pharmacies but also by the case from Amazon. Often used to thicken liquids for stroke victims, it’s very popular among ME dog owners. I learned that 100% pure pumpkin is good for Zoe’s digestive system. Eventually, through trial and error and many bad days, I found a recipe that seems to work well for Zoe. She gets her water in her meals. If she sneaks a sip from Betsy’s water bowl, into her chair she goes to give that water a chance to make it to her stomach. Zoe sits in her chair for 40-45 minutes at each meal to give the food time to reach her stomach. We started at 20 minutes and found that 40 is ideal for her.
A couple of weeks after her diagnosis, I received an email from my mom. She’d told a co-worker about Zoe’s condition and that co-worker was interested enough to do her own YouTube search to learn more. She saw a video about a dog named Gremlin in Canada who has ME. Gremlin’s owner, Chrissy, narrated the video of Gremlin eating from his Bailey chair fit for a king. This Bailey chair was almost exactly what I’d envisioned for Zoe. Better yet, Chrissy referred to a Facebook group called Canine Megaesophagus Support Group where other owners of ME dogs could go to find “Susan Gigi” who made Gremlin’s chair. This video was brand new and hadn’t been on YouTube when I first conducted my search.
I excitedly joined that group and found “Susan Gigi.” I eventually learned this story:
Susan lives in California, and Chrissy lives in Canada. They were Instagram friends, I think because of their love of dogs. They’d never met. Susan had a service dog, a Boxer, named Gigi. On Susan’s Instragram, she was always posting pictures of Gigi, and in those pictures, Chrissy couldn’t help but notice that Gigi lived like a queen. She had a top-of-the-line bed and all kinds of lovely furniture. Chrissy learned that Susan’s husband made all of that. Chrissy jokingly stated that he should make her Gremlin a Bailey chair.
A friendship began between Susan and Chrissy right then. Susan and her husband learned all about ME and Bailey chairs, talked to Chrissy about Gremlin’s needs, obtained Gremlin’s measurements, and Susan’s husband made Gremlin a chair. They put so much love into that chair. They used solid pine, sanded it, painted it, put Gremlin’s photo on it, put polycrylic over the paint for durability, used memory foam for comfort and marine vinyl over that also for durability.
They gave Chrissy permission to refer to “Susan Gigi” in the YouTube video, and Susan became a member of the Facebook support group and began making Bailey chairs in every single spare moment for anyone who needs one. Their garage and living room became a Bailey chair-making factory. Their weekends and evenings were filled with nothing but making chairs. Requests came in from all over the world.
Zoe got their 7th or 8th chair, I believe. Though Susan is amazing at customizing each chair with an artistic flair, I just wanted a chair for Zoe ASAP and didn’t want her to worry about spending time making it pretty. I told her if they could make it, I’d embellish it. (She would have done a much better job than I did.)
The chair arrived earlier than promised in late May. It was an exciting day! Since it’s where Zoe eats, she took to it pretty well. At first, I had to sit next to her for the duration of her time in the chair at each meal but after a couple of months, I could work at the kitchen sink or get a few things done while her food digested. Soon after that, I tried leaving the kitchen for a little bit at a time, and eventually, Zoe became comfortable enough to sit quietly in her chair for up to an hour (and even fall asleep) while I’m able to shower in the morning or do a number of household chores while her food digests. It’s old hat for us now! Susan and her husband literally saved Zoe’s life. Blake saved it first!
Blake and his family really had no idea just how much Zoe was regurgitating. She was outside much of the time, where it would go unnoticed. But these dogs often “clean up after themselves” so when it happened in her crate at night, there wasn’t evidence in the morning.
Zoe’s personality is one like no other. She’s been a challenge to say the least, and that’s disregarding her Megaesphagus and feeding regimen. She chewed up seven pairs of my shoes in the first six months. She thinks it’s a game to escape from the house and let me chase her to catch her (if I ignore her, she comes home). She’s strong willed and barks back if I tell her “No.” She has some separation anxiety and once tore through a screen door when I put her in the back yard while I went to the garage to fill the mower with gas to then go to the back yard myself. She got my passport off the back of my dresser while I slept and tore it to shreds. But all-in-all, she’s a sweetheart who just likes to play (Nylabones and ropes are her favorite), likes attention, and wants to be loved.
She’s at home here. She loves me. Whoever had her in the first year of her life seemingly let her on furniture. That’s always been a huge no-no at my house but she perseveres. When I sit in my chair and she tires for the day, she’ll slowly climb into my lap (she’s 51 pounds and very lanky) and will often lie down on my shoulders as if she’s a five pound dog. She has no clue of personal space and will literally walk on me wherever I am. I equate her to a baby grown into a preschooler who has only known life in the foster system. She didn’t truly bond with anyone in the first year of her life, so she was reluctant to bond with me. Instead, she acted out for six months until she felt more secure to let me love her.
Zoe got AP last year at the end of June, but hers seemed like a relatively mild case and four or five weeks of antibiotics was all she needed. Other than that, she’s happy, healthy, and very, very playful. It hasn’t been an easy road, but I believe she came to me for a reason. I’ve met amazing people on these support groups.
I’ve learned that love and happiness is more important than having a perfectly clean house.
I don’t know the cause of Zoe’s ME because I don’t know her history. Most likely, she was born with it, but there’s a chance it developed when she was about a year old, which may be why she was dumped. She tested negative for Myasthenia Gravis, so we call her ME idiopathic: no known cause.
While I do not condone, agree with, or support anyone who dumps a dog, if the person who may have dumped Zoe did so because he or she didn’t want to euthanize her and assumed that would be her fate at a shelter due to this condition, I’d be happy to let them know she’s alive and well.
Leigh’s Lost and Found is critical for our community. What did we ever do without it?
A side note: Dr. Heath Wiseman had never treated a dog with ME prior to Zoe. I’m so fortunate he diagnosed her as quickly as he did. He suspected it after de-wormer and Cerenia did nothing to stop her regurgitation. His clinic is Springfield Veterinary Clinic (SVC). I’ve read horror stories from others who’ve spent thousands of dollars on tests with no accurate diagnosis of ME until it’s too late and the dog dies of AP. So I feel so fortunate to have Dr. Heath’s expertise. Dr. Heath became knowledgeable of ME because of a familial experience. He’s been willing to research this condition and advise me along the way.
Bubba and Jabber
I adopted Bubba at 10months old. He was 52 lbs(now a whopping 83lbs).
The first hour he was here he threw up 9 times in 1&1/2 hour.
The next morning we were at the vet. After exrays it was apparent what was wrong.
His esophagus had been stretched out to the size of a loaf of bread.
So I got some stairs & he started upright feedings. He started putting on weight, holding down his food.
3 years later I had a litter for a service dog line, at 3 days i saw a pup throw up its food - Jabber. Mom cleaned it up real fast. He went back to nursing. I picked him up(not happy) & the food he had just ate came flying out. He spewed all the way across the birthing box. I was floored.
But I KNEW in my heart what it was.
He made the unmistakeable 'erkle' sound. I believe this is much more wide spread than we have ever imagined. As of now there is no test I know of but a DNA to see if they carry the gene. But knowing the symptoms I was able to identify this in a 3 day old pup.
But we knew how to hold him & at 3days old I watched & monitored his feedings so he could be elevated after every feeding. We did his 1st exray at 5 weeks. I was right. I believe that it happens alot.
Its not uncommon for a breeder to lose a pup in the first 10 days. I believe they dont catch it cause moms keep a clean area for their babies & the puppy winds up aspirating, being constantly hungry & feeding & not in the right position, .. I knew the sound that is made in the throat. So the vet decided to try an experiment.
We put him on 2 medications used to help the human bladder mussels move. we stopped with one due to the fact he was throwing up as soon as he ate. One med had worked too good. He is now on metoclopram. Doing amazingly well.
He now stands up to eat & then he is okay, no regurge.
I hope my story will help someone with a pup. We have been very careful to not stretch out his esophagus by multiple small feedings.
My husband and I started our great search for an Australian Shepherd back in 2009.
We finally found a place in July 2013 that sold very lovely puppies, had all the right documentations, and recommendations from our local vet. I went out originally looking at a blue meral named Mikhail, how over I bought his black tri brother Nikolai instead. Went home and told Sean and well…he wasn’t too happy about that. So I ended up calling the place again and made an appointment to go back out in introduce Sean to our new puppy.
We left the appointment the proud owners of TWO puppies, now we just had to wait for them to grow up. We helped our friends evacuate from a fire and moved out to the equestrian facility that I trained at. We ended up taking our puppies’ home a few weeks early due to the fire.
Both pups were happy and healthy.
Mikhail was always a little bit of a hiccup puppy and would get them often; we figured it was normal along with the obsessive drooling and licking.
In December, we notice that Mikhail was licking the walls, door frames, and floors a lot. He would drool so much that it soaked his bed or sofa that he was laying on.
January 03, 2014 at 5:15 PM, our life with our dog changed forever.
Sean and I had just finished dinner and brought the dogs inside. Mikhail went over to his bed and starts coughing, and coughing.
He started puking very violently and foaming at the mouth.
I ran over and scooped him up in my arms and ran out the door to drive into the vet clinic that was closing at 5:30. I called the vet office which was run by friends of mine and they waited for us to get there.
Mikhail was sedated and given some anti-nausea medication. He was also given an IV drip for fluids; the vets figured he ate something “bad” being a farm dog that was very possible.
Mikhail was sent home with a bag of medications and special food. During the night he started to puke again and this time it had blood. I called the vet at home first thing in the morning.
Mikhail went back to for another round of test and a set of X-rays.
When the vet opened his mouth to look inside it was covered with ulcers!
The senior vet thought for sure he had ate a battery and that it was dissolved and now the battery acid was running wild through his GI track. He had several bleeds and passed blood for days, we weren’t sure if he would survive. He came home on antibiotics, other medications and special food. The X-rays showed no blockage or anything so he didn’t need surgery thankfully!
Two weeks had pasted and he was doing great we had moved him back on to regular hard food, all was going well. Then he started puking again the first part of February after he ate something from outside.
I packed him back up and took him back to the vet and once again his ulcers are back in his mouth and he is miserable.
Two sets of full body X-rays one with contrast gave us the answer.
Mikhail had Megaesophagus, and a possibility of Persistent Right Aortic Arch (PRAA).
The PRAA was later disproven after Washington State University gave a second look at the X-rays. However we were left with the MegaE, and how to treat it.
Mikhail at this point was very thin and frail due to the malnutrition. We gave him a shot of B12 and started working out the treatment plan. We changed food to a high quality brand of dog food that we blended with warm water and goat milk for the fat content. His daily medications are 10 MG of Omeprazole, 20 MG famotidine, 1 pro biotic and a joint cookie.
As of May 2014, he is still doing great on his medications. Still gets food soaked with water but doesn’t need it blended anymore, he eats from a homemade table.
He is happy and mostly healthy; this disease can be very devastating but so far so good.
We do struggle with his Pika, he eats EVERYTHING!!
Caliba was bred and is owned by my best friend Natalie, he was born almost 2 years ago.
At 5 weeks of age he was diagnosed with Megaesophagus caused by Hiatal Hernia.
Surgery was done by our local vets to try to correct this. Unfortunately he still had ME.
Everyone started telling Nat to put him down, but he had such a will to live (both of us working a vet clinic we had never seen a dog fight for life as much as Caliba).
We both started doing reseach and my dad built Caliba a Bailey chair (which helped immensely, but he was still regurging after sitting in it for 30 mins). We were up day and night with him, crying so many tears for so many months.
By 5 months of age he was so skinny, weak and dehydrated, Nat was ready to give up.
After having a chat with one of our vets she recommended going to Murdoch University to see if there is anything they could do. So after a lot of x-rays, another surgery and a feeding tube in place we were ready to start again.
After a few days he started putting on weight and playing with the other dogs.
His esophagus was so damaged he will never be able to be a normal ME dog (if there is such a thing).
He will always have to have a stomach tube (even for water).
He has adapted so well with the tube and is such a happy young boy that isn't phased with not eating, he won't take food from people even when they mistakenly go to offer him a treat.
He has cost my friend thousands of dollars, but he was worth every penny and most of the tears we cry are happy ones.
Caliba now competes in sled dog races all over WA. Last year he travelled across Australia to compete in Canberra Nationals and this year he has travelled across again to Victoria to work in a sled dog tour team and also competed in a 6 dog class at Falls Creek race and came in 2nd (1st Siberian home) and also at Dinner Plain came 2nd in ski-jouring.
Nat, Caliba and his pack arrive home next week ready for Spring where we will start our summer camping and swimming.
Caliba lives a life most dogs would dream of.
He may only live another 6 months or he will live another 10 years, but he will live life to the fullest and it will be filled with so much love and fun.
Thanks to Nicola Adderson for sharing Caliba's story!